Orange and The Netherlands

The Netherlands have a national holiday that features this orange madness a.k.a. Oranjegekte over how the whole country will dress in orange over the pride of their country. There would be crowds of people eating orange foods, wearing orange clothes, playing with orange party products, talking about national pride over the country itself or a sporting event.

Before the colour was known as yellow-red until Portuguese and Italian traders came back from Asia with an orange tree which was a translation from the Sanskirt word Naranja.

There were multiple times that orange was a sought out colour, the carrot, for instance, was not originally orange. This root plant was originally purple, yellow and white. It took over 100 years to breed the carrot to another colour and is a staple food in many different countries. The orange Hoorn carrot is also known as a Carotene carrot was cultivated by Dutch farmers between the 16th to the 17th century. The carrots we know today comes from combining the Eastern/Asiatic yellow carrots and subspecies of the carrot from the Mediterranean. It was formed to make a more flavorful carrot for cooking. The popularity of carrots were showcased in paintings in marketplace scenes. The orange ones are sweeter than the previous carrot; it was a way to get more people to like root foods.

Through the Netherlands, they adopted orange as their national colour. In the 1570s, the Dutch flag was orange, white and blue. The flag was called the Prinsenvlag (Prince’s Flag) after William of Orange which was used during the Dutch Revolt originally flown by the Watergeuzen (Sea Beggars). The flag faded out of fashion when it was associated with the House of Stuart. It was replaced in the 1660s with the Statenvlag (State Flag) the red-white-blue flag which is slightly like the flag of Luxembourg. It became the official flag of the Netherlands in the 1930s. The Prince’s flag is used on semi-occasional events.

HEX code of Dutch Orange – FF4F00
HEX code of Dutch Orange – FF4F00

William of Orange

The colour orange comes from the legacy of William I of Orange, (Willem van Oranje) otherwise known as William the Silent, Philip William and the Prince of Orange. He was known as William the Silent because he rarely spoke in public, especially on controversies. He was not around long enough to give the Dutch a permanent presence in the New World. But part of his legacy was the orange branding. The colour orange was the colour of the Dutch Royal family, the dynasty of the House of Orange-Nassau.

Painting of WIlliam of Orange, William III
Portrait of William III of England, Sir Godfrey Kneller. Oil on Canvas. c.1680s. Credit: Wikipedia.

Willam I was born on April 24th, 1533 in the house of Nassau in Dillenburg, Germany. He became a prince in 1544 at the tender age of 11 when his cousin, René of Châlon, died childless. He inherited all the properties his cousin once owned including the title “Prince of Orange” and the estate of the Netherlands and Belgium. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V served as a ruler while William became of age to rule. As an exchange, William of Orange received a Roman Catholic education in Brussels under the supervision of Charles V sister, Maria of Austria. In his studies he learned fluent Dutch.

He married Anna van Egmond en Buren in 1551. He had three children and inherited some more land. She died on March 24th, 1558. After his wife died he fathered another son with Eva Elincx. He then married Anna of Saxony to gain more influence in Saxony, Hesse and the Palatine with five children. In 1571, William married Charlotte de Bourbon-Monpensier and had six daughters. His final marriage was with Louise de Colligny on April 12, 1583, and had one son. In total, William of Orange fathered 16 children.

His Political Work

William of Orange, Philip de Montmorency, Count of Hoorn and Count of Egmont wanted more political power for the Dutch nobility, they thought that there were too many Spaniards involved in governing the Netherlands. William of Orange was also disappointed with the treatment of Protestants in the Netherlands. Before the Dutch Revolt, the Spanish monarchy ruled the Netherlands, Spain, most of the Caribbean, Mexico, Peru, Milan, Naples and Sicily. King Philip II of Spain was never really liked. He was strict, cold, cautious and rigidly religious to the Roman Catholic faith. He was never considered to be apart of the Dutch people since he was always seen as an outsider.

Calvinists in the Low Countries became angry with the Roman Catholics treatment; they destroyed statues and religious imagery in the churches and monasteries throughout the Netherlands between August to October in 1566, this was known as Beeldenstorm.

King Philip II of Spain was unhappy with the events happening in the Netherlands. He sent out General Fernando Álvarez de Toledo a.k.a. Duke Alva also known as the Iron Duke, help restore powers from all the civil unrest. The general created the Council of Troubles otherwise known as the Council of Blood. William of Orange was called upon by the Council of Troubles to discuss the Beeldenstorm throughout the country and the rebellion but missed his appointment because of his financial ties with most of the riots. Subsequently, the Prince’s property were all repossessed by the government.

Painting of William of Orange at Helvoetsluis
Embarkation of William III, Prince of Orange, at Helvoetsluis, Unknown Painter c 1688-99. Oil on Canvas. Credit: Rembrandt to Reynolds/Royal Collection.

William of Orange emerged as the of the armed resistance financing the refugee Protestant gangs, privateers and raids of coastal cities on 300 ships financed by William of Orange in the Netherlands called the Watergeuzen. He grew an army with local volunteer civil guards to fight for independence and for local defence. The officers had a similar dress code that was like the Dutch elite with silk black garments, tan riding cloaks, lace gloves and featuring the militia colours of orange, white and blue. The orange colour was to represent the House of Orange and the Principality of Orange.

Painting of the Officiers of the St. Adrian Militia Company
The Officers of the St Adrian Militia Company, Frans Hals. Oil on Canvas. c 1633. Credit: Wikipedia.

