Willem van der Haegen

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Willem van der Haegen
Guilherme da Silveira
Wilhelm van der hagen.jpg
The coat of arms used by the Silveira Family, descendants of Willem van der Haegen.
Personal details
Born 1430
West Flanders, Burgundian Netherlands
Died 1510
Topo, São Jorge, Azores
Resting place Solar dos Tiagos

Willem van der Haegen (1430 – 1510), transliterated to the Portuguese as Guilherme da Silveira, was a Flemish nobleman, explorer.. Adopting the Portuguese transliteration of his name, Silveira was a pioneer colonizer in Azorean history and his descendants formed part of the original Azorean nobility.

Colonization of the Azores[edit]

As part of his inheritance, King Edward of Portugal bequeathed the islands of the Azores to his brother, the Infante D. Henriques (Henry the Navigator), in 1433. This was subsequently left to Henry's nephew and adopted son, Infante D. Fernando, in addition to Henry's title as Grand Master of the Order of Christ. A grant was made by the Infante to his aunt, D. Isabella of Portugal (Edward and Henry's sister), the Duchess of Burgandy, in the Low Countries. For many of the Flemish who were recuperating from the Hundred Years' War, this grant offered an opportunity of alleviating their suffering.

Van der Haegen, a wealthy entrepreneur, was invited by Josse van Huerter (for four-years Captain-General of the island of Faial) to settle the island with him, in an archipelago that was becoming known as a New Flanders (or the Flemish Islands).[1] Consequently, in 1470, with his wife Margarida da Zambuja and at his own expense, he offloaded two ships carrying his extended family, slaves and professionals of various services, to begin what was characterised as a "second-wave" of immigration to the island (the first having been pioneered by Van Huerter in the 1460s). Van der Haegen, by his virtues and distinguished personality, became popular on the island. But, sensing a level of bad faith on the part of Huerter and a growing rivalry,[2] he abandoned his holdings on Faial, to settle in Quatro Ribeiras, on the island of Terceira. He begins to cultivate wheat and gather woad plants for export (specifically Isatis tinctoria which was also produced in the Picardy and Normandy Regions of France until that time). These plants, along with other species, were essential in the production of many of the dyes popular with mercantile classes. Most islands in the archipelago were populated, and the plants commercialized by the landed gentry for their exportable nature; early settlements were founded on the basis of agricultural and dye-based exports, such as woad. Van der Haegen's colonies were no exception.

On a trip to Lisbon he encounters D. Maria de Vilhena (widow of D. Fernão Teles de Meneses, the Donatary of the islands of Flores and Corvo, then administratively one fiefdom) and his son Rui Teles. After some negotiation, D. Maria would cede the rights to the exploration of the islands to Van der Haegen, in exchange for monthly payments. Around 1478, Willem van der Haegen settles in Ribeira da Cruz, where he built homes, developed agriculture (primarily wheat), collected more woad species for export, and explored for tin, silver or other minerals (under the assumption that the islands were part of the mythic Ilhas Cassterides, the islands of silver and tin). Owing to the island's isolation and difficulties in communication his crops became difficult to export. After several years, he decides to leave the island and return to Terceira. But, his return was brief; after seven years he leaves Quatro Ribeiras and settles in the area of Topo, São Jorge Island, effectively establishing the community with other Flemish citizens. He died there in 1510, and was buried in the chapel-annex of the Solar dos Tiagos, in the villa of Topo, today in ruins.

Marriage and issue[edit]

In 1454 he married Margarida de Zambuja in Bruges, Flanders (at times referred to by Frutuoso as Margarida da Sabuya, others would refer to Margarida da Sabina, Sabuia or Margarethe Sabuio) and would father eight children which would all integrate into the communities of the Central Group of islands:

  • Luzia da Silveira (Bruges, 1464 – Topo, 1548); married André Fernandes Villalobos (1485) in the villa of Topo, São Jorge;
  • João da Silveira (Bruges, 1456 – Terceira, 1481); married Guiomar Borges Abarca on Terceira;
  • Jorge da Silveira (Bruges, 1458 – death unknown);
  • Margarida da Silveira (Bruges, 1460 – Flamengos, c.1529); married to Joss van Aard or Joose van Aertrijcke (1540) in the parish of Flamengos, Faial. Ancestors of the family Silveira Ramos of Portugal, currently headed by Ricardo de Faria Blanc da Silveira Ramos de Camarate Silveira.
  • Ana da Silveira (Bruges, 1466 – Goa, Portuguese India, 1549); married to Tristão Martins Pereira in Goa, India;
  • Maria da Silveira (Bruges, date unknown – Faial, 1545); married to João Pires de Matos (1497) on Faial;
  • Catarina da Silveira (dates unknown); married the Captain-major Jorge Gomes de Ávila (1484) on Graciosa;
  • Francisco da Silveira (Faial, 1499 – Faial, 1595); married to Isabel d'Útra de Macedo (1524) on Faial.


The Flemish surname Haag means forest, which is translated into Portuguese as Silveira. The families with the surname Silveira, generally, descend from the Fleming Willem van der Hagen, although there is a branch of Silveiras on the island of Graciosa that are direct descendants of continental Portuguese families. Van der Hagen by his virtue and personality was able to found settlements that would eventually develop into important communities in the Azores. His descendents, using the adopted name Silveira, would continue his work on the islands and within the Portuguese empire (to a lesser extent). The name Silveira was adopted by Van der Haegen during his life in the Azores, from the literal translation to the Portuguese of the Dutch Haag or Haeg meaning "bush", "forest" or "scrub", which is silveira in the Portuguese. His family lineage is separate from the Silveiras of continental Portugal which also inhabited some settlements in the Azores. Van der Haegen obtained from King John II of Portugal, confirmation of family heraldry (used in Flanders) for his use in the archipelago.



  1. ^ Edgar Prestage, 1933, p.52
  2. ^ Huerter had promised him half the lands, but out of jealousy, he broke his promise under the pretence that the lands had been given away (Henry, R., 1868 The Life of Prince Henry of Portugal, pp.244)


  • Henry, R. (1868). The Life of Prince Henry of Portugal. London, Great Britain: A. Asher & Co. 
  • Prestage, Edgar (1933). The Portuguese Pioneers. London, Great Britain: A. C. & Black Ltd. 

See also[edit]