'Napoleon's brother was our first king'

Date of news: 26 April 2022

On Wednesday, the Netherlands celebrates the King's birthday. How did our royal family actually come into being, why the Van Oranje family, and how did they respond to the calamities in the country at the time? Historian Fons Meijer was invited to talk about the history of the Dutch royal family on Dutch radio, in the science programme Radio Swammerdam.

alexander-Fikk06-einI-unsplashPhoto by Alexander on Unsplash

Fons Meijer is a historian and a PhD student at the Radboud Institute for Culture & History (RICH). In a special theme broadcast of Radio Swammerdam, he talked about the Netherlands in the nineteenth century. 'Until the nineteenth century, the Netherlands was always a republic', says Meijer in the broadcast. The Oranje-family was there, but as stadholders, not as kings. In 1795, they were chased away by the French revolutionaries. In 1806, Napoleon brought his brother - Lodewijk Napoleon - to power, and he became king of Holland. He was thus the first king of the Netherlands.'

Famous reputation

In 1813, the French left the Netherlands and a power vacuum arose. Meijer in the broadcast: 'Who was to rule next? It became the son of the last stadholder, as the last stadholder had died in the meantime: William Frederick of Oranje-Nassau. It was a pragmatic choice: Oranje was a name that many people already knew and a unifying force was needed. William Frederick himself wanted above all to help the Oranje dynasty back to power. That could also have been in another country. In 1815, he officially became King William I of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands'.

Would you like to hear more about the history of our royal family and the role it played in disasters? Listen here to the complete broadcast as a podcast (Dutch spoken).

As part of his PhD project, Fons Meijer is researching the relationship between disasters and nation-building in the Netherlands in the nineteenth century. On 28 June he will defend his thesis on this subject.