Albertine Agnes of Nassau was born on 9 April 1634 in The Hague as the sixth child and fifth daughter of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange and Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. Her elder brother was William II, Prince of Orange, who married Mary, Princess Royal and became the father of the King-Stadtholder William III. Her elder sister Louise Henriette married Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg.
Albertine grew up in The Hague, and from the age of nine, she was part of several marriage negotiations. The leading contender for her hand was her second cousin William Frederick, Prince of Nassau-Dietz, who was 21 years older than her. He had promised his mother on her deathbed to one day marry a Princess of Orange. However, her mother Amalia wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything better out there for her daughter, and so it took another nine years for the negotiations with William Frederick to be concluded. Amalia eventually reluctantly conceded and there is no record of how Albertine felt about the match. The rather large age difference and the fact that William Frederick was lower in rank could have caused tensions. Nevertheless, they were married on 2 May 1652 in Cleves.
Albertine gave birth to three children, of which two would survive to adulthood. Her first child was Amalia (born 25 November 1655), Henry Casimir (born 18 January 1657) and the shortlived Sophia Hedwig. Albertine and her husband were known to live largely separate lives though this was not unusual for the time. Her personal household consisted of 22 people. William Frederick was the stadtholder of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe (in the north of the Netherlands) and he was often away, though Albertine preferred to remain in The Hague.
Albertine was widowed on 31 October 1664 when her husband died at the age of 51. Their only son was just seven years old at the time, and so, Albertine became his guardian and eventually acted as his regent – becoming the first woman to serve as regent in the Republic. When Henry Casimir was sent away for his education, Albertine often wrote to him and his tutors. In July 1666 she wrote, “It seems to me that Mr de Morel is sometimes not very satisfied with your behaviour. My nephew the Prince of Orange even and all the honest people of his court find that you do nothing; I hope you will apply yourself more from now on to what Mr de Morel says, being for your good and if you do not do it, it will be your total ruin.”1 She insisted that it was her duty as a mother to chastise him, in order to prepare him for his future role.
Albertine’s guardship lasted for 13 years until 1677 when Henry Casimir turned 20 years old. In 1683, Henry Casimir married his first cousin Henriëtte Amalia of Anhalt-Dessau – the daughter of Albertine’s sister Henriette Catherine of Nassau. They would go on to have nine children before Henry Casimir’s death in 1696. Albertine’s daughter Amalia remains a rather shadowy figure, and she would not marry until she was 34. She married Johann Wilhelm, Duke of Saxe-Eisenach and they had a single surviving son before her death just five years later.
And so it came to pass that Albertine survived all three of her children and her husband. She died just two months after her son, on 26 May 1696 in Leeuwarden. She was not only known for her regency, but also for several building projects such as Schloss Oranienstein and the Oranjewoud Palace, where she died, and her vast art collection. Albertine was buried in the Grote Kerk in Leeuwarden. Her great-great-granddaughter was Carolina of Orange-Nassau, making her an ancestress of Europe’s royal houses as well.2
- Gender, Power and Identity in the Early Modern House of Orange-Nassau by Susan Broomhall and Jacqueline Van Gent p.114
- Read more: Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland