Friday, April 22, 2011
Royal Profile: Prince Willem the Silent of Orange
Willem of Orange was given a diverse and modern education in languages, statecraft and the art of warfare while in Brussels. He married in 1551 to a wealthy heiress and was considered by all to be a young man destined for great things with considerable wealth, a good education, valuable connections and friends in the very highest of places. The Emperor appointed him to high command when he was only 22 and in 1555 he began serving in the Raad van State, a sort of early version of the Dutch parliament. He supported Emperor Charles V (who had trouble standing) during his abdication ceremony. Philip II, who succeeded his father the Emperor as King of Spain, appointed Willem stadtholder (steward) of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht in 1559. This made Willem one of the most politically powerful men in the Netherlands though King Philip would one day, perhaps, come to regret being so generous.
In time Willem of Orange became known as the leader of the most vocal opponents of Spanish policy in the Netherlands. Among their demands were more local control for the Dutch elite rather than Spanish officials, the withdrawal of Spanish troops from the Low Countries and greater tolerance for the growing Protestant community by the Catholic authorities. This was a time of deep religious divisions across Europe and Willem reflected this himself, raised a Lutheran, later becoming Catholic but then moving in a Protestant direction later still. His first wife having died in 1558, Willem married again for political reasons in 1561 to Anna of Saxony (having an affair that resulted in an illegitimate son in the intervening years) which greatly increased his wealth and influence and gave him five more children as well as new friendly contacts with powerful German Protestant princes. Willem finally came out openly in opposition to King Philip II of Spain for his efforts to stamp out Protestantism, even though Willem himself was still a Catholic as well. He advocated freedom of religion and hoped that both sides of the religious divide would support his campaign for greater independence for the Netherlands.