History, anthem and symbols

Please visit the richly illustrated website ’ for an in-depth look at Dutch history. Users can search for information under fifty different dates and fourteen separate themes. The dates cover key periods in Dutch history and the fourteen “main lines of the canon” provide additional background information.

 

The Dutch National Anthem

The ‘Wilhelmus’ has been the Dutch national anthem since 1932. The first and sixth verses are usually sung on national occasions. The anthem comprises 15 eight line verses which take the form of an acrostic on the name of William of Orange. In the first verse, Prince William vows that he will remain true to his country unto death; in the sixth, he prays to God for strength to rid the land of tyranny. In periods of oppression and war, these verses have held a powerful appeal for the people of the Netherlands.

History
The Wilhelmus is considered the oldest national anthem in the world. It was written between 1569 and 1572 and was based on even older songs. The English ‘God Save the Queen’ and the French ‘Marseillaise’, in contrast, only emerged in 1745 and 1792, respectively. The original lyrics were most likely written by an exile in Germany. The poet and diplomat Marnix van Sint Aldegonde also contributed to the definitive version.

From the sixteenth century onwards, the Wilhelmus was often played at official occasions and important events. It was named the official Dutch national anthem by Royal Decree on 10 May 1932.

Origin
In 1567, Prince William of Orange fled the Netherlands with thousands of other opponents of Spanish rule. The following year, he tried to free the country from tyranny and religious persecution, but his three invasions with mercenaries from the Holy Roman Empire failed.

The Wilhelmus is both an encouragement for the Prince and a manifesto aimed at gaining support from the German princes. The poet portrays him as a prince fighting for freedom of religion and as the equal of King Philip II of Spain, rather than his subject.

In the anthem, the Prince addresses the oppressed people of the Netherlands. He affirms his sincerity and determination, and explains why he has risen up against the King of Spain.

William comforts his followers and yet exhorts them to join in the struggle, also reminding them of their duty to obey God. The poet compares the Prince to David, who had to flee from Saul, the first King of Israel, before himself ascending the throne. He commends the Prince to the people as the chosen leader of the revolt against King Philip II.

Melody and structure
The tune of the Wilhelmus is based on a French soldiers’ song popular around 1569 and was further developed by Adriaen Valerius (approx. 1575 1625). The official version is the arrangement by Walther Boer, dating from 1932.

The song’s style resembles that of the Rederijkers (‘rhetoricians’), sixteenth century companies of poets. For example, the first letters of the 15 verses spell the name ‘Willem van Nassov’. The text is also thematically symmetrical, in that verses one and 15 resemble one another in meaning, as do verses two and 14, three and 13, etc., until they converge in the eighth verse, the heart of the song: ‘Oh David, thou soughtest shelter/From King Saul’s tyranny’.

Full text of the Dutch national anthem

William of Nassau, scion
Of a Dutch and ancient line,
Dedicate undying
Faith to this land of mine.
A prince I am, undaunted,
Of Orange, ever free,
To the king of Spain I’ve granted
A lifelong loyalty.

I ‘ve ever tried to live in
The fear of God’s command
And therefore I’ve been driven,
From people, home, and land,
But God, I trust, will rate me
His willing instrument
And one day reinstate me
Into my government.

Let no despair betray you,
My subjects true and good.
The Lord will surely stay you
Though now you are pursued.
He who would live devoutly
Must pray God day and night
To throw His power about me
As champion of your right.

Life and my all for others
I sacrificed, for you!
And my illustrious brothers
Proved their devotion too.
Count Adolf, more’s the pity,
Fell in the Frisian fray,
And in the eternal city
Awaits the judgement day.

I, nobly born, descended
From an imperial stock.
An empire’s prince, defended
(Braving the battle’s shock
Heroically and fearless
As pious Christian ought)
With my life’s blood the peerless
Gospel of God our Lord.

A shield and my reliance,
O God, Thou ever wert.
I’ll trust unto Thy guidance.
O leave me not ungirt.
That I may stay a pious
Servant of Thine for aye
And drive the plagues that try us
And tyranny away.

My God, I pray thee, save me
From all who do pursue
And threaten to enslave me,
Thy trusted servant true.
O Father, do not sanction
Their wicked, foul design,
Don’t let them wash their hands in
This guiltless blood of mine.

O David, thou soughtest shelter
From King Saul’s tyranny.
Even so I fled this welter
And many a lord with me.
But God the Lord did save me
From exile and its hell
And, in His mercy, gave him
A realm in Israel.

Fear not ‘t will rain sans ceasing
The clouds are bound to part.
I bide that sight so pleasing
Unto my princely heart,
Which is that I with honor
Encounter death in war,
And meet in heaven my Donor,
His faithful warrior.

Nothing so moves my pity
As seeing through these lands,
Field, village, town and city
Pillaged by roving hands.
O that the Spaniards rape thee,
My Netherlands so sweet,
The thought of that does grip me
Causing my heart to bleed.

A stride on steed of mettle
I’ve waited with my host
The tyrant’s call to battle,
Who durst not do his boast.
For, near Maastricht ensconced,
He feared the force I wield.
My horsemen saw one bounce it
Bravely across the field.

Surely, if God had willed it,
When that fierce tempest blew,
My power would have stilled it,
Or turned its blast from you
But He who dwells in heaven,
Whence all our blessings flow,
For which aye praise be given,
Did not desire it so.

Steadfast my heart remaineth
In my adversity
My princely courage straineth
All nerves to live and be.
I’ve prayed the Lord my Master
With fervid heart and tense
To save me from disaster
And prove my innocence.

Alas! my flock. To sever
Is hard on us. Farewell.
Your Shepherd wakes, wherever
Dispersed you may dwell,
Pray God that He may ease you.
His Gospel be your cure.
Walk in the steps of Jesu
This life will not endure.

Unto the Lord His power
I do not confession make
That ne’er at any hour
Ill of the King I spake.
But unto God, the greatest
Of Majesties I owe
Obedience first and latest,
For Justice wills it so.

 

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