The Military Order of William is the highest honour of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and was named for St. William of Gellone, the very first Prince of Orange. It was founded in 1815 by King William I of the Netherlands for bravery on the battlefield and as a decoration for senior military officers. It is open to everyone, regardless of rank, and extends to foreigners as well. It is currently very rarely awarded. Its motto is “For Bravery, Leadership and Loyalty.”
After the Second World War, it was decided that the Military Order of William could also be granted to civilians for heroics in the resistance. One of the first acts of Queen Juliana as sovereign was to sign the order to grant her mother, then known as Princess Wilhelmina, the Grand Cross of the Military Order of William. The official ceremony took place in Arnhem on 7 October 1948, and Queen Juliana praised her mother as “Mother of the Fatherland”, who had strengthened the will of the people in the days of the occupation during the Second World War.1 Several others were also awarded the Military Order of William in a lower class. The four classes are Knight Grand Cross, Commander, Knight 3rd Class and Knight 4th Class. Upon acceptance, an oath is spoken: “I swear that I shall conduct myself as a faithful and valiant Knight, to stand ever ready to defend King and Country with my Life, and with all my Powers to always strive to be worthy of this Distinction, which the King has bestowed upon me. So help me, God almighty.”
Wilhelmina learned that she would be awarded the order during Juliana’s speech at her inauguration. She wrote in her memoirs, “When all were seated, Juliana delivered her speech, to which I listened in breathless tension. I have read it many times since. What she said to me came so directly from the heart that I felt a little less embarrassed and unhappy than I should have done if the words had come from another. This also applied to my appointment as a knight first class of the Military Order of William, which came as a complete surprise. I regard this as a tribute to all my brave fellow-fighters during the war.”2
As of 2020, there are four living knights.
- Koninklijke Verzamelingen
- Lonely but not alone p.238