Stadholders of the 16th and 17th centuries

The stadholders of the 16th and 17th centuries were not sovereign rulers, though they did play an important role in the political life of the Dutch Republic. They were in the service of the States of individual provinces. Since their responsibilities were chiefly military in nature, they were also closely involved in shaping the Republic’s foreign policy. This gave them an almost sovereign position. The stadholders in this period were:

First stadholderless period (1650-1672)

After the death of Prince William II in 1650 no new stadholder was appointed in most of the provinces. However, members of the House of Nassau continued to play a role during what is known as the ‘first stadholderless period’. The Frisian branch of the family continued to hold the office of stadholder in certain provinces. They were descended from William of Orange’s brother Count Jan the Elder. William Frederik was stadholder of Friesland from 1640 and from 1650 onwards of Groningen and Drenthe as well. On his death in 1664, his son Hendrik Casimir II succeeded him as stadholder of these provinces. Another member of the family, Count Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen, served the Republic as field marshal.

The first stadholderless period came to an end when the French invaded the Dutch Republic in 1672, the ‘year of disasters’. As a result of popular pressure, Prince William III, son of the last stadholder, William II, was appointed stadholder of Holland and Zeeland and, shortly afterwards, of Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel.

Second stadholderless period (1702-1747)

The stadholder of Friesland, Prince Johan Willem Friso, son of Hendrik Casimir II, was Prince William III’s heir, but did not succeed him as stadholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland or Overijssel. The second stadholderless period came to an end in 1747 when his son, William IV, was proclaimed hereditary stadholder of all the provinces.

Stadholders of the 18th century

In 1795 the French invasion drove William V into exile. This marked the end of the Dutch Republic and also of the office of stadholder. After the French occupation, his son Willem Frederik returned to the Netherlands as Sovereign Prince.