Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Revolt of the Netherlands - William the Silent III

Anna of Saxony
Marriage Number Two

William did not marry again until three years after Anna’s death. He considered marrying the young Princess of Lorraine, but when her mother proclaimed herself the better choice, William backed off. William married Anna of Saxony, the daughter and heiress of Maurice, the Elector of Saxony, on 25 August 1561.

William may have married Anna with the aim of gaining more influence in Saxony, Hesse and the Palatinate. As far as Philip was concerned Anna was a dangerous match as William would be drawn into the orbit of the German militant Protestant tendency. William refused to insist on other than outward religious conformity for his Protestant bride and Philip sent insincere congratulations and a ring worth 3,000 eçus[i].

Anna was described by contemporaries as

‘Self-absorbed, weak, assertive, and cruel.’[ii]

Philip, Landgrave of Hesse
The dowry of 100,000 thalers[iii] was probably another attraction for the perennially cash strapped William. The marriage, originally planned for 1560, was delayed for a year by the opposition of Anna’s maternal grandfather Philip, Landgrave of Hesse who thought that William was not sufficiently high ranking powerful for the daughter of an Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1561 William was appointed Stadtholder of Franche-Comté.

In 1562, just a few months after the wedding, difficulties arose between Anna and William. Anna received letters from her uncle meant for William stating he should work more towards pleasing her. The couple’s first child Anna was born on 31 October 1562; she died the same day. Their second child Anna was born in Breda on 5 November 1563[iv]. Maurice August Philip was born on 8 December 1564[v].


Floris de Montmorency
In 1562 the nobles sent Floris de Montmorency[vi], Baron Montigny to Philip with their grievances and Philip was aghast to be told that the Dutch resented Granvelle, Philip’s plan to reform the bishoprics and to introduce the Inquisition into the Low Countries. Philip assured Montigny;

‘Never in my imagination have I thought of introducing into Flanders the Inquisition of Spain.’[vii]

Philip mistrusted both of his most senior Dutch Stadtholders, both of whom he had put into key positions. William was the stadtholder[viii] of the provinces of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht and Egmont of Flanders and Artois. The mistrust was a two-way thing; the Dutch were concerned about the inner council of advisers around Margaret of Parma. Margaret had been ordered by Philip that certain matters could only be discussed with this inner coterie.

In March 1563 William, Egmont and Hoorn sent Philip an ultimatum; Granvelle must resign and they were leaving the Council of State until he did so. Margaret refused to withdraw her support from Granvelle and Philip tried to influence matters from far off Spain. Foremost among Philip’s supporters of the Dutch nobility were Philip, Count Arenberg, and Philip, Duke of Aarschot; these men were political nonentities who had little support from their fellow countrymen.

Religious Liberty

Cardinal Granvelle
But William kept pushing; he insinuated that Granvelle was considering political assassination as a way out of the impasse that both sides found themselves in. Eventually it was Philip who broke, suggesting to Granvelle that he find a personal reason to leave the Low Countries. Margaret asked William to return to the council on the understanding that Granvelle was going. William wrote to Louis on 5th March 1564;

‘Certain it is that our man is going; God send that he go so far as to never come back again.’[ix]

Granvelle left on 12th March and six days later William, Hoorn and Egmont resumed their places on the Council of State.

In December 1564 William made an impassioned speech in the council in favour of liberty of conscience. The nobles decided that their grievances should be made known to Philip personally by Egmont who journeyed to Spain in February 1565. Philip was irritated by the demands of his Dutch nobles. His answer finally came in an instruction for Margaret of 2nd April showing the depth of his opposition to the reformed religion;

‘In the question of religion, what most concerns and what I can least permit is any change, and I should count it as nothing to lose 100,000 lives, if I had them, rather than allow it.’[x]

Philip forced through his reform of the bishoprics and ordered the execution of six Anabaptists whose fate had been referred to him; his subjects in the Netherlands were up in arms. It was during this year that the Netherland’s greatest sympathiser among Philip’s secretaries, Francisco de Eraso, was disgraced. The hardliners amongst Philip’s advisers, Granvelle and the Duke of Alba, were now in the ascendant.

A Downward Spiral

William Landgrave of h
By 1565, it was well known in all the courts of Germany and the Netherlands that William and Anna’s marriage was an unhappy one. Anna was spoken of as being William’s ‘domestic curse’. Anna was known to be an unmanageable vixen who had a group of ‘lewd’ companions. She alternated between fits of drunken melancholy, when she would stay in a darkened room, and rushing off to Spa with her friends and claiming that William was trying to poison her if the question of her returning home was made. Rumours were rife about the marriage in the Netherlands.

