Maurice of Nassau

Maurice of Nassau

(1567-1625)

Maurice of Nassau, the Prince of Orange and second son of William I (the Silent), was born the same year as the start of the Netherlands War of Independence. After his father was assassinated by agents of King Philip II of Spain in 1584; Philip’s troops proceeded to capture the Dutch provinces of Flanders and Brabant.

Nassau was named stadholder (hereditary magistrate) of the Dutch Republic’s seven allied northern provinces, sharing power with Johan Oldenbarneveldt, the Landsadvocaat of Holland, the wealthiest and most powerful of the provinces.

After an English attempt to inter¬ vene on behalf of the Dutch failed, Nassau became the center of Dutch hopes for inde¬ pendence from Spain. He was named captain-gener¬ al of the army of the United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1590. Nassau’s education at the University of Leiden served him well. He devel¬ oped a new type of army.

Basing his approach on clas¬ sic Roman treatises, Nassau made drill and organization the centerpieces of Dutch army training. The Dutch troops were formed into shallow units, 10 ranks deep, which allowed for mobility and precise maneuvers.

Under the leadership of the Nassau family, the Dutch soldiers became renowned for their ability to break ranks and then reform them at twice the speed of other armies. Nassau also incorporated scientific principles of engineering, relying on trench warfare, long-range siege gunnery and mines.

Nassau fought a series of campaigns against the Spanish armies led by the Duke of Parma and Ambrogio di Spinola. Although the Spanish formations had been the terror of Europe, Nassau — with an army of 10,000 men — liberated Breda (his family seat) in 1590.

The following year, Nassau defeated the Spanish at the Siege of Zutphen in seven days, the Siege of Deventer in 11 days, and the Siege of Nijmegan in six days. These vic¬ tories led up to the largest pitched battle of the war, the Battle of Nieuport, which Nassau won in 1600.

From 1609 to 1621, the Twelve Years’ Truce halted the war between the Netherlands and Spain. During this period of peace, Nassau maintained a standing Dutch army of 30,000 infantry and 3,600 mounted soldiers.

By 1617, Nassau, an Orthodox Calvinist, came into open conflict with Oldenbarneveldt who represented the burghers, whose power, in the absence of a sover¬ eign, was formidable. An impending religious civil war was averted when Nassau had Oldenbarneveh executed in 1619.

Nassau became prince of Orange after the death of his older brother in 1618. When war with Spain resumed, his younger half-brother, Frederick Henry, liberated more Dutch cities (1625-1647) while Admiral Maarten von Tromp (see no. 51) dominated Spain on the seas.

The United Provinces would win their full independence from Spain 23 years after Nassau’s death more by their strength on water than by land power.