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WILLIAM (1J33-1584)

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Originally appearing in Volume V28, Page 673 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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WILLIAM (1J33-1584), surnamed the SILENT, prince of Orange and count of Nassau, was born at the castle of Dillenburg in Nassau, on the 25th of April 1533. His grandfather, John, count of Nassau, had left his Netherland possessions to his elder son Henry, his German to his younger son William. This William of Nassau (d. 1559) had by his wife, Juliana of Stolberg, a family of five sons, of whom the subject of this notice was the eldest, and seven daughters. Henry became the trusted friend and counsellor of Charles V., and married (1515) Claude, sister of Philibert, prince of Orange. Philibert, having no issue, made Rene, the son of Henry and Claude, his heir. Rene, at the age of twenty-six, was killed at the siege of St Dizier in 1544, and left his titles and great possessions by will to his cousin William, who thus became prince of Orange. William's parents were Lutherans, but the emperor insisted that the boy-successor to Rene's heritage should be brought up in his court at Brussels, as a Catholic. The remembrance of his ancestors' services and his own high qualities endeared William to Charles, who secured for him, at the age of seventeen, the hand of Anne of Egmont, heiress of the count of Buren. Anne died in 1J58, leaving issue a son Philip William, prince of Orange and count of Buren, and a daughter. It was on the shoulder of the young prince of Orange that Charles V. leant when, in 1555, in the presence of a great assemble at Brussels, he abdicated. in favour of hisson Philip, the sovereignty of the Netherlands. William was also selected to carry the insignia of the empire to Ferdinand, king of the Romans, when Charles resigned the imperial crown. He had, at the age of twenty-one, been placed by the emperor, before his abdication, at the head of an army of 20,000 men in the war with France, and he continued to fill that post under Philip in 1556, but without distinction. His services, as a diplomatist, were much more brilliant. He was one of the three plenipotentiaries who negotiated the treaty of Cateau-Cambresis (1559), and was largely responsible for bringing about a settlement so favourable to Spanish interests. After the conclusion of the peace, the prince spent some time at the French court, in the capacity of a state hostage for the carrying out of the treaty. It was during his sojourn in France that William by his discreetness acquired the soubriquet of le Tacilurne (the Silent), which has ever since clung to his name. The appellation is in no way expressive of the character of the man, who was fond of conversation, most eloquent in speech, and a master of persuasion. His two great adversaries of the decade, which followed the peace of Cateau-Cambresis, were in 1559 closely associated with him; Granvelle as a plenipotentiary, Alva as a fellow-hostage. Up to this time the life of Orange had been marked by lavish display and extravagance. As a grand seigneur in one of the most splendid of courts, he surrounded himself with a retinue of gay young noblemen and dependents, kept open house in his magnificent Nassau palace at Brussels, and indulged in every kind of pleasure and dissipation. The revenue of his vast estates was not sufficient to prevent him being crippled by debt. But after his return from France, a change began to come over Orange. Philip made him councillor of state, knight of the Golden Fleece, and stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht; but there was a latent antagonism between the natures of the two men which speedily developed into relations of coolness and then of distrust. The harshness with which the stern laws against heretics were carried out, the presence of Spanish troops, the filling up of ministerial offices by Spaniards and other foreigners had, even before the departure of Philip for Spain (August 1559), stirred the most influential Netherland noblemen—foremost among them the prince of Orange, and the counts of Egmont and Hoorn—to a policy of constitutional opposition. With the advent of Margaret of Parma the situation became more serious. All state business was carried out by the Consulta; all power virtually placed in the hands of Cardinal Granvelle; the edicts against heretics enforced with the utmost severity; the number of bishoprics increased from three to fourteen (see NETHER-LANDS). As a protest, Orange, Egmont and Hoorn withdrew from the council of state, and wrote to the king setting forth their grievances. At this time Orange was still nominally a Catholic, but his marriage in August 1561 with Anne, daughter and heiress of the elector Maurice of Saxony, with Lutheran rites, at Dresden, was significant of what was to come. It marked the beginning of that gradual change in his religious opinions, which was to lead William through Lutheranism to that moderate Calvinism which he professed after 1573. Of the sincerity of the man during this period of transformation there can be little doubt. Policy possibly played its part in dictating the particular moments at which the changes of faith were acknowledged. No student of the prince's