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House of Orange-Nassau

The House of Orange-Nassau (in Dutch Oranje-Nassau), is a family that has played a central role in the political life of the Netherlands since William I of Orange (also known as "William the Silent" and "Father of the Fatherland") organised the Dutch revolt against Spanish rule, which after the Eighty Years' War led to an independent Dutch state.

Several members of the house served during this war and after as governor or stadtholder (Dutch stadhouder). However, in 1815, after a long period as a republic, the Netherlands became a monarchy under the House of Orange-Nassau.

The dynasty was established as a result of the marriage between Hendrik III of Nassau-Breda from Germany and Claudia of Châlon-Orange from French Burgundy. Their son René of Châlon first adopted the new family name "Orange-Nassau". William I was his nephew and successor.

In the late 17th century, the family also supplied a British monarch, King William III.

Table of contents
1 Early History: the House of Nassau
2 The Dutch Rebellion
3 Expansion of Dynastical Power
4 Exile and Resurgence
5 The second Stadtholderless Era
6 The end of the Republic
7 The Monarchy (1815-)

Early History: the House of Nassau

The first person to be called count of Nassau was Henry I, who lived in the first half of the 13th century. His sons William and Otto split the Nassau possessions. The descendants of William became known as the Walram Line, which became important in the Nassau county. The descendants of Otto became known as the Otton Line, which inherited parts of the Nassau county, France and the Netherlands.

The House of Orange-Nassau stem from the Otton Line. The second person was Engelbert I, who offered his services to the Duke of Burgundy, married a Dutch noblewoman and inherited lands in the Netherlands, with the barony of Breda as the core of the Dutch possessions.

The importance of the Nassaus grew throughout the 15th and 16th century. Hendrik III of Nassau-Breda was appointed stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht by Charles of Ghent in the beginning of the 16th century. Henry was succeded by René of Châlon-Orange in 1538, who was, as his full name stated, Prince of Orange. When René died prematurely on the battlefield in 1544 his possessions passed to his nephew, William I of Orange. From then on the family members called themselves "Orange-Nassau"

William of Orange was befriended by Charles V and his son Philip.

The Dutch Rebellion

Although Charles V resisted the Reformation, he ruled the Dutch territories wisely moderation and regard for local customs, and he did not persecute his Protestant subjects on a large scale. Unfortunately, his son Philp II inherited his antipathy for the Protestants but not his moderation. Under the reign of Philip, a true persecution of Protestants got going and taxes were raised to an outrageous level. Discontent arose and William of Orange (with his vague Lutheran childhood) stood up for the Protestant (mainly Calvinist) inhabitants of the Netherlands. Things went badly after the Eighty Years War started in 1568, but luck turned in his advantage when Protestant rebels attacking from the North Sea captured Brielle, a coastal town in present-day South Holland in 1572. Many cities in Holland began to support William. During the 1570s he had to defend his core territories in Holland several times, but in the 1580s the inland cities in Holland were secure. William of Orange was considered a threat to Spanish rule in the area and was assissinated in 1584 by a hired killer sent by Philip.

William was succeded by his eldest son Maurits, a Protestant who proved an excellent miltary commander. His abilities as a commander and the lack of strong leadership in Spain after the death of Philip II (1598) gave Maurits excellent opportunities to conquer large parts of the present-day Dutch territory. Maurits was created stadtholder (military commander) of the Dutch Republic in 1585. In the early years of the 17th century there arose quarrels between stadtholder and oligarchist regents (a group of powerful merchants led by Johan van Oldebarnevelt) because Maurits wanted more powers in the Republic. Maurits won this power struggle by beheading Oldebarnevelt.

Expansion of Dynastical Power

Maurits died unmarried in 1625 and left no legitimate children. He was succeded by his halfbrother Frederick Henry (Dutch: Frederik Hendrik), youngest son of William I. Maurits urged his successor on his deathbed to marry as soon as possible. A few weeks after Maurits's death he married Amalia van Solms-Braunfels. Frederick Henry and Amalia had a son and several daughters. These daughters were married to important houses such as the house of Hohenzollern, but also to the Frisian Nassaus, who were stadtholders in Friesland. His only son William wedded the daugther of Charles I of England, Mary Stuart, Princess Royal. These dynastic moves were the work of Amalia.

Exile and Resurgence

Frederick Henry died in 1647 and his son succeded him. As the Treaty of Munster was about to be signed, thereby ending the Eighty Years War, William tried to extend his powers beyond the military to make his function valueable at peace. This at the great distress of the regents. When the regents of the city of Amsterdam refused some mayors he appointed, he sieged Amsterdam. The siege provoked the wrath of the regents and, unfortunately, William died of smallpox on November 6, 1650, leaving only a postumous son, William (*November 14, 1650). As there was no Prince of Orange at the death of William II, the regents used the opportunity to let the stadtholdership vacant. The newborn prince was exiled to a disgraceful life. A quarrel about the education of the young prince arose between his mother and his grandmother Amalia (who outlived her husband for 28 years). Amalia wanted an education which was pointed at the resurgence of the House of Orange to power, but Mary wanted a pure English education. The Estates of Holland meddled in the education and made William a "child of state" educated by the state. The doctrine used in this education was keeping William from rule. William became indeed very docile to the regents and the Estates.

