A Brill Calendar: June 17
Few aristocratic lineages put a stamp on history deeper than the House Nassau, named after a fortress at the river Lahn, Westphalia.
In its proto-history, one Walram (ca. 1146 – 1198) became Count of Nassau in the Holy Roman Empire in 1193, after serving under Frederic Barbarossa in the Third Crusade (1189 – 1192). The Nassau family-tree is gnarled and aged. The present Prince of Orange-Nassau, for instance, is no direct descendant of the ‘Wilhelmus van Nassouwe’ (1533 – 1584) of the 16th century song that ended up as the official national anthem of The Netherlands in 1932. From the trunk of Walmar results a tangle of branches, featuring both cadet and bastard lines. After William III (obit 1702), Stadholder and King of Great-Britain, the Nassau breed ceases to distinguish itself in military leadership. The long drawn-out Rebellion of the Low Countries against Habsburg Spain (1568 – 1648) and its aftermath serve as their finest hour, providing employment and fame for many a Nassau; in warfare, as well as in arts and scholarship.
An illustrious example is Johan Maurits, Count of Nassau-Siegen (Dillenburg, Nassau June 17 1604 – Bergendaal, Cleves December 20 1679). When his cousin Frederik Hendrik, twenty years his senior, had seen to it in 1636 that the West-Indian Company WIC appointed his nephew as captain-general in Brazil, Johan Maurits used his genius and position not only to fight the Portuguese and import black slaves from Western Africa, but also to fight intolerance amongst Christian and other religious denominations, including Sephardic Jews. During his administration (covering eight years), scholars and artists in his retinue published pioneering descriptions of Brazilian zoology, botany and tropical diseases.
It is seldom that repatriation to Europe was so carefully and elegantly prepared. Back in The Hague, ‘the Brazilian’, a refined connoisseur, took up residence in an urban mansion, just completed by his architect Pieter Post: the ‘Mauritshuis’. 365 years later, no museum-collection glorifying Dutch painting is housed more fittingly.