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William I,
Prince of Orange

William the Silent,
portrayed by Adriaen Thomas Key (ca. 1570–1584)

In office

Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Friesland
Leader of the Dutch Revolt
In office

Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht
In office
1559 – 1567 (removed from office after flight)
Monarch Philip II of Spain

Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht (reinstated by States General)
In office
1572 – 1584 (assassination)

Republican Stadtholder of Friesland
In office
1580 – 1584 (assassination)

Born April 24, 1533(1533-04-24), Dillenburg, Nassau, Holy Roman Empire (now Germany)
Died July 10, 1584 (aged 51),
Delft, Netherlands

William I, Prince of Orange (April 24, 1533 — July 10, 1584), also widely known as William the Silent (Dutch: Willem de Zwijger), or simply William of Orange (Dutch: Willem van Oranje), was the main leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish that set off the Eighty Years' War and resulted in the formal independence of the United Provinces in 1648. He was born into the House of Nassau as a count of Nassau-Dillenburg. He became Prince of Orange in 1544 and is thereby the founder of the branch House of Orange-Nassau.

A wealthy nobleman, William originally served the Habsburgs as a member of the court of Margaret of Parma, governor of the Spanish Netherlands. Unhappy with the centralisation of political power away from the local estates and with the Spanish persecution of Dutch Protestants, William joined the Dutch uprising and turned against his former masters. The most influential and politically capable of the rebels, he led the Dutch to several successes in the fight against the Spanish. Declared an outlaw by the Spanish king in 1580, he was assassinated by Balthasar Gérard (also written as 'Gerardts') in Delft four years later.

William explained his conflict with king Philip II to the Council of State in the following way: "I can not approve that monarchs desire to rule over the conscience of their subjects and take away from them their freedom of belief and religion." (Dutch: Ik kan niet goedkeuren dat vorsten over het geweten van hun onderdanen willen heersen en hun de vrijheid van geloof en godsdienst ontnemen.)


Early life

Castle of Dillenburg in the duchy Nassau, the birth place of William the Silent

William was born on 24 April 1533 in the castle of Dillenburg in Nassau, Germany. He was the eldest son of William, Count of Nassau and Juliana of Stolberg-Werningerode, and was raised a Lutheran. He had four younger brothers and seven younger sisters: John, Hermanna, Louis, Mary, Anna, Elisabeth, Katharine, Juliane, Magdalene, Adolf and Henry.

When his cousin, René of Châlon, Prince of Orange, died childless in 1544, the eleven-year-old William inherited all Châlon's property, including the title Prince of Orange, on the condition that he receive a Roman Catholic education. Besides Châlon's properties, he also inherited vast estates in the Low Countries (present-day Netherlands and Belgium). Because of his young age, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V served as the regent of the principality until William was fit to rule. William was sent to Brussels to study under the supervision of Mary of Habsburg (aka Mary of Hungary), the sister of Charles V and governor of the Habsburg Netherlands (Seventeen Provinces). In Brussels, he was taught foreign languages and received military and diplomatic education.[1]

Full body portrait of William the Silent
William the Silent in 1555
Close-up portrait of Anna of Egmond
Anna of Egmond in c. 1550

On 6 July 1551, he married Anna van Egmond en Buren, the wealthy heir to the lands of her father, and William gained the titles Lord of Egmond and Count of Buren. They had three children. Later that same year, William was appointed captain in the cavalry. Favoured by Charles V, he was rapidly promoted, and became commander of one of the Emperor's armies at age 22. He was made a member of the Raad van State, the highest political advisory council in the Netherlands[2] in 1555; the same year, Charles abdicated in favour of his son, Philip II of Spain. It was on the shoulder of William that the gout-afflicted Emperor leaned during his abdication ceremony.[3]

His wife Anna died on March 24, 1558. Later, William had a brief relationship with Eva Elincx, leading to the birth of their illegitimate son, Justinus van Nassau:[4][5] William officially recognised him and took responsibility for his education — Justinus would become an admiral in his later years.

In 1559, Philip appointed William as the stadtholder (governor) of the provinces Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht and Burgundy, thereby greatly increasing his political power.[6]

From politician to rebel

Although he never directly opposed the Spanish king, William soon became one of the most prominent members of the opposition in the Raad van State, together with Philip de Montmorency, Count of Hoorn and Lamoral, Count of Egmont. They were mainly seeking more political power for the Dutch nobility, and complained that too many Spaniards were involved in governing the Netherlands. William was also dissatisfied with the increasing persecution of Protestants in the Netherlands. Brought up as both a Lutheran and later a Catholic, William was very religious but still was a proponent of freedom of religion for all people. The inquisition policy in the Netherlands, carried out by Cardinal Granvelle, prime minister to the new governor Margaret of Parma (1522–83) (natural half-sister to Philip II), increased opposition to the Spanish rule among the — then mostly Catholic — population of the Netherlands.

Anna of Saxony, second wife of William the Silent

On 25 August 1561, William of Orange married for the second time. His new wife, Anna of Saxony, was described by contemporaries as "self-absorbed, weak, assertive, and cruel"[7], and it is generally assumed that William married her to gain more influence in Saxony, Hesse and the Palatine[8]. The couple had five children. In early 1565, a large group of lesser noblemen, including William's younger brother Louis, formed the Confederacy of Noblemen. On 5 April, they offered a petition to Margaret of Austria, requesting an end to the persecution of Protestants. From August to October 1566, a wave of iconoclasm (known as the Beeldenstorm) spread through the Low Countries. Calvinists, Anabaptists and Mennonites, angry with their being persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church and opposed to the Catholic images of saints (which in their eyes conflicted with the Second Commandment), destroyed statues in hundreds of churches and monasteries throughout the Netherlands.

