Whose song is the Wilhelmus?

The author of the Dutch anthem investigated by a computer

In the spring of 2016, a group of researchers from Antwerp, Amsterdam and Utrecht made the news with the hypothesis that the Wilhelmus has been written by psalmist Petrus Datheen. That hypothesis came as a surprise, even to the researchers. They only added Datheen's psalms to their research corpus as control content to test the attribution to known author candidates. In Whose song is the Wilhelmus?, this hypothesis is explained and substantiated. The publication will appear in the New Year's Publication Series of the Meertens Institute in January 2017 by Amsterdam University Press. From Utrecht University, Prof Dr Els Stronks, a Professor of Early Modern Studies, co-wrote this publication.


After adding more author candidates to the research corpus and refining the analyses, the results are even more convincing: according to the computer, it is more probable that the Wilhelmus was written by Datheen than by the favourite candidate Marnix van Sint-Aldegonde.

Kestemont, Stronks, De Bruin and De Winkel also looked at the question of why over the course of Dutch history, it was considered important who wrote the Wilhelmus. Analyses of digitised newspapers show that Marnix was more and more often mentioned as the author of the Wilhelmus over the course of the 19th century to make the point that Hendrik Tollens – who made the then anthem Wien Neerlands bloed – was insufficient as a poet.

Willem van Oranje, het onderwerp van het Wilhelmus.
Willem van Oranje, the subject of the Wilhelmus.

Improbable candidate

If we assume that Datheen is the author of the Wilhelmus, the history of the attributions takes a surprising turn. Datheen was never mentioned as the author of the Wilhelmus before because he can be considered the most improbable candidate: he is the author of what many consider to be poorly written psalms and once lashed out at Willem van Oranje, the hero of the Wilhelmus. Whose song is the Wilhelmus? shows that it is still possible that this Flemish poet, who was on the run from the Spanish Catholics at the time, wrote the current Dutch anthem to the melody of a French song in Germany.

Prof. dr. Els Stonks. Foto: Jos Uljee, KB
Professor Dr Els Stronks. Photo by: Jos Uljee, KB.

New year's publication Meertens Institute

The Meertens Institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences publishes a ‘new year's booklet’ every year, in which it reports on Meertens research for a broader audience. Whose song is the Wilhelmus? was written by Mike Kestemont (University of Antwerp), Els Stronks (Utrecht University), Martine de Bruin (Meertens Institute) and Tim de Winkel (an alumnus of Utrecht University). It is based on the first Louis Peter Grijp lecture. The lecture and the booklet are dedicated to the late song researcher Louis Peter Grijp, who died on 9 January 2016.

  • Title: Van wie is het Wilhelmus? De auteur van het Nederlandse volkslied met de computer onderzocht
  • Authors: Mike Kestemont, Els Stronks, Martine de Bruin and Tim de Winkel
  • Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
  • ISBN: 978 94 6298 512 4 (paperback), 978 90 4853 614 6 (E-book)

Louis Peter Grijp lecture 10 May 2016 (in Dutch)

The first Louis Peter Grijp lecture was held on 10 May 2016 by Mike Kestemont, and was about computational methods with which the authorship of the Wilhelmus might be determined.