voluminous correspondence can fail, however, to see that he was a deeply religious man. The charges of insincerity brought against him by his enemies arise from the fact that in an age of bigotry and fanaticism the statesmanlike breadth and tolerance of William's treatment of religious questions, and his aversion to persecution for matters of opinion, were misunderstood. His point of view was in advance of that of his time. In the spring of 1564 the constitutional opposition of the great nobles to the policy of the king appeared to be successful. Granvelle was withdrawn, the Consulta abolished, and Orange, Egmont and Hoorn took their seats once more on the Council. They speedily found, however, that things did not mend. Granvelle had gone, but the royal policy was unchanged. In August 1564 Philip issued an order for carrying out the decrees of the Council of Trent, and for the strict execution of the placards against heretics. Protests, letters, personal missions were in vain, the king's will was not to be moved from its purpose. The spirit of resistance spread first to the lesser nobles, then to the people. In the memorable year 1566 came " the Compromise," " the Request," the banquet at the Hotel Culemburg with its cries of '' Vivent les Gueux " followed by the wild iconoclastic riots and outrages by bodies of fanatical Protestant sectaries at Antwerp and elsewhere. The effect of this last outbreak was disastrous. Philip was filled with anger and vowed vengeance. The national leaders drew back, afraid to identify themselves with revolutionary movements, or the cause of extreme Protestantism. Egmont was a good Catholic, and took active steps to suppress disorder, and Orange himself at the request of the regent betook himself to Antwerp, where the citizens in arms were on the point of engaging in civil strife. At the risk of his life the prince succeeded in bringing about an accord, and as he proclaimed its terms to a sullen and half-hostile crowd he uttered for the last time the words, " Long live the King!" It was his final act of loyal service to a sovereign, who from secret emissaries that he kept at Madrid, he knew to be plotting the destruction of himself and his friends. In vain he endeavoured to rouse Egmont to a sense of his danger, and to induce him and other prominent leaders to take steps, if necessary by armed resistance, to avert their doom. Finding all his efforts fruitless William, after resigning all his posts, left the country (22nd of April 1567), and took up his residence with his family at the ancestral home of the Nassaus at Dillenburg. At that very time Alva was quitting Madrid for his terrible mission of vengeance in the Netherlands (see ALVA). The story of the Council of Blood and of the executions of Egmont and Hoorn is told elsewhere. The prince of Orange was out of reach of the tyrant's arm, but by an act of imprudence he had left his eldest son, Philip William, count of Buren, studying at the university of Louvain. He was seized (February 1568) and carried off to Spain, to be brought up as an enemy to the political and religious principles of his father. He himself was outlawed, and his property confiscated. In March he published a lengthy defence of his conduct, entitled " Justification of the Prince of Orange against his Calumniators," and meanwhile strained every nerve to enlist an armed force for the invasion of the Netherlands. To raise money his brother, John of Nassau, pledged his estates, William himself sold his plate and jewels. An attack was made in three directions, but with disastrous results. The force under Louis of Nassau indeed gained a victory at Heiligerlee in Friesland (May 23rd), but met with a crushing defeat at the hands of Alva in person (July 21st) at Jemmingen. All seemed lost, but William's indomitable spirit did not despair. " With God's help," he wrote to his brother Louis, " I am determined to go on." In September he himself crossed the Meuse at the head of 18,000 infantry and 7000 cavalry. But Alva, while clinging to his steps, refused to fight, and William, through lack of funds, was compelled to disband his mercenaries, and withdraw over the French frontier (November 17th). Then followed the most miserable period of Orange's life. In fear of assassination, in fear of creditors, he wandered about from place to place, and his misfortunes were aggravated by the bad conduct of his wife, Anne of Saxony, who left him. She was finally, on the ground of insanity, placed in close confinement by her own family, and remained incarcerated until her death six years later. During the years 1569–1572 the brothers William and Louis, the one in Germany, the other in France, were, however, actively preparing for a renewal of the struggle for the freedom of the Netherlands. The barbarities of Alva had caused Spanish rule to be universally hated, and the agents of the Nassaus .vere busy in the provinces rousing the spirit of resistance and trying to raise funds. In 1569 eighteen vessels provided with letters of marque from the prince of Orange were preying upon Spanish commerce in the narrow seas. Stimulated by the hope of plunder their number rapidly grew, until the wild and fierce corsairs—named " Beggars of the sea " (Gueux de mer)
End of Article: WILLIAM (1J33-1584)
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