Love on Orders
Het hofleven van Willem Frederik van Nassau
The courtly life of a Golden Age stadtholder: A history of the conflict between morals and desire
Society in the Dutch Golden Age is traditionally described as ‘bourgeois’. Yet aristocrats exerted a considerable influence, not only in the political but also in the cultural field, particularly in the rural provinces. Most important of all were the stadtholders, the highest public servants in the seven separate states constituting the Dutch Republic, and invariably members of the House of Orange Nassau.
One of them was Count William Frederick of Nassau (1613-1664), stadtholder of Friesland and an ancestor of Queen Beatrix. In the historical records he never played more than a minor role, but his life has now been brought up close again by historian Luuc Kooijmans, whose study is based on the count’s diaries, an exceptionally frank account of his deeds.
Thanks to a profound knowledge of politics and social relationships in the seventeenth century, the author is able to vividly depict a picture of Count Willem Frederick. The conflicts dominating his life are highlighted: the tension between his political ambitions and his Christian duty to live a frugal and virtuous life; and the tension between political reality and Frederick’s personal feelings. The book’s lively prose helps to bring to life a man whose hankering for prestige, a favourable marriage and the continuation of his noble line was thwarted by political circumstances, envy, disease, sexual escapades, alcohol and guilt. William Frederick emerges as a man who, with patience and prudence and despite his psychological weaknesses, knew how to attain his ends, and for whom the reader’s sympathy grows as the book proceeds.
This book successfully presents the history of ideas, brilliantly highlighting the conflict between a man’s morals and desires. The life of William Frederick serves as a model for the lives of many members of the European nobility; while at the same time the reader is given an insight into the political machinations and the military muscle of the Republic in the mid-seventeenth century.