Emilia of Nassau (1569-1629)

Emilia, daughter of William the Silent, was much sought-after by German Protestant princes. She had a mind of her own, however, and did not think they were good enough. She fell for the Catholic crown prince of Portugal and married him secretly, without parental consent. After years of marriage, her husband chose the side of Spain in the war. Emilia was furious, and left him, because she refused to have anything to do with her father’s murderers.

In 1571, when she was only two years old, the conflict between her parents, William the Silent and Anna of Saxony, came to a head and she was sent to Dillenburg Castle to stay with her uncle Jan. It was a wretched situation: Emilia would not see her mother again. After her father had also died, Emilia wanted nothing better than to journey to Delft and be with her family. It was not until 1588, four years later, that she finally came to live in Prinsenhof.

Emilia was a welcome guest at Maurice’s court. She was beautiful and much sought after by suitors, yet she was choosy. Until, that is, she met the exiled crown prince Manuel of Portugal. A complication: Manuel was Catholic and Maurice would not consent to the marriage therefore. Emilia did not leave it at that and secretly married Manuel. That same evening, she wrote a letter to the States General defending her secret marriage and free choice. It was to no avail; they denounced the marriage and the couple were placed under house arrest in Germany. They were only allowed to return to Delft a year later, after the birth of their firstborn. Nine more children would be born.

Many years later, the marriage would still be dissolved, because after Maurice’s death, Manuel unexpectedly chose the side of Spain. Emilia, resolute as ever, refused to associate ‘with the murderers of her father’. Five of her eight children are buried in the Walloon Church at Prinsenhof.

The following sentence is from one of her letters, possibly to the States General, from the time when she pleaded for her marriage to be recognised:
‘I am after all a free daughter, have come of age, and am subject to no one’

Read more about Emilia’s life

© Image: Daniël van den Queborn, Portret van Emilia van Nassau [portrait of Emilia of Nassau], ca 1593, oil on canvas, Paleis Het Loo, Apeldoorn, on loan from the Geschiedkundige Vereniging Oranje-Nassau [Orange-Nassau historical society]