Women behind the rise of the house of Orange-Nassau





WHEN the house of Orange-Nassau finally became monarchs in The Netherlands in 1815, it was the result of hundreds of years of manoeuvring: battles physical and political and, Susan Broomhall contends, a solid effort by generations of the family's women.

"The male line was really weak, they died in battle or were minors for many years," says Broomhall, a professor of history at the University of Western Australia. "It was the women who kept reminding people of the family through systematically promoting it, so when The Netherlands decided on a monarchy, their family was the obvious choice." The family still rules, via Queen Beatrix.

A $450,000, four-year Australian Research Council grant will help Broomhall and colleague Jacqueline Van Gent tease out the scope of the women's influence....

Broomhall's special interest is 16th-century French history and she was researching in the Paris archives in 2000 when she came across a cache of letters written between William the Silent's daughters Charlotte Brabantina, Elizabeth and Flandrina. The first two had married and moved to France, the last was a nun there. "They wrote to each other about once a week over a 30-year period," Broomhall says.

These letters are among thousands the scholars will mine, but they will also look for paintings, palaces and other non-paper records for clues to the personalities of the family....


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