William III or William of Orange (14 November 1650 – 8 March 1702) was the Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of the main provinces of the Dutch Republic from 1672 onwards, and King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1689. Born a member of the House of Orange-Nassau, William III won the English, Scottish and Irish crowns following the Glorious Revolution, in which his uncle and father-in-law, James II, was deposed. In England, Scotland and Ireland, William ruled jointly with his wife, Mary II, until her death on 28 December 1694. He reigned as 'William II' in Scotland, and 'William III' in England and Ireland. He is informally known in Northern Ireland and Scotland as "King Billy".
A Protestant, William participated in several wars against the powerful Catholic King Louis XIV of France in coalition with Protestant and Catholic powers in Europe. Many Protestants heralded him as a champion of their faith. Largely due to that reputation, William was able to take the British crowns where many were fearful of a revival of Catholicism under James. William's victory over James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 is commemorated by the Orange Institution in Northern Ireland to this day. His reign marked the beginning of the transition from the personal rule of the Stuarts to the more Parliament-centered rule of the House of Hanover.
From early 1659, William spent seven years at the University of Leiden for a formal education—though never officially enrolling as a student—under the guidance of ethics professor Hendrik Bornius. While residing in the Prinsenhof at Delft, William had a small personal retinue including Hans Willem Bentinck, and a new governor: Frederick Nassau de Zuylestein, the illegitimate son of stadtholder Frederick Henry of Orange. He was taught French until after the death of his mother by Samuel Chappuzeau, who was dismissed by William's grandmother early in 1661.
On 25 September 1660 the States of Holland resolved to take charge of William's education to ensure he would acquire the skills necessary to serve in an as yet undetermined future state function. This first involvement of the authorities would not last long, however. On 23 December 1660, when William was just ten years old, his mother died of smallpox at Whitehall Palace, London while visiting her brother King Charles II. In her will, Mary requested that Charles look after William's interests, and the English King now demanded the States of Holland end their interference. To appease Charles, they complied on 30 September 1661. In 1661, Zuylenstein began to work for Charles, and induced William to write letters to the English king asking his uncle to interfere on his behalf to improve his prospects on the stadtholderate. After his mother's death, William's education and guardianship became a point of contention between his dynasty's supporters and the advocates of a more republican Netherlands.
The Dutch authorities did their best at first to ignore these intrigues, but in the Second Anglo-Dutch War one of Charles's peace conditions was the improvement of the position of his nephew. As a countermeasure in 1666, when William was sixteen, the States of Holland officially made him a ward of the government, or a "Child of State". All pro-English courtiers, including Zuylenstein, were removed from William's company. William begged Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt to allow Zuylenstein to stay, but he refused. De Witt, the leading politician of the Republic, took William's education into his own hands, instructing him weekly in state matters—and joining him in a regular game of real tennis.
In 1667, as William III approached the age of eighteen, the Orangist party again attempted to bring him to power by securing for him the offices of stadtholder and Captain-General. To prevent the restoration of the influence of the House of Orange, De Witt allowed the pensionary of Haarlem, Gaspar Fagel, to induce the States of Holland to issue the Perpetual Edict (1667). The Edict declared that the Captain-General or Admiral-General of the Netherlands could not serve as stadtholder in any province. Even so, William's supporters sought ways to enhance his prestige, and on 19 September 1668, the States of Zealand received him as First Noble. To receive this honour, William had to escape the attention of his state tutors and travel secretly to Middelburg. A month later, Amalia allowed William to manage his own household and declared him to be of majority age.
The province of Holland, the center of anti-Orangism, abolished the office of stadtholder and four other provinces followed suit in March 1670, establishing the so-called "Harmony". De Witt demanded an oath from each Holland regent (city council member) to uphold the Edict; all but one complied. William saw all this as a defeat, but in fact this arrangement was a compromise: De Witt would have preferred to ignore the prince completely, but now his eventual rise to the office of supreme army commander was implicit. De Witt further conceded that William would be admitted as a member of the Raad van State, the Council of State, then the generality organ administering the defence budget. William was introduced to the council on 31 May 1670 with full voting powers, despite De Witt's attempts to limit his role to that of an advisor.
