Historic Rulers of the Netherlands

From 1579 to 2014

The Royal Palace at Dam square in Amsterdam on a bright night

Prasit photo / Getty Images

The United Provinces of the Netherlands, sometimes referred to as Holland or the Low Countries, formed on Jan. 23, 1579. Each province was ruled by a "stadtholder," and one often ruled the whole. There was no General Stadtholder from 1650 to 1672 or from 1702 to 1747. In November 1747, the office of the Friesland stadtholder 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. He became King in 1815, when his position was confirmed at the Congress of Vienna, which recognized the United Kingdom of the Netherlands⁠—then including Belgium⁠—as a monarchy. While Belgium has since become independent, the royal family of the Netherlands has remained. It is an unusual monarchy because an above-average proportion of rulers have abdicated.

01
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William I of Orange, 1579 to 1584

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 stadtholder in Holland. However, he refused to enforce religious laws attacking Protestants, becoming a loyal opponent and then an outright rebel. In the 1570s, William had great success in his war with the Spanish powers, becoming Stadtholder of the United Provinces. Ancestor of the Dutch monarchy, he is known as the Father of the Fatherland, Willem van Oranje, and Willem de Zwijger or William the Silent.

02
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Maurice of Nassau, 1584 to 1625

The second son of William of Orange, he left university when his father was killed and he was appointed stadtholder. Aided by the British, the Prince of Orange consolidated the union against the Spanish, and took control of military affairs. His leadership in the Netherlands as Prince of Orange was incomplete until the death of his older half-brother in 1618. 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.

03
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Frederick Henry, 1625 to 1647

The youngest son of William of Orange and third hereditary stadtholder 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.

04
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William II, 1647 to 1650

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

05
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William III (also King of England, Scotland, and Ireland), 1672 to 1702

William III was born just a few days after his father’s early death, and such had been the arguments between the late Prince and the Dutch government that the former was banned from taking power. Nevertheless, as William grew into a man, this order was canceled. With England and France threatening the area, William was appointed Captain-General. Success saw him created stadtholder in 1672, and he was able to repel the French. William was an heir to the English throne and married 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. He was known as William II in Scotland, and sometimes as King Billy in Celtic countries today. He was an influential ruler throughout Europe, and left behind a strong legacy, sustained even today in the New World.

06
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William IV, 1747 to 1751

The position of stadtholder had been vacant since William III died in 1702, but as France fought Holland during the War of the Austrian Succession, popular acclaim bought William IV to the position. Though he wasn’t particularly gifted, he left his son a hereditary office.

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William V (Deposed), 1751 to 1795

Just three years old when William IV died, William V 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.

08
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French Puppet Rule

Ruled Partly From France, Partly as the Batavian Republic, 1795 to 1806

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.

Louis Napoleon, King of the Kingdom of Holland, 1806 to 1810

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

Imperial French Control, 1810 to 1813

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

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

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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William II, 1840 to 1849

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 permitted a liberal constitution to be created and died shortly after.

11
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William III, 1849 to 1890

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. Instead, it was ultimately made independent. By this time, he’d lost much of his power and influence in the nation, and he died in 1890.

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Wilhelmina, Queen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Abdicated), 1890 to 1948

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 the Netherlands neutral in World War I, and using radio broadcasts while in exile to keep spirits up in World War II. Having been able to return home after Germany’s defeat, she abdicated in 1948 due to failing health, but lived until 1962.

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Juliana (Abdicated), 1948 to 1980

The only child of Wilhelmina, Juliana was taken to safety in Ottawa during World War II, returning when peace was achieved. She was regent twice, in 1947 and 1948, during the illness of the queen, and when her mother abdicated due to her health, she became queen herself. 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 and died in 2004.

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Beatrix, 1980 to 2013

In exile with her mother during World War II, Beatrix studied at university in peacetime, 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. In 2013, she too abdicated at age 75.

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Willem-Alexander, 2013 to Present

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