Fit for a king

Until 200 years ago the Oranje-Nassau family used to have a very ambiguous position in Dutch public life. It owed its prestige to William the Silent, the leader of the Protestant rebellion against Spain, who managed against all odds to lead the country close to victory in the first phase of the 80 Years’ War. The dynasty he founded usually enjoyed high popularity in the Netherlands, and its members were often seen as protectors of the lower classes against the traditional elite. However, the new state was theoretically a republic, governed by the States General (the Dutch Parliament). There was a strong Republican faction in the country, made up mainly of the urban aristocracy. Due to the extraordinary success of the Republic they had acquired enough confidence to rule without any supreme leader, and would have preferred to exclude the Oranje family from any power arrangement. Until the 18th century, the family derived most of their power from the position of Stadtholder (governor) of most of the Dutch provinces, and usually held also the leadership of the land army. They had to fight constantly however to maintain a certain degree of authority, and for several decades during the Golden Age they were excluded completely from the country’s political life: the provinces simply elected no governors, while the army’s budget was intentionally kept low. In any case, this constant power struggle forced them to keep a much lower profile than European royal families, avoiding public displays of luxury and ostentatious residences.

Things started to change after 1672, the so-called Disaster Year, when the Netherlands came under attack from a formidable coalition of European states. The republican faction was removed from most power positions, and William III of Orange gained almost uncontested authority in the country. Moreover, in 1689, he managed to chase away his father in law James II from the English throne, so besides holding supreme power in Holland he was also crowned English king. As such, he became the leader of Protestant Europe, and the most determined rival of the French king Louis XIV. The Het Loo palace was meant to be a residence fit for this new position, a Dutch answer to the splendor of Versailles. Its location is in Apeldoorn, where William III had purchased a vast hunting ground in the 1680’s. The most famous Dutch architects were hired for the project, together with French decorators and gardeners, and no expense was spared. The result is the most impressive royal residence in the country, the only Dutch palace that comes close to the magnificence of its French or English counterparts. Het Loo was turned into a museum since 1970. It contains amazing 18th and 19th century interiors, as well as one of the most beautiful French-style gardens I have ever seen, carefully restored to its 17th century aspect. I visited it three times, and I will probably do it again…it is a highly recommended destination for a hot summer day.

See below the palace’s site:


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