Maurice (1567-1625), man of steel and science Maurice was a military genius and fascinated by technological innovations. He won several spectacular victories and retained the advantage against Spain for many years. Later, he became embroiled in domestic issues about the connection between state and religion.



Five soldiers drilling with shield and pike. After Adam van Breen, 1618

Soldier practising loading a musket. Jacob de Gheyn II, c. 1600

Soldier practising operating a musket. Jacob de Gheyn II, c. 1600

Rider firing a shot with a pistol. Studio of Jacob de Gheyn II, 1599

Together with his cousin William Louis, stadholder of Friesland, Maurice reorganised and modernised the Dutch army. Discipline was the key. His troops were regularly drilled in weaponry and manoeuvres, and trained to follow orders. Both commanders also demanded that their men do the hard work of building defences and siege positions. For their part, they always paid their soldiers on time. Their army did not have to rely on plunder for food while on campaign. These innovations revolutionised warfare. The modern States army (so-called because the soldiers fought for the Dutch assembly, the States General) was a well-oiled machine and a model for armies throughout Europe.

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Debt to science

Prince Maurice with a group of guests on Simon Stevin’s sailing chariot on the beach at Scheveningen (detail). Willem Isaacsz. van Swanenburg after Jacob de Gheyn II, 1603

Maurice and William Louis did not develop these innovations in a vacuum. Their strength lay in a willingness to consult all kinds of experts, and their enthusiasm for innovation. In part they based their ideas on the military theories of the Ancient Romans. They had Latin works on the subject translated. Maurice’s scholar friend Simon Stevin, mathematician and inventor, developed new tools for the army. A curious departure was the sail chariot he developed for amusement. It appealed enormously to contemporaries, especially the speeds it could achieve: as much as forty kilometres per hour. No horse could compete with that.

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1600 Battle of Nieuwpoort

Prince Maurice on horseback at the Battle of Nieuwpoort, 1600. Crispijn van de Passe I, 1600

Maurice made his mark as the commander of both army and navy. His well-trained troops were extremely successful. He managed to capture huge areas from the Spaniards for the Republic and at the Battle of Nieuwpoort the prince won a major victory. Yet after 1600, the tide began to turn and Maurice found himself facing a more formidable opponent in the Spanish general Ambrogio Spinola.

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Horse breeder

Prince Maurice and Frederick Henry at Valkenburg horse market. Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, 1618

Maurice loved horses. He would ride out almost every day if he was at The Hague, to visit his stable and to involve himself in the training and breeding of his animals. He regularly visited horse markets to maintain the quality of his stable.

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Portrait of Maurice, Prince of Orange. Michiel Jansz. Van Mierevelt, c. 1613

Portrait of a boy, possibly Louis of Nassau, the illegitimate son of Maurice, Prince of Orange and Margaret of Mechelen. 1604

Stadholder Maurice never married. He felt no compulsion to raise his status in Europe through marriage. He was well respected in the country and abroad, had numerous titles and held court in princely fashion. Which is not to say that he lived a celibate life. Margaret of Mechelen, a distant relative, was his companion for many years, yet she was not an official member of the princely entourage. She had a house in The Hague and another near Maurice’s stable.

Maurice and Margaret had three children, whom they called play children. They lived in the stadholder court and were raised as aristocrats. The stadholder had another five children by five other women. Although these were of lower rank than the play children, they were also raised well.


Death of the prince

Maurice (1567-1625) Prince of Orange, lying in state, 1625

In November 1624, Maurice returned from campaigning sick, complaining that he felt weak, ill and with stomach-ache. A long illness followed in which Maurice grew excessively thin, until in April 1625 he died. It turned out that he had been suffering from a liver abscess. It was another five months before the prince was buried in Delft’s Nieuwe Kerk. Inordinate care was taken to prepare the lying in state and the funeral procession accompanying Maurice’s coffin from Prinsenhof to the Nieuwe Kerk.