Following the Beeldenstorm, unrest in the Netherlands grew, and Margaret agreed to grant the wishes of the Confederacy, provided the noblemen would help to restore order. She also allowed more important noblemen, including William of Orange, to assist the Confederacy. In late 1566, and early 1567, it became clear that she would not be allowed to fulfill her promises, and when several minor rebellions failed, many Calvinists (the major Protestant denomination) and Lutherans fled the country. Following the announcement that Philip II, unhappy with the situation in the Netherlands, would dispatch his loyal general Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba (also known as "The Iron Duke") to restore order, William laid down his functions and retreated to his native Nassau in April 1567. He had been (financially) involved with several of the rebellions.

After his arrival in August 1567, Alba established the Council of Troubles (known to the people as the Council of Blood) to judge those involved with the rebellion and the iconoclasm. William was one of the 10,000 to be summoned before the Council, but he failed to appear. He was subsequently declared an outlaw, and his properties were confiscated. As one of the most prominent and popular politicians of the Netherlands, William of Orange emerged as the leader of an armed resistance. He financed the Watergeuzen, refugee Protestants who formed bands of corsairs and raided the coastal cities of the Netherlands (often killing Spanish and Dutch alike). He also raised an army, consisting mostly of German mercenaries to fight Alba on land. William allied with the French Huguenots, following the end the second Religious War in France when they had troops to spare.[9] Led by his brother Louis, the army invaded the northern Netherlands in 1568. However the plan failed almost from the start. The Huguenots were defeated by French Royal Troops before they could invade, and a small force under Jean de Villers was captured within two days. Villers gave all the plans to the campaign to the Spanish following this capture.[10] On 23 May, the army under the command of Louis won the Battle of Heiligerlee in the northern province of Groningen against a Spanish army led by the stadtholder of the northern provinces, Jean de Ligne, Duke of Aremberg. Aremberg was killed in the battle, as was William's brother Adolf. Alba countered by killing a number of convicted noblemen (including the Counts of Egmont and Hoorn on 6 June), and then by leading an expedition to Groningen. There, he annihilated Louis’ forces on German territory in the Battle of Jemmingen on 21 July, although Louis managed to escape.[11] These two battles are now considered to be the start of the Eighty Years' War.


The so-called Prinsenvlag (Prince's flag), based on the colours in the coat of arms of William of Orange, was used by the Dutch rebels, and was the basis of the current flag of the Netherlands.
Coat of arms of the House of Nassau (since the 13th century)
Charlotte de Bourbon-Menpensier

William responded by leading a large army into Brabant, but Alba carefully avoided a decisive confrontation, expecting the army to fall apart quickly. As William advanced, riots broke out in his army, and with winter approaching and money running out, William decided to turn back.[12] William made several more plans to invade in the next few years, but little came of it, lacking support and money. He remained popular with the public, partially through an extensive propaganda campaign through pamphlets. One of his most important claims, with which he attempted to justify his actions, was that he was not fighting the rightful owner of the land, the Spanish king, but only the inadequate rule of the foreign governors in the Netherlands, and the presence of foreign soldiers. On April 1, 1572 a band of Watergeuzen captured the city of Brielle, which had been left unattended by the Spanish garrison. Contrary to their normal "hit and run" tactics, they occupied the town and claimed it for the prince by raising the Prince of Orange's flag above the city.[13] This event was followed by other cities in opening their gates for the Watergeuzen, and soon most cities in Holland and Zeeland were in the hands of the rebels, notable exceptions being Amsterdam and Middelburg. The rebel cities then called a meeting of the Staten Generaal (which they were technically unqualified to do), and reinstated William as the stadtholder of Holland and Zeeland.

Concurrently, rebel armies captured cities throughout the entire country, from Deventer to Mons. William himself then advanced with his own army and marched into several cities in the south, including Roermond and Leuven. William had counted on intervention from the French Protestants (Huguenots) as well, but this plan was thwarted after the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre on 24 August, which signalled the start of a wave of violence against the Huguenots. After a successful Spanish attack on his army, William had to flee and he retreated to Enkhuizen, in Holland. The Spanish then organised countermeasures, and sacked several rebel cities, sometimes massacring their inhabitants, such as in Mechelen or Zutphen. They had more trouble with the cities in Holland, where they took Haarlem after seven months and a loss of 8,000 soldiers, and they had to give up their siege of Alkmaar.

In 1573, William went over to the Calvinist Church.[14]

In 1574, William's armies won several minor battles, including several naval encounters. The Spanish, lead by Don Luis de Zúñiga y Requesens since Philip replaced Alba in 1573, also had their successes. Their decisive victory in the Battle of Mookerheyde in the south east, on the Meuse embankment, on 14 April cost the lives of two of William's brothers, Louis and Henry. Requesens's armies also besieged the city of Leiden. They broke up their siege when nearby dykes were cut by the Dutch. William was very content with the victory, and established the University of Leiden, the first university in the Northern Provinces.

William had his previous marriage legally disbanded in 1571, on claims that his wife Anna was insane. He then married for the third time on 24 April 1575 to Charlotte de Bourbon-Monpensier, a former French nun, who was also popular with the public. Together, they had six daughters.

After failed peace negotiations in Breda in 1575, the war lingered on. The situation improved for the rebels when Don Requesens died unexpectedly in March 1576, and a large group of Spanish soldiers, not having received their salary in months, mutinied in November of that year and unleashed the Spanish Fury on the city of Antwerp, a tremendous propaganda coup for the Dutch Revolt. While the new governor, Don John of Austria, was under way, William of Orange managed to have most of the provinces and cities sign the Pacification of Ghent, in which they declared to fight for the expulsion of Spanish troops together. However, he failed to achieve unity in matters of religion. Catholic cities and provinces would not allow freedom for Calvinists, and vice versa.

When Don John signed the Perpetual Edict in February 1577, promising to comply with the conditions of the Pacification of Ghent, it seemed that the war had been decided in favour of the rebels. However, after Don John took the city of Namur in 1577, the uprising spread throughout the entire Netherlands. Don John attempted to negotiate peace, but the prince intentionally let the negotiations fail. On 24 September 1577, he made his triumphal entry in the capital Brussels. At the same time, Calvinist rebels grew more radical, and attempted to forbid Catholicism in their areas of control. William was opposed to this both for personal and political reasons. He desired freedom of religion, and he also needed the support of the less radical Protestants and Catholics to reach his political goals. On 6 January 1579, several southern provinces, unhappy with William's radical following, sealed the Treaty of Arras, in which they agreed to accept their governor, Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma (who had succeeded Don John).