The following year, the Republic's security deteriorated quickly as an Anglo-French attack became imminent. In view of the threat, the States of Gelderland wanted William to be appointed Captain-General as soon as possible, despite his youth and inexperience. On 15 December 1671 the States of Utrecht made this their official policy. On 19 January 1672 the States of Holland made a counterproposal: to appoint William for just a single campaign. The prince refused this and on 25 February a compromise was reached: an appointment by the States-General of the Netherlands for one summer, followed by a permanent appointment on his twenty-second birthday. Meanwhile, William had written a secret letter to Charles in January 1672 asking his uncle to exploit the situation by exerting pressure on the States-General to appoint William stadtholder. In return, William would ally the Republic with England and serve Charles's interests as much as his "honour and the loyalty due to this state" allowed. Charles took no action on the proposal, and continued his war plans with his French ally.
For the Dutch Republic 1672 proved calamitous, becoming known as the "disaster year" (Dutch: rampjaar) due to the Franco-Dutch War and the Third Anglo-Dutch War in which the Netherlands were invaded by France under Louis XIV, England, Münster, and Cologne. Although the Anglo-French fleet was disabled by the Battle of Solebay, in June the French army quickly overran the provinces of Gelderland and Utrecht. William on 14 June withdrew with the remnants of his field army into Holland, where the States had ordered the flooding of the Dutch Water Line on 8 June. Louis XIV, believing the war was over, began negotiations to extract as large a sum of money from the Dutch as possible. The presence of a large French army in the heart of the Republic caused a general panic, and the people turned against de Witt and his allies.
On 4 July the States of Holland appointed William stadtholder, and he took the oath five days later. The next day, a special envoy from Charles, Lord Arlington, met with William in Nieuwerbrug. He offered to make William Sovereign Prince of Holland in exchange for his capitulation—whereas a stadtholder was a mere civil servant. When William refused, Arlington threatened that William would witness the end of the republic's existence. William made his famous answer: "There is one way to avoid this: to die defending it in the last ditch". On 7 July, the inundations were complete and the further advance of the French army was effectively blocked. On 16 July Zealand offered the stadtholderate to William.
Johan de Witt had been unable to function as Grand Pensionary after having been wounded by an attempt on his life on 21 June. On 15 August William published a letter from Charles, in which the English King stated that he had made war because of the aggression of the de Witt faction. The people thus incited, de Witt and his brother, Cornelis, were murdered by an Orangist civil militia in The Hague on 20 August. After this William replaced many of the Dutch regents with his followers.
Though William's complicity in the lynching has never been proven (and some 19th century Dutch historians have made an effort to disprove that he was an accessory before the fact) he thwarted attempts to prosecute the ringleaders, and even rewarded some with money, and others with high offices, like Johan van Banchem and Johan Kievit. This damaged his reputation in the same fashion as his later actions at Glencoe.
William III continued to fight against the invaders from England and France, allying himself with Spain and Brandenburg. In November 1672 he took his army to Maastricht to threaten the French supply lines. By 1673, the situation further improved. Although Louis took Maastricht and William's attack against Charleroi failed, Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter defeated the Anglo-French fleet three times, forcing Charles to end England's involvement by the Treaty of Westminster; after 1673, France slowly withdrew from Dutch territory (with the exception of Maastricht), while making gains elsewhere.
Fagel now proposed to treat the liberated provinces of Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel as conquered territory (Generality Lands), as punishment for their quick surrender to the enemy. William refused but obtained a special mandate from the States-General to newly appoint all delegates in the States of these provinces. William's followers in the States of Utrecht on 26 April 1674 appointed him hereditary stadtholder. The States of Gelderland on 30 January 1675 offered the titles of Duke of Guelders and Count of Zutphen. The negative reactions to this from Zealand and the city of Amsterdam, where the stock market collapsed, made William ultimately decide to decline these honours; he was instead appointed stadtholder of Gelderland and Overijssel.
In the midst of war with France, William sought to improve his diplomatic position by a marriage to his cousin, Mary Stuart, the daughter of James, Duke of York and eleven years his junior. Although he anticipated resistance to a Stuart match from the Amsterdam merchants who had disliked his mother (another Mary Stuart), William believed that marrying Mary would increase his chances of succeeding to Charles's kingdoms, and would draw England's monarch away from his pro-French policies. James was not inclined to consent, but Charles pressured his brother to go along. Charles wanted to use the possibility of marriage to gain leverage in negotiations relating to the war, but William insisted that the two issues be decided separately. Charles relented, and Bishop Henry Compton married the couple on 4 November 1677. Mary became pregnant soon after the marriage, but miscarried. After a further illness later in 1678, she never conceived again.