The army invaded northern Netherlands and won the Battle of Heiligerlee against the Iron Duke. William of Orange’s army also fought the Battle of Jemmingen with France’s army against the Spanish Hapsburgs. This was considered to be the start of the Eighty Years’ War and the start of the Dutch Revolt against Spanish Hapsburgs. He tried to lead an army into Brabant. The army quickly fell apart due to a lack of money and support.

The Watergeuzen captured Brielle on April 1st, 1572 that was left unattended by the Spanish garrison, then they occupied the town and claimed it for the Prince. Other cities opened their gates for the Watergeuzen throughout Holland and Zeeland but not Amsterdam and Middleburg. The rebel cities called a meeting with the Staten Generaal (State General) and reinstated William as the stadtholder of Holland and Zeeland. Rebel armies captured many cities from Deventer to Mons. William and his armies advanced into Roerkond and Leuven.

William’s forces started to weaken. He had trouble with cities in Holland and lost 8,000 soldiers after several months of battle in Haarlem. They gave up on the siege of Alkmaar. The Spanish army was now led by Don Luis de Zúñiga y Requesens, succeeding the Iron Duke in 1573. There were victories at the Battle of Mookerheyde and the Siege of Leiden in favour of the Spanish. William didn’t like the outcomes of Leiden and established the University of Leiden which was the first university of the northern provinces.

The war still lingered on in Breda in 1575, after peace negotiations failed. Upon the sudden death of their newly appointed leader Don Luis in early 1576, large groups of the Spanish army started to disintegrate within months because of large backlogs of their salaries. The new leader of Austria, John, joined forces with Spain to fight against the Dutch.

At the same time in 1577, John of Austria was taking over Namur while trying to negotiate a peace treaty with William. The Calvinists revolted and grew more radical to forbid Catholicism in their area. William was opposed to this because he desired freedom of religion and needed the support of the less radical Protestants and Catholics for his political goals. He started to lose public opinion in the southern provinces because of his radical following. At this time he had control of most of northern Belgium. The Treaty of Arras and the Union of Utrecht were all signed confirming the unity of the provinces he hoped to unite. The Union of Utrecht would become a de facto constitution and remain formally connected between the Dutch provinces until 1795. The Duke of Parma was successful in reconquering most of the southern parts of the Netherlands in agreement to remove the Spanish troops from the provinces under the Treaty of Arras.

Around 1581, William and his supporters were looking for foreign aid . They already had support from the French on several occasions and signed the Treaty of Plessis-Les-Tours with the Duke of Anjou. Most of the French support was from François, Duke of Anjou, who was later recognized as the Protector of the Liberty of the Netherlands. This required the Staten Generaal and William of Orange to forego the formal support of the King of Spain. On July 22nd, 1581 the Staten Generaal declared that they will no longer recognize Philip II as their king with the Oath of Abjuration. This formal declaration of independence enabled the Duke of Anjou to come to aid.

Attempts on his life

In 1580, the King Philip I declared William of Orange an outlaw, he set up a bounty of 25,000 crowns for his death.

On March 18th 1581, the Spaniard Juan de Jáuregui attempted to kill William in Antwerp. William had suffered severe injuries and was in need of intensive care. William’s wife Charlotte and his sister Mary took care of him but the stress was too much for Charlotte and she died on May 5th 1582.

The Duke of Anjou tried to take the city of Antwerp by force in what’s known as the “French Fury” on January 18th, 1583. The Duke failed to conquer and left the country shortly in June. William still supported the Duke of Anjou after the attack and became isolated. Holland and Zeeland made him the official Count.

He was assassinated by Balthasar Gérard in Delft shooting him in the chest on July 10th, 1584 when William’s popularity was waning.

The national anthem, the Wilhelmus, was written in his honour but was originally a propaganda song for William. It was written by a William of Orange supporter, Philips van Marnix, Lord of Sint-Aldegonde.

William of Orange was also known as the Father of the Fatherland.

Dutch Orange and the Legacy

The colour orange was used in many things to honour the past king. The colour was in contemporary paintings, worn in the House of Orange and in the celebration of Koningsdag (King’s Day). People will dress in orange singing “Oranje boven, oranje boven. leve the Koning!” which translates to “Orange on top, Orange on top. Long Live the King!” on Koningsdag which always lands on April 27th. Before 2014, the day was known as  Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), to celebrate the reigning monarch Queen Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard but was passed on to her son, King Willem-Alexander Claus George Ferdinand, since 2013. People dressed up in orange and celebrated the day in the marketplace where they would trade things they don’t need for something new. After sunset, a celebration of Koninginnenacht (Queen’s Night), when Amsterdam opens up for more celebratory things to do for people still out on the town.

The Oranjegekte (Orange craze) or Oranjekoorts (Orange fever) are two sporting clubs with names connected to the country’s pride. Most of the sports clubs in the Netherlands wear orange in some capacity. Football (soccer) teams wear orange and hockey teams in some way, wear orange as well. When the Netherlands play in the Olympics, they wear orange in a combination of other colours from their flag.

  • Photo of King's Day at a marketplace
Inside a church with the patrons in orange for the World Cup


Brenner, C., Riddell, J., & Moore, B. (2007). Painting in the Dutch Golden Age: A profile of the seventeenth century. Washington: National Gallery of Art.

State, P. F. (2008). A Brief History of the Netherlands. New York City, NY: Infostate Publishing.

Trip Savvy – The Dutch and The Color Orange

Carrot Museum – History of Carrots

Rijks Museum – William of Orange

Encyclopædia Britannica – William III

McGill University – William the Silent

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