Five northern provinces, later followed by most cities in Brabant and Flanders, then signed the Union of Utrecht on 23 January, confirming their unity. William was initially opposed to the Union, as he still hoped to unite all provinces. Nevertheless, he formally gave his support on 3 May. The Union of Utrecht would later become a de facto constitution, and would remain the only formal connection between the Dutch provinces until 1795.

Declaration of independence

The Duke of Anjou, who had been attracted by William as the new sovereign of the Netherlands, was hugely unpopular with the public.
Louise de Coligny
Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange

In spite of the renewed union, the Duke of Parma was successful in reconquering most of the southern part of the Netherlands. Because he had agreed to remove the Spanish troops from the provinces under the Treaty of Arras, and because Philip II needed them elsewhere subsequently, the Duke of Parma was unable to advance any further until the end of 1581. In the mean time, William and his supporters were looking for foreign support. The prince had already sought French assistance on several occasions, and this time he managed to gain the support of François, Duke of Anjou, brother of king Henry III of France. On September 29, 1580, the Staten Generaal (with the exception of Zeeland and Holland) signed the Treaty of Plessis-les-Tours with the Duke of Anjou. The Duke would gain the title "Protector of the Liberty of the Netherlands" and become the new sovereign. This, however, required that the Staten Generaal and William would let go of their formal support of the King of Spain, which they had maintained officially up to that moment.

On July 22, 1581, the Staten Generaal declared their decision to no longer recognise Philip II as their king, in the Act of Abjuration. This formal declaration of independence enabled the Duke of Anjou to come to the aid of the resisters. He did not arrive until February 10, 1582, when he was officially welcomed by William in Flushing. On March 18, the Spaniard Juan de Jáuregui attempted to assassinate William in Antwerp. Although William suffered severe injuries, he survived thanks to the care of his wife Charlotte and his sister Mary. While William slowly recovered, the intensive care by Charlotte took its toll, and she died on May 5. The Duke of Anjou was not very popular with the population. The provinces of Zeeland and Holland refused to recognise him as their sovereign, and William was widely criticised for what were called his "French politics". When the Anjou's French troops arrived in late 1582, William's plan seemed to pay off, as even the Duke of Parma feared that the Dutch would now gain the upper hand.

However, the Duke of Anjou himself was displeased with his limited power, and decided to take the city of Antwerp by force on January 18, 1583. The citizens, who were warned in time, defended their city in what is known as the "French Fury". Anjou's entire army was killed, and he received reprimands from both Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I of England (who he had courted). The position of Anjou after this attack became impossible to hold, and he eventually left the country in June. His leave also discredited William, who nevertheless maintained his support for Anjou. He stood virtually alone on this issue, and became politically isolated. Holland and Zeeland nevertheless maintained him as their stadtholder, and attempted to declare him count of Holland and Zeeland, thus making him the official sovereign. In the middle of all this, William had married for the fourth and final time on April 12, 1583 to Louise de Coligny, a French Huguenot and daughter of Gaspard de Coligny. She would be the mother of Frederick Henry (1584–1647), William's fourth legitimate son.


William the Silent was killed at his home by Balthasar Gérard on July 10, 1584.

The Catholic Frenchman Balthasar Gérard (born 1557) was a supporter of Philip II, and in his opinion, William of Orange had betrayed the Spanish king and the Catholic religion. After Philip II declared William an outlaw and promised a reward of 25,000 crowns for his assassination, and of which Gérard learned in 1581, he decided to travel to the Netherlands to kill William. He served in the army of the governor of Luxembourg, Peter Ernst I von Mansfeld-Vorderort for two years, hoping to get close to William when the armies met. This never happened, and Gérard left the army in 1584. He went to the Duke of Parma to present his plans, but the Duke was unimpressed. In May 1584, he presented himself to William as a French nobleman, and gave him the seal of the Count of Mansfelt. This seal would allow for forgeries of messages of Mansfelt. William sent Gérard back to France to pass the seal to his French allies.

Gérard returned in July, having bought pistols on his return voyage. On 10 July, he made an appointment with William of Orange in his home in Delft, nowadays known as the Prinsenhof. That day, William was having dinner with his guest Rombertus van Uylenburgh. After William left the dining room and climbed down the stairs, Van Uylenburgh heard how Gérard shot William in the chest from close range. Gérard fled to collect his reward.

According to official records, his last words are said to have been:[15]

Mon Dieu, ayez pitié de mon âme; mon Dieu, ayez pitié de ce pauvre peuple."[16]
("My God, have pity on my soul; my God, have pity on this poor people.")

Gérard was caught before he could flee Delft, and imprisoned. He was tortured before his trial on 13 July, where he was sentenced to be brutally — even by the standards of that time — killed. The magistrates sentenced that the right hand of Gérard should be burned off with a red-hot iron, that his flesh should be torn from his bones with pincers in six different places, that he should be quartered and disemboweled alive, that his heart should be torn from his bosom and flung in his face, and that, finally, his head should be cut off.[17]

Traditionally, members of the Nassau family were buried in Breda, but as that city was in Spanish hands when William died, he was buried in the New Church in Delft. His grave monument was originally very sober, but it was replaced in 1623 by a new one, made by Hendrik de Keyser and his son Pieter. Since then, most of the members of the House of Orange-Nassau, including all Dutch monarchs have been buried in the same church. His great-grandson William the third, King of England and Scotland and Stadtholder in the Netherlands was buried in Westminster Abbey

According to British historian of science Lisa Jardine, he is reputed to be the first world head of state assassinated through use of a handgun, though this is debatable since William was not officially head of state, and the Scottish Regent Moray was shot 13 years earlier.


