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  • Writer's pictureHans Faber

A Dutch king once yelled: “Je suis Frison, et je suis plus têtu que vous!”

In our recent blog post Barbarians riding to the capital to claim rights on farmland, we told the famous story of the two Frisian kings who travelled to Rome 2,000 years ago, to get a meeting with the Emperor. In this post the tables have turned. This time, almost two centuries ago, a delegate from Rome travels to the barbarians in the north. To have talks with their king in The Hague. “Je suis Frison, et je suis têtu que vous!” (‘I am Frisian, and I am more stubborn than you’) was a threat made by king Willem I (1772-1843) of the Netherlands, foaming at the mouth, against the envoy of the Pope during tough negotiations in the summer of 1830. But what triggered Willem’s unsafe behaviour?

With the bourgeois revolution against the Kingdom of Spain that started in 1568, the northern Netherlands -eventually- succeeded to gain independence. It was the start of the rise of the Dutch Republic. The revolution had great consequences for the Catholic religion in the Netherlands. Protestantism became the only official state religion. Mass and processions were forbidden, and dioceses abolished. Abbeys, monasteries and churches were confiscated, demolished, sold, or turned into protestant churches. Especially during the first period of the Republic, Catholics were suppressed and persecuted. Only later, practising the Catholic faith became possible, as long as it was not practised openly. Of course, al this did the international relations with the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican not much good. The Pope even declared the Republic a mission area since its people had returned to heathendom; the so-called Hollandse Zending ‘Holland Mission’.

Centuries passed. The once mighty Dutch Republic was incorporated into France, only to regain its independence after Napoleon's army was defeated in 1813. William Frederik, a descendent of the House of Oranje-Nassau who lived in England, was brought over to the Netherlands to become king. On November 30, 1813, he landed on the North Sea beach of the fishing village of Scheveningen near The Hague. At instigation of the powerful states of Europe, Belgium was merged with the young Dutch kingdom a year later, in order to create a stronger buffer with France. Willem Frederik, barely a year sovereign of the northern Netherlands, was officially accepted as king of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815, and named King Willem I. In 1830, a revolution started whereby Belgium left the kingdom. From then on, Willem I was (again) King of the Kingdom of the Netherlands as we more or less know it today, the colonial territories aside.

The Roman Catholic Church tried to improve its position in the Kingdom of Netherlands. In 1827, the Pope and King Willem I had signed the so-called Concordat to restore the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, which included the restoration of dioceses and churches, and the naming of bishops and canons. However, the Concordat was not implemented by the Netherlands.

In 1830, the Roman Catholic Church made a serious effort to make progress with the implementation of the Concordat. For this, the Pope sent one of his top diplomats to King Willem I from Rome to The Hague. This was Cardinal Francesco Capaccini (1785-1845). Cardinal Capaccini had also taken part in the negotiations on the Concordat three years earlier. On June 3, 1830, Pope’s envoy Capaccini was received by the King. The talks between the two men must have taken several hours.

Cardinal Francesco Capaccini (l) and King Willem I (r)

The central issue was the agreatie ‘approval’ of the canons (kanunniks in Dutch) named by the bishop. Without agreatie, the appointment of a canon would not be valid. King Willem I demanded to have the right of agreatie because it would give him influence in the governance of the churches, and thus limit the power of the future bishops. Furthermore, Willem I headed the Dutch Reformed Church, and therefore refused to compromise his influence on the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. For Capaccini this was unacceptable.

After a long plea of one-and-a-half hour by Cardinal Capaccini, King Willem I said that the Pope was false and not grateful considering everything he had done for the Pope and the Church. King Willem I also said that if Capaccini would not accept his conditions, he would travel to Rome personally and ask the Pope. Capaccini, who had lost his patient already, replied that he personally would beg and advice the Pope never ever to agree. This made King Willem I so angry that his mouth started foaming. Escalating further, the cardinal added he would rather have himself hanged than to betray the interests of the Church and the Pope. King Willem I replied with:

Monsieur, si vous êtes obstiné, je suis Frison, et je suis plus têtu que vous.”

‘Sir, if you are stubborn, I am Frisian, and I am more stubborn than you’

Capaccini sharply replied with: “Je le sais bien, Sire, mais ici il ne s’agit pas d’obstination, il s’agit de droit et de raison” (‘I know very well, Sire, but this is not about stubbornness, it is about what is right and about reason’).

The heated discussion continued for a while until king Willem I finally calmed down. He asked Capaccini to find a middle way. But the envoy of the Pope was exhausted and started sweating, also because he had been ill no long before. King Willem I noticed his condition and urged Capaccini to take some rest and water. Not long after, the meeting ended.

A month later, on August 25, the revolution of the Belgians started that would lead to the separation between Belgium and the Netherlands. It demanded all the King’s attention and no progress was made concerning the Concordat. Although the army of Willem I was getting the upper hand, Willem I was forced to retreat from Belgian territory under international pressure already in 1831. Nevertheless, Willem I stubbornly kept his army mobilized at the border for years. Waiting for an opportunity to attack again. It never came. Only in 1839 he demobilized the army.

