WILLIAM OF ORANGE, founder of the independence of the Netherlands was born at Dillenburg, April 16th, 1533. At the age of fifteen he became page to the Emperor Charles V, who took an almost paternal care of him, attentively watched the development of his character, and, satisfied with the result took him into his utmost confidence, making him the safe repository of the most important secrets, employed him in various diplomatic offices, and in 1555, promoted him, over the heads of all his veteran officers, to the command of the Imperial army on the French frontier. Charles, on his abdication, strongly recommended William to his son Philip II as a confidential adviser; and accordingly we find him employed to draw up the treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, and selected as one of the four hostages to be given to France, for its fulfilment. During William's residence in France, he was confidentially informed by Henry II of a secret arrangement which was being formed between France and Spain for the complete extermination of the heretics in both countries; and with admirable nerve, dissembling his horror of the project, he resolved in his own mind to oppose the execution of the scheme in the Netherlands, to the utmost ot his power. On returning to the Low Countries, he became the leader of the party which devoted itself to the chartered liberties of the country, and finally broke entirely with Cardinal Granville, the president of the Council, and the willing agent of Philip's tyranny. Expostulations to the Regent Margaret of Parma, and directly to Philip himself, far from producing any good result, seemed only to hurry the bigoted monarch to more extreme measures; the cruel edicts against the hereties were made still more stringent, and at the end of 1564. the Inquisiton was established. William, however, steadily refused to allow the oppressive enactments to take place in his hereditary government of Holland and Zeeland. He was cited as a rebel (January 1568), and on the ground of being a Knight of the Golden Fleece, and a sovereign prince, refusing to appear, had his estates confiscated, and the Duke of Alva arrived at Brussels to reduce the provinces to submission.
William disposed of his valuables to equip four armies for the invasioon of the Low Countries. Two of the armies failed completely; the third, under his chivalrous brother, Louis, was destroyed at Jemmingen, by Alva; and the fourth, 30,000 strong, under his own immediate command, lay at Brabant, unable to force Alva's army to a conflict, till want of means of paying his soldiers forced him to retreat. His next attempt was made in 1572, and though as unsuccessful on land as before, he succeeded in exciting Holland, Zeeland, Gelders, Overyssel and the bishopric of Utrecht, to rise for their liberties; and was proclaimed by these provinces as their stadtholder for the King, whose authority they and he still acknowledged. Meantime his coadjutors, the "Beggars of the Sea," had taken Brilland, Flushing, and had committed heavy depredations on Spanish commerce. But ere long the fortune of the Spaniards on land was again in the ascendant; fortress after fortress fell into their hands, despite William's utmost efforts to relieve them; and though Holland and Zeeland still remained faithful to the cause of liberty, he found it impossible to raise an army which could fairly cope with the enemy. He succeeded however, by breaking the dykes, in saving Leyden, though Antwerp and Haarlem experienced all the horrors of siege and capture. It was at this period that William openly professed himself a Calvinist. In March 1575, conferences were opened at Breda between the belligerents, but Philip obstinately refusing to yield an iota, they were broken off; and in October of that year, Holland and Zeeland pronounced Philip's deposition, and gave power to William to choose the country under whose protectorate they were to be placed. Meantime the rapacity of the Spanish soldiery had aroused the fifteen provinces which still remained faithful to Philip, and the league known as the Pacification of Ghent, (October, 1576), the object of which was to drive out the foreign troops, and establish, at least for a time, toleration in religion, was the consequence. This was a brilliant success for William; and though Don John of Austria, the new governor, tried to dissolve it by the "Perpetual Edict," in which he granted nearly all demands, William succeeded, by skillful policy, in foiling the attempt. War was accordingly renewed, and the patriots were defeated at Gembloux, (January 31st, 1578), though their spirits were from this time buoyed up by an occasional success. The next governor, Alexander Famese, succeeded however, in detaching the Walloon provinces from the league, though to compensate for this, William obtained the signatures of the Union of Utrecht, (January 23rd 1579), the first foundation of the Dutch Republic.
In the following year his two faithful provinces, Holland and Zedland, proclaimed William their sole ruler. William however, after his long and desperate struggle for his country's freedom, was not destined to enjoy long the honors of sovereignty, for on the 15th of March 1580, Philip had by Granvelle's advice, put a price of 25,000 gold crowns on his head, and the incitement of this magnificent bribe produced various attempts to assassinate him, the last of which by Balthasar Gerard, was successful at Delft, July 10th, 1584.