02 July 2009

William I, the Silent Father of the United Republic of the Netherlands

A man ahead of his time and a ruler of unusual discretion and judgment; William I, called The Silent, and Prince of Orange, was the founding Father of the Netherlands. His influence in establishing the Low Lands as a Republic can be likened to that of George Washington in the United States. His life is one of excitement, mixed loyalties, betrayals, and passion.

William was born in the year 1553, to a noble family living in Dillenburg Germany. His parents were Lutherans and raised young William, along with his eleven younger siblings, in the reformed faith. An aunt in France owned the estates of Orange and when she died childless William inherited the lands and the title “Prince of Orange”. There was just one catch, the will stipulated that William must become Catholic to receive his inheritance. At about this time the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V took a liking to William, that is, to everything but Williams Protestantism. Probably due to purely political reasons young William renounced his faith and became a member of the Catholic Church. But he never forgot the teachings of his childhood.

Charles V depended on William for everything. It is said that when the old emperor abdicated the throne in favor of his son Phillip II in 1556, he leaned his aging frame upon Williams’s strong arm. Charles had tried to discourage Protestantism in his empire, including the Netherlands. Phillip wanted to eradicate the heretics from the face of the earth.

William lost much of his influence in court when Charles resigned. Philip was suspicious of Williams loyalties and rarely kept him informed in matters of state. In 1559 Phillip appointed William Stadholder in the Netherland provinces Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, and Burgundy. Perhaps it was here and now that Williams’s sympathies for the Protestant cause became to emerge. Phillips cruelties and the independent spirit of the Netherlanders were clashing during Williams rule. Finally William could take no more, in 1567 he retreated to his lands in Naussa France to pray and rethink his loyalties. Meanwhile Phillip raised a Spanish army to crush the heretics in the Low Lands.

Like a determined tide William returned in 1568 to take up the cause of religious freedom in the Netherlands. He raised an army and challenged Phillip, who must have felt vindicated in his former suspicions. Time after time the Netherlanders were beaten, but, the country itself was on their side.

The Netherlands is a country wrested from the sea. Patiently the Dutch people toiled to raise dikes and build farms in the low lying countryside. During the eighty year war for independence William advised the people to pull down their dikes and let the sea in. Homes and dikes could be rebuilt but the loss of their childrens future liberty could not be repaid. So the people let the sea fight their battles, and indeed, it was on the sea that the Dutch could not be bested. They were called the “Beggars of the Sea” and their navies were a threat the Spanish could not reckon with. Gradually the Spanish were driven back.

In 1579 William the Silent and the representatives of seven Northern provinces signed the Union of Utrecht, a compact which bound them together for better or worse. Despite his love for the Protestant cause William insisted that religious freedom be given to Catholics as well as Protestants within the new Republic. He was a man ahead of times, realizing that neither faith was going to go away – the problem of conscience was here to stay.

Phillip did not realize this important idea. He was stuck in the past of Christendom, believing like so many that the Catholic Church meant a church headed by the authority of Rome instead of a catholic body of believers in many countries with many beliefs but one head, Jesus Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture. In 1581 Phillip put a price on Williams head, 25,000 guilders. A Frenchman named Balthasar Gerard took up the challenge, and, in 1584, put a bullet through Williams chest. The last words of the Father of the Fatherland were “My God, have pity on my soul. My God, have pity on this poor people.” The Champion of the Netherlands was dead.

01 July 2009

A Brief History of the Netherlands; 1100-1600 A.D.

The history of the Netherlands is an intriguing one. Its unique geography, location, and political state combined to create the first modern Republic. Lets quickly overview some of the major events that took place between 1100 and 1600 A.D. in the Netherlands and see how they impacted this truly amazing country.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Netherlands, or Low Lands as they are often called, developed a keen interest in trade. The people were hard working and industrious, reclaiming much of their land from the wild North Sea by means of dikes and dams. They fished and built ships for other countries, and then became interested in shipping and importing textiles. Quickly the cities grew fat with profit and began to question their nobles authority over them. Many cities became city states and were given the right to have defensible walls, markets, toll rights, storage rights (the right to store and exclusively trade particular goods), and mint rights. The inhabitants of cities were not subject to liegelords and had more personal freedom than country folk concerning travel and the choice of religion.

Then, in 1517, a small paper nailed to a church door in Germany by a monk called Martin Luther sparked a religious reformation that impacted the Netherlands cataclysmically. The Protestant Reformation was just that, a protest against the Catholic church’s teaching and a call for reformation in Church doctrine. This coincided nicely with the growing resentment the Netherlands had against their foreign overlords – who were Catholic. In the early sixteenth century Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, was handed control of the Netherlands by the Dukes of Bourgogne. He in turn passed it to his son Phillip II of Spain. By this time the majority of the Netherlands were Protestants, more than that, they were Calvinist Protestants.

Phillip wanted to wipe out the Protestants in his domain, and the Netherlanders had already been insubordinate to him by spreading anti-catholic riots in their country during 1566. The monarch sent Spanish troops in 1568 to squelch the stocky Dutch. The eighty year war for independence which lasted until 1648 had begun.

Here one of my personal favorite military leaders enters the action, William I, Prince of Orange, also called William the Silent. The Prince of Orange was born in Germany and eventually, through many lines of successions and unintelligible twists in royal family trees (latin to the uninitiated), he became Stadholder in the provinces of provinces of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht. I could write a book about William I, but it will need to wait for my next paper. The Prince was a loyal Protestant and abhorred the atrocities committed against the reformers in the Low Lands under Phillip II. He rallied the country behind him and engaged in war to defend and liberate the Low Lands from foreign interference. The Southern provinces (Belgium today) eventually returned to Spanish rule, but the remaining seven Northern provinces formed the Union of Utrecht in 1579 pledging to uphold one another in the fight for freedom. On July 26, 1581, the Northern Provinces declared themselves free from Spain and formed what has come to be called “The Dutch Republic” or the Netherlands. This independence was finally recognized by the Spanish in 1648. The Golden Age of the Netherlands had dawned.