If you have lived in the Netherlands, or even visited it a few times, you no doubt know the Dutch culture. tulips, bicycles, windmills and clogs are typical aspects of Dutch culture. These things can be found all over the Netherlands, from the back streets of Amsterdam to the idyllic waterways of Giethoorn.
However, there is one aspect of Dutch culture that is so prevalent that it is even used by the Dutch Tourist Board to promote the country worldwide. No, it’s not the bitterball (although they’re delicious enough to attract people from all over the world) – it’s the color orange.
But why is the color orange so inextricably linked to Holland and Dutch culture? Well, for our first “Most Googled” article on IamExpat in the Netherlands, we’re about to delve into the history of the Dutch (and their royal family) to find out why the color orange is so important to Dutch culture.
The rulers of the Netherlands
Everywhere in the Netherlands you see the color orange. Dutch sports fans wear orange at live events; the Dutch national team is even fondly called Orange. On King’s Day, the Dutch dress head to toe in orange and take to the streets to celebrate, and the national flag is flown with an orange pendant. The Dutch even have their own word for it: orange fever (“orange fever”).
To get to the bottom of why the Dutch wear orange, it’s probably best to start with the royal family of the Netherlands, which (fairly speaking) belongs to the House of Orange-Nassau. King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands is the current head of the House of Orange-Nassau, which has ruled the Netherlands since 1815. William I was the first king of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
William of Orange
However, the House of Orange-Nassau does not start with William I. Although the United Kingdom of the Netherlands is the predecessor of the modern Kingdom of the Netherlands, it was not the first ‘Dutch’ state. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands arose from the decline of the First French Empire, which had annexed the territory of the Netherlands (then known as the Kingdom of Holland) under Napoleon.
The first fully independent Dutch nation-state was the Dutch Republic, which was formed in the middle of the Eighties War (also known as the Dutch Revolt). The Dutch Rebellion was a conflict between rebels and the Spanish government, which had controlled “Holland” (then a collection of provinces and fiefs under collective rule) since 1482. The main leader of the rebels was William the Silent, more commonly known as William of Orange.
William of Orange was the founder of the House of Orange-Nassau. Born into the German House of Nassau, Willem inherited the Principality of Orange from his cousin, René van Chalon. René died in 1544, leaving all his possessions and titles to William, who was only 11 years old at the time. He joined the rebellion against the Spanish for their persecution of Protestants and his strong belief in religious freedom despite his Lutheran and Catholic upbringing.
Father of the Fatherland
Due to his role in the rebellion against the Spanish and his support for the Union of Utrecht in 1579, which united the northern regions of the Netherlands and is considered the foundation of the Dutch Republic, William of Orange is known as the Father of the Fatherland in the Netherlands.
Despite his importance, however, William was never a king. This was because the Netherlands was not a kingdom at the time, but rather a federal republic consisting of seven provinces: Duchy of Gelders, Graafschap Holland, Graafschap Zeeland, Heer Utrecht, Heer Overijssel, Heer Friesland and Heerschappij Groningen. Willem exercised considerable power and authority as governor of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht and Friesland.
Years before the revolution, he was even appointed governor of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht by King Philip II of Spain. Before that time, governors were representatives of the king or lord. They had no land of their own, but could rule with full authority. But under Philip II their powers were reduced.
The three provinces retained William as governor after his rebellion against the Spanish, and after the seven provinces declared their independence from Spain, the governors became the highest executive officer in the province, although the highest executive power was exercised by the state.
Principality of Orange
So what exactly is the Principality of Orange? Originally it was a county in the Kingdom of Burgundy. In 1163, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederik I gave the county sovereign status in the empire. Essentially, the earldom was freed from local lords and placed under the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor. The Prince of Orange acquired the sovereign rights of the emperor as soon as he was no longer included in the Holy Roman Empire.
The name of the city of Oranje has no direct connection with the fruit (if the color is described) and the connection between the two was made later.
The Principality of Orange consisted of the city of Orange in southern France and the surrounding lands. In modern France, the town is now a commune in the Vaucluse department, located in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
So why do the Dutch wear orange?
Due to the importance of William of Orange and the House of Orange-Nassau, the color orange was adopted by the inhabitants of the seven states of the Republic. The color was not only merged with his name, but also featured prominently on his heraldry and coat of arms.
Willem’s importance in Dutch history, derived from his status as the “Father of the Fatherland”, the liberator of the Dutch provinces from the Spaniards and Stadholder, ensured that he has long held a special place in the hearts of the Dutch, and the color was adopted in his honour. It is said that soldiers fighting for Dutch independence wore the color orange in battle, and indeed the very first iteration of the Dutch flag had an orange stripe instead of red.
The color and title ‘orange’ remained in the Netherlands, because after Willem’s death his son, Maurice, strengthened Dutch hegemony in the Low Countries. The House of Orange continued to produce stadtholders until it eventually became the ruling house of the Netherlands. As the years went by, orange was adopted by several Dutch establishments and institutions and eventually gained the fame it has today.
An alternative cause?
Another reason why the color orange may be associated with the House of Orange may be because of the fruit. As mentioned before, the Principality of Orange has no connection with the fruit – but it had the same name. The name of the color is actually derived from the fruit, which came to Europe at the beginning of the ninth century, with sweet oranges coming to Europe around the beginning of the 16th century, showing the connection between the name and the color. .
It is believed that the principality was associated with the color because it was on the route through which oranges were transported to northern France. Since the principality was associated with the fruit and the color, it also became the ruling house.
Explore the Netherlands, its history and culture
If you’re an avid IamExpat reader, you might have realized that this “most Googled” started on IamExpat in Germany. There we explored several popular topics such as: Germany’s many names and why the roofs in Germany are so steep.
If you have any burning questions about Holland that you’d like us to answer, let us know in the comments! Until next time!