Now that Catholic Belgium had been split off and became a separate country, the Kingdom of the Netherlands had become predominantly Protestant. Hence, probably even less reason for the King to restore the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. With the new Dutch constitution of 1848, however, all restrictions for Catholics and the Roman Catholic Church were lifted. Four years later, the (arch-) dioceses were restored by the Pope. Almost three centuries years after they had been abolished by the Dutch Republic.

Interestingly, the Netherlands knows a long-standing tradition of more than three centuries of not accepting to growing power of the Pope within the Catholic belief: the so-called Old Catholic Church. These Catholics do not acknowledge the Pope and the Curia. Instead, the Pope is not much more than the bishop of Rome. 'Old' refers to the original Catholic Church where the bishops together govern the church.

More Frisian pride and stubbornness

King Willem I was confronted with stubborn Frisians himself too. When the king wanted to raise Jonker 'squire' Æbinga van Humalda to count, he refused with the words: "Thank you, Sire, but my Frisian squirearchy outweighs your earldom." The same happened with Jonker Van Eysinga. This stance goes back to the legendary Frisian freedom privileges, according to which Frisians were not to accept any worldly lord other than the Holy Roman Emperor (Dykstra 1895).

Frisian Roots of Dutch Royals

Willem of Oranje, or William of Orange, led the uprise against Spain in the sixteenth century, and is regarded the father of the Dutch nation. During the period of the Dutch Republic, members of the House of Oranje fulfilled the influential and hereditary office of stadtholder. Of origin, when the Netherlands were still part of the Kingdom of Spain, stadtholders were the replacement of the dukes or counts in several provinces. Province Friesland always had its own stadtholder during the period of the Republic, whilst the provinces of Holland and Zeeland and Utrecht had times without having one. The first stadtholder of province Friesland was Willem Lodewijk of Nassau-Dillenburg (1560-1620). In his lifetime he received the familiar Frisian nickname Ús Heit ‘our father’, and was a cousin of Willem of Oranje.

In the year 1702, the last stadtholder of the provinces Holland and Zeeland dies, Willem III (1650-1702), without having an offspring. For a while, no stadtholder was appointed in the provinces of Holland and Zeeland, until 1747 when both States decided to install a stadtholder again. The States of Holland approached Willem Karel Hendrik Friso of Oranje-Nassau (1711-1751) for the office which he, of course, accepted. Willem IV, as he was titled, was already Stadtholder of Friesland, Groningen, Gelre and Drenthe. From 1747 onward, he thus became Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht and Overijssel too. In other words, of all the Netherlands. Therefore, Willem IV was the first Stadtholder of the United Netherlands. His son Willem V (1751-1795) succeeded him as Stadtholder of the United Netherlands.

We should not forget to note that both stadtholders Willem IV and Willem V were minors when they succeeded their fathers. It was Maria Louise van Hessen-Kassel, mother of Willem IV and grandmother of Willem V, who was appointed as Regent twice. Her also familiar Frisian nickname was Maaike or Marijke Meu ‘Aunt Mary’. So, instead of focussing on the founding father, why not on the founding mother too?

stadtholder Ús Heit and regent Marijke Meu

Back to the the year Stadtholder Willem V died in 1795. That same year the Dutch Republic came to an end and was incorporated into France which lasted until 1813. Two years later, as said earlier, Willem I was crowned King of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. King Willem I is the son of the Frisian Stadtholder Willem V and a direct descendent of Stadtholder Willem Lodewijk alias Ús Heit. A stubborn Frisian, therefore.


Note 1 - In the Vatican you can find the Church of the Frisians. It literally a stone's throw from the Saint Peter's Basilica. Read its thousand-years-old history in our blog post Magnus’ Choice. The Origins of the Frisian Freedom.

Note 2 - Besides Ús Heit 'our father' there is also a Ús Mem 'our mother'. This, however, is not a person but a bronze statue of a cow of the then famous Friesian Holland breed made in 1954. It stands in the city of Leeuwarden and originally stood before the office of the Fries Rundvee-Stamboek (FRS) 'Friesian cattle herd-book'. For more about the Friesian cow, read our post Golden Calves, or bursting udders on bony legs.

Note 3 - Special thanks to A. de Haan for tipping us about this quote and behaviour of King Willem I and for reviewing this blog post.

Note 4 - Featured image: the arrival of King Willem I from England on the beach of Scheveningen on November 30, 1813 by J.H. Isings.

Suggested music

Marvin Gaye, Stubborn Kind of Fellow (1962)

Further reading

Blokker, J., Blokker jr, J. & Blokker, B., Het vooroudergevoel. De vaderlandse geschiedenis. Met schoolplaten van J.H. Isings (2005)

Dijksterhuis, E., Friese voorvaderen van de Oranjes belicht (2003)

Dykstra, W., Uit Friesland's volksleven van vroeger en later (1895)

Grashuis, G.J., Herleving van dooden (1903)

IsGeschiedenis, 200 jaar Koninkrijk Nederland (website)

Looper, B., Hoe Fries waren de Friese Nassaus? Friese stadhouders en Friese identiteit (2023)

Molhuysen, P.C., Blok, P.J. & Kossmann, K.H. (eds.), Nieuw Nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek (1974)

Sanders, L., Leeuwarden: bakermat Nederlands koningshuis (2011)


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