Marching at the head of 20,000 soldiers, William of Orange – also known as William the Silent – kept his mind fixed on the Netherlands. As the army marched toward the Rhine and then into Spanish-held lands, William reflected on the strange circumstances that brought him to fight against the very country that had trained him in the Spanish court.
At 11 years old, William had inherited land and a position in the Netherlands when his uncle died; making him the Prince of Orange and possessor of all Nassau goods in the Netherlands. Up to that point, he had been raised as a Protestant in Germany. This new position and power came on one condition – he was to be taught in the Spanish Courts in preparation for this role. His parents saw the advantage of this position and sent him to Charles V., where William became a Catholic and learned about the double dealings in the Spanish court. William was an astute observer and silently watched many meetings under King Charles V., which may be why he is known as William the Silent.
At the age of 22, he was given his estate in the Netherlands and made a head of state. It was shortly after this time, that King Charles V. died and his son Philip II. took over the Spanish throne. Philip was more extreme than his father in carrying out the purging his lands of Protestants, Lutherans and anyone else that wasn’t Catholic. He increased the number of Bishops in the Netherlands and encouraged their swift execution of heretics. William did not like to see people killed for believing in any church. He saw the civil unrest it caused and hoped there would be a peaceful resolution.
The harder William tried, the more persistent King Philip became about his edicts and reprimands of William. Eventually, Philip tried to arrange for William and other nobles that opposed his Spanish Inquisition, to be caught and killed. William was aware of this plan and tried to warn others to stand or flee with him. In the end, he left with only two other nobles, back to Germany.
William had a choice to make. He could live in peace and prosperity in his homeland, or he could face a dangerous and ruthless foe in the Netherlands. The young statesman left to save his life, but after finding a conviction of his own in Christ, he decided to return to help the people in the Netherlands.
William was rich, but much of his wealth was seized by Spain when he fled to Germany. He sold all he had to procure an army, with the promise they would be paid more when they got to the Netherlands. Here he was marching at the head of 20,000 soldiers, and a mission to save the people from Spanish oppression.
He was met with open arms by the Dutch people. Their nobles offered him sovereign control. He deferred complete control to the nobles, but accepted control of the affairs of the war and acted without delay. Unfortunately, there would be many delays and lots of bloodshed before the end of the war. William the Silent and the patriotic citizens that followed him were often beaten back by the well-trained, effective Spanish army. William never gave up on the hope of securing religious freedom for the people. When he did have control of certain provinces, he constantly encouraged them to respect each other and live peacefully.
Eventually, William was assassinated by a zealous Spanish Catholic, who sought the prize money offered by King Philip II. Williams final words were “O my God, have mercy upon my soul! My God, have mercy upon this poor people!”
Williams personal sacrifice for his adopted country and for religious freedom inspired the people at a time of widespread bigotry and hatred. He did unite seven provinces in his lifetime, which became the basis of the Dutch Republic. They adopted his coat of arms in their nation’s symbols, and their national color is orange in his honor. They consider him to be the father of their country.
The difference between William and thousands of other nobles of his day was his desire to serve the people and God above himself. He was always fair and charismatic, but once he turned his whole focus on serving the people, he gained a deep respect from all the classes of society. His service inspired hundreds of farmers to stand firm against thousands of trained soldiers.
His service to the people also gave him the fortitude to keep going. His service kept him from walking into traps set by ambassadors from Spain. His service stopped rumors and lies before they caused any real harm. He gave his all, and the people loved him for it.
Who are you serving? Are you inspiring them to greater things? Are you giving them your best effort? Commit to helping those you serve to find greater joy through helping them before you help yourself. Do it for them, not for your recognition. In the end, it will be repaid to you in love and respect.