Most Googled: Why do the Dutch wear orange?
If you’ve lived in the Netherlands, or even just visited a few times, you’ll no doubt be familiar with Dutch culture. Tulips, bicycles, windmills, and wooden clogs are all quintessential aspects of Dutch culture. These things can be found everywhere in the Netherlands, from the back streets of Amsterdam to the idyllic waterways of Giethoorn.
However, there is one aspect of Dutch culture that is so prevalent, it’s even used by the Netherlands Board of Tourism to promote the country worldwide. No, it’s not bitterballen (although they are delicious enough to attract people from all over the world) - it’s the colour orange.
But why is the colour orange so intrinsically tied to the Netherlands and Dutch culture? Well, for our inaugural “Most Googled” article on IamExpat in the Netherlands, we’re about to delve into the history of the Dutch (and their royal house) to find out why the colour orange is so important to Dutch culture.
The rulers of the Netherlands
Everywhere you go in the Netherlands, you’ll notice the colour orange. Dutch sports fans wear orange at live events; the Dutch national football team is even affectionately known as Oranje. On King’s Day, Dutchies cover themselves head-to-toe in orange and take to the streets to celebrate, and the national flag is flown with an orange pendant. The Dutch even have their own word for this: Oranjekoorts ("orange fever").
To get to the bottom of why the Dutch wear orange it’s probably best to start with the royal family of the Netherlands, which (rather tellingly) belongs to the House of Orange-Nassau. King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands is the current head of the House of Orange-Nassau, which has ruled over the Netherlands since 1815. The first King of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was William I.
William of Orange
However, the House of Orange-Nassau does not begin with William I. In fact, while the United Kingdom of the Netherlands is the precursor to the modern Kingdom of the Netherlands, it was not the first “Dutch” state. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands was borne out of the decline of the First French Empire, which, under Napoleon, had annexed the area of the Netherlands (then known as the Kingdom of Holland).
The first fully independent Dutch nation-state was the Dutch Republic, which was formed in the midst of the Eighty Years’ War (also known as the Dutch Revolt). The Dutch Revolt was a conflict between rebels and the Spanish government, which had controlled the “Netherlands” (at the time a collection of provinces and fiefs under collective rule) since 1482. The main leader of the rebels was William the Silent, more commonly known as William of Orange.
William of Orange was the founder of the House of Orange-Nassau. Born into the German House of Nassau, William inherited the Principality of Orange from his cousin, René of Chalon. René died in 1544 and left all his estates and titles to William, who was just 11 years old at the time. He joined the rebellion against the Spanish due to their persecution of protestants and his strong belief in freedom of religion, despite his Lutheran and Catholic upbringing.
Father of the Fatherland
Due to his role in the rebellion against the Spanish and his support for the Union of Utrecht in 1579, which united the northern provinces of the Netherlands and is regarded as the foundation for the Dutch Republic, William of Orange is known as Father of the Fatherland in the Netherlands.
However, despite his importance, William was never a king. This was because the Netherlands at this time was not a kingdom but rather a federal republic made up of seven provinces: Duchy of Gelders, County of Holland, County of Zeeland, Lordship of Utrecht, Lordship of Overijssel, Lordship of Frisia, and Lordship of Groningen. However, William did wield substantial power and authority as Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht and Friesland.
He was actually appointed Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht by the King Philip II of Spain years before the revolution. Before then, stadtholders were representatives of the king or lord. They had no lands themselves but could govern with full authority. However, under Philip II their powers were reduced.
The three provinces kept William on as stadtholder following his rebellion against the Spanish and, after the seven provinces declared their independence from Spain, stadtholders became the highest executive official of the province, although the highest executive power was wielded by the state.
The Principality of Orange
So, what exactly is the Principality of Orange? Originally, it was a county in the Kingdom of Burgundy. In 1163, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I granted the county sovereign status within the Empire. Essentially, the county was freed from being ruled by local lords and placed under the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor. The Prince of Orange gained the sovereign rights of the emperor once it was no longer incorporated within the Holy Roman Empire.
The name of the town of Orange has no direct connection with the fruit (from which the colour is described), and the connection between the two was made later.
The Principality of Orange consisted of the city of Orange in southern France and the surrounding lands. In modern France, the city is now a commune in the Vaucluse department, located in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
So why do the Dutch wear orange then?
Due to the significance of William of Orange and the House of Orange-Nassau, the colour orange was adopted by the people living in the seven states of the Dutch Republic. The colour was not only conflated with his name but was also prominent on his heraldry and coat of arms.
William’s importance in Dutch history, derived from his status as the “Father of the Fatherland”, the liberator of the Dutch provinces from the Spanish, and stadtholder, meant that he has long held a special place in the hearts of the Dutch and the colour was adopted in his honour. It is said that soldiers fighting for Dutch independence wore the colour orange into battle and, in fact, the very first iteration of the Dutch flag sported an orange stripe instead of red.
The colour and title of “orange” persisted in the Netherlands, as after William’s death, his son, Maurice, solidified Dutch hegemony in the Lowlands. The House of Orange continued to produce stadtholders until finally it became the ruling house of the Netherlands. As the years rolled by, orange came to be adopted by more Dutch institutions and establishments, eventually coming to the prominence it holds today.
An alternative reason?
Another reason the colour orange could have been associated with the House of Orange could be because of the fruit. As previously mentioned, the Principality of Orange has no connection to the fruit - but it did share the same name. The name for the colour was actually derived from the fruit, which made its way into Europe in the early ninth century, with sweet oranges coming to Europe around the beginning of the 16th century, which may have further driven the connection between the name and the colour.
It is postulated that the Principality became associated with the colour because it was on the route by which oranges were transported to northern France. As the Principality came to be associated with the fruit, and the colour, so too did its ruling house.
Exploring the Netherlands, its history and its culture
If you’re an avid IamExpat reader, you might have realised that this “Most Googled” started on IamExpat in Germany. Over there, we have explored numerous hot topics like the many names of Germany and why roofs in Germany are so steep.
If you have any burning questions about the Netherlands, you’d like us to answer let us know in the comments! Until next time!