In around 1800, the era of the stadholders was over in the Low Countries. Napoleon Bonaparte was edging closer from the south… But William I Frederik was crowned the first King of the Netherlands, and secured the dynasty of the House of Orange.


William I Frederik was born in Huis Ten Bosch palace in The Hague, where Queen Beatrix now lives. When the French invaded in 1795, he and his father were forced to flee to England. But William was not one to give in easily, and he still managed to increase his power on the European continent.

Wooden crown

When the threat of Napoleon receded, William I returned in 1813 to claim his ‘sovereign crown'. He was crowned the first King of the Netherlands on 16 March 1815. A wooden crown was painted gold for his coronation. Clearly, they did not have an actual gold crown to hand.

The merchant king

William I would go down in history as an obstinate monarch who did not take much notice of his government. He did invest in industry and infrastructure, often drawing on his own funds to do so, but he built up a large personal fortune too. Meanwhile, much of the population endured poverty. This led to him being known as the ‘merchant king', and it was not usually a term of endearment.

Belgian Revolution

William I was particularly unpopular in the Southern Netherlands, in what is now Flanders. In 1839, following the Belgian Revolution, William was forced to recognise Belgian independence. He went on to abdicate in 1840 and took on the title of Count of Nassau. William died at the age of 71 and was interred in the royal crypts in the New Church, Delft.

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