The history, music and lyrics of the Netherlands national anthem. Plus, what does it mean in English?

2 June 2021, 16:17

Andre Rieu plays violin at UEFA Champions League in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Andre Rieu plays violin at UEFA Champions League in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Heard loud and proud at international sporting events, ‘Het Wilhelmus’ has the oldest music of any national anthem in the world.

The Netherlands’ national anthem dates back to at least 1572, making it one of the world’s oldest patriotic songs.

But ‘Het Wilhelmus’ has only been the official recognised Dutch anthem since 10 May 1932. Here’s a bit of background.

The lyrics tell of William of Orange, and his fight against the King of Spain to gain independence for the Netherlands from Spain.

Written from his perspective, the anthem follows William in his struggle to both remain loyal to the Spanish King, but also to serve God and lead his people in the fight against persecution.

The lyrics were written at the beginning of the Eighty Years’ War, or The Netherlands War of Independence. But while some believe the hymn was written by Philip of Marnix of Sint-Aldegonde, a close advisor of William of Orange, the composer of the ‘Wilhelmus’ is unknown.

Read more: Definitively the greatest national anthems

Somewhat strangely for the national anthem of a protestant country, ‘Het Wilhelmus’ uses the melody of a popular Roman Catholic French song called ‘Autre chanson de la Ville de Chartres assiégée par le prince de Condé’.

It was written by Catholics to mock a failed Siege of Chartes by the Protestant Prince de Condé during the French Wars of Religion in the 16th century.

When it was first brought in, there were protests. It was regarded as a song for ‘Oranje Royalists’, and many socialists weren’t a fan of the monarchy. But during the Nazi occupation of the Second World War, the Dutch united around the song and found common ground in their old symbols of national pride.

It remains one of the more popular national anthems, and has been played at many of Dutch violinist André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra’s outdoor summer concerts (watch above).

Read more: What are the lyrics to the German National Anthem, and did they change after World War II?

What are the Dutch lyrics to The Netherlands’ national anthem?

Wilhelmus van Nassouwe
ben ik van Duitsen bloed
den vaderland getrouwe
blijf ik tot in den dood.
Een Prinse van Oranje
ben ik, vrij onverveerd,
den Koning van Hispanje
heb ik altijd geëerd.

Mijn schild ende betrouwen
zijt Gij, o God mijn Heer,
op U zo wil ik bouwen,
verlaat mij nimmermeer.
Dat ik doch vroom mag blijven,
uw dienaar t'aller stond,
de tirannie verdrijven
die mij mijn hart doorwondt.

What is the English translation of The Netherlands’ national anthem?

William of Nassau am I, of German descent;
True to the fatherland I remain until death.
Prince of Orange am I, free and fearless.
To the King of Spain I have always given honour.

You, my God and Lord, are my shield, on You I rely.
On You I will build; never leave me,
So that I may remain pious, your servant at all moments,
Dispelling the tyranny that wounds my heart.