Nick Name: William II
Birthday: December 6, 1792
Died At Age: 56
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: William Frederick George Louis
Born Country: Netherlands
Born in: Noordeinde Palace, South Holland, Netherlands
Famous as: King
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Anna Pavlovna of Russia (m. 1816)
father: William I of the Netherlands
mother: Queen of the Netherlands, Wilhelmine of Prussia
siblings: Prince Frederick of the Netherlands, Princess Marianne of the Netherlands, Princess Pauline of Orange-Nassau
children: Casimir Ernst von Nassau, Prince Alexander of the Netherlands, Prince Ernest Casimir of the Netherlands, Prince Henry of the Netherlands, Prince of the Netherlands, Princess Sophie of the Netherlands, William III of the Netherlands
Died on: March 17, 1849
place of death: Tilburg, Netherlands
education: University of Oxford
awards: Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Order of St. Alexander Nevsky
Order of St. Andrew
Who was William II of the Netherlands?
William II, or Willem Frederik George Lodewijk, was the king of the Netherlands (from 1840 to 1849), grand duke of Luxembourg, and duke of Limberg. His reign witnessed fiscal stability and the conversion of the Netherlands to a constitutional and liberal monarchy in 1848. Also known as “Slender Billy,” for his charm and his moderate attitude, William II had fought in the Peninsular War and the Napoleonic Wars, as part of the ‘British Army.’ As a leader of the Ten Days’ Campaign, he failed to crush the Belgian Revolution. Belgium was eventually recognized by the Netherlands. Though he was married to Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia and had also had five children with her, he was believed to be homosexual by many. He was also once blackmailed because of his alleged bisexuality. William II is remembered primarily for bringing about peace and liberal values in the Netherlands.
Childhood & Early Life
Willem Frederik George Lodewijk, better known as William II of the Netherlands, was born on December 6, 1792, at the ‘Noordeinde Palace,’ in the Hague, the Netherlands.
He was the eldest son of Willem Frederik, Prince of Orange-Nassau (later King William I of the Netherlands), and Wilhelmine of Prussia. King Frederick William II of Prussia and his second wife, Frederika Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt, were his maternal grandparents.
William II’s charming personality and good looks made him the favorite of the English press, who later nicknamed him “Slender Billy.”
When William II was 2 years old, he and his family fled to England after the combined British–Hanoverian forces left the Republic and the French troops defeated the United Provinces and joined the anti-Orangist ‘Patriots.’
William spent most of his childhood at the Prussian court in Berlin. He was trained in military tactics and also joined the Prussian army. He later studied at the ‘University of Oxford.’
When his father (who was the sovereign prince till then) became the king of the Netherlands in 1815, William II became the Prince of Orange and the heir apparent to the throne.
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William II joined the ‘British Army’ soon. In 1811, he was made an aide-de-camp to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, and thus participated in many campaigns of the Peninsular War (1808–1814).
On June 11, 1811, he became a lieutenant-colonel in the ‘British Army.’ He was made a colonel on October 21 that year.
On September 8 the following year, he became an aide-de-camp to the Prince Regent. He then became a major-general on December 14, 1813.
After his father became the sovereign prince of the Netherlands, William II returned to his land in 1813.
In 1815, he joined the army after Napoleon I’s escape from Elba. He fought at the Battle of Quatre Bras as the commander of ‘I Allied Corps’ (on June 16, 1815). He also fought at the Battle of Waterloo (on June 18, 1815) and was injured.
The Belgian Revolution
William II was quite popular in the Southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium) and the Netherlands. In 1830, at the onset of the Belgian revolution, he tried his best to establish peace in Brussels and to introduce autonomy of the southern provinces, which were under the House of Orange-Nassau. His father, however, rejected his suggestions. This strained their relationship later.
William II became the leader of the Ten Days’ Campaign in Belgium in April 1831. He was then forced to retire to England for a while. He returned to Belgium in August 1831, leading his forces to a win over Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Leopold I), the new king of Belgium. However, the French intervened soon and drove the campaign back to the North. Eventually, in 1839, Belgium and the Netherlands finally reconciled.
As the King of the Netherlands
After his father abdicated on October 7, 1840, William II ascended to the throne. Following in his father’s footsteps, he proved to be conservative and was not too keen on making changes. He was a moderate who did not intervene in the existing policies.
He relied on F.A. van Hall, who was his finance minister. Hall managed to stabilize public finances and in 1847, recorded the first surplus of the country in 70 years.
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William II did not have any issues with Roman Catholics and Separatists (orthodox Calvinists). However, the liberals did not like him and wished for a more representative type of government.
After the revolutions of 1848 began in Europe, the Bourbon-Orléans monarchy of Paris fell. William was alarmed and concerned about the chance of the revolution raising its head in Amsterdam.
Soon, he ordered liberal statesman Johan Rudolf Thorbecke to form a new constitution stating that the ‘Tweede Kamer’ (House of Representatives) would be elected directly, while the ‘Eerste Kamer’ (Senate) would be elected indirectly by the Provincial States. It was approved in November 1848.
The electoral system transformed into census suffrage in the districts, and the power of the monarchy reduced considerably. He established the first parliamentary cabinet of his country a few months before died.
He had received the “Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece” in Spain.
Family & Personal Life
William II was involved in numerous relationships, with both men and women. Journalist Eillert Meeter claimed that the king had homosexual relationships even as a crown prince. William II had a lot of male servants and would not dismiss them at any cost, raising suspicions of his homosexuality.
In 1814, William was engaged to Princess Charlotte of Wales, who was the only daughter of the Prince Regent (later George IV of the United Kingdom) and Caroline of Brunswick. The ceremony was organized by the Prince Regent. However, the engagement was broken because Charlotte's mother had not approved of the union. Charlotte, too, was reluctant to move to the Netherlands.
William II got married to Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia on February 21, 1816, at the ‘Chapel of the Winter Palace’ in St. Petersburg. Anna Pavlovna was the youngest sister of Czar Alexander I of Russia, who agreed to the union to secure good relations between the Netherlands and Imperial Russia.
William II’s first son, Willem Alexander Paul Frederick Louis, was born on February 17, 1817, in Brussels. Willem Alexander later ascended to the throne as King William III. William II and Anna Pavlovna had four more children: William Alexander Frederick Constantine Nicolas Michael (or Sascha), William Frederick Henry "the Navigator,” Prince William Alexander Ernst Frederick Casimir, and Wilhelmina Marie Sophie Louise.
In 1819, William II was blackmailed over his supposed bisexuality. He was also suspected of being in a relationship with a man named Pereira.
King William II breathed his last on March 17, 1849, in Tilburg, located in North Brabant in the Netherlands, soon after declaring constitutional monarchy in his kingdom. He was buried in the royal crypts at ‘Nieuwe Kerk’ (or ‘The New Church’) in Delft, Zuid-Holland.
His descendant William-Alexander is the current king of the Netherlands.
William II was played by Paul Bettany in the TV adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s novel ‘Sharpe's Waterloo.’
He also appears in the historical novels of Georgette Heyer, such as ‘An Infamous Army.’