Here's How The Prince or Princess of Orange Title Came Into The Kingdom of The Netherlands

One of the many questions we often received about the current Royal Houses in Europe is how the royal titles of the heir-apparent and heir-presumptive (Duchess of Brabant, Princess of Asturias, Prince of Wales, Princess of Orange), came into the royal family. And what's the history behind them.

Here's the answer to how The Princess of Orange came into the Dutch royal family. We will answer other questions in the succeeding posts. Princess Catharina-Amalia is the first Princess of Orange title holder in her own right. 

Before 1983, when the Dutch constitution still followed the Male-preference primogeniture succession, the Dutch Heir-Apparent is always the first-born son of the monarch, and the title is The Prince of Orange.

The House of Orange-Nassau

The current Royal House of the Kingdom of The Netherlands is Orange-Nassau, a coined name taken from the two noble houses in Europe: Orange and Nassau. But neither Orange nor Nassau is Dutch in origin. 

The birth of the House of Orange-Nassau began in the 16th century when Henry III of Nassau-Breda (1483-1538), the Count of the House of Nassau in Germany, married Claudia of Châlon from Burgundy in France (1498-1521), the daughter of John IV, Lord of Arlay and Prince of Orange.

John IV was the first cousin of Queen Anne of France (Duchess of Brittany), the wife of Charles VII of France, and Louis XII of France. John IV had two children: Claudia and Philibert, who succeeded him as Prince of Orange in 1502.

Count Henry III of Nassau and Claudia of Châlon had an only child, Rene of Nassau (1519-1544). When Philibert died in 1530 without children, the Principality of Orange in France was inherited by his nephew, Rene of Nassau. 

It was during Rene's reign as Prince of Orange that he began using the coined name, Orange-Nassau. Thus, the House of Orange-Nassau was founded in 1530.

The House of Nassau

It is a diversified aristocratic house in Europe named after the lordship associated with the Nassau castle in Germany. The lords of Nassau were then titled Counts of Nassau but later elevated to the Prince of Nassau.

The ruins of Nassau Castle in Germany. The original seat of the House of Nassau

Nassau was once part of the Duchy of Franconia in Germany which was later elevated into an independent state and became part of the Holy Roman Empire.

The current Dutch royal family directly descended from William of Nassau, also known as William the Silent. His father, William I, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg, was the younger brother of Count Henry III of Nassau-Breda.

Henry III's son, Rene of Nassau, was the founder of the House of Orange-Nassau (1530) in the Principality of Orange in southern France.

The Principality of Orange

The County of Orange in southern France was a feudal state under the Holy Roman Empire. In 1163, the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa (who later became King of Prussia in Germany), elevated it to Principality to bolster his support against the King of France and the Pope in the Vatican. 

The Principality was first ruled by different noble houses, including the House of Châlon, until it passed to the House of Nassau (Rene) when Philibert died without heirs, thereby establishing the House of Orange-Nassau.

William the Silent. Credit: wikimedia commons

Rene had no children nor siblings, so he bequeathed the House of Orange-Nassau together with his vast estates, to his first cousin on his father's side, William of Nassau-Dillenberg (although he was no Princely Orange blood).

William of Nassau, also known as William the Silent, formally became Prince of Orange-Nassau in 1544. 

He was still a minor when he inherited the Principality of Orange and the vast estates of Rene in the low countries (now part of Belgium), so the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (who was also King Charles I of Spain), ruled on his behalf. 

He was also sent to the Spanish Netherlands to receive a proper Roman Catholic education under the guidance of Charles V's sister, Mary of Hungary.

William the Silent was a wealthy nobleman who originally served the Hapsburgs in the Spanish Netherlands. He was a favorite of King Charles I of Spain/Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

William married Anna van Egmond, a daughter, and heiress of a wealthy Dutch nobleman, Maximilian van Egmond.

In 1556, Charles V abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain to retire in the monastery. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Ferdinand, as Holy Roman Emperor, while his eldest son, Philip II, succeeded him as King of Spain.

King Philip II then appointed William the Silent as Stadtholder (meaning governor) of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel in the Spanish Netherlands, prompting him to rise in power during the Hapsburg reign.

