November Books 1) William the Silent

1) William the Silent: William of Nassau, Prince of Orange 1533-1584, by C.V. Wedgwood

Bought this on impulse the other day; it is a very interesting and passionate biography of the leader of the successful Dutch revolt against Spanish rule in the mid-16th century. I had not appreciated how central present-day Belgium was to the Netherlands as a whole up until then: the capital at Brussels, the main trading port being Antwerp. And although there was always a gradient from Francophone to Dutch-speaking, and increasingly from Catholic to Protestant, as you go from south to north, it’s easy to imagine how a slightly different set of historical circumstances could have led to a very different border between today’s Netherlands and Belgium, or even no border at all; the military balance was always fragile, and local allegiances in the extensive boundary zone volatile.

Wedgwood’s book was published in 1944, and there’s clearly an implicit parallel between the Dutch fight against Spanish oppression and the second world war, with William the Silent being portrayed as an almost Churchillian figure; also, of course, his descendant Queen Wilhelmina, exiled in England and Canada during the war, would have been a well-known personality to the British reader of the time. I have to say that I felt a bit suspicious of Wedgwood’s nuances on a couple of occasions, given the likely didactic intent of the book. William was possibly the first political leader to be assassinated with a handgun – apparently Lisa Jardine has a book out about that, so I’ve ordered it from Amazon, and maybe it will give a slightly different perspective.

The story is contemporary with a couple of other historical episodes I’m interested in as well; though Irish history is not mentioned here, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre is a major incident, with William’s last wife (of four) the daughter of Admiral de Coligny. Anyway, all very interesting and helps to build up the context.

One thought on “November Books 1) William the Silent

  1. Milton wouldn’t have to imagine it. He was Sectretary of Foreign Tongues to Cromwell.

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