The Dutch Republic was attacked by France and England in 1672. The miltary function of stadtholder was no longer superfluous and William was restored, and became stadtholder as William III. William successfully repelled the invasion and seized power. He became more powerful then his predecessors during the Eighty Years War. In 1677 William married Mary Stuart, daughter to future king James II. In 1688 William embarked on a mission to depose his Catholic father-in-law from the English throne. He and his wife were crowned King and Queen of England on April 11, 1689. With the accession to the English throne he became the most powerful sovereign on Earth, the only one to defeat the Sun King. That's why so many members of the House of Orange afterwards were devoted admirers of the King-Stadtholder. He died childless after a riding accident on March 8, 1702, leaving the House of Orange extinct and England to Anne.

The second Stadtholderless Era

The regents found that they had suffered under the powerful leadership of William III and declared the stadtholdership vacant for the second time. The main reason was a quarrel about the title Prince of Orange between John William Friso of the Frisian Nassaus, appointed heir in William III's will, and the King of Prussia. The King of Prussia, Friedrich I was the rightful heir by blood, grandson to Frederick Henry in the maternal line and appointed successor in the will of Frederick Henry in the case the House would die out. The solution was that both claimants were allowed to bear the title. The problem of the lands solved itself as the principality of Orange was conquered by Louis XIV in 1713. John William Friso drowned in 1711 in the Hollands Diep near Moerdijk and left a postume son William IV. He was proclaimed stadtholder of Gelderland, Overijssel, Drenthe and Utrecht in 1722. When the French invaded in 1747 William was restored as stadtholder of the whole Dutch Republic, hereditary in both male and female line.

The end of the Republic

William died in 1751, leaving his three years old son Willem V as stadtholder. As Willem V was still a minor regents ruled for him. Unfortunately, the regents were "regents". The oligarchists educated him to be uneasy to decide. It would pursue Willem during his whole life. His marriage to Wilhelmina of Prussia relieved his capriciousness a little bit. Willem's unability to rule proper was a small factor to the collapse of the Dutch Republic (a larger factor were the corrupt regents). In 1787 he survived a coup from Patriots (democratic revolutionaries) after Prussia intervened. When the French invaded in 1795 he had to flee, never to return.

After 1795 the House of Orange-Nassau faced a difficult period of surviving at other European courts (especially the Prussian and English courts). Willem V died in 1806

The Monarchy (1815-)

A new spirit: the United Kingdom of the Netherlands

When the French Empire collapsed in 1813, Willem Frederik, son of Willem V, returned to the Netherlands to become King Willem I. In 1815 Belgium and Luxemburg were added to his realm and Willem ruled over the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, trying to establish one common culture, provoking the resistance of the Belgians. In 1830 Belgium declared its independence and Willem fought a disastrous war until 1839 when he was forced to peace. With his realm halved Willem decided to abdicate in 1840. Royal power was curbed during the reign of his son Willem II in a constitution ordered by the King to prevent the Revolution of 1848 from passing along his country.

Moral decay and threat of extinction

Willem II died in 1849 and left the throne to William III, a conservative even reactionary man, sharply opposed to the 1848 constitution and constantly trying to form his own royal governments. In 1868 he tried to sell Luxemburg to France causing a quarrel between Prussia and France. The king had to put up with the constitution. Willem had un extremely unhappy marriage with Sophie von Württemberg and his heirs died young. He betrayed his wife and had a bad temper. This caused moral decay of the monarchy. His lack of heirs caused an unpleasant view on extinction. In 1879 he married Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont and he became father of a daughter and heiress, Wilhelmina. This second marriage was extremely happy. Willem died in 1890 and the House of Orange became extinct in the male line. As females weren't allowed to keep power in Luxemburg, the Grand Duchy passed to the House of Nassau-Weilburg, a collateral line. The problem of total extinction remained until 1909, when Juliana was born. The royal house remained small until the end of the 1930s when Juliana's children were born.

A modern monarchy

Wilhelmina ruled the Netherlands wisely for fifty years, from 1898 to 1948. She was a figurehead of the Dutch resistance during the Second World War. The moral authority of the monarchy was restored because of her rule. After fifty years, she decided to abdicate in favour of Juliana. Juliana made the monarchy less aloof and under her rule the monarchy became known as the "cycling monarchy" (as the members of the royal family cycled often through the countryside). A marital policy quarrel occurred in 1966 when future queen Beatrix wanted to marry Claus von Amsberg, a German diplomat. A marriage with a German was seen as controversial. Permission from the government was granted and Beatrix married him. Claus became the most popular member of the royal family and the nation mourned after his death (2002). Beatrix' government has proven to be more professional and more aloof then Juliana's. At present, the monarchy is very popular and especially the Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and his wife Maxima.

See also: Dutch monarchy