World Coins

Willem IV death marked with medal: Alexander

The Research Desk column from the July 11, 2016, Weekly issue of Coin World:

Many Americans may recall a few names from the heroic era of the Dutch War for Independence: William the Silent, Spanish King Philip II and the Duke of Alba. Religious and worldly disputes and involvement in the wars of more powerful neighbors filled long years of struggle. Dutch medals can clarify this tangled age.

The United Provinces of the Netherlands, “the Dutch Republic,” evolved under an elected Stadholder into a de facto monarchy under branches of the Houses of Orange and Nassau. Attempts were made to abolish the position of Stadholder, including the Eternal Edict of 1667, but the post was always recreated to provide strong leadership against foreign attack and internal discord that sapped Dutch strength.

Ultimately the Dutch grew close to Britain despite colonial war losses that saw New Netherland become New York. A British alliance was needed to repel French attacks that intensified under “Sun King” Louis XVI and his Dutch agents who styled themselves the Patriot Party.

When Willem Carel Friso of Orange-Nassau became Willem IV to succeed the childless Willem III, the stadholdership was gradually restored, province by province, as the wars continued.

In recognition of the alliance, Britain’s King George II named the young Stadholder the 549th Knight of the Garter. He then appeared on his medals wearing “the George” insignia of this great Order around his neck. Willem IV was declared hereditary Stadholder in May 1747, holding the title until his death on Oct. 22, 1751. 

His death was marked by a 41-millimeter silver medal by Johan Georg Holtzhey, presenting a bust in cuirass and the robes and George of the Garter under a crown of stars and title “Hereditary Ruler of all the Free Netherlands.” 

This likeness was not flattering, showing an exceptionally short neck that portrait painters had generally tried to minimize. The reverse bears a cherub supporting two shields atop a baroque tomb under a crowned mantle. The tomb, inscribed GEN.5’ V.24, refers to the death of Enoch in the Bible book of Genesis, “and Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” A separate inscription around translates to “May he live in Eternity among God and all Good Men.” 

Under his successor Willem V, the French revolution finally flowed over the Netherlands, leading to the country’s union with Napoleon’s French Empire in 1810.

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