Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Revolt of the Netherlands - William the Silent X

William the Silent
The Apologia

In January 1580 William visited Breda for the last time with Archduke Matthias as his guest; they were greeted with a fireworks display in William’s honour. William was conducting a two month tour of the north; Amsterdam had finally opened their doors to the Prince of Orange, having finally thrown off their allegiance to Spain. Den Haag welcomed him, as did Delft where Fulk Greville found him sat amongst the burghers, all dressed in ‘mean’ clothing.

John of Nassau accompanied his brother on his tour, during which William attempted to dampen down anti-Catholic antagonism. Parma’s military ambitions were slowed down as supplies from Spain were not forthcoming.

In March 1580 Philip issued a royal ban of outlawry against William, the ban, which called William ‘an enemy of the human race’, was an invitation to murder. Indeed Philip promised a reward of 25,000 crowns[i] to any man who would succeed in killing William. Parma did not believe that inviting assassins to kill William would do anything but draw his people closer to him. But it did mean that Charlotte spent a lot of time worrying about gifts of food that came from well-wishers. William was especially fond of local dishes such as eel pie.

Philip Marnix
The death of both his wife and his and William’s mother[ii] precipitated John’s return to Dillenburg in the summer of 1580; Juliana left 168 grandchildren to mourn her along with her surviving children. During the following winter William was frequently unwell and Charlotte nursed a recalcitrant patient, who frequently refused to take his prescribed medications.

William was well enough on 13th December 1580 to present his Apologia in reply to the decree outlawing him to the Estates. It was an outstanding piece of anti-Spanish propaganda;

‘The brightness of the fires wherein they have tormented so many poor Christians, was never delightful nor pleasant to mine eyes, as it has rejoyc’d the sight of the Duke of Alba and the Spaniards.’[iii]

The Apologia was written from William’s notes by Philip Marnix, the Lord of St-Aldegonde, he and his brother were long-time supporters of William’s. This brilliant tract, distributed among all the courts of Europe during early 1581, vindicated William’s rebellion against his sovereign lord and denounced Philip’s tyranny. In response Philip wrote an Antiapologia, but very few people took the time to read it.


Henri, Duc d'Anjou
In February 1582 the Duke of Anjou made a triumphal entry into Antwerp where he was named Duke of Brabant by William. William believed that it was possible to make the arrogant Anjou, if not popular, then at least acceptable. His household was to be reorganised, replacing French dignitaries with Flemish nobles, and with William as Anjou’s Grand Chamberlain.

Anjou’s authority was rejected by a number of the provinces for reasons of religion or local interest. This, the greatest of William’s faux pas, increased the disintegration of the provinces. One English observer wrote;

‘There is great disorder here for there is no man that will obey.’[iv]

Even so French recruits, encouraged by Anjou’s new standing in the Netherlands, were amassing on the borders, making it seem possible that the rebels would be able to counter Parma’s spring offensive.

Juan de Jauregui attempts to kill William
On Anjou’s birthday 18th March 1582, when great festivities were planned, an attempt was made on William’s life. A Portuguese merchant named Gaspar de Añastro organised for one of his clerks to kill William. Juan de Jáuregui was conned into believing that after the attack he would become invisible and easily escape.

When William came out of his dining-room, Jáuregui fired a pistol at his head. Although the pistol was badly designed and malfunctioned, one bullet pierced the neck below the right ear and passed out at the left jaw-bone, but William ultimately recovered. Jáuregui was pierced on the spot by a knight’s sword and was then killed by the halberdiers of William’s bodyguard.

After the Assassination

William was nursed back to health by Charlotte and his sister Mary. On 5th May 1582 Charlotte died and William was grief stricken. It has been claimed that Charlotte wore herself out looking after William after the attack in March. Charlotte attended a service of thanksgiving for the saving of William’s life; eleven days later she was dead, the doctors diagnosed double pleurisy.

Satirical painting showing Anjou's failed attempt to milk the Dutch
Anjou was not satisfied with the limited powers granted by the Estates General and decided on a coup d’état; he decided start by seizing Antwerp by force. The citizens were warned, after the quarterly check of foreigners in the town found an additional 3,000 French lodging in the suburbs. Anjou had expected the Catholic majority to side with him but he and his troops were ambushed as they entered the city on 18th January 1583[v]. Most of Anjou's men were killed, and among the corpses were found Anjou’s friends;

‘Two hundred gentlemen or what you will dressed in rich brocade.’[vi]

An unrepentant Anjou was reprimanded by both his mother Catherine de’ Medici and Queen Elizabeth.

