From the web site of the Dutch MFA I found the text of the Dutch national
anthem in English. I think that a lot of the Dutch would
understand (some parts of) this English translation better than the
mysterious, ancient words from 1570, that we sing so fervently without
completely knowing its meaning (the Dutch language has changed more over the
centuries than most other languages).
Nonetheless, in some Dutch
schools pupils have to learn this complete ancient text by heart (although
usually, in most schools, this is restricted to only the first and the
sixth verses). It's something like learning Shakespeare in the United
Kingdom, I guess.
Dutch MFA Text
The Dutch national anthem, the Wilhelmus, has fifteen eight-line verses. It was
written between 1569 and 1578. Based on older songs, the Wilhelmus takes
the form of an acrostic on the name of William of Orange, the leader of
the Dutch revolt against Philip II of Spain. The lines were probably
composed by a Dutch exile in Germany and polished by the poet and diplomat
Philip van Marnix, Seigneur of Sint Aldegonde.
The first and sixth verses are usually sung on national occasions. In
the first verse, Prince William vows that he will remain true to his
country unto death; in the sixth, he prays to God for strength to rid the
land of tyranny. In periods of oppression especially, these verses have
had a powerful appeal for the people of the Netherlands.
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.
Before that time, the Wilhelmus had been sung on many official occasions
and at many important events since 1568: events such as the siege of
Haarlem in 1573 and the ceremonial entry of the Prince of Orange into
Brussels on 18 September 1578. Trumpets sounded 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
played the Wilhelmus continuously.
By then, it had come to be called the "Princes' March",
having been banned during the rule of the Patriot party. At the
celebrations marking the birth of the child who would later be King
William II on 16 December 1792, it was sung after High Mass in the
Catholic church in Venlo. Following the surrender of 's-Hertogenbosch to
the French on 9 October 1794, the garrison withdrew with full military
honours to the sound of the Wilhelmus.
However, at the foundation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1813,
the Wilhelmus had fallen out of favour. After a contest for a national
anthem was held in 1815, a poem by Hendrik Tollens - "Wien Neerlands
Bloed" (Whose Dutch Blood) - became popular. The music was by the
composer J W Wilms. "Wien Neerlands Bloed" was gradually
replaced by the Wilhelmus during the nineteenth century; the latter gained
ground particularly after the southern Netherlands seceded in 1830.
Indeed, the Wilhelmus was played and sung when new Acts of Parliament were
promulgated. It was also played at the unveiling of the Plein 1813
independence memorial in The Hague in 1869, and again at the inauguration
of Queen Wilhelmina in 1898. However, the Royal Netherlands Navy and the
National Police Force continued to require a salute to honour both anthems
In 1567, Prince William of Orange fled the Netherlands with thousands of
other opponents of Spanish rule. The following year, he tried in vain to
free his country from tyranny and religious persecution. But his three
invasions with mercenaries from the Holy Roman Empire failed completely.
The poem is both encouragement for the Prince and a manifesto aimed at
gaining support from the German princes for his cause, by portraying
Orange as a prince fighting for freedom of religion on an equal footing,
rather than a rebellious subject of his lawful sovereign, Philip II.
writer depicts the Prince addressing the oppressed people of the
Netherlands in this terrible and dramatic situation. In his elevated
speech, interrupted by a prayer in verses six and seven, the Prince bears
witness to his sincerity and determination, and expounds his innermost
motives for rising against the King of Spain. William comforts his
followers, but at the same time exhorts them to join in the struggle.
also reminds them of their duty to obey God. In what might be called a
psalm of defiance, the poet compares the Prince with David, who had to
flee from Saul, the first King of Israel, before himself ascending the
throne. He commends the Prince to the people as the chosen leader of the
revolt against the King of Spain.
The tune of the Wilhelmus is based on a French soldiers' song, which was
popular around 1569, and alternates between three/four and four/four time.
It probably originated at the time of the siege of Chartres. The melody
was further developed by Adriaen Valerius (approx. 1575-1625). The oldest
copy of the Wilhelmus is to be found in Deuchdelijk Solutien (Antwerp,
1574). Since 1626, it has been included in Valerius's Gedenckclanck, a
well-known collection of national songs.
The official version is the
arrangement by Walther Boer, dating from 1932.
The song's style resembles that of the work of the Rederijkers
("rhetoricians"), sixteenth century companies of poets. For
example, the first letters of the fifteen verses spell the name "Willem
The text is also thematically symmetrical, in that
verses one and fifteen resemble one another in meaning, as do verses two and
three and thirteen, etc, until they converge in the eighth verse, the heart of
the song: "Oh David, thou soughtest shelter/From King Saul's
The sober language and deep feelings that inspired the Wilhelmus make it far superior to the fashionable works of its period.
5 Full text of the Dutch National Anthem, the "Wilhelmus"