William of Orange is known first and foremost as the ‘Father of the Nation’ of the Netherlands. But did you know he was also called ‘William the Silent’?

William of Orange was born in 1533 in Germany in Dillenburg, and at the age of 11 he inherited the French principality of Orange and significant amounts of land and property in Holland. Emperor Charles V attached the condition to his inheritance: conversion to the Roman Catholic faith and an upbringing at the Royal Court in Brussels. Due to the importance of the inheritance, William and his parents agreed to these conditions.

He started his career in the service of the Catholic German Emperor Charles V. The young prince soon built up an outstanding reputation. He became known for his optimism and eloquence. And he possessed exceptional diplomatic skills. This caused him to be dubbed ‘William the Silent’. Not so much because he never said anything, but because of his absolute discretion.

Eighty Years War

Disputes with Charles’ successor, King Philip II of Spain, ultimately lead to the Eighty Years’ War. William of Orange successfully led the rebellion against the Spanish, and ultimately declared an independent state of the Northern Lowlands, which is still the basis for the parliamentary state and principles the Dutch are still proud to follow today: freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

In the Museum Prinsenhof Delft the bullet holes are still in the wall

The Murder

William of Orange moved into the Saint Agatha cloister in 1572, a building that later became the Prinsenhof and then the Museum Prinsenhof Delft. He decided to live in Delft because the city had the best fortifications in Holland. In 1580, King Philip II of Spain offered a reward to anyone who could assassinate William of Orange. There were several failed attempts, until 10 July 1584. William of Orange had taken lunch with the Mayor of Leeuwarden in the Prinsenhof on 10 July 1584. After lunch, he was about to climb the stairs to his office when he was confronted by the Frenchman Balthasar Gerards, who shot him dead right there and then. His last words in French were: “Dear God, dear God, have pity on me and this poor nation.” You can still see the two bullet holes and a reconstruction of the assassination in the Museum Prinsenhof Delft.

  • Willem van Oranje Standbeeld Museum Prinsenhof
  • Witte muur met de kogelgaten in het Museum Prinsenhof Delft
  • Gangen van Museum Prinsenhof Delft met de silhouet van Willem van Oranje
  • Binnenkant de Nieuwe Kerk in Delft


William of Orange was buried in the New Church. Originally his grave was very modest, but it was later decided that it was not grandiose enough. In 1614, the Amsterdam architect and sculptor Hendrick the Keyser was commissioned to design a new royal tomb. This imposing mausoleum can still be seen in the New Church today.

Would you like to find out more about the life and achievements of William of Orange? Then visit the Museum Prinsenhof Delft.

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