Traill H.D.

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William Henry, Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau, a ruler destined to play a greater part in shaping the destinies of modern England than any of her native sovereigns, was born at the Hague on the 4th of November 1650. By blood and ancestral tradition he was well fitted for the work to which he was to be called. The descendant of a line of statesmen and warriors, the scion of a house which more than a century before had been associated with the most heroic struggle for national freedom that history records, he could hardly have added stronger hereditary to the great personal qualifications for the enterprises reserved for him. His family was one of the most ancient in Europe–reaching back, indeed, for its origin into the regions of fable. “I will not take upon me,” says an English biographer, writing shortly after his hero’s death, “to extend the Antiquity of the House of Nassau as far as the time of Julius C?sar, though that Emperor in his first book of Commentaries, De Bello Gallico, says that one Nassau, with his brother Cimberius, led a body of Germans out of Suabia and settled upon the banks of the Rhine near Treves, which is the more observable by reason of the Affinity of the Words, which differ only in the Transposition of one Letter; but I doubt ’tis rather Presumption than Truth for any one to affirm that there is an Estate upon that very Spot of Ground mentioned by C?sar which belongs to the Nassovian Family to this Day.” Without insisting on so very ancient and remote an origin as this, we may take it as certain that the House of Nassau had been established in Europe for some thousand years at the birth of William. As early as in the thirteenth century it was honoured with the imperial dignity in the person of Adolph of Nassau. The title and domains of Orange were added to the family in the sixteenth century by the marriage of Claude de Chalons, sister and heiress of the then Prince of Orange, with Henry of Nassau, from whose son Réné the principality passed by testamentary bequest to the great Stadtholder of Holland, William, surnamed the Silent, the illustrious liberator of the United Provinces from the yoke of Spain. The acquisition of this petty principality–only twelve miles in length by nine in breadth–was by no means the matter of trivial importance which its territorial dimensions might imply. Its situation in the very heart of the dominions of France, the incidents attaching to that situation and the consequences flowing from it, contributed in their degree to that complex system of forces by which the course of history is determined. To William I. succeeded his son Maurice, the bearer of a name also memorable in the history of the States, a greater soldier and a statesman of scarcely less ability than his father, though of a far more chequered fame. Under Maurice the power of the Stadtholder or Governor was, in spite of the jealousy with which it was regarded by the burgher party, considerably advanced, and he was not without reason suspected of the design of making himself an absolute ruler. Dying without issue, he was succeeded by his brother Frederick Henry, another renowned captain, under whom the long struggle with Spain was at last brought to a close by the renunciation, in the Treaty of Westphalia, of the Spanish claim upon the United Provinces. William II., the son of Frederick Henry, was born in 1626, and succeeded his father at the age of twenty-one. Endowed with all the restless activity and ambition of his uncle, he attempted, in prosecution of the same monarchical designs as that prince, to seize the city of Amsterdam by a coup de main. The project, however, was defeated, and William, after a troubled reign of only four years, was fatally attacked by the smallpox, and died on the 27th of October 1650, leaving no issue. Eight days after his death, however, his widow, Mary, daughter of Charles I., gave premature birth to the son whose career it is in these pages proposed to trace…

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