Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: William I (the Silent) from Philip's Encyclopedia

Prince of Orange, leader of the revolt of the Netherlands against Spanish rule. In 1572, he became the leader of a broad coalition in the Low Countries that opposed Spanish rule on the principle of religious tolerance. It broke down in 1579, when the Catholic S provinces, seeking reconciliation with Spain, broke away. William continued as leader of the N provinces until he was assassinated in Delft.

Summary Article: William, Prince of Orange (1533–1584)
from Encyclopedia of Tudor England

William of Orange was the principal leader of the Netherlands Revolt against Spain and one of the founders of the independent United Provinces of the Netherlands. William was born into a Lutheran family that controlled the German principality of Orange and vast estates in the Spanish-ruled Netherlands. Charles V took a liking to the boy and ordered that he be raised Catholic. In 1558, after succeeding his father (Charles V) as ruler of the Netherlands and Spain, Philip II appointed Orange to the Netherlands Council of State, and in 1559, Philip made Orange stadtholder (i.e., governor and commander in chief) of the Dutch provinces of Holland and Zeeland. From these positions of influence, the prince gradually assumed the leadership of a group of nobles who believed the Spanish regency government was denying them their rightful part in running the country. Orange assumed a wider leadership role when the political complaints of the nobility merged with popular protests against Philip’s attempts to impose a rigid Catholic orthodoxy throughout the country.

In 1566, after continuing government persecution of heretics caused Protestant mobs to attack and desecrate Catholic churches, Philip sent Spanish troops to restore order. When Orange fled to his German estates and refused to appear before a Spanish tribunal, Philip confiscated his holdings in the Netherlands. Realizing he had little future in a Catholic, Spanish Netherlands, Orange reverted to his childhood Protestantism and took up arms against Spain. Throughout the 1570s, the prince both led the rebellion and sought foreign financial and military aid, especially from England. Philip outlawed Orange in 1580 and offered a reward for his assassination. The prince survived one attempt on his life in 1582 but was shot to death by a Spanish agent in Delft on 10 July 1584.

In England, Orange’s death raised fears of similar Catholic attempts on the life of Elizabeth I, and it spurred the heretofore reluctant queen to think seriously about intervening militarily on behalf of the Dutch. During his lifetime, Orange acquired the nickname “William the Silent,” not for his reticence, but through an accident of translation. An opponent in the regency government called him schluwe, meaning “sly,” but this Dutch word was mistranslated into Latin as taciturnus (“quiet”) and so came into English as “silent.”

See also Bond of Association

Further Reading
  • Jardine, Lisa. The Awful End of Prince William the Silent: The First Assassination of a Head of State with a Handgun. Harper Perennial London, 2007.
  • Wedgwood, C. V. William the Silent. Weidenfeld and Nicolson London, 2001.
  • Copyright 2012 by ABC-CLIO, LLC

    Related Articles

    Full text Article WILLIAM I, PRINCE OF ORANGE (1533–1584)
    Famous Assassinations in World History: An Encyclopedia

    In 1584, Prince William of Orange was a man with a price on his head. King Philip II of Spain blamed him in large part for the Dutch revolt that had

    Full text Article William the Silent, Count of Nassau and Prince of Orange (1533–1584)
    500 Great Military Leaders

    Stadtholder (governor) of Holland. Born in Dillenburg Castle in Nassau (now Germany) on April 25, 1533, William was the eldest of 5 sons (12 childre

    Full text Article William I, the Silent
    Chambers Biographical Dictionary

    1533-84 Prince of Orange He became the first of the hereditary stadtholders of the United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1572. He joined the aristoc

    See more from Credo