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The Principality of Orange
The title originally referred to the sovereign principality of Orange in valley of Rhone in southern France, which was a property of the House of Orange (1544 House of Orange-Nassau). Because Orange was a sovereign principality in the Holy Roman Empire, in its Kingdom of Burgundy , the title contained feudal rights and that sovereignty which German principalities became to enjoy. The last descendant of original princes, Rene of Nassau, left the principality to his cousin William the Silent (who was not of the descent of original family).
In 1673, Louis XIV of France annexed the principality as part of the war actions against the stadtholder William III of England (d.1702) (who later became king William III of England and Scotland) undertook against him.
Because William III died childless, the principality was regarded to be inherited by his closest agnatic relative, Frederick of Prussia, who ceded the principality (at least the lands, but not formally the title) to France in 1713 (France supports his claim, of course). In this way the principality lost its feudal and secular privileges. The title remains in the Prussian royal family (who reigned in Prussia until 1918) and could be used even today by them, and was also given by French king to Louis de Mailly, whose family still holds the title today.
A cognatic relative of William III, John Willem Friso of Nassau, who also by female line descended from William the Silent, was designated as the heir of princes of Orange in the Netherlands, and several of his descendants became stadtholders. They claimed the principality of Orange on basis of cognatic inheritance (similar to that of William the Silent inheriting from his cousin Rene, though not being a descendant of original princes of Orange). France never allowed them to obtain anything of the principality itself (located in Southern France), but notwithstanding they assumed the title. From that derivation of the title, comes the tradition of later stadtholders of the Netherlands, and today royal family of the Netherlands, having the title.
The Princes of Orange
William the Silent, first Stadtholder of the United Provinces (better known as the Dutch Republic) was the most significant bearer in the House of Orange within the Netherlands. He, originally a count of a small German county, obtained lands in the Netherlands (lordship of Breda and several other dependencies) as an inheritance from his cousin Rene, Prince of Orange, when 11 years old. After William´s assassination in 1584, the title and position passed down firstly to his son Philip (who was catholic and kept long in imprisonment), then to second son Maurice, who later passed it on to his brother, Frederick Henry.
The title of Prince of Oranje became soon practically synonymous with the stadtholder of the Netherlands.
After the death of Willem III in 1702, the Dutch contender to his title was his heir in the Netherlands, John William Friso of Nassau, who assumed this title. His line held it as their principal title during the 1700´s. Napoleon drove them away from Holland, but on the return, the then Prince of Oranje became the first King of the Netherlands in 1815.
After the establishment of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815 the title was partly reconstitutionalized in a bill and granted to the eldest son of King Willem I, Prince Willem.
In the 19th century the female variant of the title was also sometimes specifically granted to the Heir Apparent's wife. Instead of gaining the title by courtesy, it seems that the title has to be granted on wives.
Princess Maxima, wife of the Heir Apparent, Prince Willem-Alexander, hasn't got the title "Princess of Orange" officially, but she probably may use it as wife of the Heir Apparent.
The Prince(ss) of Orange is styled "His/Her Royal Highness the Prince(ss) of Orange" (Zijne/Hare Koninklijke Hoogheid de Prins(es) van Oranje)
Bearers of the title (with dates):
as sovereign prince of Orange
Until 1340, it was customary for all sons of the prince of Orange to inherit the title. Only the direct line of descent to Raimund V is shown here.
- Bertrand I of Baux (1171-1181)
- William I of Baux (1182-1218)
- Raymond I of Baux (1218-1282)
- Bertrand IV of Baux (1281-1314)
- Raymond IV of Baux (1314-1340)
- Raymond V of Baux (1340-1393)
Here starts the house of House of Orange-Châlon
- Marie (1393-1417), with her husband John III of Châlon (1393-1418)
- Louis II the Good (1418-1463)
- William VII of Châlon (1463-1475)
- John II of Châlon (1475-1502)
- Philibert of Châlon (1502 - 1530)
- René of Châlon (1530-1544), nephew of Philibert
- William IX, of Nassau (1544-1584), cousin of Rene, also Lord of Breda and count of Dillenburg, stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland etc
William is better known as William I of Orange-Nassau; the House of Orange-Nassau starts with him.
- Philip William (son of William I from 1st marriage, not a stadtholder) (1584-1618)
- Maurice (son of William I from 2nd marriage), stadtholder, (1618-1625)
- Frederick Henry (son of William I from 4th marriage), stadtholder, (1625-1647)
- Willem II (1647-1650), stadtholder
- William III of England (1650-1702), stadtholder, and from 1688 King of England and Scotland
- John William Friso (descendant in male line of William the Silent's brother, and in female line also of William the Silent himself) (1702-1711), stadtholder of Friesland
as a personal title
- Willem IV (1711-1751), stadtholder 1747-51
- Willem V (1751-1806), stadtholder 1751-95
- Willem VI (1806-1815), 1813 returned to Holland and became the first King of the Netherlands.
as Heir Apparent
- Willem (Willem II) (1815-1840, title dropped on accession to the throne)
- Willem (Willem III) (1840-1849, title dropped on accession to the throne)
- Willem, eldest son of Willem III from his 1st marriage (1849-1879)
- Alexander, second son of William III from his 1st marriage (1879-1884)
- Crown Prince Willem-Alexander (1980-)
And so the current Heir Apparent is the 15th bearer of the title in the House of Orange-Nassau.