by Susan Flantzer
Anna van Egmont, Princess of Orange
Credit – Wikipedia
Anna van Egmont was the first wife of Willem I (the Silent), Prince of Orange. Born in March 1533 in Grave now in the Dutch province North Brabant, she was the only child of Maximilian of Egmont, Count of Buren and Leerdam, Stadtholder of Friesland and Françoise de Lannoy. Anna came from one of the oldest and most prominent families in the Netherlands. Her father served as a diplomat in the imperial court of the Holy Roman Empire in Brussels where Anna brought up in the household of Mary of Austria who was the Governor of the Netherlands and the sister of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Upon her father’s death in 1548, Anna inherited his titles in her own right.
On July 8, 1551, 18-year-old Anna married another 18-year-old, Willem I, Prince of Orange. By all accounts, their marriage was a happy one. Anna and Willem lived alternately in her castle in Buren and his castle in Breda.
The couple had three children:
Statue of Anna and her husband Willem and their two surviving children in the town center of Buren; Photo Credit – Wikipedia
Anna’s early death at the age of 25, on March 24, 1558, brought much grief to Willem. She was buried in the Grote Kerk in Breda, the traditional burial site of the House of Orange.
Anna of Saxony, Princess of Orange
Three years after the death of his first wife, Willem married again. On August 25, 1561, he married Anna of Saxony, the only surviving child and heiress of Maurice, Elector of Saxony and his wife Agnes of Hesse. Anna was born on December 23, 1544, in Dresden, Duchy of Saxony. She had one younger brother who lived for only six months.
After Anna’s father died in 1553, her mother remarried in 1555 but died due to a miscarriage six months later. The eleven-year-old Anna was sent to live at the court of her uncle Augustus, Elector of Saxony in Dresden.
Since Anna was her father’s only heir, she was a wealthy young woman and attracted a number of royal suitors. The future King Eric XIV of Sweden made an unsuccessful marriage proposal, but it was Willem I, Prince of Orange who caught her attention. Anna’s dowry of 100,000 thalers was a very large amount of money. Willem was especially interested in the wealth and support he would acquire from Anna’s family in Saxony, Hesse-Kassel, and the Palatine. However, there was resistance to the marriage from Anna’s family. They thought she could get a husband with more status and they were concerned with the lack of Willem’s financial resources. Eventually, Willem’s persistent involvement in the marriage negotiations proved successful.
Willem and Anna had five children but only three survived to adulthood:
Within a few months of the marriage, the couple began quarreling. By 1565, it was common knowledge at all the courts in Germany and in the Netherlands that the marriage was unhappy. After the death of her first son Maurits in 1566, Anna suffered severe depression. She tried to drown her grief with alcohol. The situation between Anna and Willem was strained and they often lived apart.
In early 1571, Anna realized she was pregnant. Immediately, the paternity was controversial. Two possibilities were discussed: either Anna’s husband Willem, who had visited Anna and his children during Christmas 1570, was the father or the lawyer Jan Rubens (the future father of the painter Peter Paul Rubens), who spent a lot of time with Anna as her legal adviser, was the father. A daughter, Christine, was born in August 1571.
Willem knew that his non-recognition of the child as his daughter would be a pretext for divorce by accusing Anna of adultery. Wilhelm accused Rubens of having had an adulterous relationship with his wife and of being the biological father of Christina. Rubens was imprisoned and threatened with execution. He confessed to adultery under torture and was pardoned on the intercession of his wife. Anna also admitted the adultery, but she denied that Rubens was the father. On December 14, 1571, Anna was forced to agree to a divorce. Christine, who had been given Dietz as a surname, was not recognized by Willem as his child and he did not have to pay any further maintenance for her.
In 1572, Anna was sent to her family in Saxony where they imprisoned her as an adulteress. The windows of her room were walled up and fitted with additional iron bars. A square hole was made in the door through which food and drink were given to her. An iron gate was installed on the outside of the door prohibiting any attempt to escape. Anna died on December 18, 1577, shortly before her 33rd birthday. She was buried in Meissen Cathedral in Saxony near her ancestors in a nameless tomb.
Charlotte de Bourbon-Monpensier, Princess of Orange
Credit – Wikipedia
On April 24, 1575, Willem married his third wife Charlotte de Bourbon-Monpensier. She was born in 1546/1547, the fifth of the six children of Louis, Duke of Montpensier and Jacqueline de Longwy, Countess of Bar-sur-Seine, a niece of King François I of France.
