If you tune in to any sporting event ever, you should easily be able to spot the Dutch competitors and the Dutch fans in the crowds – in amongst all the blues, reds, and whites, the bright orange of the Netherlands is extremely hard to miss. The country also celebrates oranje every year on King’s Day, and any festive snacks that you’ll find in supermarkets or at Hema are, of course, orange.
The Dutch are known for a handful of things around the world – tulips, cheese, cycling, et cetera – but the nation’s love for the colour orange can most definitely be added to this list. This obsession isn’t completely random; the country’s royal family belongs to the House of Orange-Nassau. But with this key link to the colour, why doesn’t the country just go the whole hog and have an orange flag? To answer this question, we have to go way back to the 16th century.
The Netherlands and its love of orangeOrange has been a popular colour among Dutchies since the late 16th century when Willem I, Prince of Orange, led the Dutch independence movement against the Spanish. Hailing from the province of Orange in southern France, William I adopted the colours of his ancestral coat of arms – blue, white, and orange – and independence fighters wore orange uniforms to distinguish themselves.
Up until that point, the colours red, white, and blue were already widely associated with the Netherlands. But, unsurprisingly, Willem I’s influence and the country’s newfound obsession with the colour orange led to the creation of a new flag: orange, white, and blue stripes.
When the Dutch flag was orangeThe first printed version of this new orange flag hails from 1575, and, from 1577, the Dutch flag at sea was orange, not red. But this version was never officially adopted by the country.
Interestingly, in the 20th century, many right-wing nationalists in the Netherlands once again adopted the prinsenvlag (prince’s flag) as their own, labelling it as the country’s “authentic flag.” This trend didn’t catch on though.
The official Dutch flag: red, white, and blueSome republicans never switched over to the new flag and, by 1660, the orange had been almost completely phased out and was instead fully replaced with red, creating the Dutch flag that everyone knows today – the statenvlag (state’s flag).
But why was the orange phased out? There are a couple of theories. Firstly, the repercussions of the English civil war in the second half of the 17th century could also have been felt in the Netherlands. The colour orange was regularly associated with the Stuarts, who were deposed in the 1640s.
Another more plausible theory is that the death of Willem van Oranje II in 1650 – and the subsequent political uncertainties – led to the gradual death of the colour orange. Without an Oranje occupying the position of stadtholder (i.e. the national leader), republicans in the Netherlands could replace the prinsenvlag with the statenvlag, banning the orange flag in 1652.
100 years later, the statenvlag was adopted as the official national flag after the French Revolution, when the colours of red, white and blue were hailed as being the colours of liberty. Since the 18th century, the Dutch flag has remained unchanged, and countries around the world have followed the Netherlands’ lead, claiming red, white, and blue for their own flags.
Long live oranjeAll this history and the death of the prinsenvlag didn’t kill the Netherlands’ genuine obsession with orange. It might not be the most flattering colour, but it is certainly eye-catching, and serves to add another interesting layer to the country’s national identity!