by Susan Flantzer
Frederik Hendrik was the third son of Willem I (the Silent), Prince of Orange to become Prince of Orange. Willem I and his four wives had a total of 15 children but only four were sons and only three of those sons survived childhood. Both elder half-brothers of Frederik Hendrik, Filips Willem (who was 30 years older than his youngest half-brother) and Maurits (who was 17 years older), were childless and so Frederik Hendrik became Prince of Orange upon the death of his half-brother Maurits. Frederik Hendrik, born on January 29, 1584, in Delft, Holland, Dutch Republic, was the only child of Willem I and his fourth wife, French Huguenot Louise de Coligny. Louise’s father, Gaspard II de Coligny, was a French nobleman and admiral but is best remembered as a leader of the Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants). He was killed during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 when thousands of Huguenots were murdered.
Frederik Hendrik had three half-siblings from his father’s first marriage to Anna van Egmont:
- Maria (1553 – 1555), died in early childhood
- Filips Willem, Prince of Orange (1554 – 1618), married Eleonora of Bourbon-Condé, no children
- Maria (1556 – 1616), married Count Philip of Hohenlohe-Neuenstein, no children
Frederik Hendrik had five half-siblings from his father’s second marriage to Anna of Saxony:
- Anna (born and died 1562)
- Anna (1563 – 1588), married her first cousin Count Willem Lodewijk of Nassau-Dillenburg, no children
- Maurits (1564 – 1566), died in early childhood
- Maurits, Prince of Orange (1567 – 1625), unmarried, no legitimate children
- Emilia (1569 – 1629), married Prince Manuel of Portugal, had eight children
Frederik Hendrik had six half-sisters from his father’s third marriage to Charlotte de Bourbon-Monpensier:
- 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
On July 10, 1584, when Frederik Hendrik was not quite six months old, his father was assassinated. In 1568, Willem I, Prince of Orange, Frederik Hendrik’s father, became the main leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish Habsburgs who held the land that we now know as the Netherlands and Belgium. That set off the Eighty Years’ War and resulted in the formal independence of the Dutch Republic in 1581. In 1568, Frederik Hendrick’s 13-year-old half-brother and the eldest son of his father, Filips Willem, was a student at the University of Leuven (now in Belgium). Angered by Willem’s actions against Spain, King Philip II of Spain had Filips Willem abducted, taken to Spain and held hostage. In Spain, Filips Willem was made to convert to Roman Catholicism and educated as a Spaniard. He never saw his father again.
Upon his father’s death, Filips Willem became Prince of Orange, which was a French hereditary title, not a Dutch title. However, he was not allowed to return to his homeland because he was not trusted and was considered an agent of Spain. In 1585, 17-year-old Maurits held his father’s elective offices as Stadtholder (Governor) of the provinces of Holland and Zeeland. Five years later, Maurits became Stadtholder of the provinces of Guelders, Overijssel, and Utrecht. As the Stadtholder of five of the seven provinces of the Dutch Republic, Maurits was effectively the ruler of the Dutch Republic.
After Willem I’s death, his widow Louise de Coligny raised her son and his six half-sisters from his father’s third marriage. In 1591, Frederik Hendrik and his mother moved to the Noordeinde Palace in The Hague. Frederik Hendrik was taught Latin and religion by Louise’s pastor Johannes Uytenbogaert. In 1594, Frederik Hendrik went to the University of Leiden to study mathematics and land surveying. In 1600, he was appointed to the State Council, the chief advisory council, in order for him to become acquainted with state affairs. His elder half-brother Maurits, a general, trained Frederik Hendrik in military matters. Maurits was the Captain-General and Admiral of the military forces of the Dutch Republic. He organized the Dutch rebellion against Spain into a coherent, successful revolt and won fame as a military strategist. Frederik Hendrik participated in many battles during the rebellion.
Filips Willem died in 1618 and Maurits became Prince of Orange. Maurits never married but he did have a number of illegitimate children. In 1625, while on his deathbed, Maurits threatened to legitimize his illegitimate sons which would then threaten the succession of Frederik Hendrik. 41-year-old Frederik Hendrik also had not yet married, but he had one illegitimate son born in 1624. A few years earlier Frederik Hendrik had met Princess Amalia of Solms-Braunfels, became infatuated with her, and asked her to become his lover. She refused saying she would only consider marriage. Because of Maurits’ threat to legitimize his illegitimate sons, Frederik Hendrik summoned Amalia and married her on April 4, 1625. Maurits died on April 23, 1625, at the age of 57. Frederik Hendrik succeeded him as Prince of Orange and the other hereditary titles of their father. He also succeeded in the elective offices as Stadtholder (Governor) of five of the seven provinces of the Dutch Republic and as the Captain-General and Admiral of the military forces of the Dutch Republic.
Frederik Hendrik and Amalia had nine children but four did not survive infancy:
- Willem II, Prince of Orange (1626 – 1650), married Mary, Princess Royal, eldest daughter of King Charles I of England; had one son Willem III, Prince of Orange, later King William III of England
- Luise Henriette of Nassau (1627 – 1667), married Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg, had six children including Friedrich, King in Prussia
- Henriëtte Amalia of Nassau (born and died 1628)
- Elisabeth of Nassau (born and died 1630)
- Isabella Charlotte of Nassau (1632 – 1642)
- Albertine Agnes of Nassau (1634 – 1696), married Willem Frederik, Prince of Nassau-Dietz, had three children; paternal grandparents of Johan Willem Friso, Prince of Orange
- Henriette Catherine of Nassau (1637 – 1708), married Johann Georg II, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, had ten children, maternal grandparents of Johan Willem Friso, Prince of Orange
- Hendrik Lodewijk of Nassau (born and died 1639)
- Maria of Nassau (1642 – 1688), married Ludwig Heinrich, Count Palatine of Simmern-Kaiserslautern, no children
Frederik Hendrik recognized one illegitimate child by Margaretha Catharina Bruyns:
- Frederik van Nassau-Zuylestein, Lord of Zuylestein (1624–1672), married Mary Killigrew, had two sons, Frederik became the governor of the household of his nephew Willem III, Prince of Orange
Frederik Hendrik ruled the Dutch Republic for 22 years. His reign is included in the era known as the Dutch Golden Age in which Dutch trade, science, military, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. He was almost as good a general as his brother Maurits and was a more capable statesman. Frederik Hendrik married off his children to form alliances. The highlight of these marriages was an alliance with England when his eldest son, the future Willem II, Prince of Orange married Mary, Princess Royal, the eldest daughter of King Charles I of England.
For many years before his death, Frederik Hendrik suffered from gout. In the summer of 1646, he had a stroke which temporarily prevented him from speaking. After that, Frederik Hendrik was physically weak, difficult to cope with, and sometimes mentally unstable. He died on March 14, 1647, in The Hague, Holland, Dutch Republic at the age of 63. His eldest son succeeded him as Willem II, Prince of Orange but sadly he died three years later from smallpox. Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange was buried in the royal vault at the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft with his father and brother Maurits.