A statue of William of Orange in The Hague. His finger originally pointed towards the Binnenhof, but the statue has since been moved. A similar statue stands in Voorhees Mall on the campus of Rutgers University.

Philip William, William's eldest son from his first marriage, to Anna of Egmond, succeeded him as Prince of Orange at the suggestion of Johan van Oldenbarneveldt. Phillip William died in Brussels on February 20, 1618 and was succeeded by his half-brother Maurice, the eldest son from William's second marriage, to Anna of Saxony, who became Prince of Orange. A strong military leader, he won several victories over the Spanish. Van Oldenbarneveldt managed to sign a very favourable twelve-year armistice in 1609, although Maurice was unhappy with this. Maurice was a heavy drinker and died on April 23, 1625 from liver disease. Maurice had several sons with Margaretha van Mechelen, but he never married her. So, Frederick Henry, Maurice's half-brother (and William's youngest son from his fourth marriage, to Louise de Coligny) inherited the title of Prince of Orange. Frederick Henry continued the battle against the Spanish. Frederick Henry died on March 14, 1647 and is buried with his father William "The Silent" in Nieuwe Kerk, Delft.[18] The Netherlands became formally independent after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

The son of Frederick Henry, William II of Orange succeeded his father as stadtholder, as did his son, William III of Orange. The latter also became king of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1689. Although he was married to Mary II, Queen of Scotland and England for 17 years, he died childless in 1702. He appointed his cousin Johan Willem Friso (William's great-great-great-grandson) as his successor. Because Albertine Agnes, a daughter of Frederick Henry, married William Frederik of Nassau-Dietz, the present royal house of the Netherlands descends from William the Silent through the female line. See House of Orange for a more extensive overview. As the chief financer and political and military leader of the early years of the Dutch revolt, William is considered a national hero in the Netherlands, even though he was born in Germany, and usually spoke French. Many of the Dutch national symbols can be traced back to William of Orange:

  • 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, Het Wilhelmus, was originally a propaganda song for William. It was probably written by Philips van Marnix, lord of Sint-Aldegonde, a supporter of William of Orange.
  • The national colour of the Netherlands is orange, and it is used, among other things, in clothing of Dutch athletes.
  • The orange sash of the Prussian Order of the Black Eagle was in honour of the Dutch Dynasty of William the Silent, since the order's founder, Frederick I of Prussia's mother, Louise Henrietta of Nassau, was the granddaughter of William the Silent.
  • A statue of William the Silent stands at the main campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, a legacy of the university's founding by ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1766. The statue is commonly known to students and alumni as "Willie the Silent" and contains an inscription referring to William as "Father of his Fatherland."[19][20]
  • In January 2008, a planetoid was named after him.[21]


There are several explanations for the origin of his nickname, "William the Silent". The most common one relates to his prudence in regard to a conversation with the king of France.

One day, during a stag-hunt in the Bois de Vincennes, Henry, finding himself alone with the Prince, began to speak of the great number of Protestant sectaries who, during the late war, had increased so much in his kingdom to his great sorrow. His conscience, said the King, would not be easy nor his realm secure until he could see it purged of the " accursed vermin," who would one day overthrow his government, under pretence of religion, if they were allowed to get the upper hand. This was the more to be feared since some of the chief men in the kingdom, and even some princes of the blood, were on their side. But he hoped by the grace of God and the good understanding that he had with his new son, the King of Spain, that he would soon master them. The King talked on thus to Orange in the full conviction that he was cognisant of the secret agreement recently made with the Duke of Alva for the extirpation of heresy. But the Prince, subtle and adroit as he was, answered the good King in such a way as to leave him still under the impression that he, the Prince, was in full possession of the scheme propounded by Alva ; and under this belief the King revealed all the details of the plan arranged between the King of Spain and himself for the rooting out and rigorous punishment of the heretics, from the lowest to the highest rank, and in this service the Spanish troops were to be mainly employed.[22]

In the Netherlands, he is also known as the Vader des Vaderlands, "Father of the Fatherland", and the Dutch national anthem, Het Wilhelmus,[23] was written in his honour.


Name Birth Death Notes
By Anna of Egmond (married 6 July 1551; b. est 1534, d. 24 March 1558)
Countess Maria von Nassau.  22 November 1553 ca. 23 July 1555 Died in infancy.
Philip William, Prince of Orange  19 December 1554  20 February 1618 married Eleonora of Bourbon-Condé.
Countess Maria of Nassau  7 February 1556  10 October 1616 married Count Philip of Hohenlohe-Neuenstein
By Anna of Saxony (married 25 August 1561 annulled 22 March 1571; b. 23 December 1544, d. 18 December 1577)
Countess Anna von Nassau  31 October 1562  23 November 1562 Died in infancy
Countess Anna of Nassau  5 November 1563  13 June 1588 married Count Wilhelm Ludwig von Nassau-Dillenburg
Maurice August Phillip von Nassau  18 December 1564  8 December 1566 Count, Died in infancy.
Maurice of Nassau,
Prince of Orange
 14 November 1567  23 April 1625 never married
Countess Emilia of Nassau  10 April 1569  16 March 1629 married Manuel de Portugal(son of pretender to the Portuguese throne António, Prior of Crato), 10 children
By Charlotte of Bourbon (married 24 June 1575; b. about 1546, d. 5 May 1582)
Countess Louise Juliana of Nassau  31 March 1576  15 March 1644 married Frederick IV, Elector Palatine, 8 children
Countess Elisabeth of Nassau  1577  1642 married to Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, and had issue, including Frédéric Maurice, duc de Bouillon and Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne
Catharina Belgica of Nassau  1578  1648 Countess, married to Count Philip Louis II of Hanau-Münzenberg
Charlotte Flandrina of Nassau,
 1579  1640 After her mother's death in 1582 her French grandfather asked for Charlotte Flandrina to stay with him. She became a Roman Catholic and entered a convent in 1593.
Charlotte Brabantina of Nassau  1580  1631 married Claude, Duc de Thouars, and had issue, including Charlotte Stanley, Countess of Derby.
Emilia Antwerpiana of Nassau  1581  1657 married Frederick Casimir, Count Palatine of Zweibrücken-Landsberg
By Louise de Coligny (married 24 April 1583; b. 23 September 1555, d. 13 November 1620)
Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange
and Count of Nassau
b. 29 January 1584 d. 14 March 1647 married to Countess Amalia of Solms-Braunfels, father of William II and grandfather of William III, King of England, Scotland, Ireland and Stadtholder of the Netherlands

Between his first and second marriage, William had an extramarital relation with one Eva Elincx. They had a son, Justinus van Nassau (1559–1631), whom William acknowledged.


