Jacob Houbraken, Portrait of William of Orange (engraving), after a painting by Michiel Jansz. van Miereveld (1747-1759)

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William of Orange was born in Dillenburg, Germany, in 1553, the eldest son of William the Rich, Count of Nassau, and Juliana of Stolberg. Thanks to an inheritance from a cousin William became Prince of the principality of Orange in France in 1544.

Alongside this principality William inherited important estates and titles in the Netherlands. The Spanish Emperor Charles V thereby insisted that William must adopt the Roman Catholic faith and be educated at the court in Brussels.

William became one of the most important noblemen at the court, and was one of Charles’ favourites. After 1555 William was appointed to high positions. He became stadholder (governor) and supreme military commander for Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht. He was one of the most influential members of the nobility in the Netherlands. However, his relationship with Philip II, Charles’ son and by then King of Spain, worsened when William opposed Philip’s strict rule. In 1567 William fled to his birthplace, Dillenburg Castle, and from there he led various military assaults to drive out the Duke of Alva.

Ultimately William of Orange was shot dead in Delft by the Catholic Balthasar Gerards on 10 July 1584.