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 - Sebastiaan Coops -

After the successful and widely watched NPO television series Het Verhaal van Nederland (The Story of the Netherlands), which unravelled the history of our country, there is a sequel. This time, the choice was made to focus on the history of the royal family. Het Verhaal van Nederland: Oranje-Nassau (The Story of the Netherlands: Orange-Nassau) takes the viewer through the reign of the most important of the Oranges, covering almost 500 years of political rivalries, intrigues, wars and the royal life stories in eight episode. Like the previous series, Het Verhaal van Nederland: Oranje-Nassau is presented by Daan Schuurmans, who takes the viewer to the parts of Holland where the story takes place. This is powerfully assisted by expert commentary, while the history itself is portrayed by voiceless actors. A history where everyone has a say.

The history of Oranje-Nassau is not just about a family, but, as is stated in the television series, also about the Netherlands itself. Its past runs like an orange thread through our history. So it is a logical choice to use precisely this story as a sequel to the original series from 2022. Although I was looking forward to this television series, I also held my breath. In the first place, because the history of the Orange-Nassau family is a history everyone has something to say about, nuanced or unsubtle. After all, everyone knows William of Orange, Maurice and Wilhelmina. Moreover, in the first series, I found the representation of William V and Wilhelmina of Prussia very short-sighted and unsubtle. The makers then totally ignored the important role Wilhelmina of Prussia had played in the Batavian uprising.

After four episodes, I am very impressed with the choices that have been made so far. Each episode covers the famous feats of arms of the Oranges, but the real protagonists are the Oranges who are usually given much less attention. For instance, Anna of Saxony gets a leading role in the first episode, whilst in the third episode, this role is assigned to Amalia of Solms. Women are well represented and that is by no means unjustified. Moreover, this ensures that both connoisseur and non-connoisseur can enjoy the story.

Anna of Saxony and Amalia of Solms

Anna of Saxony (1544-1577) is often cited in literature as 'hysterical' and 'insane' following her declaration of insanity. She died in Dresden, walled in inside a chamber, and little else has been made of her. In the second episode, you learn more about why the marriage between her and William of Orange broke down. Turns out, it was not because of her, but because of her husband's adultery. That infuriated her, a misstep of hers that was not tolerated in her time. After all, men were allowed to have mistresses, women were not. It is intriguing how Anna's relationship with Jan Rubens (the father of the famous painter) is contrasted in the episode with William of Orange's adultery. Like Anna, William is also furious when she skews. But whereas Anna is supposed to keep quiet about her husband, this is a reason to drop her completely and to take everything away from her.

In the third episode, I saw a lot of similarities wuth the exhibition Amalia of Solms: Ambition with Allure, which was on display at Museum Prinsenhof in 2022. Not surprisingly, the museum's curator Hester Schölvinck is one of the experts commenting on the episode. Amalia is increasingly seen (even more than Maurice or Frederik-Hendrik) as the person who laid the building blocks for the Orange dynasty. She raises the prestige of the Oranges by building palaces, marrying off her son to the eldest daughter of the English king (unprecedented!) and is politically adept. She really makes sure her husband becomes popular with the people by using various media. As an apotheosis, Daan Schuurmans takes you to the Orange Hall in Huis ten Bosch. This is the crowning glory of her work: a gigantic hall with magnificent paintings about Frederik-Hendrik's fame. At the top of the dome, the viewer discovers Amalia's name.

What follows is a lecture by experts that really everyone should listen to. Historian Maria Keblusek says: "There has been some catching up recently, when it comes to studying the role of women in this era." Historian Nadine Akkerman continues: "For a very long time we underestimated women in the seventeenth century, for a very long time we believed that they were not politically active." Afterwards, Hester Scholvink of Museum Prinsenhof talks about Amalia van Solms' behind-the-scenes role in the conclusion of the Peace of Munster and why precisely a behind-the-scenes role was more important than being in the foreground, the moment when everything is already fixed.

The full story

At last, we have got the full story! While it is difficult to cite even the most important moments in the short running time of an episode, it is impressive how much time the women are given. For once perhaps even more than the men. And rightly so. Most of the Oranges in our history were women! This television series shows that their story has real value in understanding history. A valuable insight and therefore The story of the Het Verhaal van Nederland: Oranje-Nassau is definitely recommended.

The Story of the Netherlands: Orange-Nassau is broadcast every Wednesday evening at 20:30 on NPO1.


Image: ©NTR (2024)


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