Throughout William and Mary's marriage, William had only one acknowledged mistress, Elizabeth Villiers, in contrast to the many mistresses his uncles openly kept.
Bentinck's closeness to William aroused jealousies, but some modern historians doubt that there was a homosexual element about their relationship. The same could not be said for Keppel, who was 20 years William's junior and strikingly handsome, and had risen from being a royal page to an earldom with suspicious ease. Portland wrote to William in 1697 that 'the kindness which your Majesty has for a young man, and the way in which you seem to authorise his liberties ... make the world say things I am ashamed to hear'. This, he said, was 'tarnishing a reputation which has never before been subject to such accusations'. William replied, saying, 'It seems to me very extraordinary that it should be impossible to have esteem and regard for a young man without it being criminal'.
By 1678, Louis sought peace with the Dutch Republic. Even so, tensions remained: William remained very suspicious of Louis, thinking the French king desired "Universal Kingship" over Europe; Louis described William as "my mortal enemy" and saw him as an obnoxious warmonger. France's small annexations in Germany (the Réunion policy) and the recalling of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, caused a surge of Huguenot refugees to the Republic. This led William III to join various anti-French alliances, such as the Association League, and ultimately the League of Augsburg (an anti-French coalition that also included the Holy Roman Empire, Sweden, Spain and several German states) in 1686.
After his marriage, William became a possible candidate for the English throne if his father-in-law (and uncle) James would be excluded because of his Catholicism. During the crisis concerning the Exclusion Bill in 1680, Charles at first invited William to come to England to bolster the king's position against the exclusionists, then withdrew his invitation—after which Lord Sunderland also tried unsuccessfully to bring William over but now to put pressure on Charles. Nevertheless, William secretly induced the States-General to send the Insinuation to Charles, beseeching the king to prevent any Catholics from succeeding him, without explicitly naming James. After receiving indignant reactions from Charles and James, William denied any involvement.
In 1685, when James II succeeded Charles, William at first attempted a conciliatory approach, whilst at the same time trying not to offend the Protestants in England. William hoped James would join the League of Augsburg, but by 1687 it became clear that James would not join the anti-French alliance. Relations worsened between William and James thereafter. In November, James's wife Mary of Modena was announced to be pregnant. That month, to gain the favour of English Protestants, William wrote open letter to the English people in which he disapproved of James's religious policies. Seeing him as a friend, and often having maintained secret contacts with him for years, many English politicians began to negotiate an armed invasion of England.
William at first opposed the prospect of invasion, but most historians now agree that he began to assemble an expeditionary force in April 1688, as it became increasingly clear that France would remain occupied by campaigns in Germany and Italy, and thus unable to mount an attack while William's troops would be occupied in Britain. Believing that the English people would not react well to a foreign invader, he demanded in a letter to Rear-Admiral Arthur Herbert that the most eminent English Protestants first invite him to invade. In June, James's wife, Mary of Modena, bore a son (James Francis Edward Stuart), who displaced William's wife to become first in the line of succession. Public anger also increased due to the trial of seven bishops who had publicly opposed James's religious policies and had petitioned him to reform them.
On 30 June 1688—the same day the bishops were acquitted—a group of political figures known afterward as the "Immortal Seven", sent William a formal invitation. William's intentions to invade were public knowledge by September 1688. With a Dutch army, William landed at Brixham in southwest England on 5 November 1688. He came ashore from the ship Brill, proclaiming "the liberties of England and the Protestant religion I will maintain". William had come ashore with approximately 11,000 foot and 4,000 horse soldiers. James's support began to dissolve almost immediately upon William's arrival; Protestant officers defected from the English army (the most notable of whom was Lord Churchill of Eyemouth, James's most able commander), and influential noblemen across the country declared their support for the invader.
James at first attempted to resist William, but saw that his efforts would prove futile. He sent representatives to negotiate with William, but secretly attempted to flee on 11 December. A group of fishermen caught him and brought him back to London. He successfully escaped in a second attempt on 23 December. William permitted James to leave the country, not wanting to make him a martyr for the Roman Catholic cause.
In 1689, William summoned a Convention Parliament to discuss the appropriate course of action following James's flight. William felt insecure about his position; though only his wife was formally eligible to assume the throne, he wished to reign as King in his own right, rather than as a mere consort. The only precedent for a joint monarchy in England dated from the sixteenth century, when Queen Mary I married the Spanish Prince Philip. Philip remained King only during his wife's lifetime, and restrictions were placed on his power. William, on the other hand, demanded that he remain as King even after his wife's death. Although the majority of Tory Lords proposed to acclaim her as sole ruler, Mary, remaining loyal to her husband, refused.