Charlotte had one brother and four sisters:
- Françoise de Bourbon (1539–1587), married Henri Robert de La Marck, Duke of Bouillon, Prince of Sedan, had two children
- Anne de Bourbon (1540–1572), married François de Clèves, Duke de Nevers
- Jeanne de Bourbon (1541–1620), Abbess of Jouarre
- François de Bourbon, Duke of Montpensier (1542–1592), married Renée d’Anjou, had one son
- Louise de Bourbon (1548–1586), Abbess of Faremoutier
As a young child, Charlotte was sent to the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Jouarre in the care of her aunt Louise, who was the abbess there. In order to give his only son François the greatest possible legacy, Charlotte’s father Louis planned to send his unmarried daughters to various abbeys to avoid paying their dowries. Charlotte begged not to go to the abbey and when she took her final vows at the age of thirteen, she made a formal written protest. Upon her aunt’s death, Charlotte became the abbess against her wishes.
While in the abbey, Charlotte was instructed in Calvinism by a dissident priest. At the time of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, when thousands of French Protestants were killed, Charlotte converted to Protestantism, escaped from the abbey in a cart filled with hay, and fled to the Electorate of the Palatinate (in Germany), well beyond her parents’ reach. Friedrich III, Elector Palatine took her to Heidelberg and placed her under his protection. Only a few weeks after Charlotte’s escape, she met Willem I, Prince of Orange while he was visiting Friedrich III, Elector Palatine. Two years later, he asked for her hand in marriage.
Willem and Charlotte had six daughters:
- Louise Juliana (1576 – 1644), married Friedrich IV, Elector Palatine, had eight children including Friedrich V, Elector Palatine, grandfather of King George I of Great Britain
- Elisabeth (1577 – 1642), married Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, had seven children
- Catharina Belgica (1578 – 1648), married Count Philipp Ludwig II of Hanau-Münzenberg, had ten children
- Charlotte Flandrina (1579 – 1640), converted to Roman Catholicism and became a nun
- Charlotte Brabantina (1580 – 1631), married Claude, Duc de Thouars, had four children
- Emilia Antwerpiana (1581 – 1657), married Friedrich Casimir, Count Palatine of Zweibrücken-Landsberg, had three children
This marriage was Willem’s happiest marriage. Charlotte supported her husband in the Dutch independence war against Spain by serving as an important link in the communication between Willem and the troops of the Dutch provinces. After an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Willem on March 18, 1582, Charlotte took great care of her wounded husband. Exhausted from caring for Willem, she fell ill with pneumonia and a high fever and died at the age of 35 on May 5, 1582. Charlotte was buried at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp (Belgium) but her tomb has not survived.
Louise de Coligny, Princess of Orange
Credit – Wikipedia
On April 12, 1583, Willem married his fourth wife French Huguenot Louise de Coligny, daughter of Gaspard II de Coligny and Charlotte de Laval. Born at Châtillon-sur-Loing, France on September 23, 1555, Louise was the eldest of three siblings.
Louise had two younger brothers:
Louise’s father was a French nobleman and admiral but is best remembered as a leader of the Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants). At the age of 15, Louise married Charles de Teligny who was 20 years older. Both Charles and Louise’s father were killed during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 when thousands of Huguenots were murdered. After her husband and father were killed, Louise fled to Switzerland. She returned to France in 1576 after the Edict of Beaulieu, which gave Huguenots the right of public worship, and lived on the estates of her deceased husband. Louise appeared once at the French court to reclaim the titles and property of her father.
Willem and Louise had one son:
On July 10, 1584, a little more than six months after the birth of her son, Louise was widowed for the second time when Willem I, Prince of Orange was assassinated. Louise then raised both her son and Willem’s six daughters from his third marriage to Charlotte de Bourbon-Monpensier. She remained an advocate of Protestantism all her life. Due to her excellent connections with Protestant families and her continuing friendship with King Henri IV of France, Louise played a significant role in the political life of France and the Netherlands. She lived in Delft until one year before her death when she went to the court of Marie de’ Medici, Queen Dowager of France, at the Château de Fontainebleau. Louise, aged 65, died on November 9, 1620, at Fontainebleau and was buried with her husband Willem I, Prince of Orange in the Old Crypt of the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft.
The Old Crypt with the body-like lead sarcophagus of Louise de Coligny on the bottom right and Willem I, Prince of Orange’s coffin on the bottom left; Credit – Wikipedia