However, years later, William the Silent grew disillusioned with how politics and power evolved in the Hapsburg empire in the Spanish Netherlands.

Unhappy with the persecution of the Dutch protestants and the centralization of power and local estates, he joined the Dutch uprising against the Spanish Hapsburgs and became its leader. The uprising was later known in history as Dutch Revolt. 

He was declared an outlaw by the Spanish crown in 1580 and was assassinated in 1584, but the events during the revolution gave way to the creation of the Dutch Republic. 

The Dutch Republic was a federal republic that existed after the Dutch Revolt and was the first fully independent Dutch nation-state.

The Dutch Republic was established after the seven Dutch provinces in the Spanish Netherlands revolted against Spanish rule. It was composed of the provinces of Groningen, Frisia, Overijssel, Guelders, Utrecht, Holland and Zeeland.

William the Silent was succeeded by his eldest son, Prince William. 

The House of Orange-Nassau after William the Silent

Prince William, however, had no children so he was succeeded by his half-brother, Maurice, who was also succeeded by their half-brother, Frederick Henry,

Frederick Henry's son who succeeded him as William II of Orange, married Princess Mary, the eldest daughter of King Charles I of Britain. 

Princess Mary and William II of Orange/Stadtholder of Holland had an only son, William of Orange who married his first cousin, also named Princess Mary, daughter of his uncle, James II of the United Kingdom.  

William and Mary later jointly ruled the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as William III and Mary II when James II was forced to abdicate due to his Catholic belief.

The succession crisis of the Principality of Orange and Stadtholdership of Holland, rose when William and Mary did not have surviving children. 

When William III died in 1702, he was succeeded by his sister-in-law, Anne, on the British throne. While John William Friso, the son of his cousin, Henry Casimir II, Prince of Nassau-Dietz, succeeded him as Prince of Orange and Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel.

John William Friso had two children, and his only son, William IV, Prince of Orange, married Princess Anne, the eldest daughter of King George II of Britain.

William IV became the first hereditary Stadtholder of all the United Provinces of The Netherlands, in addition to the Principality of Orange-Nassau, positions he held until his death in 1751.

During his tenure as Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, William IV also served as Captain General of the Dutch states army.

William IV and Princess Anne of the United Kingdom had several children but had only one surviving son, William V, the last Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic. 

William V, a first cousin of King George III of the United Kingdom, married Princess Wilhelmina of Prussia, daughter of King Frederick II of Prussia, in 1767.

Although the Principality of Orange was already ceded to France in 1713 during the Treaty of Utrecht, William V continued to reign as Prince of Orange-Nassau, in addition to being the Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic.

In 1793,  in an attempt to save the reign of King Louis XVI of France, William V joined the First Coalition to fight the Republicans during the French Revolution.

The war went badly for William V and the Dutch Republic was threatened by the invading French revolutionists. In 1795, he fled to London to live in exile, and the Dutch Republic was replaced by the Batavian republic.

He later moved to Brunswick in Germany where his only daughter, Princess Louise, married Prince Charles, the Hereditary Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. 

He died there in 1806, around the time Napoleon Bonaparte launched his ambitious military campaign to dominate power in Europe.

Eventually, Napoleon Bonaparte, who declared himself Emperor of France, defeated the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, and subsequently abolished the Holy Roman Empire, confiscating some of the feudal estates of the empire including the Principality of Orange in France. He also annexed the Netherlands to the French empire in 1810.

Napoleon Bonaparte's excessive political ambition incensed the Great Powers of Europe that they joined forces to defeat him in 1813 during the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba.

The reign of William I in The Netherlands

After Napoleon's defeat, the Orange-Nassau and other estates were returned to William V's son, Prince Willem Frederik of Orange-Nassau during the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In addition, Luxembourg was annexed as a province of The Netherlands.

Portrait of William I in 1833

He was also appointed Prince of The United Netherlands by King Frederick William III of Prussia, but Willem Frederik, afraid of the threat of Napoleon's return upon hearing that the former French emperor had escaped from the island of Elba, later proclaimed himself King of The Netherlands as William I. 

His eldest son, Willem Frederik George Louis, assumed the title, The Prince of Orange, which began the tradition of naming the Dutch heir-apparent as Prince of Orange.