On 13 February 1689, Parliament passed the Declaration of Right, in which it deemed that James, by attempting to flee, had abdicated the government of the realm, thereby leaving the Throne vacant. The Crown was not offered to James's eldest son, James Francis Edward (who would have been the heir-apparent under normal circumstances), but to William and Mary as joint Sovereigns. It was, however, provided that "the sole and full exercise of the regal power be only in and executed by the said Prince of Orange in the names of the said Prince and Princess during their joint lives".
William and Mary were crowned together at Westminster Abbey on 11 April 1689 by the Bishop of London, Henry Compton. Normally, the coronation is performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but the Archbishop at the time, William Sancroft, refused to recognise James's removal. On the day of the coronation, the Convention of the Estates of Scotland—which was much more divided than the English Parliament—finally declared that James was no longer King of Scots. William and Mary were offered the Scottish Crown; they accepted on 11 May.
William III of England encouraged the passage of the Act of Toleration (1689), which guaranteed religious toleration to certain Protestant nonconformists. It did not, however, extend toleration as far as William wished, still restricting the religious liberty of Roman Catholics, non-trinitarians, or those of non-Christian faiths. In December 1689, one of the most important constitutional documents in English history, the Bill of Rights, was passed. The Act—which restated and confirmed many provisions of the earlier Declaration of Right—established restrictions on the royal prerogative; it was provided, amongst other things, that the Sovereign could not suspend laws passed by Parliament, levy taxes without parliamentary consent, infringe the right to petition, raise a standing army during peacetime without parliamentary consent, deny the right to bear arms to Protestant subjects, unduly interfere with parliamentary elections, punish members of either House of Parliament for anything said during debates, require excessive bail or inflict cruel and unusual punishments. William was opposed to the imposition of such constraints, but he chose not to engage in a conflict with Parliament and agreed to abide by the statute.
The Bill of Rights also settled the question of succession to the Crown. After the death of either William or Mary, the other would continue to reign. Next in the line of succession was Mary II's sister, the Princess Anne, and her issue. Finally, any children William might have had by a subsequent marriage were included in the line of succession. Roman Catholics, as well as those who married Catholics, were excluded.
After the Parliamentary elections of 1690, William began to favour the Tories, led by Danby and Nottingham. While the Tories favoured preserving the king's prerogatives, William found them unaccommodating when he asked Parliament to support his continuing war with France. As a result, William began to prefer the Whig faction known as the Junto. The Whig government was responsible for the creation of the Bank of England. William's decision to grant the Royal Charter in 1694 to the Bank, a private institution owned by bankers, is his most relevant economic legacy. It laid the financial foundation of the English take-over of the central role of the Dutch Republic and Bank of Amsterdam in global commerce in the 18th century.
William dissolved Parliament in 1695, and the new Parliament that assembled that year was led by the Whigs. There was a considerable surge in support for William following the exposure of a Jacobite plan to assassinate him in 1696. Parliament passed a bill of attainder against the ringleader, John Fenwick, and he was beheaded in 1697.
In Ireland, where the French aided the rebels, fighting continued for much longer, although James II had to flee the island after William's victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, a victory commemorated annually by Northern Irish Protestants on the The Twelfth of July. After the Anglo-Dutch fleet defeated a French fleet at La Hogue in 1692, the allies for a short period controlled the seas, and Ireland was pacified thereafter by the Treaty of Limerick. At the same time, the Grand Alliance fared poorly in Europe, as William lost Namur in the Spanish Netherlands in 1692, and was badly beaten at the Battle of Landen in 1693.
In 1696, the Dutch territory of Drenthe made William its Stadtholder. In the same year, Jacobites made an attempt to restore James to the English throne by assassinating William III, but the plot failed. In accordance with the Treaty of Rijswijk (20 September 1697), which ended the Nine Years' War, Louis recognised William III as King of England, and undertook to give no further assistance to James II. Thus deprived of French dynastic backing after 1697, Jacobites posed no further serious threats during William's reign.
