William the Silent, also known as William of Orange, led the Dutch Revolt of "the Beggars" against the Spanish that subsequently triggered the Eighty Years' War. This conflict led to the independence of the United Provinces in 1648. William was a discontented nobleman who sought to increase the political influence of the local nobility as well as curtail the persecution of Dutch Protestants by the Spanish. William the Silent began his political career as an ambassador and lieutenant to the King of Spain. Later, that same monarch declared him an outlaw in 1580. There are many theories as to why he received the nickname "William the Silent." The most prevalent holds that Henry of France once complained to William of his conflicts with the Protestants in his country, unwittingly revealing information to which William had previously not been privy. William is said to have remained quiet and calm throughout the King's conversation, not once letting on that he had not in fact known what Henry had shared.

William the Silent transformed himself from a loyal servant of the crown into a rebellious voice that called for national independence and religious freedom. He was a powerful figure who placed peace, order, and religious compromise above petty disputes over questions of faith. Carlyle obviously approves of William's rebellion, agreeing that it is people who form the government, and not vice versa. He laments the fact that the world as he knows it lacks such influential and worthy political figures as William of Orange whom Carlyle implies was one of the "noble People" that form a "noble Government," and he ranks him among the "freest and highest spirits of the world".


"William the Silent." Wikipedia. March 29, 2009.

Harrison, Frederic. William the Silent. Macmillan Press Ltd.; 4th edition. 1897.

Wedgwood, C.V. William the Silent, William of Nassau, prince of Orange, 1533-1584. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1945.

Last modified 1 April 2009