The ‘First Ladies’ of the Dutch Republic

The Political Agency of the Stadtholders’ Wives in the Seventeenth Century

Project description

Contrary to what is still often assumed, the exercise of power in the early modern period was not restricted to male rulers and officials in government councils. Princely women, who were usually excluded from formal office, could deploy informal power mechanisms, such as patronage and lobbying, to exert influence on the decision-making process. Female consorts of European monarchs thus possessed their own means to gain political footing at court. How, then, did this work in the United Provinces? Technically employed by the States General of the Dutch Republic, the Nassau stadtholders held an exceptional and disputed position in the European constellation of power. The same goes for their spouses, whose political status was often unclear. To what extent and how were the stadtholderly consorts able to exert political influence in this republican context?

By analyzing and comparing the political agency of four seventeenth-century Nassau consorts, this project will provide valuable new insights into the repertoires of power available to princely women. Making use of a wide variety of primary sources, the project will unravel the functioning of princely dynasties and female princely power in a non-monarchical state.


Nissen, ‘Staging the Nassau-Dietz Identity. Funerary Culture and Managing Succession at the Frisian Nassau Court in the Seventeenth Century’, The Court Historian 25:1 (2020), 15-30. doi: 10.1080/14629712.2020.1728931.

Nissen, ‘De bron van alle goeds. Willem Lodewijk als vaderfiguur in de zeventiende-eeuwse Nassaudynastie’, in: H. Brand en J.W. Koopmans (eds.), Willem Lodewijk. Stadhouder en strateeg (1560-1620-2020) (Hilversum: Verloren, 2020), 113-130.



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