As his life drew towards its conclusion, William, like many other European rulers, felt concern over the question of succession to the throne of Spain, which brought with it vast territories in Italy, the Low Countries and the New World. The King of Spain, Charles II, was an invalid with no prospect of having children; amongst his closest relatives were Louis XIV (the King of France) and Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. William sought to prevent the Spanish inheritance from going to either monarch, for he feared that such a calamity would upset the balance of power. William and Louis XIV agreed to the First Partition Treaty, which provided for the division of the Spanish Empire: Duke Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria would obtain Spain, while France and the Holy Roman Emperor would divide the remaining territories between them. Charles II accepted the nomination of Joseph Ferdinand as his heir, and war appeared to be averted.
When, however, Joseph Ferdinand died of smallpox, the issue re-opened. In 1700, the two rulers agreed to the Second Partition Treaty (also called the Treaty of London), under which the territories in Italy would pass to a son of the King of France, and the other Spanish territories would be inherited by a son of the Holy Roman Emperor. This arrangement infuriated both the Spanish—who still sought to prevent the dissolution of their empire—and the Holy Roman Emperor, to whom the Italian territories were much more useful than the other lands. Unexpectedly, the invalid King of Spain, Charles II, interfered as he lay dying in late 1700. Unilaterally, he willed all Spanish territories to Philip, a grandson of Louis XIV. The French conveniently ignored the Second Partition Treaty and claimed the entire Spanish inheritance. Furthermore, Louis XIV alienated William III by recognising James Francis Edward Stuart—the son of the former King James II, who had died in 1701—as King of England. The subsequent conflict, known as the War of the Spanish Succession, continued until 1713.
In 1702, William died of pneumonia, a complication from a broken collarbone, resulting from a fall off his horse, Sorrel. Because his horse had stumbled into a mole's burrow, many Jacobites toasted "the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat. Years later, Sir Winston Churchill, in his epic the History of the English Speaking Peoples, put it more poetically when he said that the fall "opened the trapdoor to a host of lurking foes". William was buried in Westminster Abbey alongside his wife.
William's death brought an end to the Dutch House of Orange, members of which had served as stadtholder of Holland and the majority of the other provinces of the Dutch Republic since the time of William the Silent (William I). The five provinces of which William III was stadtholder—Holland, Zealand, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel—all suspended the office after his death. Under William III's will, Johan Willem Friso stood to inherit the Principality of Orange as well as several lordships in the Netherlands. He was an agnatic relative of the Princes of Orange, as well as a descendant of William the Silent through a female line. However, King Frederick I of Prussia also claimed the Principality as the senior cognatic heir, stadtholder Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange having been his maternal grandfather and William III his first cousin. Under the Treaty of Utrecht, which was agreed to in 1713, Frederick William I of Prussia (who kept the title as part of his titulary) ceded the Principality of Orange to the King of France, Louis XIV; Friso's son, William IV, shared the title of "Prince of Orange", which had accumulated high prestige in the Netherlands as well as in the entire Protestant world, with Frederick William after the Treaty of Partition (1732).
William's primary achievement was to contain France when it was in a position to impose its will across much of Europe. His life was largely opposed to the will of Louis XIV of France. This effort continued after his death during the War of the Spanish Succession. Another important consequence of William's reign in England involved the ending of a bitter conflict between Crown and Parliament that had lasted since the accession of the first English monarch of the House of Stuart, James I, in 1603. The conflict over royal and parliamentary power had led to the English Civil War during the 1640s and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. During William's reign, however, the conflict was settled in Parliament's favour by the Bill of Rights 1689, the Triennial Act 1694 and the Act of Settlement 1701.
William endowed the College of William and Mary (in present day Williamsburg, Virginia) in 1693. Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is named after Fort Nassau, which was renamed in 1695 in his honor. Similarly Nassau County, New York a county on Long Island, is a namesake. Long Island itself was also known as Nassau during early Dutch rule. Though many alumni of Princeton University think that Princeton, N.J. (and hence the university) was named in his honor, this is probably untrue. Nassau Hall, at the university campus, is so named, however.
The modern day Orange Institution is named after William III, and makes a point of celebrating his victory at the Boyne. New York City was briefly renamed New Orange for him in 1673 after the Dutch recaptured the city, which had been renamed New York by the British in 1665. His name was applied to the fort and administrative center for the city on two separate occasions reflecting his different sovereign status—first as Fort Willem Hendrick in 1673, and then as Fort William in 1691 when the English evicted Colonists who had seized the fort and city.
The arms used by the King and Queen were: Quarterly, I and IV Grandquarterly, Azure three fleurs-de-lis Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland); overall an escutcheon Azure billetty and a lion rampant Or (for Nassau).
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