Het Wilhelmus

Het Wilhelmus

Infobox Anthem
title = Het Wilhelmus
english_title = The William

image_size =
caption = The score of Het Wilhelmus.
prefix = National
country = NLD
composer = Adrianus Valerius
author = Author unknown
adopted = 1932
until =
sound =
sound_title = Het Wilhelmus (Instrumental)

Het Wilhelmus (Pronunciation|Nl-Het Wilhelmus2.ogg) (English translation: "The William") is the national anthem of the Netherlands and is the oldest national anthem in the world [ [http://www.national-anthems.org/facts.htm national-anthems.org - facts ] ] though the words of the Japanese national anthem (not the music) date back to the ninth century. [ [http://www.national-anthems.org/anthems/country/JAPAN national-anthems.org - Sheet music ] ] Although it was not recognized as the official national anthem until 1932, it remained popular with the Dutch people since its creation.

Like many anthems, "Het Wilhelmus" originated in the nation's struggle to achieve independence. It tells of Willem van Oranje (William of Orange), his life and why he is fighting for the Dutch people. As a result, the anthem is written as if it were sung by William himself. The song is remarkably peaceful and has an introductionary sentence saying "Een nieuw christelijk lied" ("A new Christian song").

Oldest national anthem

There is some international confusion concerning the oldest anthem in the world. The Japanese anthem, Kimigayo, has the oldest (9th century) lyrics, but a melody was added in the late 19th century making it a poem rather than an anthem for most of its lifespan. Although the Wilhelmus was not officially recognised as the Dutch national anthem until 1932 (compare this to the British national anthem "God Save the Queen", which has never been officially recognised as the national anthem [ [http://david.national-anthems.net/gb.htm "There is no authorised version of the National Anthem as the words are a matter of tradition; the anthem has also never been officially declared as the national anthem of the country, the royal anthem (as this technically is) is used as the national anthem as a matter of tradition."] ] ) it is the oldest in the world. [ [http://www.icons.org.uk/theicons/collection/jerusalem/features/music-political The oldest anthem is the Dutch Wilhelmus, which dates from the mid-16th century, while the oldest lyrics can be claimed by the Japanese Kimigayo.] ] The anthem was first written down in 1574 [ [http://www.koninklijkhuis.nl/english/content.jsp?objectid=13327 The Dutch Royal House ] ] making it over 434 years old.


Though only proclaimed the national anthem in 1932, the Wilhelmus already had a centuries-old prior history. It had been sung on many official occasions and at many important events since 1568, such as the siege of Haarlem in 1573 and the ceremonial entry of the Prince of Orange into Brussels on 18 September 1578.

During the Dutch Golden Age, it was conceived essentially as the anthem of the House of Orange-Nassau and its supporters - which meant, in the politics of the time, the anthem of a specific political faction which was involved in a prolonged struggle with opposing factions (which sometimes became violent, verging on civil war). Therefore, the fortunes of the song paralleled those of the Orangist faction.

Trumpets played the Wilhelmus when Prince Maurice visited Breda, and again when he was received in state in Amsterdam in May 1618. When William V arrived in Schoonhoven in 1787, after the authority of the stadholders had been restored, the church bells are said to have played the Wilhelmus continuously.

After the Batavian Revolution, inspired by the French revolution, it had come to be called the "Princes' March" as it was banned during the rule of the Patriot party, which did not support the House of Orange-Nassau.

However, at the foundation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1813, the Wilhelmus had fallen out of favour. Having become monarchs with a claim to represent the entire nation and stand above factions, the House of Orange decided to break with the song which served them as heads of a faction, and the Wilhelmus was hence replaced by Hendrik Tollens' song "Wien Nêerlands bloed door d'aderen vloeit", which was the official Dutch anthem from 1815 till 1932.

However, the Wilhelmus remained popular and lost its identification as a factional song, and on 10 May 1932, it was decreed that on all official occasions requiring the performance of the national anthem, the Wilhelmus was to be played - thereby replacing Tollens' song.

Origins of the melody

The tune of the Wilhelmus is based on a French soldiers' song: "Autre chanson de la ville de Chartres assiégée par le prince de Condé" (English: "Another song about the city of Chartres under siege by the Prince de Condé"), which was popular around 1569 during the siege of Chartres.

