Maria of Hungary (1505-1558)

When William of Orange (later, William the Silent) arrived in Brussels as a young boy, a powerful woman was at the helm: Mary of Hungary. She was a resolute woman who was effective in her political role and did not flinch from spurring on her troops on the battlefield, in leather riding breeches. She was the best mentor the young prince could hope for.

Mary’s experiences as a young adult had made her into the power woman she was. At the age of nineteen – newly wed and queen of Hungary – she narrowly escaped the Ottomans, who invaded Hungary and killed her husband. A harrowing journey across the mountains on a donkey enabled her to reach Austria and, ultimately, her family in Vienna.
In 1531, she became governor of the Netherlands. With her steadfast character, Mary was able to hold her own in a man’s world. Her passion for hunting contributed to her skill in military affairs and she led her own army – unusual for the time. William’s talent did not go unnoticed. As mentor and mother-figure, she taught the young William about politics, diplomacy, warfare and affairs of state and as soon as he reached adulthood, she enlisted him in the service of her army.

A letter by Mary of Hungary to the 19-year-old William the Silent, Prince of Orange, written on 1 June 1552 in Brussels, shows how she acts resolutely and gives him advice on dealing with mutinous soldiers:
‘That all other regiments, that have the best men, are satisfied with this payment, which is so (good) that it cannot be better, and I have absolutely no intention to change this decision for our entire encampment, on account of a few warriors acting up. This is what I decide and I order you to give short shrift to all those people who address you about this, and the sooner you do so, the less dissension you will encounter later.’

Read more about the life of Mary of Hungary

© Image: Jan Punt, Portret van Maria van Hongarije [portrait of Mary of Hungary], 18th century, engraving, Museum Prinsenhof Delft