See also


  1. ^ Wedgwood (1944) pg. 29.
  2. ^ As of 1549, the Low Countries, also known as the "Seventeen Provinces" comprised the present-day Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and parts of northern France.
  3. ^ J. Thorold Rogers, The Story of Nations: Holland. London, 1889; Romein, J., and Romein-Verschoor, A. Erflaters van onze beschaving. Amsterdam 1938-1940, p. 150. (Dutch, at DBNL).
  4. ^ "Justinus of Nassau is the son, probably born in September 1559, of the Prince and Eva Elinx, who, according to some, was the daughter of a mayor of Emmerich." (Adriaen Valerius, Nederlandtsche gedenck-clanck. P.J. Meertens, N.B. Tenhaeff and A. Komter-Kuipers (eds.). Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam 1942; p. 148, note. (Dutch, on DBNL)).
  5. ^ "...our son Justin van Nassau" in letter from William of Orange to Diederik Sonoy dated 16 July 1582, facsimile at [1].
  6. ^ Wedgewood (1944) pg. 34.
  7. ^ Wedgwood (1944) pg. 50.
  8. ^ Wedgwood (1944) pg. 49.
  9. ^ Wedgewood (1944) pg. 104.
  10. ^ Wedgwood (1944) pf. 105.
  11. ^ Wedgwood (1944) pg. 108.
  12. ^ Wedgwood (1944) pg. 109.
  13. ^ Wedgwood (1944) pg. 120.
  14. ^ G. Parker, The Dutch Revolt (revised edition, 1985), p. 148
  15. ^ Although commonly accepted, his last words might have been modified for propaganda purposes. See Charles Vergeer, "De laatste woorden van prins Willem", Maatstaf 28 (1981), no. 12, pp. 67-100. The debate has some history, with critics pointing to sources saying that William died immediately after having been shot and proponents stating that there would have been little opportunity to fabricate the words between the time of the assassination and the announcement of the murder to the States-General. Of the final words themselves, several slightly different versions are in circulation, the main differences being of style.
  16. ^ Taken from the minutes of the States-General of 10 July 1584, quoted in J.W. Berkelbach van der Sprenkel, De Vader des Vaderlands, Haarlem 1941, p. 29: "Ten desen daghe es geschiet de clachelycke moort van Zijne Excellentie, die tusschen den een ende twee uren na den noen es ghescoten met een pistolet gheladen met dry ballen, deur een genaempt Baltazar Geraert… Ende heeft Zijne Excellentie in het vallen gheroepen: Mijn God, ontfermpt U mijnder ende Uwer ermen ghemeynte (Mon Dieu aiez pitié de mon âme, mon Dieu, aiez pitié de ce pouvre peuple)".
  17. ^ Motley, John L. (1856). The Rise of the Dutch Republic, Vol. 3. 
  18. ^ Nieuwekerk-Delft.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Planetoïde (12151) Oranje-Nassau
  22. ^ William the Silent by Frederic Harrison pp. 22-23
  23. ^ The song is named after the first word of the first line, Wilhelmus, a Latinised form of the prince's first name.


In 2005, an online searchable archive of William's complete correspondence was made publicly accessible by Het Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis (ING), the Institute for Dutch History.[1]

  1. ^ "De correspondentie van Willem van Oranje". Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis. Retrieved on 29 July 2007.
William the Silent
Cadet branch of the House of Nassau
Born: April 24 1533 Died: July 10 1584
Regnal titles
Preceded by
René of Châlon
Prince of Orange
Succeeded by
Philip William, Prince of Orange
Baron of Breda
Political offices
Preceded by
Maximilian II of Burgundy,
Marquess of Veere
Stadtholder of Holland and Zeeland
Succeeded by
Maximilian of Hennin
(during the Eighty Years War)
Stadtholder of Utrecht
Preceded by
Philip of Noircarmes
(during the Eighty Years War)
Stadtholder of Holland and Zeeland
Succeeded by
Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange
Stadtholder of Utrecht
Succeeded by
Adolf van Nieuwenaar
New title
Creation of the Dutch Republic
Republican Stadtholder of Friesland
Succeeded by
William Louis of Nassau


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

For other people named William of Orange, see William of Orange (disambiguation).

One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere.

William I, Prince of Orange, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg (24 April 1533 - 10 July 1584), also widely known as William the Silent, was the main leader of the Dutch revolt against Spain that set off the Eighty Years' War and resulted in the formal independence of the United Provinces in 1648. He was assassinated in 1584. Today he is known as the De Vader des Vaderlands, or, in english, Father of the Fatherland.



