The Orange Dynasty in Breda

Princes' Chapel, Tombe of Engelbrecht II of Nassau, 1538. Photo: The Great Church Breda.

During the first half of the sixteenth century the Great Church in Breda, The Netherlands, had its heyday. Count Hendrik III of Nassau (1483-1538), Lord of Breda, held a leading position at the court of emperor Charles V. Hendrik’s son, Rene of Chalon (1519-1544), Prince of Orange and Lord of Breda, died too young to make a  career. His nephew, Willem Prince of Orange (1533-1584), played an important role in Dutch history however.

The Great Church as burial place of the Nassau and Orange dynasty in Breda reflects the turbulent Dutch history in the sixteenth century. The Great Church has a history of nearly 750 years. In the fourteenth century, the Nassau dynasty became the new Lords of Breda as high officials at the Habsburg court. The creation of the dynastic Pantheon for the Nassau dynasty was initiated in the fifteenth century, reaching its climax early sixteenth century. The eight meters high monument of Engelbrecht I of Nassau (c. 1380-1442), his wife Johanna van Polanen, their son Jan IV of Nassau and his wife Maria van Loon is a clear example of dynastic self awareness.

It miraculously survived the iconoclastic fury of 1566, due to the fact the statues represented ancestors of William of Orange, the father of the Fatherland and leader of the revolt against Spain. This collection of early Renaissance monuments in the Netherlands is important, because the vast majority did not endure the iconoclastic devastations in 1566.

The different burial sites of the wife of William of Orange, Anna van Buren (1533-1558) and William of Orange tell the story of the Dutch revolt and the division of the once united seventeen provinces (under Habsburg rule). Around 1520, the Lords’ choir in the Church was extended with the Princes’Chapel. The memorial tomb in the Princes’ Chapel was meant to become the burial site of the Nassau-Orange dynasty, to start with Engelbrecht II van Nassau (1451-1504) and his wife Cimburga van Baden (1450-1501). William of Orange enlarged the tomb for himself and his wife. Anna van Buren was actually interred in the tombe in 1558. The Spanish occupation of Breda in 1584 and the military situation prevented the burial of William of Orange in Breda in 1584 however. He was buried in the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk) in Delft instead.  (Source: De Grote Kerk van Breda, Zutphen 1998).