Maria of Orange-Nassau was born in The Hague on 5 September 1642 as the daughter of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange and Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. She would be the youngest of five surviving siblings – several others died in childhood. Unfortunately, we know very little about her youth. She was present at the wedding of her sister Luise Henriette to Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, at the age of four, and she was depicted in the painting that was made of the wedding. She would barely know her father – he died when she was four years old.
Two years later, she was also the subject of a painting by Willem van Honthorst, and she is pictured holding a miniature of Luise. It is not clear if she was present for the wedding of her sister Albertine Agnes and William Frederick, Count of Nassau-Dietz, in 1652, but she was definitely present at the wedding of her sister Henriette Catherine to John George II, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau in 1659. She was probably in regular contact with her nephew, the future King-Stadtholder William III, who was born in 1650. Her brother William II, Prince of Orange, died a week before his son was born when Maria was only eight years old. She and William III, Prince of Orange, were also painted together by Gerard van Honthorst in 1653. Maria would grow up with her mother but also often went to visit her sister Albertine Agnes in Leeuwarden.
Her mother had tried to make advantageous matches for all her children and had managed rather well so far. She had even secured a King’s daughter for her eldest son William II. She had tried to secure the future King Charles II of England for Luise Henriette, but that match never took place, and once he was in exile, he was no longer considered a good match. Once back on the throne, Amalia tried to secure him for Maria, but she was beaten by the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza and her immense dowry. A certain Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp was reportedly also considered, but he was vetoed as a drunk.
Maria ended up marrying her second cousin Louis Henry, Count Palatine of Simmern-Kaiserslautern, who was a grandson of Louise Juliana of Nassau. The wedding contract was signed in March 1666, but they did not marry until 23 September 1666 in Cleves. At the time, the Orange family was not very popular in the republic, and Cleves was just across the border and the Duchy of Cleves belonged to Brandenburg at the time which meant that Luise Henriette and her husband were there often, as was his governor John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen – also a relative. Therefore, three of the sisters were married in Cleves, rather than in the republic. Their close connection to Cleves is also depicted in a painting of all four sisters with Cleves’ Swan Castle in the background. This was possibly painted in 1666 when they were all there for Maria’s wedding.
The newlyweds moved to Kreuznach (now known as Bad Kreuznach), where they used the Pfalz-Simmerner Hof as a residence. The marriage would last just seven years as Louis Henry died in early 1674 of some sort of infectious disease, and he and Maria had had no children together. Louis Henry’s lands fell to Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine (father of the formidable Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine). Maria was allowed a dower property in Kreuznach and had the Oranienhof built from the ruins of a convent. Unfortunately, Oranienhof was demolished at the beginning of the 19th century.
After her husband’s death, Maria often went home to the Netherlands, such as when her nephew William fell ill with the chickenpox in 1675. The thoughtful visit led to Maria becoming infected as well, and she was reportedly very ill for a while. She was probably still in the Netherlands when her mother Amalia died just a few months after William’s illness. William inherited the Lordship and the castle of Turnhout from Amalia, which he gave in usufruct to his aunt Maria. Maria would visit the castle often and continued the restorations begun by Amalia.
Maria died at Kreuznach on 20 March 1688 after suffering from pneumonia for six days. Although she had asked to be buried at Turnhout on her deathbed, she was buried in the newly created crypt in the Stephanskirche in Simmern, where her husband had also been buried. Their sarcophagi have been damaged over time, but they are still there.1