Friday, August 20, 2010

Vote Orange for Stadholder in 1572! (Nassau)

Does anyone know what the capital of the Bahamas is? It's Nassau. The oddest thing is, while the Bahamas was ruled by both the Spanish and the English, it was never ruled by Germany. So why is it named after a territory in the Rhineland of Germany? Because of a Dutchman. Let me elaborate:
Coat of Arms of the House of Nassau (since the 13th century)
At the dawn of the 12th century, a man named Dudo-Henry ruled a county called Lauenburg in the Rhineland. In 1159, the seat of government moved to the nearby Nassau Castle and the House of Nassau was born. The first two counts of Nassau never had their titles confirmed by the Holy Roman Emperor. Indeed, it was in 1159 that the title became official and hereditary. As went all great hereditary dynasties in Central Europe, in 1255 Count Henry II died and his lands underwent their first Salic Law-mandated division. These lines never reconverged but remained closely related, exchanging spouses between them and eventually signing a mutual protection pact known as the Nassau Family Pact in 1783. Nevertheless, while one line fell into relative obscurity in Germany, the other became prominent through fortunes abroad.

The Walram line, those descendents of Count Walram II, inherited Wiesbaden, Idstein and Weilburg. It was the senior line but the one that never expanded beyond the Holy Roman Emperor. Nassau-Weilburg was the largest county in the Walram line. It added to its territory the county of Saarbrücken and Merenberg via marriage in the 14th century and retained those borders throughout the Medieval and Early Modern Eras. Nassau-Weilburg eventually was elevated to a "princely" county in 1688 and in 1816 was reformed into the Duchy of Nassau following its occupation during the Napoleonic Wars. The Duchy of Nassau was annexed to Prussia without a fight in 1866 as a punishment since Duke Adolf had sided with Austria during the Second Prusso-Austrian War. All other branches of the Walram line had already gone extinct by that point and thus the hereditary lands of the Walram line were no more.
Map of Nassau-Weilburg and Walram Line lands

Charlotte, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg and last of the House of Nassau
But the story doesn't end there! The last duke, Adolf, through fortunate negotiations by his ancestors, inherited the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg due to Salic Law barring the succession of his distant cousin Wilhelmina, who became Queen of the Netherlands. Thus, after 24 years of being deposed from the Nassau throne, Adolf became Grand Duke of Luxembourg in 1890. His son, William IV, succeeded him in 1905 and ruled a scant 7 years before dying. His eldest daughter, Marie-Adélaïde, succeeded him in 1912 and his second daughter, Charlotte, until 1964. Charlotte's descandants still rule today, albeit through the House of Bourbon-Parma rather than the House of Orange. In recognition to his Nassau ancestry, Grand Duke Jean chose to retain the house name of Nassau-Weilburg rather than take his hereditary family name. The monarchs of the Netherlands did likewise.

The junior branch of the House of Nassau was the Ottonian line, although it is rarely known as that today. Its first count was Otto I who ruled the Nassau territories of Siegen, Dillenburg, Beilstein, and Ginsberg. In 1303 the lines divided due to Salic Law and the branches of Nassau-Dillenburg and Nassau-Hadamar were born. Hadamar arose twice from Dillenburg, but was eventually reincorporated into the main line. Other minor branches of the family came and went but none was as important as the Dillenburg branch.

In 1504, a scion of the Dillenburg branch, Count Henry III, inherited territories in the Low Countries including the Barony of Breda in Brabant. Henry became a companion of King Charles I of Spain, who later became Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Henry was chosen as Stadholder of Holland and Zeeland in 1515 and maintained the role for six years. His son, René of Châlon, succeeded him and brought the French Principality of Orange into the family. When he inherited Breda, he was required to adopt the name of his mother's house, Orange, rather than the traditional Nassau-Breda title. When he died, his cousin, William, inherited all his lands and titles, thereby founding the House of Orange-Nassau.
William I the Silent, Stadholder of Holland, Zeeland & Utrecht, Prince of Orange, Baron of Breda, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg
William the Silent became Baron of Breda and Prince of Orange in 1544. He was chosen by the Spanish king as Stadholder of Holland and Zeeland in 1559 and kept the title until 1567. However, by 1567 William had decided to side with the Calvinists in the quickly-developing Eighty Years War against Spain and was declared an outlaw of the state. In 1572, the States General of the Netherlands reinstated William as stadholder and encouraged him to defend the rights of the Protestants with an army. By 1581, things had become so bad in the Netherlands that they declared their independence from Spain and began the Dutch Republic, an entity which would survive until the Napoleonic Wars. William was assassinated by a Catholic loyalist in 1584 and was succeeded in his titles by his son Philip William. Philip was captured by the Spanish early on in the war and raised a proper Catholic loyalist to Spain. Luckily for the Dutch Republic, Philip died in 1618 without issue leaving all his titles to his brother, Maurice.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, Maurice had been elected stadholder and was rabble-rousing against the Spanish king. Maurice was an organizer and successfully turned William's rebellion into a stately affair. Maurice led the Dutch Revolt until 1625 when he died besieging his own hereditary city of Breda. His brother, Frederick Henry, was immediately elected stadholder and captain-general after Maurice's death. The Dutch Republic reached its height under Frederick by expanding overseas to Indonesia and Japan, even while waging a long war against Spain. Frederick sacrificed safety for success by allying with France and it paid off for many years by allowing him to reclaim Breda and numerous other Dutch possessions from Spain. Frederick died in 1647 during negotiations that resulted the next year in peace between Spain and the Dutch Republic via the Treaty of Münster. The Dutch Republic as an independent nation faired far worse in subsequent years than it had during its rebellion from Spain.
Multi-generational portrait of William I, Maurice, Frederick Henry, William II, and William III – Stadholders of Holland, Zeeland, & Utrecht, Princes of Orange, Barons of Breda, Counts of Nassau-Dillenburg

Just because the Dutch Republic faired poorly doesn't mean the House of Orange-Nassau failed. Actually, it did, but in very odd ways. First, it became a truly royal house. William II, son of Frederick Henry, married the daughter of Charles I of England. Second, William II's son William III invaded and conquered England in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. That expanded the Orange domains immensely, even if the English were about as skeptical of William III as the Dutch were of England's political system. Sort of luckily, it was at precisely this point that the House of Orange-Nassau failed utterly to produce an heir. Not only did the family not have a male heir to continue in the Netherlands, but it even failed to produce a female heir to continue in England. Mary II of England, William III's wife, died in 1694 and William never remarried. The senior Orange-Nassau line was dead and Holland and Zeeland decided they'd prefer no stadholder rather than have another royal-wannabe. Fortunately, the other four provinces of the Dutch Republic wised up and elected an Orange cousin to the position.

John William Friso, Stadholder of Friesland
 By this point in time, the actual Principality of Orange was in French hands permanently so the House of Nassau-Dietz is the most appropriate term for the next Nassau house. That being said, we're just going to call it Orange-Nassau round 2 because that's what everyone else calls it. A collateral line of the Orange-Nassau house, Orange-Nassau 2.0 held the stadholderate of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe from the 1620s until basically the end of the Dutch Republic. They became princes (rather than counts) of Nassau-Dietz in 1650 and maintained a power-base in Friesland even after Holland rejected the concept of stadholders. In 1702, upon William III's death, John William Friso inherited the claim to Orange as well as Breda. His son, William IV, got lucky and inherited Nassau-Dillenburg (the senior Ottonian line) and Nassau-Siegen, thereby uniting all Ottonian branches again. In 1747, facing invasion by France, the States General of the Dutch Republic elected William hereditary and general stadholder of the Dutch Republic. For the first time in Dutch history, the Netherlands was united under one hereditary ruler. His son, William V, succeeded in 1766 but was forced to flee to London in 1795 when the French Revolution spread to the Netherlands, abolishing the Dutch Republic.
William I, King of the United Netherlands
Beatrix, Queen of the Netherlands
William V's son returned to the Netherlands in 1813 where he was proclaimed King of the United Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg. At the time, the Netherlands included modern-day Belgium as well, which would provide a great source of conflict until 1830 when the Kingdom of Belgium formed from the former Austrian Netherlands. Two more Williams ruled the Netherlands and Luxembourg before Queen Wilhelmina divided the realm, with Luxembourg going to the senior Walram line (above). With Wilhelmina's death in 1962, the House of Orange-Nassau technically died, and with Charlotte's death in Luxembourg (above) the House of Nassau went completely extinct in all legitimate lines. The current ruler of the Netherlands today, Beatrix, is Wilhelmina's granddaughter, a member of the House of Lippe-Biesterfeld, although just like in Luxembourg, the royal family continued to name their family the House of Orange-Nassau.

Thus ends the tale of the House of Nassau. Now, back to the beginning. Why is the capital of the Bahamas named Nassau? It's because it is named after the royal house that William III belonged to. But you probably figured that out already. Cheers!

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