Anna was unkind to her stepchildren and was unrestrained in public life; on one occasion she screamed across the room at William during a public dinner at the Palais de Nassau, claiming he was inadequate sexually. William wrote;

‘What happens secretly can well be borne…..but verily I found it hard enough to hear her speak such things in front of everyone.’[xi]

In 1565 William finally complained about the ‘contentious’ nature of his wife to her Saxon uncle Augustus Elector of Saxony and her Hessian uncle Landgrave Wilhelm IV of Hesse-Kassel. Anna immediately put on a show of repentance, but William was not appeased, she had done this many times before.

In the summer of 1565 William sent Philip William to study at the University of Leuven although he was only twelve years old, and asked Margaret to take his ten year old daughter Maria as one of her ladies-in-waiting. Maria’s youth made it quite clear that William did not want his children in touch with their stepmother. It was now that William turned all his endeavours to politics

The Gathering Storm

In the autumn of 1565 Philip decided to return to the Netherlands; Granvelle, from his retirement at Besançon, had suggested that Philip see how the nobility were mismanaging affairs there. While for the rebels’ part Philip’s failure to visit only showed his indifference to their country.

The harvest was poor and the price of corn rose phenomenally during early winter[xii]; people were starving and in response Philip sent one shipload of corn, which did not go far. Many artisans and their families fled to England, while wealthy burghers too were selling up in preparation to emigrate, even as Philip instructed his sister that his religious edicts must be severely enforced. For William and his colleagues the way forward was clear. William wrote;

‘It is folly to enforce the Placaten when corn is so dear.’[xiii]

Hendrik van Brederode
Margaret of Parma sought to break the bond between William and Egmont by showing preference to Egmont. One observer wrote;

‘The Countess of Egmont sits with Madame [Margaret] while the Princess of Orange is kept standing, the Prince of Orange is dying of rage.’[xiv]

Anna had promised William that she would henceforth behave but, now after Margaret’s snub, all promises were forgotten. Her behaviour was the talk of Brussels.

At the end of the year Louis and Hendrik van Brederode, along with a number of the other Dutch-Flemish lesser nobility with Calvinist inclinations, made a secret agreement to oppose the enforcement of Philip’s religious edicts.

On 24th January 1566 William informed Margaret that he wished to retire from public life. He attempted to negotiate a loan from the burghers of Antwerp; he owed one million florins[xv]. Unsurprisingly the burghers were not prepared to loan monies on such a risky return. But William did discover that the burghers and wealthy citizens on Antwerp were unhappy with Philip’s policies. One of the leading citizens of Antwerp was henceforth one of William’s most trusted advisers; the Pensionary of Antwerp, Jacob Wesembeeck. William was persuaded to withdraw his resignation.


The Age of Religious Wars – Richard S Dunn, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1971

The Revolt of the Netherlands – Pieter Geyl, Cassell History 1988

The Holy Roman Empire – Friedrich Heer, Phoenix 1995

The Spanish Inquisition – Henry Kamen, Phoenix 1998

Philip of Spain – Henry Kamen, Yale University Press 1998

The Grand Strategy of Philip II – Geoffrey Parker, Yale University Press 1998

William the Silent – CV Wedgewood, Readers Union Ltd 1945

The Hapsburgs – Andrew Wheatcroft, Folio Society 2004

[i] A standard gift for senior nobility - in 2014 the relative: real price of that commodity is £894,600.00 www.measuringworth.com
[iii] Or £200,000.00 (see www.austriancoins.com) - in 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £59,640,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £1,990,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £23,330,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[iv] She was married on 25 November 1587 to her cousin Count William Louis of Nassau-Dillenburg
[v] He died on 3rd March 1566
[vi] Count Hoorn’s younger brother
[vii] Philip of Spain - Kamen
[viii] Governor
[ix] William the Silent - Wedgewood
[x] Philip of Spain - Kamen
[xi] William the Silent  - Wedgewood
[xii] Scandinavian countries had blocked trade in the summer in the midst of a dispute and corn imports were severely affected
[xiii] William the Silent  - Wedgewood
[xiv] Ibid
[xv] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £310,300,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £8,934,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £100,200,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com

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