Juliana of Stolberg was born on 15 February 1506 as the daughter of Bodo VIII, Count of Stolberg-Wernigerode and Anna of Eppstein-Königstein and her baptism took place ten days later. She would be one of 12 children, and just two of those did not survive to adulthood. It would be a happy childhood with many playmates. She received an education in “feminine” pursuits, such as embroidery. She was also taught to read, write and do maths. She was raised in the Roman Catholic faith of her mother though the Lutheran faith had begun to emerge in the Count’s household. From a young age, Juliana was meant to marry Philip II of Hanau-Münzenberg, who was a ward of William I, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg. They were officially engaged in 1520 and were married in 1523.
Five children were born to them: Reinhard (born 1524 – died 1525), Catherine (born 1525), Philip (born 1526), another Reinhard (born 1528) and Juliana (born 1529). The much-loved Count Philip passed away suddenly on 28 March 1529 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Their daughter Juliana was born in the early morning of 30 March. Juliana was given custody of her children, together with William I, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg and Reinhard of Solms. William too had been widowed in March 1529, and perhaps it is no surprise that Juliana did not remain a widow for very long. William’s first wife, Walburga of Egmont, had given him two daughters, of which just one survived to adulthood. On 20 September 1531, Juliana married William.
Their main residence became Dillenburg, of which almost nothing remains, and the nursery was already pretty full with Juliana’s children from her first marriage, William’s surviving daughter and a ward, Count Ernst of Holstein-Schaumburg, who had just lost his father. On 24 April 1533, Juliana gave birth to her first child by William, a son who would go down in history as William the Silent, Prince of Orange. They would go on to have 11 more children (if you’re keeping count, that is 17 children total for Juliana): Hermanna (born and died in 1534), John (born 1536), Louis (born 1538), Maria (born 1539), Adolf (born 1540), Anna (born 1541), Elisabeth (born 1542), Catharine (born 1543), Juliana (born 1546), Magdalena (born 1547) and Henry (born 1550). They were joined in their schooling by many other children of nobles and people could be sure that their children received an excellent education under Juliana’s tutelage.
In 1544, life changed when René of Châlon, Prince of Orange, died. He had inherited the princely title through his mother’s line, and René now left the title and all that came with it to his paternal first cousin, Juliana’s eldest son, even though her husband was still alive. Her son would also need to be raised as a Catholic as one of the conditions of the will. Emperor Charles V served as regent for the young William until he was old enough. He was sent to live in Brussels. Even though Juliana was barely out of her childbearing years, her children were now beginning to marry. Her eldest daughter Catherine married Count Johann IV of Wied-Runkel and Isenburg in 1543. Her stepdaughter, William’s daughter from his first marriage, Magdalena married Count Herman of Neuenahr and Moers in 1538. In 1550, William, Prince of Orange, married his first wife, Anna of Egmont. Maria married Count William IV of Berg-s’Heerenberg in 1556. In 1559, John married Elisabeth of Leuchtenberg in a triple wedding with his sister Anna who married Count Albert of Nassau-Weilburg and his sister Elisabeth who married Count Conrad of Solms-Braunfels. No matter where they were, Juliana always kept in close contact with her children. The year 1559 ended on a sad note, Juliana was widowed on 6 October 1559. Her husband, who had been 20 years her senior, died at the age of 72.
Juliana was luckily left a rich widow, and she had her pick of estates. She decided to stay in Dillenburg. Her husband was succeeded as Count of Nassau-Dillenburg by his second son, John. Shortly after Anna of Egmont died, Juliana urged her son to marry again, and he married Anna of Saxony in 1561. Tragedy struck again in 1561 when Juliana stood at the deathbed of her eldest son Philip, the reigning Count of Hanau-Münzenberg, who left behind a pregnant widow. A devastated Juliana wrote to William informing him of his half-brother’s death.
As William rose to royal rebel against Spain, Juliana supported his endeavours financially, and her three other sons would all die in battle. In 1568, just one of her daughters remained unmarried. For the young Juliana, she had her eyes on the most prestigious prize of all, a King. However, negotiations dragged on to the embarrassment of the young Juliana, and she would remain unmarried until 1575. In April 1574, two of sons, Henry and Louis, were killed in battle, and for several months, she lived in uncertainty as to whether they had lived or not. Juliana wrote to William, “I am truly a devastated woman and cannot be released from my sorrows until the good God in his mercy takes me to him.” Her desperation caused a sharp decline in her health, and she began to lose her sight and her hearing. The year 1580 began with another loss for Juliana, her grandson Philipp Ludwig, Count of Hanau-Münzenberg, died at the age of 26, leaving behind a four-year-old heir. “A great sadness for me”, Juliana wrote. It would be the last sadness for her, as the matriarch reached her 74th and last birthday.
On 17 June 1580, she began to feel unwell, and a doctor was summoned. By the time he arrived, she had lost the ability to speak. She passed away the next morning around 8 o’clock. She had wanted her daughters Catherine and Elisabeth by her side, but both arrived too late to say goodbye. Six days later, she was interred in the family crypt in the Stadtkirche in Dillenburg. At the time of her death, she had around 160 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and she is the ancestor of many of the current royal houses.