  • Sire, have pity on the Spanish infantry, which, for lack of pay and out of sheer starvation, is scouring the low country round, plundering the peasantry in mere need of food. These disorders I cannot repress, much less can I punish them, for necessity has no law.
    • William to Philip II while William was in command of the forces round Philippeville, January 5th, 1556- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 11
  • All in the world I have is yours; Next to God, you are the one I love best, and if I did not know that your love for me is the same, I could not be so happy as I am: May God give us both the grace to live always in this affection without any guile.
    • To William's first wife while she was dying, 1558- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 15
  • I will say no more, than that I will act as I shall answer hereafter to God and to man.
    • After Williams Wedding Ceremony, marrying his 2nd Wife, who was a Lutheran- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 16
  • Tell the King, that whole cities are in open revolt against the prosecutions, and that it is impossible to enforce the decrees here. As for myself, I shall continue to hold by the Catholic faith; but I will never give any colour to the tyrannical claim of kings to dictate to the consciences of their people, and to prescribe the form of religion that they choose to impose. Call the King’s attention to the corruption that has crept into the administration of justice. Let the Government be reformed, the Privy Council and the Council of Finance, and increase the authority of the Council of State.
    • To the Count of Egmont about what to say to Philip II, 1565- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 22
  • The end will show the whole truth.
    • To his brother Louis, commenting on The Count of Egmont's visit to Philip II about the problems in the Netherlands, 1565- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 22
  • In all things there must be order, but it must of such a kind as is possible to see a man burnt for doing as he thought right, harms the people, for this is a matter of conscience.
    • William at a meeting about Philips actions, 1566-William the Silent, by C.V. Wedgwood pg 78
  • I have come to make my grave in this land.
    • William as he led his army into the Netherlands, 1572-C.V Wedgwood, William the Silent
  • I am no Calvinist, but it seems to me neither right nor worthy of a Christian to seek, for the sake of differences between the doctrine of Calvin and the Confession of Augsburg, to have this land swarming with troops and inundated with blood.
    • William to the Landgrave of Hesse- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 34
  • Would not the German princes at least intercede with Philip? Would they hinder the passage of the royal mercenaries from Germany? Saxony, Hesse, Wurtemburg, and the rest offer excellent advice, to beware of Philip, not to drive him to extremity, to avoid outrages.
    • William in a letter to the Elector of Saxony-William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 35
  • God save the King!
    • William in Antwerp- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 34
  • This mercy will be your ruin; you will be at the bridge across which the Spaniards will enter this land.
    • Talking to his friend, the Count of Egmont- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison pg 76
I cannot approve of monarchs who want to rule over the conscience of the people, and take away their freedom of choice and religion.
  • It would be the greatest disaster which could befall our House if any untoward accident befall you, which may God avert! Do not hesitate to open letters addressed to me. Your love for me and the absolute confidence between us make me feel that I cannot have any secrets from you.
    • William talking to his brother John- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison pg 54
  • We may see how miraculously God defends our people, and makes us hope that, in spite of the malice of our enemies, He will bring our cause to a good and happy end, to the advancement of His glory and the deliverance of so many Christians from unjust oppression.
    • William to his brother John on Williams 2nd Invasion of the Netherlands, 1572- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 62
  • I am resolved, to go and plant myself in Holland or in Zeeland, and there await the issue which it shall please Him to ordain.
    • Writing to his brother John after an unsuccessful campaign- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 64
  • It is the will of God, and we must submit; but I call my God to witness that I have done all that in me lay to save the city, utterly desperate as I knew the attempt to be. When I took in hand the defence of these oppressed Christians, I made an alliance with the mightiest of all Potentates—the God of Hosts, who is able to save us, if He choose.
    • William to his brother Louis at the Siege of Harlem, 1573- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 68
  • It is not possible for me to bear alone such labours and the burden of such weighty cares as press on me from hour to hour, without one man at my side to help me. I have not a soul to aid me in all my anxieties and toils.
    • William showing his unhesitating trust in Providence- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 75
  • If they be dead, as I can no longer doubt, we must submit to the will of God and trust in His divine Providence, that He who has given the blood of His only Son to maintain His Church will do nothing but what will redound to the advancement of His glory and the preservation of His Church—however impossible it may appear. And though we all were to die, and all this poor people were massacred and driven out, we still must trust that God will not abandon his own.
    • William on the loss of his brothers in a letter to John, one of his other Brothers- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 76
  • They stormed Oudewater, and delivered it over to all imaginable cruelties, sparing neither sex nor age.
    • William on the cruel actions of the Spanish at Oudewater- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 87
  • We must have patience and not lose heart, submitting to the will of God, and striving incessantly, as I have resolved to do, come what may. With God’s help, I am determined to push onward, and by next month I trust to be at our appointed rendezvous. Watch Alva closely, and contrive to join me as arranged.
    • Writing in a letter to his brother, Louis of Nassau - William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 93
Our friends and allies are all turned cold.
  • Our friends and allies are all turned cold.
    • Writing to his brother, Louis of Nassau- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 93
  • Now, we shall see the beginning of a great tragedy.
    • Quoted in The New York Times (July 10, 1884)
  • As in the beginning, so now, and it will be for ever after, we come of a race who are very bad managers in youth, though we improve as we get older. I have cut down the cost of my falconers to 1200 florins, and I hope soon to be out of debt.
    • William writing to his brother Louis- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 10
  • I cannot approve of monarchs who want to rule over the conscience of the people, and take away their freedom of choice and religion.
    • 1564- Havo Exam
  • My legal wife is to me dead; the only ecclesiastical authority I recognise pronounces me free; the attacks and threats of men do not disturb me. I am acting according to a clear conscience, and am doing hurt to no man. For my conduct, I will answer to my maker.
    • William talking about his personal life- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 176
  • You are staking your own head by trusting the King. Never will I so stake mine, for he has deceived me too often. His favourite maxim is, haereticis non est servanda fides. I am now bald and Calvinist and in that faith will I die.
    • William to a supporter of the King- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 92
  • One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere.
    • One of William's mottos- Speech by Jean-Paul Costa,President of the European Court of Human Rights
  • I am in the hands of God, my worldly goods and my life have long since been dedicated to his service. He will dispose of them as seems best for his glory and my salvation. … Would to God that my perpetual banishment or even my death could bring you a true deliverance from so many calamities. Oh, how consoling would be such banishment — how sweet such a death! For why have I exposed my property? Was it that I might enrich myself? Why have I lost my brothers? Was it that I might find new ones? Why have I left my son so long a prisoner? Can you give me another? Why have I put my life so often in danger? What reward can I hope after my long services, and the almost total wreck of my earthly fortunes, if not the prize of having acquired, perhaps at the expense of my life, your liberty? If then, my masters, you judge that my absence or my death can serve you, behold me ready to obey. Command me — send me to the ends of the earth — I will obey. Here is my head, over which no prince, no monarch, has power but yourselves. Dispose of it for your good, for the preservation of your republic, but if you judge that the moderate amount of experience and industry which is in me, if you judge that the remainder of my property and of my life can yet be of service to you, I dedicate them afresh to you and to the country.
    • Response after hearing he had been declared an outlaw by Philip II- New York Times (July 10, 1884)
  • I have heard that tomorrow they are to execute the two prisoners, the accomplices of him who shot me. For my part, I most willingly pardon them. If they are thought deserving of a signal and severe penalty, I beg the magistrates not to put them to torture, but to give them a speedy death, if they have merited this. Good-night!
    • Asking that two assassins who had tried to kill him be spared torture - William the Silent, Frederic Harrison pg 109
My God, my God, have mercy on me, and on my poor people!
  • Then Kill me at once!
    • Reply to the people who preferred Philip II over the Duke of Anjou- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison
  • Do not kill him! I forgive him my death.
    • After an assassin had tried to kill him, he ordered his soldiers not to kill the assassin, 1581.- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 223
  • My God, my God, have mercy on me, and on my poor people!
    • Last words-De Vader des Vaderlands, Haarlem 1941, p. 29
      • Variants:
        O my God, have mercy on this poor people.
        My God, have pity on my soul; my God, have pity on this poor people.
        My God, have mercy on my soul and on these poor people.
        My God, have pity on my soul; I am badly wounded. My God, have pity on my soul and on this poor people!


  • Exert yourself to the utmost, however hopeless the situation, and persevere even when all attempts have been unsuccessful.
  • I shall stand fast.

About William the Silent

  • The Prince is a rare man, of great authoritie, universally beloved, verie wyse in resolution in all things, and voyd of pretences, and that which is worthie of speciall prayse in hym, he is not dismayed with any loss, or adversitie.
    • Dr. Wilson to Lord Beuleigh, 3rd December 1576.- William the Silent, Frederic Harrison pg 109
  • His circumspect demeanour procured him the surname of Silent, but under the cold exterior he concealed a busy, far-sighted intellect, and a generous, upright, daring heart.
    • Unknown- The Nuttall Encyclopædia
  • You have in American history one of the great captains of all times. It might be said of him, as it was of William the Silent, that he seldom won a battle but he never lost a campaign.
    • Von Moltke, comparing George Washington and William the Silent, Berlin 1974.
  • William, Prince of Orange, called William the Silent, was the natural leader of the Netherlands at this crisis, and he was chosen by Holland and Zealand as their governor. He was the determined foe of Spanish tyranny, and his strength of mind and farsighted statesmanship gave promise of success. Yet, for the little country of the Netherlands to stand out against the mighty power of Spain would have seemed fool-hardy, had it not been for the fact that the Protestants of Germany, England, and France could be relied upon for aid. In military strength and in the brilliancy of generals, Spain had greatly the advantage. her armies were commanded successively by the greatest soldiers of the time, -Don John of Austria (1576-1578) and after him Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma. Against their skill was pitted the high courage and inflexible will of William, who, like our Washington, was greatest in the time of difficulty and defeat.
    • On William-Colby, 1899
  • Orange is a dead man, his men desert him, and threaten to cut his throat, and sack his ancestral domain; he will be caught and annihilated as was his brother Jemmingen.
    • By the Protestant Languet- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 97
Never did arrogant or indiscreet word issue from his mouth, under the impulse of anger or other passion; if any of his servants committed a fault, he was satisfied to admonish them gently without resorting to menace or to abusive language. He was master of a sweet and winning power of persuasion, by means of which he gave form to the great ideas within him, and thus he succeeded in bending to his will the other lords about the court as he chose; beloved and in high favour above all men with the people, by reason of a gracious manner that he had of saluting, and addressing in a fascinating and familiar way all whom he met.
  • We may regard the Prince now as a dead man, he has neither influence, nor credit. They are broken, famished, cut to pieces.
    • Duke of Alva to Philip II- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 93
  • The Countess of Egmont sits with Madame while the Princess of Orange is kept standing, the Prince is dying of rage.
    • An observer on Williams troubles, 1565-William the Silent by C.V. Wegdwood, pg 70
  • The Prince has no head for such things; he writes too many manifestoes for a man of action.
    • Cardinal Granvelle- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 100
  • The Prince has changed his religion.
    • Secretary Armenteros, July 1566- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 26
  • The Prince very nobly hath travailed, both night and day, to keep this town from manslaughter and from despoil, which doubtless had taken place, if he had not been, — to the loss of 20,000 men; for that I never saw men so desperate willing to fight.
    • Sir Thomas Gresham to Cecil- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 37
  • Our godly Stadtholder has come to the communion, and therein has broken the Lord’s bread, and has submitted to discipline, which is no small event.
    • A minister writing to London shortly after William publicly professed the Calvinist faith- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 74
  • In patriotic history William was the little David sent against the Spanish Goliath.
    • On Williams impact on European History-Susan Brigden, quoted in a British Newspaper, author of New Worlds Lost Worlds: The Rule of the Tudors
  • The Prince is a dangerous man, subtle, politic, professing to stand by the people, and to champion their interests, even against your edicts, but seeking only the favour of the mob, giving himself out sometimes as a Catholic, sometimes as a Calvinist or Lutheran. He is a man to undertake any enterprise in secret which his own vast ambition and inordinate suspicion may suggest. Better not leave such a man in Flanders. Give him a magnificent embassy or a viceroyalty, or perhaps call him to your own court. As to Egmont, he has been led away by Orange but he is honest, a good Catholic, and can easily be brought round, by appealing to his vanity and his jealousy of the Prince.
    • Cardinal Granvelle to Philip II- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 18
  • To have seized the Prince would have been more important than all the rest.
    • Cardinal Granvelle- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 41
  • We need fear no more when the head is gone.
    • Remark by a Spanish councillor who believed William to be dead-William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 43
  • William the Silent, Prince of Orange, was a distinctive character, cast in a peculiar period of history. He was in thought and desire centuries ahead of the possibilities of his time, and had to contend with ideas among those he served that were as difficult to overcome as were the forces of the Spanish Crown, with which his life was spent in doing battle.
    • Ruth Putnam-Quoted in the New York Times, June 16, 1895
  • To my mind, he builded better than he knew and the real worth of his character developed slowly.
    • Ruth Putnam-Quoted in the New York Times, June 16, 1895
  • The Prince will have much ado to escape from his creditors.
    • Alva remarking on Williams attempts to raise funds for an army.- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 56
In patriotic history William was the little David sent against the Spanish Goliath.
  • If the Prince acted with spirit he would crush Alva; if Alva acted with spirit, he would crush the Prince.