Ironically, during this siege (which took place at the time of the French Wars of Religion, essentially a civil war between France's Protestant and Catholic inhabitants) the Protestant besiegers of the pro-Catholic city of Chartres had to break up their siege.

However during the siege, the song had been quite popular with the Catholics of Chartres, and the Protestants started to sing the song as well and spread it to the Low Countries. Therefore the melody of Het Wilhelmus is older than the lyrics. The melody was further developed by a famous Dutch composer Adriaen Valerius (approx. 1575-1625) who made the melody's pace much slower, most likely to allow it to be sung in churches. The current official version is the arrangement by Walther Boer, dating from 1932.

Origins of the lyrics

The origins of the lyrics are less clear than those of the anthem's melody; till this day no one knows who exactly wrote the Dutch anthem. Soon after the anthem was finished it was said that either Philips van Marnix, a writer and statesman, former mayor of the city of Antwerp, or Dirck Coornhert, a politician and theologian, wrote the anthem. However, this is disputed as both Marnix and Coornhert never mentioned they created the lyrics, which is strange given the fact that the song was immensely popular in their times. The Wilhelmus also has some odd rhymes in it. In some cases the vowels of certain words were altered to allow them to rhyme with other words. Some see this as evidence that neither Marnix or Coornhert wrote the anthem as they were both experienced poets at the time that the Wilhelmus was written and they would not take these small liberties. Hence some believe the lyrics of the Dutch national anthem were the creation of someone who just wrote one poem for the occasion and then disappeared from history.


Het Wilhelmus is played only once at a ceremony or whatever other event and, if possible, it is to be the last piece of music to be played. When receiving a foreign head of state or emissary the Dutch anthem is not allowed to be played if there is no member of the Dutch Royal House present, this is virtually unique in the world as most countries play their own anthem and then play the anthem of the foreign relation. [ [http://www.mindef.nl/actueel/parlement/kamerbrieven/2004/3/20040709_protocolvolkslied.aspx Letter of the Dutch Tweede Kamer, concerning protocol of the Dutch Anthem.] ]

During international sport events, such as the World Cup, European Championship, and the Olympics the Wilhelmus is also played. In nearly every case the 1st and 6th stanza, or the 1st stanza alone, are sung/played rather than the entire song.

tructure and melody

The complete text comprises fifteen stanzas. The anthem is an acrostic: the first letters of the fifteen stanzas formed the name 'Willem van Nassov' ("Nassov" was a contemporary orthographic variant of "Nassau"). In the current Dutch spelling the first words of the twelfth and thirteenth stanzas begin with Z instead of S.

The text is also thematically symmetrical, in that verses one and 15 resemble on another in meaning, as do verses two and 14, three and 13, etc., until they converge in the eighth verse, the heart of the song: "Oh David, thou soughtest shelter/From King Saul's tyranny".


There are two major variations on the Wilhelmus, namely the royal anthem of Luxembourg (called "De Wilhelmus") and the song "Das Treuelied", German for "the song of loyalty". The Royal Anthem of Luxembourg, in official use since 1919, has a shared origin with the Dutch anthem.The melody was first used in Luxembourg (at the time in personal union with the Kingdom of the United Netherlands) on the occasion of the visit of the Dutch King and Grand Duke of Luxembourg William III in 1883. Later, the anthem was played for Grand Duke Adolph of Luxembourg along with the national anthem. The melody is very similar, but not identical to that of Het Wilhelmus.The second major variation is the SS song "Wenn alle untreu werden" (German: "If everyone becomes unfaithful") better know as "Das Treuelied", which was written by the poet Max von Schenkendorf (1783-1817) and used the exact same melody as Het Wilhelmus.After the First World War this became extremely popular among nationalistic German groups.It was one of the most popular songs of the SS, together with the Horst Wessel song. [ [http://www.tonbiesemaat.nl/content/portfolio/220105.html Het Wilhelmus as an SS song] . (Dutch)]


Introductionary text

Het Wilhelmus was first printed in a "geuzenliedboek" (lit.: "song book of the Gueux") in 1581. It used the following text as an introduction to the Wilhelmus:

"Een nieuw Christelick Liedt gemaect ter eeren des Doorluchtichsten Heeren, Heere Wilhelm Prince van Oraengien, Grave van Nassou, Patris Patriae, mijnen Genaedigen Forsten ende Heeren. Waer van deerste Capitael letteren van elck veers syner Genaedigen Forstens name metbrengen. Na de wijse van Chartres."

