History of the Military Order of William

In April 1815 there was every reason to create a military order.

The newly formed Kingdom of the Netherlands was under threat from a French advance led by Napoleon, who had just returned from exile. King Willem I needed a royal decoration for bravery to reward acts of courage in the forthcoming hostilities. So the Military Order of William came into being within a very short time. It was founded as an order of merit that had no connection to noble birth and was open to all ranks.

The battle of Waterloo

The Military Order of William was awarded for the first time during the campaign against Napoleon in 1815, including the battles of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo. The first to receive an honour – becoming Knight Grand Cross of the Order – was hereditary prince Willem Frederik George Lodewijk of Orange-Nassau. Over a thousand people in total were decorated as a result of the 1815 campaign.

Since the foundation of the Order, it has been conferred over 6,000 times. After the 1815 campaign, the Order was mainly awarded in connection with the following:

  • the Belgian Revolution of 1830
  • the entire post-1815 period in the Dutch East Indies
  • the Second World War

Civilians too

The Military Order of William was originally intended solely for military personnel, but it has sometimes been conferred on civilians. This option has been enshrined in law since 1940.