Wilhelmus Challenge

The Wilhelmus Challenge
Finding the Author of the Dutch National Anthem

The Dutch national anthem, Wilhelmus, dates from the late sixteenth century and is the oldest national anthem in the world. The song stands out by its content. It is not about a country, juxtaposing ‘us’ and ‘we’. Instead it is written in the first person. It voices William of Orange, who invokes a revolt against Spanish rule.

The song is still shrouded in mystery. For centuries, researchers have tried to establish when it was written, if someone commissioned it, and who wrote it. In recent years, debate about its authorship  has resurfaced thanks to computational stylometric research.

A handful of sixteenth-century people have been identified as candidates for the authorship of the Wilhelmus. These include Fruytiers, Houwaert, Coornhert and Marnix of St. Aldegonde. Traditionally, however, Marnix of St. Aldegonde, writer, diplomat and confidant of William of Orange, has taken pride of place on this list.

Recent computational stylometric research has resulted in another suspect: Petrus Datheen, who was added to the test as a control rather than a plausible contender. Datheen, a Calvinist theologian, had never really been considered as the creator of Wilhelmus. His image was hardly that of a skilled poet. Moreover, he fell out with Willem of Orange in 1578.
Map: Datheen’s travels

This stylometric result raises a new and exciting question. Is there, among all the persons who traditionally were not thought of as potential Wilhelmus authors, someone with an even higher stylometric score than Petrus Datheen? Is there someone we have overlooked? And is there a computational method other than stylometry that could help us find the author of Wilhelmus?

These questions are the subject of a public challenge for the Utrecht DH 2019 Conference. We challenge every visitor to join the search for the author of Wilhelmus.

Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to give the most convincing answer to the question:

‘Who is the author of Wilhelmus?’

Two weeks before the start of DH2019, a website will be put online. It will provide you with background information as well as raw data for the challenge. At the start of DH2019 a meeting with the contenders will be held. An award ceremony will be held towards the end of the conference to pronounce the winner of the Wilhelmus Challenge.

Watch this page!
In the weeks before DH2019 additional information will be provided here.

Photo: Anon.
Scan from the original work at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek België (Kon. Bibl. hs. 15662), Public Domain