Wilhelmus: Oldest anthem in the world

POSTED: 04/26/13 12:24 PM

St. Maarten – Coming Tuesday with the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander the first stanza of the national anthem will be sung throughout the Dutch Kingdom. For this special event Today put together some facts about this ancient song together with the lyrics and the translation of it.

Wilhelmus van Nassouwe, usually known just as het Wilhelmus, is the national anthem of the Netherlands and is the oldest national anthem in the world. Although it was not recognized as the official national anthem until 1932, it has always been popular with parts of the Dutch population and resurfaced on several occasions in the course of Dutch history before gaining its present status.

Like many anthems, the Wilhelmus originated in the nation’s struggle to achieve independence. It tells the story of Willem van Oranje (William of Orange), his life and why he is fighting against the King of Spain. As a result, the anthem is written in a first person perspective, as if it were sung by William himself. Like, William of Orange being the I-figure, (early modern Dutch ‘ick’) in the first stanza “Den Coninck van Hispaengien heb ick altijt gheeert” (“I have always honored the King of Spain”). It was also the anthem of the Netherlands Antilles from 1954-1964.

The origins of the lyrics are uncertain. Soon after the anthem was finished it was said that either Philips van Marnix, a writer, statesman and former mayor of Antwerp, or Dirck Coornhert, a politician and theologian, wrote the lyrics. However, this is disputed as both Marnix and Coornhert never mentioned that they wrote the lyrics. This is strange since the song was immensely popular in their time. The Wilhelmus also has some odd rhymes in it. In some cases the vowels of certain words were altered to allow them to rhyme with other words. Some see this as evidence that neither Marnix nor Coornhert wrote the anthem as they were both experienced poets when the Wilhelmus was written and they would not have taken these small liberties. Hence some believe that the lyrics of the Dutch national anthem were the creation of someone who just wrote one poem for the occasion and then disappeared from history. A French translation of the Wilhelmus appeared around 1582.

The Wilhelmus is played only once at a ceremony or whatever other event and, if possible, it is to be the last piece of music to be played. When receiving a foreign head of state or emissary, the Dutch anthem may not be played unless a member of the Dutch Royal House is present. This is virtually unique in the world as most countries play their own anthem and then play the anthem of the foreign relation.

During international sport events, such as the World Cup, UEFA European football championship, Champions League and the Olympic Games the Wilhelmus is also played. In nearly every case the 1st and 6th stanza (or repeating the last lines), or just the 1st stanza alone, are sung/played rather than the entire song, which would result in about 15 minutes of music, because the sung has 15 stanza’s.

Source: Wikipedia

Het Wilhelmus                                         The Wilhemus

Eerste couplet:                                                            First Stanza:

Wilhelmus van Nassouwe                                           William of Nassau

ben ik, van Duitsen bloed.                                          am I, of German blood.

Den vaderland getrouwe                                            Loyal to the fatherland

blijf ik tot in den dood.                                               I will remain until I die.

Een Prinse van Oranje                                                 A prince of Orange

ben ik, vrij, onverveerd.                                              am I, free and fearless.

Den Koning van Hispanje                                           The king of Spain

heb ik altijd geëerd.                                                    I have always honoured.

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Comments (2)


  1. bill nietzman says:

    -Nice little story ‘Today’, but take a look at the lyrics:
    “Wilhelmus van Nassouwe
    ben ik, van Duitsen bloed”

    The ‘Waffen SS’ recruited by far the most combatants serving
    Nazi Germany of proportionally all occupied countries, precisely because of the sentiment expressed therein: This comment is coming from the son of a resistance fighter during the occupation and with GREAT contempt for the national anthem and, as a republican, the so-called royal family’

  2. Rob Voncken says:

    Well that is raping history. In Wilhelms day there was no Germany, the lands in the area had only a vague sense of being
    related by their Germanic ancestors. In the day it would have been a general reference to the Germanic part of the Hapsburg holdings in Europe. As for the SS bit, that was mostly due to a combination of good propaganda a pretty zealous national socialist party in place and agreed a recognition that German and Dutch roots were similar. But if you go there be as fair as to also note that there was also was a disproportionate amount of resistance to the occupation and that we suffered dearly at the hands of the Nazis

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