Historic Rulers of the Netherlands

From 1579 to 2014

The Royal Palace in Dam square at Amsterdam, Netherlands. Dam square is famous place in Amsterdam.
Prasit photo / Getty Images

The United Provinces of the Netherlands was formed on January 23, 1579, a union of provinces each ruled by a ‘stadholder’, with one often ruling the whole. In November 1747 the office of the Friesland stadholder became hereditary and responsible for the whole republic, creating a practical monarchy under the house of Orange-Nassau.

After an interlude caused by the Napoleonic Wars, when a puppet regime ruled, the modern monarchy of the Netherlands was founded in 1813, when William I (of Orange-Nassau) was declared Sovereign Prince. His position was confirmed when the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which included Belgium, was recognized as a monarchy at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and he became King. While Belgium has since become independent, the royal family of the Netherlands/Holland has remained. It is an unusual monarchy in that an above average proportion of rulers have abdicated.

There was no General Stadholder from 1650–1672 and 1702–1747.

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1579—1584 William of Orange

Having inherited estates around the area which became Holland, the young William was sent to the region and educated as a Catholic on the orders of Emperor Charles V. He served Charles and Philip II well, being appointed stadholder in Holland. However, he refused to enforce religious laws attacking Protestants, and became a loyal opponent and then an outright rebel. In the 1570s William had great success in his war with the Spanish powers, becoming Stadholder of a United Provinces. William was assassinated by a Catholic attacker.

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1584—1625 Maurice of Nassau

The second son of William of Orange, he left university when he father was killed and he was appointed stadholder. Aided by the British he consolidated the union against the Spanish and took control of military affairs. Fascinated by science, he reformed and refined his forces until they were some of the finest in the world, and was successful in the north, but had to agree to a truce in the south.  It was his execution of the statesman and former ally Oldenbarnevelt which affected his posthumous reputation. He left no direct heirs.

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1625—1647 Frederick Henry

Youngest son of William of Orange, third hereditary stadholder and Prince of Orange, Frederick Henry inherited a war against the Spanish and continued it. He was excellent at sieges and did more to create the border of Belgium and the Netherlands that anyone else. He established a dynastic future, kept the peace between himself and the lower government, and died a year before peace was signed.

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1647—1650 William II

William II was married to the daughter of Charles I of England, and when he succeeded to his father’s titles and positions he was opposed to the peace deal which would end the generational war for Dutch independence, and support Charles II of England in regaining the throne. The parliament of Holland was aghast, and there was great conflict between the two before William died of smallpox after only a few years.

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1672—1702 William III (also King of England)

William III was born just a few days after his father’s early death, and such had been the arguments between the latter and the Dutch government that the former was banned from taking power. Nevertheless, as William grew this order was canceled, and with England and France threatening the area William was appointed Captain-General. Success saw him created stadholder, and he was able to repel the French. William was an heir to the English throne and married to a daughter of an English king, and accepted an offer of the throne when James II caused ​revolutionary upset. He continued to lead the war in Europe against France and kept Holland intact.

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1747—1751 William IV

The position of Stadholder has been vacant since William III died in 1747, but as France fought Holland during the War of the Austrian Succession, popular acclaim bought William IV to the position. He wasn’t particularly gifted but left his son a hereditary office.

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1751—1795 William V (Deposed)

Just three years old when William V died, he grew into a man at odds with the rest of the country. He opposed reform, upset many people, and at one point only remained in power thanks to Prussian bayonets. Having been ejected by France, he retired to Germany.

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1795—1806 Ruled Partly From France, Partly as Batavian Republic

As the French Revolutionary Wars began, and as calls for natural borders went out, so French armies invaded Holland. The king fled to England, and the Batavian Republic was created. This went through several guises, depending on developments in France.

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1806—1810 Louis Napoleon (King, Kingdom of Holland)

In 1806 Napoleon created a new throne for his brother Louis to rule​ but soon criticised the new king for being too lenient and not doing enough to help the war. The brothers fell out, and when Napoleon sent troops to enforced edicts Louis abdicated.

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1810—1813 Ruled From France

A large amount of the kingdom of Holland was taken into direct imperial control when the experiment with Louis was over.

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1813—1840 William I (King, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Abdicated)

A son of William V, this William lived in exile during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, having lost most of his ancestral lands. However, when the French were forced from the Netherlands in 1813 William accepted an offer to become Prince of the Dutch Republic, and he was soon King William I of the United Netherlands. Although he oversaw an economic revival, his methods caused rebellion in the south, and he had to eventually concede Belgium independence. Knowing he was unpopular, he abdicated and moved to Berlin.

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1840—1849 William II

As a youth William fought with the British in the Peninsular War and commanded troops at Waterloo. He came to the throne in 1840 and enabled a gifted financier to secure the nation’s economy. As Europe convulsed in 1848 William gave permission for a liberal constitution to be created and died shortly after.

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1849—1890 William III

Having come to power soon after the liberal constitution of 1848 was installed he opposed it but was persuaded to work with it. An anti-Catholic approach further strained tensions, as did his attempt to sell Luxembourg to France; it was made independent in the end. By this time he’d lost much of his power and influence in the nation, and he died in 1890.

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1890—1948 Wilhelmina (Abdicated)

Having succeeded to the throne as a child in 1890, Wilhelmina took power in 1898. She would rule the country through the two great conflicts of the century, being key in keeping Holland neutral in World War One and using radio broadcasts while in exile to keep spirits up in World War Two. Having been able to return to Holland after Germany’s defeat she abdicated in 1948 due to failing health but lived until 1962.

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1948—1980 Juliana (Abdicated)

The only child of Wilhelmina, Juliana was taken to safety in Ottawa during World War Two, returning when peace was achieved. She was now regent twice, in 1947 and 1948, during the illness of the queen, and when her mother abdicated due to her health became queen. She reconciled the events of the war quicker than many, marrying her family to a Spaniard and a German, and built a reputation for modesty and humility. She abdicated in 1980, dying in 2004.

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1980—2013 Beatrix

In exile with her mother during World War Two, in peacetime Beatrix studied at university and then married a German diplomat, an event which caused rioting. Things settled down as the family grew, and Juliana established herself as a popular monarch following her mother’s abdication. She too abdicated, in 2013, aged 75.

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2013—Present Willem-Alexander

Willem Alexander succeeded to the throne in 2013 when his mother abdicated, having lived a full life as crown prince including military service, university study, tours and sports.