1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Stadtholder
STADTHOLDER (Du. stadhouder, a delegate or representative), the title of the chief magistrate of the seven states which formed the United Netherlands by the union of Utrecht in 1579. Though the word stad means a town, it has also the force of the kindred English “stead.” A stadhouder was not the governor of a “stad” or “stead” in the sense of a place or town. He was in the place, or stead, of the sovereign. The word is translated into Latin by legatus, gubernator and praefectus. The office of stadtholder is a proconsulatus, and the High German equivalent is Statthalter, a delegate. When the northern Netherlands revolted from Philip II. of Spain, who had inherited his sovereign rights from the house of Burgundy (see Netherlands: History), the stadhouder passed from being the representative of an absent sovereign prince and became the chief magistrate of the states in whom the sovereignty resided. Six of the seven states forming the confederation of the United Netherlands took as their stadtholder William of Orange-Nassau, called “the Silent,” and his descendants during three generations. The seventh, Friesland, had for stadtholder William’s brother, John “the Old,” and his descendants. The younger line became stadtholders of the other states after the extinction of the elder, and were the ancestors of the present royal family of the Netherlands. Though the stadtholders of the house of Orange-Nassau were of princely rank and intermarried with the royal families of Europe, they were not sovereign princes. They exercised large administrative powers, and commanded the land and sea forces, but it was with delegated authority given them by each state in domestic affairs, and by the states-general of the confederation in all common and foreign affairs. The states-general and some of the individual states not only claimed but exercised the right of suspending the stadtholdership, as for instance after the death of William II., 1650, and of William III., 1702.