Willem the Silent is widely considered to be the father of the Netherlands, but I have found that he was born in Nassau, Germany, which was then part of the Holy Roman empire. His ancestors were born in the Netherlands, but would it still be considered sensible to consider him Dutch AND German?

Why am I asking this? Let's look at an example of an opposite case. Nobel prize winner Wilhelm Röntgen was born in Germany, but his parents were Dutch. He still is considered a German. He even lived in Netherlands for almost his entire youth. Yet still he's considered German. This is just an example, don't try to base your answer off of this reply.

  • Welcome to the site. A good first question, clearly spelled out, and with a counterexample (Rontgen) to your main question.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 19:19
  • 1
    @DVK, no, Napoleon was not Sicilian. He's from Corsica.
    – gdir
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 4:38
  • English speaking people are always confusing Dutch (Hollandic) and Netherlandish. If you look at the great-grandpersons of Willem you can count one great-grandmother (a countess van Loon) as Netherlandish, but not Dutch. In present terminology 7 of his greatgrandparents can be classified as Germans (mostly from Middle Germany).
    – JRB
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 23:49

3 Answers 3


William the Silent inherited his lands from his cousin, Rene of Nassau. Rene's mother came from the Dutch house of Orange. The Nassau side of the family is German. It is through the House of Orange that William the Silent is "Dutch. That is, he"adopted" the House of Orange and is "adopted" Dutch. FWIW, he's also "German. But that is not how he is "known."

  • @Willem: Say What! The House of Orange is only as Dutch as William the Silent. The "Principality of Orange was, from 1163 to 1713, a feudal state in Provence, ..., on the left bank of the River Rhone north of the city of Avignon.*" (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principality_of_Orange). It is associated with the Netherlands ONLY through the adoption of William the Silent, and his family as Dutch hereditary Stadtholders and Monarchs. Commented May 30, 2016 at 1:37

William was born at Dillenburg castle, eldest son of the incumbent COunt of Nassau-Dillenburg. He inherited the Principality of Orange upon the death of his childless uncle, on condition of receiving a Catholic education. As fulfillment of the condition William was sent at age eleven to be educated accordingly, first at Breda in the modern Netherlands and subsequently in Brussels then also part of (the Seventeen Provinces of) the Hapsburg Netherlands. In 1559, at the age of 26, William was appointed by Emperor Charles V to be stadtholder (governor) of the Netherlands.

Later that year William learned of a conspiracy by Henry II of France and Philip II of Spain to violently exterminate Protestantism in the Netherlands, a plan of which he could not approve. This knowledge resulted over the next few years in William becoming a vocal leader of the Dutch rebellion that broke into the Eighty Years War in 1568.

So the question boils down to "What does it mean to be Dutch?" William spent virtually his entire adult life, and half his childhood, in the Hapsburg Netherlands (at that time comprising most of modern Netherlands and Belgium). He successfully led Dutch military forces for the first quarter of the Eighty Years War (of Dutch independence), and was appointed by the Estates of Holland, Utrecht, Zeeland and Friesland as Stadtholder of those provinces after they declared independence from Spain. In 1584 he was assassinated in Delft by a bounty hunter seeking the 25,000 crowns promised by Philip II to any assassin of his hated rival.

Finally, the Dutch people have, in his death if not always in his life, proudly adopted William and his descendants, for nearly 450 years now, as first hereditary stadtholders and then monarchs of the Netherlands:

  • The flag of the Netherlands (red, white and blue) is derived from the flag of the prince, which was orange, white and blue
  • The coat of arms of the Netherlands is based on that of William of Orange. Its motto Je maintiendrai (French, "I will maintain") was also used by William of Orange, who based it on the motto of his cousin René of Châlon, who used Je maintiendrai Châlon
  • The national anthem of the Netherlands, the Wilhelmus, was originally a propaganda song for William. It was probably written by Philips of Marnix, Lord of Saint-Aldegonde, a supporter of William of Orange.
  • The national colour of the Netherlands is orange, and it is used, among other things, in the clothing of Dutch athletes.

How much more Dutch can you get than that?


Tom Au - William of Orange was NOT Dutch on his mother's side. The title of Prince of Orange is only associated with the Netherlands because William and his descendants became the stadtholders and later kings of the Netherlands.

The Principality of Orange was in the Kingdom of Burgundy or Arles, in the Holy Roman Empire, in what is now France. So William's Orange ancestors were "Imperialists" in "nationality" and if they had any modern ethnic based nationality it would be French.

And the nationality of Dutch did not exist in William's era. In that time the Netherlands was a name for a group of neighboring duchies, margravites, counties, and other fiefdoms which all had the same lord, first Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, etc. etc. etc., and later his son Philip II, King of the Spanish kingdoms, etc., etc. etc.

All of the fiefdoms in the Netherlands were part of the Kingdom of Germany, thus making someone born in any of the Netherlands a German by narrower nationality, and the kingdom of Germany was part of the Holy Roman Empire, thus making any person born in the Kingdom of Germany an "Imperialist" by broader nationality.

So in William's era Dutch was at most an ethic subdivision, not a full nationality.


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