A new Christian song made in the honour of the most noble lord, lord William Prince of Orange, count of Nassau, Patris Patriae (Father of the Fatherland), my merciful prince and lord. [A song] of which the first capital letter of each stanza form the name of his merciful prince. To the melody of Chartres.




There is an ongoing confusion and dispute as to what the author meant with "Duytschen bloedt" in the text, as the contemporary Dutch word "Duits" (being the modernised form of "Duytsch/Duijtsch") means "German". Another explanation is that "Duytsch" was at the time a variation of "Dietsch" meaning Dutch.

Both could be correct as William of Nassau was born in Dillenburg in the county of Nassau in Germany and that it referred to William's German (rather than Dutch) descent. Yet others claim, however, that it referred to the Dutch in the sense that William "felt" one of them rather than belonging to them ethnically.

"Duits" is often replaced by "Diets", a cognate of "Duits", "Dutch", "Deutsch" and "Deitsch" but meaning "Dutch" rather than German. This is done mostly, or even exclusively, because of anti-German sentiment resulting from the Dutch experiences in the Second World War. Hence many Dutch people after the war sung that William was of "Diets" blood, rather than of German blood as they did not like the notion of their Father of the Fatherland being of the same heritage as the people they hated so much during the 5 year occupation. Although the exact meaning is still, and will probably remain, unclear the official version of the Dutch national anthem uses "Duits".


The last two lines of the first stanza indicate that the leader of the Dutch civil war against Spanish Empire of which they were part, had no specific quarrel with Philip II of Spain, but rather with his emissaries in the Low Countries, like Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba. This may have been because at the time (late 16th century) it was uncommon to publicly doubt the Divine Right of Kings. It strikes the modern Dutch ear as an obsolete formula. For some of the resistance fighters of the day, the stanza may have resonated with irony or knowing sarcasm.

"Netherlands" and "Dutch"

The anthem refers to the "Dutch" and "the Netherlands" a couple of times. It should be noted that these words ought to be seen in context. With "Dutch people" the author meant which would today be described as "all people who speak Dutch". In William's time this included the Dutch-speakers of present-day Northern France and Belgium as well. In more or less the same way, "Netherlands" referred to the "Low Countries".

Media (recordings)

* [http://www.koninklijkhuis.nl/english/content.jsp?objectid=13328 Recording of the Dutch national anthem, on the site of the Dutch royal family.]
* [http://www.navyband.navy.mil/anthems/ANTHEMS/Netherlands.mp3 US Navy Band Recording of 'Het Wilhelmus'] , note that it is played slightly too fast.
* [http://www.digital-dreams.nl/realdutch/anthem.htm Het Wilhelmus] (MIDI)

Regional Dutch anthems

In the Netherlands nearly every province, and even some regions and towns, have their own anthems.

*Drenthe: "Mijn Drenthe"
*Flevoland: "Waar wij steden doen verrijzen..."
*Friesland: "De âlde Friezen"
**Terschelling: "Oan Schylge"
*Gelderland: "Ons Gelderland"
*Groningen: "Grönnens Laid"
*Limburg: "Limburg mijn Vaderland"
*North Brabant: "Brabant" (unofficial)
**Bergen op Zoom: "Merck toch hoe sterck"
**Breda: "Temidden van de paarse heide"
*North Holland: "Ik houd van het groen in je wei"
**West-Friesland: "Dut is 't land"
*Overijssel: "Aan de rand van Hollands gouwen"
**Twente: "Twents Volkslied"
*South Holland: "Zuid-Hollands volkslied"
*Utrecht: "Langs de Vecht en d'oude Rijnstroom"
*Zeeland: "Geen dierder plek voor ons op aard"
**Zeeuws-Vlaanderen: "Waar eens 't gekrijs der meeuwen"

External links

* [http://www.wilhelmus.nl The text and music of the Wilhelmus, and more on its history] (in Dutch)
* [http://szbszig.atw.hu/netherlands.htm Himnuszok] - The "Himnuszok" website has a vocal version of the first and sixth verses of the anthem.

Notes and references

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