William Nassau de Zuylestein, 1st Earl of Rochford

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William Hendrik of Nassau, Lord of Zuylestein, 1st Earl of Rochford (1649 – 12 July 1708) was a Dutch soldier and diplomat in the service of his cousin William III of England. During the reign of James II of England he travelled to England to liaise with William's English supporters, and played an important part in the preparations of the Glorious Revolution.[1]

Early life[edit]

He was born at Zuylestein Castle (also spelled Zuylenstein), about twenty miles east of the city of Utrecht. He was the eldest son of Frederick Nassau de Zuylestein, the illegitimate but oldest son of William III's grandfather Prince Frederick Henry and was therefore a half-cousin of William III. His mother was Mary Killigrew, the eldest daughter of Sir William Killigrew. She was a first cousin of Charles II's illegitimate daughter, the Countess of Yarmouth. She moved to the Netherlands in February 1644, aged barely seventeen, as a maid of honour to Mary, princess royal of England and princess of Orange, and married Frederick in 1648. With the death of his father in 1672, he inherited the Zuylestein Castle and its lands, by which he became known as Lord of Zuylestein (in Dutch: Heer van Zuylestein).

Early career[edit]

William Henry entered the Dutch cavalry in 1672, but was better known at The Hague for his gallantry and his good looks, and as a companion of the prince. He was trusted by William, and acquitted himself well on a mission of observation to England in August 1687, the nominal purpose being to condole with the queen-consort upon the death of her mother, the Dowager Duchess Laura of Modena.

Glorious Revolution[edit]

He was again named envoy in the summer of the following year. His avowed purpose was now to felicitate the Queen Consort, Mary of Modena, on the birth of a prince; his real object to inform himself about the nation and to gauge the probability of James II's summoning a parliament and adopting a more conciliatory policy. He was received by the queen at St. James's on 28 June 1688, and the cordiality of his messages inspired the Queen to write a letter of playful affection to her ‘dear lemon’ (the Princess of Orange); but he wrote at once an account of the sceptical manner in which the birth was received in London, and intrigued with all the prominent malcontents. Clarendon records a number of his movements during July.

He returned with Sidney to The Hague early in August, taking with him letters to William from Nottingham, Churchill, Herbert, Bishop Henry Compton, Sunderland, and others. On his return he was promoted a major-general in the Dutch army. On 16 October he embarked on the same ship as William at Helvoetsluys. On 15 December he was sent by William from Windsor with a message urging James to stay at Rochester and not on any account return to London. He found on his arrival that James had already returned to Whitehall, and Zuylestein promptly followed him. In response to William's blunt message, James expressed a hope that the prince might be induced to meet him at Whitehall. Zuylestein was ready with an uncompromising answer to the effect that the prince would not enter London while any royal troops remained in it. This had the desired effect of scaring James from the palace.

Military career[edit]

Zuylestein was naturalised in England on 11 May 1689, and was appointed master of the robes to the king on 23 May, holding the post down to 1695. His regiment was retained for service in the north of England; in May 1691 it was at Durham. He accompanied William to Ireland, but in August 1690 left the campaign there on a mission to Whitehall. On 12 September 1690 he was promoted a lieutenant-general in the English army. In January 1691 he accompanied William to Holland. In July 1693, in the sanguinary battle of Neerwinden, after distinguishing himself, Zuylestein was slightly wounded and taken to Namur; he was exchanged and returned to the camp on 8 August. In November 1693 his regiment was again ordered to Flanders.

On 10 May 1695, Zuylestein was created Earl of Rochford, together with the subsidiary titles Baron Enfield and Viscount Tunbridge, and received a grant of part of the estates of William Herbert, 1st Marquess of Powis. He took his seat on 20 February 1696. On 25 December 1695, he received a pension of £1,000 per annum. He also received grants of land in Ireland amounting to 30,512 acres.

Later life[edit]

His later years were passed in comparative seclusion for the most part in the Dutch Republic, where William visited him in 1697, and he died at his estate of Zuylenstein in the province of Utrecht in January 1709. He had married, on 25 January 1681, Jane, daughter of Sir Henry Wroth of Durrants, Enfield, and of Loughton House in Essex. She went over as maid of honour to Mary, princess of Orange. Zuylestein seduced her, and then refused the promised marriage, being strongly encouraged in this course of conduct by William. Thomas Ken, on behalf of Mary, worked on the count to marry the lady, and performed the ceremony secretly in Mary's chapel while the prince was absent hunting. William was angry, and Ken had temporarily to withdraw from The Hague.

William Nassau de Zuylestein was succeeded by his son William Nassau de Zuylestein, 2nd Earl of Rochford; another son was Frederick Nassau de Zuylestein, 3rd Earl of Rochford


William and his heirs used the arms below, inherited from his father.

Peerage of England
Preceded by
New creation
Earl of Rochford
Succeeded by
William Nassau de Zuylestein


  1. ^ Hugh Dunthorne, ‘Nassau van Zuylestein, William Frederick van, first earl of Rochford (1649–1708)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2007, accessed 2 Dec 2009.
  2. ^ Rietstap, Johannes Baptist (1861). Armorial général, contenant la description des armoiries des familles nobles et patriciennes de l'Europe: précédé d'un dictionnaire des termes du blason. G.B. van Goor. p. 746.



 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1900). "Zuylestein, William Henry (1645-1709)". Dictionary of National Biography. 63. London: Smith, Elder & Co.