"Orange above, De Witt under;
Who says nay, strike him thunder."
—Old Dutch Song.
H OLLAND was now supreme on the seas, and she stood high among the nations of Europe. Under her leader, De Witt, she had thriven and prospered. She was to prosper yet more under the young Prince of Orange, who now comes on the scene. Descended from that William the Silent who had more than a hundred years before delivered his land from the yoke of Spain, he was the ancestor of Holland's present queen. He was to play a great part in preparing England for her wondrous future.
When Charles I. had been torn from his weeping children to be beheaded, he had left a daughter called Mary, who married a great-nephew of William the Silent and lived her life in Holland. They had but one delicate child, born in 1650, the little Prince William, over whose birth the country rejoiced not a little. Always weak and ailing, he was but ten years old when his widowed mother went over to England to visit her brother, Charles II., just restored to the throne. There she caught the smallpox and died.
The little heir of the famous House of Orange was now alone. Fatherless, motherless, almost friendless, the boy was brought up by men who looked on his very life as a danger to the State, then under John de Witt. He was closely guarded. At the age of fifteen the friends in whom he had confided were removed, and he was kept as a State prisoner in the great castle at The Hague. With tears in his eyes the little prince begged for friends with an energy that was pitiful. The refusal affected his health. He was racked with a cough, he could only breathe in the purest air, he could only sleep when raised on many pillows, his face was scored with lines of ceaseless pain. Other boys might have perished, but this boy only braced himself and learned his lesson of self-control. He learned to guard his speech, to keep secrets, to hide all passion under a coolness of manner which lasted through his life. Those who brought him good news saw no trace of pleasure in his face, those who saw him after defeat detected no shade of sorrow. But those who knew him well, knew that under this ice a fierce fire was burning; that where he loved, he loved with the whole force of his strong soul; that when death parted him from these, tears of agony overwhelmed him. He always spoke Dutch, but he knew English and German.
At the age of seventeen he showed a knowledge of the State that surprised older men. At eighteen he sat among the fathers of the States-General or Parliament. At twenty-one, on a "day of gloom and terror," he was placed at the head of his country. This was how it came about.
There was at this time a wonderful King of France called Louis XIV. This king had set his heart on conquering Holland by land, while his friend Charles II. was fighting the Dutch by sea. So in the summer of 1672 he led his great French army across the Rhine and fell upon the Dutch. They were totally unprepared, and the French triumphantly swept through the country, carrying all before them. When the glare of the French watch-fires was seen from Amsterdam, De Witt made an heroic resolve. Holland had once been saved by the sea. She should be saved again. So the dykes were cut which protected the low-lying land from the sea, and soon the friendly water had flowed over the land and saved Holland from a foreign foe. Hundreds of houses and gardens were buried beneath the waves, peasants were flying before the invading French, when De Witt proposed peace. Then the people rose in anger, they thought that he wanted to sell their country to France, and they turned in their despair to the young Prince of Orange.
"Our Prince must be Stadtholder," they cried.
Then, forgetting all they owed to De Witt, they murdered him brutally at The Hague, and William, the young, silent Prince of Orange, became their head. Both England and France now begged him to submit to their terms of peace.
"Do you not see," said the English, "that your country is lost?"
"There is a sure way never to see it lost," answered William, "and that is to die in the last ditch."
So Holland was saved, and province after province was won back from France, by William's dauntless resolve.
The country was still struggling against the growing power of France when the Prince was laid low with smallpox. Devotedly nursed by a faithful friend, he fought his way back to life, while he made plans, in his quiet way, to stop the dangerous strength of Louis XIV. of France.
In 1675 he married Mary, his first cousin, niece of Charles II., reigning King of England, and herself heiress to the throne.
Thus peace was secured, and events hurried on to that fateful day when William and Mary should be crowned King and Queen of England.