Dutch history lesson: Why isn’t the Dutch flag orange?

Dutch history lesson: Why isn’t the Dutch flag orange?

If you tune in to any sporting event ever, you should easily be able to spot the Dutch competitors and the Dutch fans in the crowds - amongst all the blues, reds, and whites, the bright orange of the Netherlands is extremely hard to miss. The country also celebrates oranje every year on King’s Day, and any festive snacks that you’ll find in supermarkets or at Hema are, of course, orange. 

The Dutch are known for a handful of things around the world - tulips, cheese, cycling, et cetera - but the nation’s love for the colour orange can most definitely be added to the list. This obsession isn’t completely random; the country’s royal family belongs to the House of Orange-Nassau. But with this key link to the colour, why doesn’t the country just go the whole hog and have an orange flag? To answer this question, we have to go way back to the 16th century.

The Netherlands and its love of orange

Orange has been a popular colour among Dutchies since the late 16th century when Willem I, Prince of Orange, led the Dutch independence movement against the Spanish. Inheriting his title from a cousin in southern France, William I adopted the Prince of Orange colours - blue, white and orange - and independence fighters wore orange uniforms to distinguish themselves.

Willem I’s influence and the country’s newfound obsession with the colour orange led to the creation of a new flag: orange, white and blue stripes.  

The prinsenvlag: When the Dutch flag was orange

The first printed version of this new orange flag hails from 1575, and, from 1577, the Dutch flag at sea was orange - but this version was never officially adopted by the country. Interestingly, in the 20th century, many right-wing nationalists in the Netherlands once again adopted the prinsenvlag ("prince’s flag") as their own, labelling it as the country’s “authentic flag.” This trend didn’t catch on though.

Image: vectorissimo via Shutterstock. Dutch prinsenvlag

The statenvlag: Red, white, and blue

Some republicans never switched over to the prinsenvlag and, by 1660, the orange had been almost completely phased out and was instead fully replaced with red, creating the Dutch flag that everyone knows today: the statenvlag ("state’s flag"). But why was the orange phased out? There are a couple of theories.

Firstly, the repercussions of the English Civil War in the second half of the 17th century would also have been felt in the Netherlands. The colour orange was regularly associated with the Stuarts - a family the Oranjes had exceedingly strong ties with, as Prince Willem II married Mary I Stuart in 1641- who were deposed in the late 1640s.

Another theory is that the death of Willem van Oranje II in 1650 - and the subsequent political uncertainties - led to the gradual death of the colour orange. Without an Oranje occupying the position of stadtholder (i.e. the national leader), republicans in the Netherlands could replace the prinsenvlag with the statenvlag, before going on to ban the orange flag in 1652. 

100 years later, the statenvlag was adopted as the official national flag after the French Revolution, when the colours red, white and blue were hailed as the colours of liberty. Since the 18th century, the Dutch flag has remained unchanged, and countries around the world have followed the Netherlands’ lead, claiming red, white, and blue for their own flags.

Long live oranje!

All this history and the death of the prinsenvlag didn’t kill the Netherlands’ genuine obsession with orange though. It might not be the most flattering colour, but it is certainly eye-catching, and serves to add another interesting layer to the country’s national identity!

Victoria Séveno


Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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BenWilmink2 16:35 | 1 October 2021

They say the orange turned into rescue to the sunlight That is the reason why it became red. Also you forgot to mention that the flag of the Netherlands is for as far a I know to only one in the world that changes. Because when it is the rebirth day of a Royal or Royal event the ' oranje wimpel' is added to the flag. And that changes it

Theo Nienhuijs 12:48 | 9 October 2021

Mmmm .... strange. I left a Comment here about a week ago, pointing out the main errors in this article, First, i wrote that William the Silent did NOT hail from The Principality of Orange, but from House of Nassue-Dillenberg, now Germany. My Comment appeared here for a few days, but has now been deleted, and the major erros in the original article remain. Why is this so I'm wondering? Surely not "I am Expat" censoring information, and rewriting Dutch history? 😂 Dutch National Anthem: 'Wilhelmus van Nassouwe ben ik van Duitsen bloed." Every school kid can sing it. Why are you not correcting your claim to: 'Wilhelmus van Oranje ben ik van Franse bloed" Who are those who believe your nonsense, above, that William the Silent was French? Expats aren't that dumb. Haha. Why do you censor this basic information? Get real. Have the decency to acknowledge error and correct it. It sheds poor light on this I AM EXPAT publication and is an insult to your readers as it stands. It leaves me wondering about the credibility of the rest of this rag.

Theo Nienhuijs 16:53 | 12 October 2021

Shame! You happily leave grossly incorrect information about Dutch history in this absurd article, even after having serious errors pointed out. And you removed my Comment pointing out the errors. You need to consider the ethics of your profession, Ms Sėveno. You also bring this publication into disrepute, and insult the Netherlands by publishing this blatant misinformation about, of all people, de Vader des Vaderland, and maintaining it weeks after you have been told of your error. WILLIAM THE SILENT WAS NOT FRENCH!! And that's only the first error.

VictoriaSeveno2 10:17 | 13 October 2021

Dear Theo, Thank you for pointing these issues out. The article has been updated.