    • An observer remarking on the Battle between William and Alva- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 63
  • O wondrous fate that joins Moses and Orange. The one fights for the law, the other beats the drum. And with his own arm, frees the Evangelium. The one leads the Hebrews through the Red Sea flood. The other guides his people through a sea...of tears and blood.
    • Comparision of Moses and William-Etching in a piece of Art, fogg Art Musem, Harvard University
  • He is the pilot who steers the ship; he alone can wreck it or save it. Peace, the Catholic religion, your Majesty’s rule, can only be established through him; we must make a virtue of necessity and come to terms with him, if we are not to lose all. I see no other way to prevent the ruin of the State but the defeat of this man, who exerts such an influence over the nation.
    • Don John of Austria to Philip II- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 92
  • The people here, are bewitched by the Prince; they love him, they fear him, they desire him for their lord. They inform him of everything, and take no step but by his advice. That which the Prince most abhors in the world, is your Majesty. If he could, he would drink your Majesty’s blood.
    • Don John of Austria to Philip II- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 92
  • They welcome him as the Jews would their Messiah.
    • A Royalist- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 96
As long as he lived, he was the guiding star of a whole brave nation, and when he died the little children cried in the streets.
  • People everywhere ceased to trust him, and thought that the Prince must regret that he had ever left Holland at all. He had lost all authority in the Netherlands, after allowing so many thousands to be butchered. He cannot even withdraw with honor; he is not safe even in Antwerp, where his popularity is gone.
    • Landgrave’s agent after the Pacification of Ghent- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 101
  • The very fear of it, will paralyze or kill him.
    • Cardinal Granvelle after Philp II offered a reward for Williams death or capture.- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison, pg 208
  • As long as he lived, he was the guiding star of a whole brave nation, and when he died the little children cried in the streets.
    • Dutch Historian- New York Times (July 10, 1884)
  • There have been politicians more successful, or more subtle; there have been none more tenacious or more tolerant...He is one of that small band of statesman whose service to humanity is greater than their service to their time or their people.
    • William the Silent By C.V. Wedgwood, introduction-C.V. Wedgwood
  • For these causes we declare him traitor and miscreant, enemy of ourselves and of the country. As such we banish him perpetually from all our realms, forbidding all our subjects, of whatever quality, to communicate with him openly or privately — to administer to him victuals, drink, fire, or other necessaries. We allow all to injure him in property or life. We expose the said William of Nassau as an enemy of the human race, giving his property to all who may seize it. And if any one of our subjects or any stranger should be found sufficiently generous of heart to rid us of this pest, delivering him to us, alive or dead, or taking his life, we will cause to be furnished to him immediately after the deed shall have been done, the sum of twenty-five thousand crowns in gold. If he have committed any crime, however heinous, we promise to pardon him; and if he be not already noble, we will ennoble him for his valor.
    • Cardinal Granvelle announcing William as a traitor- New York Times (July 10, 1884)
  • Never did arrogant or indiscreet word issue from his mouth, under the impulse of anger or other passion; if any of his servants committed a fault, he was satisfied to admonish them gently without resorting to menace or to abusive language. He was master of a sweet and winning power of persuasion, by means of which he gave form to the great ideas within him, and thus he succeeded in bending to his will the other lords about the court as he chose; beloved and in high favour above all men with the people, by reason of a gracious manner that he had of saluting, and addressing in a fascinating and familiar way all whom he met.
    • Pontus Payen, a sincere Catholic and opponent-William the Silent By Frederic Harrison pg 10
  • Never did a man more weary go to eternal rest.
    • C.V Wedgwood, on William's Assassination-William the Silent, by C.V Wedgwood, pg 250.
  • The wisest, gentelest, bravest man who ever led a nation.
    • G.M Trevelyan-Introduction to Fruin, Siege and Relief of Leyden
  • Faithless traitor, it is thou who art the cause of this massacre of our brothers!
    • Angry man yelling at William- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison pg 71
  • Better late than never.
    • Philip II after hearing William had been killed- William the Silent By Frederic Harrison pg 114

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Simple English

[[File:|right|thumb|250px|William the Silent]] William I of Orange-Nassau, (April 24, 1533July 10, 1584) was an important leader of the Dutch rebellion against the Spanish in the Eighty Years' War. He was the first leader of the Netherlands.

William of Orange is better known as William the Silent (in Dutch: Willem de Zwijger). It is not sure how he got this name. One story tells that when the kings of France and Spain proposed to William to kill all Protestants in his area, William did not reply.

William was born in Nassau in Germany. The king of Spain made him stadtholder (a sort of leader) about several Dutch provinces. But William converted to Protestantism, the religion of the Dutch people and joined their struggle for independence. The king of Spain offered a reward for the person who would kill William. In 1584 William was shot by Balthasar Gerards in his house in Delft. William's last words were in French: "Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, ayez pitié de moi et de ton pauvre peuple" (My Lord, My Lord, have pity on me and your poor people). Balthasar Gerards never received his reward, because he was killed by the angry Dutch.

In the Netherlands, people often call him "Father of the fatherland". The Dutch national anthem, the Wilhelmus, is about William.


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