In the lyrics William compares himself with the biblical David who serves under the tyrannic king Saul.As the merciful David defeats the unjust Saul and is rewarded by God with the kingdom of Israel, so too William hopes to be rewarded a kingdom.It tells of the Father of the Nation William of Orange who was stadholder in the Netherlands under the King of Spain.In the first person, as if quoting himself, William speaks to the Dutch people about both the revolt and his own, personal struggle: to be faithful to the king, without being unfaithful to his conscience: to serve God and the Dutch people.Both the "Wilhelmus" and the Dutch Revolt should be seen in the light of the 16th century Reformation in Europe and the resulting persecution of Protestants by the Spanish Inquisition in the Low Countries.Militant music proved very useful not only in lampooning Roman clerks and repressive monarchs but also in generating class transcending social cohesion.Though only proclaimed the national anthem in 1932, the "Wilhelmus" already had a centuries-old prior history. last) English warning shot, Tromp fired a full broadside thereby beginning the Battle of Goodwin Sands and the First Anglo-Dutch War.It had been sung on many official occasions and at many important events since the outbreak of the Dutch Revolt in 1568, such as the siege of Haarlem in 1573 and the ceremonial entry of the Prince of Orange into Brussels on 18 September 1578. During the Dutch Golden Age, it was conceived essentially as the anthem of the House of Orange-Nassau and its supporters – which meant, in the politics of the time, the anthem of a specific political faction which was involved in a prolonged struggle with opposing factions (which sometimes became violent, verging on civil war).
Like many of the songs of the period, it has a complex structure, composed around a thematic chiasmus: the text is symmetrical, in that verses one and 15 resemble one another in meaning, as do verses two and 14, three and 13, etc., until they converge in the 8th verse, the heart of the song: "Oh David, thou soughtest shelter from King Saul's tyranny.It has been claimed that during the gruesome torture of Balthasar Gérard (the assassin of William of Orange) in 1584, the song was sung by the guards who sought to overpower Gérard's screams when boiling pigs' fat was poured over him. Therefore, the fortunes of the song paralleled those of the Orangist faction.Trumpets played the "Wilhelmus" when Prince Maurits visited Breda, and again when he was received in state in Amsterdam in May 1618.But most probably it is simply a reference to the broader meaning of the word, which points out William as a ''native'' of the fatherland, as appose to the king of Spain, who was seldom or not in the Netherlands. Another legend claims that following the Navigation Acts (a 1651 ordinance by Oliver Cromwell requiring all foreign fleets in the North Sea or the Channel to dip their flag in salute) the "Wilhelmus" was sung (or rather, shouted) by the sailors on the Dutch flagship Brederode in response to the first warning shot fired by an English fleet under Robert Blake, when their captain Maarten Tromp refused to lower his flag.The prince thus states that his roots are Germanic rather than Romance – in spite of his being Prince of Orange as well. At the end of the song, which coincided with the third (i.e.Dutch composer Adriaen Valerius recorded the current melody of the "Wilhelmus" in his "Nederlantsche Gedenck-clanck" in 1626, slowing down the melody's pace, probably to allow it to be sung in churches.