Childhood & Early Life
William III was born in November 1650, at Binnenhof, The Hague, in the Dutch Republic, which is now part of the Netherlands. His father, William II, the prince of Orange and the stadtholder of the main provinces of the Dutch Republic, died of small pox at the age of 24, only eight days before William’s birth. Thus, William III became the sovereign prince of Orange soon after his birth.
His mother, Mary, Princess Royal, was the eldest daughter of King Charles I of England (sister of King Charles II and King James II). William was the only child of his parents. His paternal grandmother insisted on baptizing him as “William” to help enhance his chances of becoming a stadtholder. His guardianship was shared among his mother, Mary; his paternal grandmother, Amalia of Solms-Braunfels; and Elector of Brandenburg, Frederick William, who was also the husband of William’s father’s eldest sister, Louise Henriette of Nassau. William had an impressive royal ancestry on both his paternal and his maternal sides.
Tutors were appointed for his studies, and he was also educated by Dutch governesses and Lady Anna Mackenzie, a Scottish noble-woman. He was groomed to carry the responsibilities of the ‘House of Orange-Nassau.’ William attended the ‘University of Leiden’ between 1659 and 1666. He, however, did not enroll as a student there. His mother died of small pox on December 23, 1660, while she was on a visit to London to meet her brother, King Charles II.
William was taught about the ‘Reformed Church’ and the theology of John Calvin. In her will, his mother had asked her brother, King Charles II, to take care of William. This created friction between the Dutch officials and the royalty of England. Johan de Witt, the grand pensionary of the Dutch court, took control of his education and taught him about state matters.
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William joined the ‘Council of State of the Dutch Provinces’ in 1667. In 1672, he became the stadtholder of the ‘United Provinces,’ (or the main provinces of the Dutch Republic), a post that had become almost hereditary in his family. That year was considered as a “Rampjaar,” or “disaster year,” by the Dutch Republic, because that same year, King Louis XIV of France had invaded the ‘United Provinces,’ resulting in a war between the French and the Dutch. William headed the Dutch army and drove away the invading forces of Catholic King Louis XIV. The French army gradually withdrew after 1673.
On November 4, 1677, William married his first cousin, Mary, the eldest-surviving daughter of James, the duke of York, who later became King James II of England (and James VII of Scotland). It was a political marriage, as William wanted to form an Anglo–Dutch alliance against his nemesis, the French monarch Louis XIV. William wished that his uncle, King Charles II of England, should withdraw his support from the Catholic French king or change his pro-French policies.
Mary was 12 years younger, so the 27–year-old William married his 15-year-old reluctant bride at ‘St. James’s Palace,’ London. Mary became pregnant in 1678 but suffered a miscarriage. Reportedly, she miscarried two more times. She could not conceive again, and the couple remained childless. Other monarchs, such as his uncles Charles II and James II, had many mistresses, but William had only one mistress, Elizabeth Villiers.
King Charles II of England died in 1685. He had no legitimate children. James, Mary’s father and brother of Charles II, succeeded to the throne as King James II. He had converted to Roman Catholicism while marrying a princess from Italy, Maria Beatrice of Modena, also known as “Mary of Modena.” Since the majority of Britain was Protestant, they were concerned that James II would establish a Catholic dynasty.
In June 1688, when the Catholic wife of King James II gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward Stuart, the fears of the Protestants were confirmed. The leaders of the Protestants and the opponents of James II secretly contacted William and suggested that he should invade England.
William, along with his vast forces, landed at Brixham in Devon, on November 5, 1688. The Protestant Englishmen supported him, and some distinguished British noblemen defected to his side. James II sent his wife and young son to France. He was captured but was allowed to escape later. He went to King Louis XIV of France.
The parliament of England announced that by fleeing to France, James II had renounced the throne. Thus, the throne was offered to Mary, the elder daughter of James, and William, the son of the eldest daughter of Charles I. Mary and William were to be the joint rulers of England. Mary and William were declared as Queen Mary II and King William III of England and Ireland and King William II of Scotland, respectively. This overthrow of James II is known as the ‘Glorious Revolution.’
The new monarchs accepted the parliament’s ‘Declaration of Right,’ later called the ‘Bill of Rights.’ Thus, the monarchs did not have direct power, and this was the beginning of the transition toward the present-day system of parliamentary rule.
The coronation took place at ‘Westminster Abbey,’ on April 11, 1689. William and Mary swore to follow the statutes agreed upon in the parliament.
In an attempt to regain his throne, James landed in Ireland in March 1689, along with the French army provided by Louis XIV. William reached Ireland with his huge forces, and in July 1690, he defeated James at the Battle of the Boyne. James escaped to France and lived in exile for the rest of his life. The ‘Orange Order’ of Northern Ireland celebrates this triumph every year, on July 12.
The ‘Jacobites’ were political people who aimed to restore the Catholic king James II and his descendants to the throne of Britain. There were a series of ‘Jacobite’ risings, especially in Ireland and Scotland.
William formed the ‘Grand Alliance’ by bringing Britain into the ‘League of Augsburg,’ against France. He was often away on military campaigns against the risings in the states and against the Catholic ruler of France. His wife ruled in his absence. He founded the ‘Bank of England’ in 1694, partly to finance his wars with Louis XIV.
On December 28, 1694, Queen Mary died of small pox at ‘Kensington Palace,’ London. William was grief-stricken by her death. He ruled alone for the rest of his life.
In February 1702, while riding at ‘Hampton Court Palace,’ his horse, Sorrel, stumbled on a molehill. William fell and broke his collarbone. Although the fracture was set by a surgeon, it did not heal properly, and his health deteriorated. King William III of England died on March 8, 1702. While undressing him after his death, his servants found Queen Mary’s gold ring and a lock of her hair tied by a ribbon around his neck. He was buried at ‘Westminster Abbey’ on April 12, 1702.
The ‘Jacobites’ rejoiced his death. As William had no heir, the ‘House of Orange’ came to an end after his death. In Great Britain, Mary’s sister, Anne, succeeded to the throne as Queen Anne of England, Ireland, and Scotland.