The Dutch Royal Family

The Dutch Royal Family

Royal families can be arcane and confusing institutions. Here are a few snippets of information to fill in some of the gaps around the Netherland’s very own House of Orange-Nassau.

Origins of the Dutch Royal House

The House of Orange-Nassau began its rise to royal station in 1559 when Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, placed one of his nobles in charge of the provinces of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht. This noble was Prince William of Nassau and his title was stadhouder, literally deputy or "place keeper."

That William in fact refused to keep the place for his liege lord is one of the great turning points in Dutch history. William was the main leader of the revolt of the Seventeen Provinces against Philip II, Charles V’s heir in Spain.

He was thus instrumental in starting the Eighty Years’ War, also known as the Dutch War of Independence (1568-1648), which in 1581 established the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and then in 1648 the Republic of the Netherlands.

Why the House of Orange?

The title of Orange came a little later in William’s life, when he inherited it from his cousin. The Principality of Orange is in fact in France, on the left bank of the Rhone north of Avignon. That a Dutch prince inherited that title is one of the twists of European nobility.

William’s uncle was Henry III of Nassau-Breda in Germany, while his aunt was Claudia of Châlon-Orange. Their son inherited the Principality of Orange after her brother’s death, and his untimely demise in turn passed it to William.

What happened to the Dutch Republic?

There were still stadhouders from the House of Orange during the period of the republic. Since William I, the office was combined with that of captain-general of the republic, unless the current stadhouder aimed for more power.

This sort of behaviour resulted in the first and the second "stadhouderless eras" (1650-72 and 1702-47), where citizens took the opportunity to rule themselves.

Both of these eras were brought to an end by an invasion of the Netherlands, which resulted in the reinstatement of a stadhouder from the House of Orange, primarily in his capacity as a captain-general of the Dutch armies.

Nonetheless, democratic rumblings continued and in 1798 Willem V was nearly ousted by a group of Dutch democratic revolutionaries called the Patriots. He was saved by the intervention of the King of Prussia, who in handy fashion was also his father-in-law.

His rule did not last, however, as in 1795 the Netherlands was invaded (again) by the French, soon to be ruled by Napoleon. William V took off and never returned. In 1802 his son, Willem VI, renounced the stadhoudership in return for a few territories from Napoleon.

The French were eventually driven out in 1813 by Prussian and Cossack troops with the support of the Patriots.

Faced with inviting the House of Orange back themselves or having it installed over them by the Prussians, the Dutch parliament chose to reinstate Willem VI, despite his renunciation. The current Kingdom of the Netherlands thus dates from 1815.

A Dutch matriarchy

Until King William III died in 1890, the Netherlands had only known kings (or stadhouders, of course). From this point, however, the Netherlands entered over 100 years of female rule.

Queen Emma, William III’s wife, came first, acting as regent for their young daughter Wilhelmina, who was crowned queen in 1898. She reigned for 50 years, through two world wars and the Nazi occupation. Her pirate radio speeches during her exile during the occupation served as a beacon of hope for her people and she was hailed as a hero.

Wilhelmina abdicated in 1948 and was succeeded by her only daughter Juliana, who was succeeded in turn by her eldest daughter-of-four Beatrix in 1980. This year, Beatrix abdicated in favour of her son, the first Dutch king in 115 years.

Willem-Alexander has three daughters, however, so the crown won’t stay in male hands for long. His heir is his eldest daughter Princess Catharina-Amalia.

Is the Dutch royal family expensive?

Ah, yes. The Dutch royal family has a very large budget. In fact, they are more expensive than the British royals and cost four times as much as the Spanish royal family, making them the most expensive royal family in Europe.

According to a 2012 study from Ghent University, the House of Orange-Nassau costs over 36 million euros a year, more than any other royal family in western Europe. In fact, looking at the amounts proportionally, they’re even more expensive, given the far smaller size of the Dutch population.

Once expense you can’t lay at their feet, however, is their royal jewels. The Dutch royal crown is made out of gold-plated silver with fake pearls and jewels made from fish scales, glass and coloured foil.

Sources: Den Haag, Guardian, Wikipedia
Cover photo courtesy of Het Koninklijkhuis

Alexandra Gowling


Alexandra Gowling

Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in Asia before coming to the Netherlands a year ago. She enjoys writing, reading...

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