FAQ about NL

Why is orange the national color of the Netherlands?
The Dutch royal family is of the House of Orange-Nassau. Their ancestor is sixteenth-century William of Orange-Nassau, or William of Orange for short. Born into the House of Nassau, he then also inherited the Principality of Orange in southern France, becoming the Prince of Orange. He was governor of parts of what is now the Netherlands and the initiator of an 80-year liberation war against Spain, which made him the Father of the Fatherland. Many of the Dutch national symbols can be traced back to this very important historical figure.

So why isn’t the Dutch flag orange?
Originally it was. William of Orange’s flag was a tricolour featuring orange, white and blue. But in the seventeenth century, the orange colour was replaced with red. We don’t know exactly why: it might have been for practical reasons (orange faded quickly and red was better visible at sea as well as easier to produce) or a political decision (as the Dutch republicans were becoming more powerful). The Dutch flag was probably the first tricolour flag and inspired the French and Russian flags - today, about a third of all flags are tricolour. The colors red, white and blue however weren’t made official until 1937. In the 1930s, the great-grandmother of King Willem-Alexander was confronted with nazi groups who wanted to restore orange in the flag and issued the shortest royal decree in our history: “The colours of the flag of the Kingdom of the Netherlands are red, white and blue.” But the Netherlands is also a country of compromises: today, when Dutch people celebrate the royal family on special occasions such as King’s Day, we fly an orange pennant above the flag.

Why is the Netherlands a kingdom?
At the time of William of Orange, the Netherlands was a republic and a union of seven provinces. William of Orange was governor - so while he is the ancestor of the Dutch royal family, and through a female line of all royal families in Europe, he never was a king himself! The constitutional monarchy was introduced by Napoleon, who crowned his brother King of Holland. After the country regained independence, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was established and William I, a descendant of William of Orange, became our first King in 1815. For more info, watch this short video!

Why is the Dutch anthem called the Wilhelmus?
Wilhelmus refers to the name of William of Orange. The song dates back to the sixteenth century when it was sung by his supporters. This makes the Dutch anthem the oldest in the world! It consists of 15 stanzas and, in the original old Dutch version, the first letter of each stanza together read ‘Willem van Nassov’, or William of Nassau, as William of Orange was known before he inherited the French Principality of Orange. You can find the lyrics to the anthem in Dutch and English here.

Why does the national anthem say “I am of German blood”?
The Dutch anthem is called the Wilhelmus and it is written in first person, as if spoken by William of Orange-Nassau. He was born into the House of Nassau in a city in present-day Germany. Many think this is the reason why the second line of the Dutch anthem says “I am of German blood.” But at that time, the word “German” just meant Dutch: it was a neutral word for people living in the areas which are now the Netherlands and Germany, which as countries didn’t exist yet. Today, the Dutch Royal House (still) has a strong connection with Germany. Our royals have a lot of German blood running through their veins: King Willem-Alexander has a German father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandmother. In total, 30 out of 43 marriages of members of the House of Orange-Nassau were with German partners. King Willem-Alexander broke with his predecessors’ ‘tradition’ by marrying Máxima Zorreguieta, who is from Argentina.

And why does the anthem honor the king of Spain?
Since the Dutch anthem is really quite long, it is on many occasions shortened to the first stanza, which ends with: “to the king of Spain I’ve granted a lifelong loyalty.” Originally, William of Orange was governor for the King of Spain and had a good relationship with him. He however became increasingly unhappy with the Spanish brutal policies against religious freedom and chose to revolt. The full text of the anthem details the conflict William of Orange experienced between his loyalty to the King and his religion.

Why is the Dutch motto French?
The coat of arms of the Netherlands features the motto “Je mantiendrai”, which is French for “I will maintain”. This motto was William of Orange’s, who took it from his cousin from whom he inherited the Principality of Orange in France. William of Orange was born in what is today Germany and was educated in Brussels, and historians think that he didn’t even speak Dutch. Allegedly, his last words were also French: “Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, ayez pitié de moi et de ce pauvre peuple” (my God, my God, have mercy on me and on this poor people). 

Why do we call people from the Netherlands ‘Dutch’? 
For a long time, the British called anyone from the other side of the Channel who spoke a Germanice language ‘Dutch’. As the separation between the Netherlands and Germany became clearer, the British started to refer to people of Germany as ‘German’ and the Dutch stayed, well, Dutch, even while the country of the Netherlands was established. In our own language, we Dutch people call ourselves and our language ‘Netherlandish’. Germans, on the other hand, call themselves ‘Deutsch’. Confusing? Blame the British.

What is the difference between the Netherlands and Holland?
Holland is often used as a synonym for the Netherlands, but actually refers to only two of the country’s twelve provinces: North Holland and South Holland. So Utrecht is not in Holland! The official website of the Netherlands used to be Holland.com, but recently the country was rebranded. The official name of the country is the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and it comprises not only what we know as the Netherlands but also some overseas territories in the Caribbean. (More in this video.) This confusing pars pro toto originates from the time when the Netherlands was not yet a unified nation state but a federation of provinces, the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (hence the plural!). The coastal North Holland and South Holland were the most populous and prosperous and were at the forefront of the Dutch worldwide sea trade. As a result, people around the world mostly met ‘Hollanders’ and the country got called ‘Holland’ in many languages. (Some languages, like Spanish and French, use a literal translation of ‘the Netherlands’, which means ‘low lands’, as much of the country is below sea level.)