In 1814, The Prince of Orange was briefly engaged to Princess Charlotte of Wales, arranged by her father, the future King George IV of the United Kingdom. But the engagement was broken because Charlotte did not like him. Instead, she chose Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, to marry.

Charlotte married Prince Leopold in 1816, while The Prince of Orange married Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia, the younger sister of Emperor Alexander I of Russia, in the same year. 

Royal Arms of the Kingdom of The Netherlands

The Prince of Orange and Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna had five children, including the future King William III, who was born in Brussels in 1817, the same year that Princess Charlotte gave birth to her stillborn son and later died.

His father, William I, was effectively the first King of The Netherlands. William I later ceded the Principality of Orange to Prussia in exchange for becoming the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. He also became the Duke of Limburg in 1839 during the Treaty of London. 

The Prince of Orange enjoyed popularity in Southern Netherlands, now Belgium, and in 1830 when the Belgian revolution broke out, he acted as a peacemaker.

However, his father rejected all the terms he proposed to appease the revolutionists, and in 1831, he was sent by his father to lead the military to avert the revolution, but to no avail.

Belgium eventually declared independence in 1831, electing Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, as its first monarch. Ironically, Leopold was The Prince of Orange's romantic rival over Princess Charlotte of Wales.

Later in William I's reign, the Dutch government adopted constitutional changes, some of which he disliked, prompting him to abdicate in 1840. The Prince of Orange succeeded him as William II. 

During William II's reign, The Netherlands transitioned to parliamentary democracy, creating its new constitution in 1848.

The new constitution established the Male-preference Primogeniture Law of Succession for the Dutch throne but never the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which followed its own constitution and succession law - the Agnatic Primogeniture succession. 

William III of The Netherlands

William II died in 1849 and was succeeded by his eldest son, The Prince of Orange, who took the regnal name of William III. 

William III was the last King of The Netherlands as the succeeding Dutch monarchs were all females, ending in 2013 upon the abdication of Queen Beatrix. 

William III was also the last Dutch monarch to die while still on the throne. All succeeding female monarchs ended their reigns through abdication.

The Modern Dutch royals

When William III died in 1890 without surviving sons, his daughter, Princess Wilhelmina, succeeded him as Queen of The Netherlands, but the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which could not be inherited by females during that time, was inherited by his distant cousin, Adolphe of Nassau.

Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962) Reigned: 1890-1948

Queen Juliana (1909-2004) reigned: 1948-1980
Queen Beatrix (1938) Reigned: 1980-2013

On April 30, 2013, The Netherlands finally had a King when Queen Beatrix abdicated the throne in favor of her eldest son, Willem-Alexander, the first Dutch king since William III.

King Willem-Alexander (1967) Reigned: 2013 © RVD Martijn Beekman
Catharina-Amalia, The Princess of Orange. ©RVD Frank Ruiter

The Netherlands will have another Queen in the future because the King's heir-apparent is his eldest daughter, Princess Catharina-Amalia, the first Princess of Orange title holder.

Huis Ten Bosch in The Hague. 

King Willem-Alexander, his wife, Queen Maxima, and their three daughters, Princesses Catharina-Amalia, Alexia, and Ariane, have lived at Huis Ten Bosch Palace in The Hague since 2019. It is one of the Dutch monarch's official residences.

War of the Spanish Succession

A little bit of history about the War of the Spanish Succession because it had some links to The Netherlands and the Principality of Orange.

The Principality of Orange was ceded to France in 1713 during the Treaty of Utrecht, which also ended the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). 

It was a costly and bloody war that dragged much of Europe to the conflict due to the succession crisis in Spain, triggered by the death of the childless King Charles II of Spain.

It was fought by two claimants, Prince Philip of Anjou, the grandson of King Louis XIV of France (whose wife was the sister of Charles II), and Archduke Charles of Austria (whose grandmother was also the sister of Charles II). 

Both Prince Philip of Anjou and Archduke Charles of Austria were second cousins and in line to succeed the Spanish throne, but Charles II's designated heir was Philip of Anjou.

Archduke Charles was defeated and the Spanish throne went to Philip of Anjou, who later became King Philip V of Spain and founded the House of Bourbon, which up to these days the ruling House of Spain. King Felipe VI of Spain is his direct descendant.

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