Louise de Coligny
After this attack Anjou’s position swiftly became untenable; he eventually left the country in June. His departure discredited William, who continued to maintain his support for Anjou, politically isolating himself. He pointed out that throwing over Anjou meant throwing away the troops that came with him, something the rebels could ill afford to do.

On 24th April 1583 William married Louise de Coligny, the daughter of Admiral Coligny. Louise was widowed the same night she lost her father. Louise took charge of William’s household, looking after the girls still at home. The marriage was unpopular at home as the Dutch equated the Huguenot Louise with the Catholic Anjou and all things French. William became a father again on 29th January 1584 when Frederick Henry was born.

On 16th July 1583 Anjou’s governor of Dunkirk surrendered the town to the Duke of Parma, further exacerbating Dutch fury with the French and making William’s task even more difficult. Parma now had an outlet to the sea and thence to Spain.

Death And After

Balthasar Gerard
On 10th July William was assassinated by Balthasar Gérard[vii], who had introduced himself to William as a French nobleman. Gérard hoped to collect Philip’s munificent reward. As proof of his good faith Gérard[viii] gave William the seal of the Governor of Luxembourg Peter Ernst I von Mansfeld-Vorderort. The seal would allow forgeries of Mansfelt’s messages to be made. William sent Gérard back to France to pass the seal on to his French allies.

Upon his return from France, having bought two wheel-lock pistols, Gerard made an appointment to see William who was dining at the Prinsenhof with a guest Rombertus van Uylenburgh. After William left the dining room and walked down-stairs, Van Uylenburgh heard Gérard shoot William in the chest at close range. Gérard fled immediately.

Adolf von Neuenahr
Traditionally, members of the Nassau family were buried in Breda, but as that city was under Spanish control, he was buried in the New Church in Delft. William’s eldest daughter Marie wrote;

‘When I recollect that we are now all orphans and do not know where or whither to turn, my heart is so full of sorrow that I hardly know what I do.’[ix]

Gérard was caught before he could escape Delft, and was imprisoned and tortured before his trial on 13th July, where he was sentenced to an execution brutal even by the standards of that time. The magistrates decreed that Gérard’s right hand should be burned, that his flesh be torn from his bones with pincers in six different places, that he be quartered, that his heart should be torn out and his head should be cut off. His family were rewarded by Philip with not only the reward but three estates which Philip was later to offer to Philip William provided he continue to pay a fixed portion of the rents to the family of his father's murderer; he scornfully rejected the offer.

After some delay, the States-General appointed William’s nephew Adolf von Neuenahr as stadtholder of his former provinces in William's stead. Philip William inherited his father’s principality, but he had no children and on his death in 1618 Maurice took his brother’s place as Prince of Orange. Maurice was a life-long bachelor and in 1625 when he died the principality passed to William’s youngest son Frederick William whose grandson was to inherit the throne of England.

Overall the revolt took eighty years to wear down Spanish opposition and it was not until 1648 that the Peace of Münster was signed by both sides, acknowledging the right of the Dutch Republic to exist, free of Spanish rule.


The Age of Religious Wars – Richard S Dunn, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1971
The Revolt of the Netherlands – Pieter Geyl, Cassell History 1988
The Spanish Inquisition – Henry Kamen, Phoenix 1998
Philip of Spain – Henry Kamen, Yale University Press 1998
The Spanish Armada – Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker, Guild Publishing 1988
The Grand Strategy of Philip II – Geoffrey Parker, Yale University Press 1998
Elizabeth – Anne Somerset, Phoenix Giant 1999
William the Silent – CV Wedgewood, Readers Union Ltd 1945

[i] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £7,211,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £237,100,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £2,343,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[ii] Juliana died on 18th June 1580
[iii] The Spanish Inquisition - Kamen
[iv] Philip of Spain - Kamen
[v] Known as the French Fury
[vi] William the Silent - Wedgewood
[viii] A soldier formerly serving Count Mansfeld
[ix] William the Silent - Wedgewood

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