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William III
1650 - 1702

William III, Prince of Orange, reigned as king of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1689 to 1702. He was also stadholder of the United Netherlands from 1672 to 1702.


As perhaps the pivotal European figure of the late 17th century, William of Orange remains most noted for having fought France, the dominant power in Europe, to a standstill in three wars. In this process he reunited his native Netherlands and became king of England. In his English role William fostered the legal bulwarks of the Glorious Revolution of 1688: religious toleration for Protestant dissenters, a prescribed monarchy, and parliamentary partnership with the Crown concerning legislation. As William drew England into his wars against France, he concluded more than a century's isolation for England and initiated a series of victories that later yielded Great Britain a worldwide empire.

Early Years and Education

Eight days before William was born at The Hague on Nov. 4, 1650, his father, William II, Prince of Orange and Stadholder of the United Netherlands, died, bequeathing a divided Netherlands to his son. William's mother was Mary, the oldest daughter of Charles I of England. The De Witt brothers, Jan and Cornelius, heads of an urban and commercial coalition, assumed power and pursued a policy of autonomy for the seven provinces of the Netherlands. The house of Orange, aristocratic leader of the landed interests, had stood for unity as the only means of protection against foreign interests. Despite the De Witts' control over his education, William nurtured plans to restore the stadholdership. In the meantime, the young prince prepared himself, mastering four languages, studying politics and war, and exercising the Spartan self-control and taciturnity for which he became famous.

In 1667 the prince's popularity rose dramatically when Louis XIV of France made the first of his many attempts to conquer the Dutch. Public exasperation greeted the De Witts' inactivity while Louis's armies occupied neighboring Flanders. When the southern Dutch provinces were invaded in 1672, William was advanced quickly from captain general in February to stadholder in July. In August a panicked mob murdered the De Witts, and a year later William's office was made hereditary.

Stadholder of the United Provinces

The war with France raged from 1672 to 1678, and while William battled against armies that were sometimes five times the size of his own, he built an alliance with Spain, Denmark, and Brandenburg. He fought the Great Condé - Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé - to a draw at the Battle of Seneff in August 1674. Despite a near-fatal bout with smallpox in 1675 and a severe arm wound in 1676, William wrung from the French a recognition of Dutch independence in the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678.

Toward the end of the French war, William married - in 1677 - Mary, the Protestant elder daughter of James, Duke of York, later King James II of England. With England as the Netherlands' partner there could be no doubt about maintaining Dutch independence. The match was advanced by the pro-Dutch English minister, the Earl of Danby, and after the marriage William slowly intruded himself into English politics. He ostensibly visited Charles II in 1681 to seek aid against renewed French hostilities, but he actually came to observe the increasing antagonism of the Whigs to the proposed succession of York, whose autocracy and Roman Catholicism displeased many Englishmen. William quietly let it be known that if Charles should die without issue, he would be willing to be named regent over his father-in-law in case James should be excluded from the throne.

Glorious Revolution of 1688

During the War of the League of Augsburg, William brought to the alliance the overwhelming support of England in 1689. James II's precipitate illegalities in favour of his Roman Catholic subjects after he became king in 1685 alienated most English leaders, who in turn sought the alternative earlier suggested by William. William invaded England in November 1688 with a force of 15,000. Met by many of England's important men, he proceeded under such careful circumstances that not one shot was fired. James's flight to France in December cleared the path for William and Mary to assume the vacated throne. Their reign became the only jointly held monarchy in English history. In May 1689 England declared war on France.

Between 1689 and 1693 William, equipped with an army often numbering 90,000, remained mostly in the field, leaving duties at home in Mary's hands. In Ireland, William defeated an attempt by French and Irish troops to dethrone him, nearly being killed in the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690. At sea the English repelled an invasion at La Hogue in May 1692; but on the Continent, William barely held his own. William's defeat at Neerwinden in July 1693 cost the French so many lives that Louis XIV began peace overtures. Sporadic campaigning continued until lengthy negotiations finally resulted in the Treaty of Ryswick (September 1697), in which Louis XIV recognized William as the legitimate ruler of England (Mary had died in 1694)

Last Years

William's domestic relations in England were intermittently strained because he understood little of the compromise required under the parliamentary system of broad-based consultation and administration. He was the last English king to use the veto extensively, although he usually yielded to Parliament's wishes rather than risk losing support for his wars. William fostered the Toleration Act of 1689 and the establishment of the Bank of England to fund the war debt in 1694. He assented to the Declaration of Right and to the Triennial Act.

William's frequent absences from England and his reliance upon Dutch counsellors accounted for his general unpopularity. However, the discovery of the Turnham Green Plot against his life in 1696 prompted a personal loyalty lasting until the end of his reign. In 1702 William fell from his horse, seriously undermining his fragile health. He died on March 8, 1702, as he was constructing a new alliance against France for the War of the Spanish Succession.


William III (of England), also known as William II (of Scotland), and William III of Orange (The Hague, 14 November 1650 – Kensington Palace, 8 March 1702) was a Dutch aristocrat, the Prince of Orange from his birth, Stadtholder of the main provinces of the Dutch Republic from 28 June 1672, King of England and King of Ireland from 13 February 1689, and King of Scotland from 11 April 1689, in each case until his death.

Born a member of the House of Orange-Nassau, William III won the English, Scottish and Irish Crowns following the Glorious Revolution, during 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, but 'William III' in all his other realms. Often he is referred to as William of Orange, a name he shared with many other historical figures. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, he is often informally known as King Billy.

William III was appointed to the Dutch post of Stadtholder on 28 June 1672 (Old Style), and remained in office until he died. In that context, he is sometimes referred to as 'William Henry, Prince of Orange', as a translation of his Dutch title, Willem Hendrik, Prins van Oranje. A Protestant, William participated in many wars against the powerful Catholic King Louis XIV of France.

Many Protestants heralded him as a champion of their faith; it was partly due to such a reputation that he was able to take the crown of England, many of whose people were intensely fearful of Catholicism and the papacy, although other reasons for his success might be his army and a fleet four times larger than the famed Spanish Armada.

His reign marked the beginning of the transition from the personal control of government of the Stuarts to the Parliamentary type rule of the House of Hanover.

Early life

William Henry of Orange, the son and only child of stadtholder William II, Prince of Orange and Mary, Princess Royal of England, was born in The Hague, The Netherlands. Eight days before he was born, his father died from smallpox; thus William became the Sovereign Prince of Orange at the moment of his birth. Immediately a conflict ensued between the Princess Royal and William II's mother, Amalia of Solms-Braunfels, over the name to be given to the infant. Mary wanted to name him Charles after her brother, her mother-in-law insisted however on giving him the name William or Willem to bolster his prospects of becoming stadtholder. William II had appointed his wife as guardian in his will; however the document had remained unsigned and thus was void. On 13 August 1651 the Hoge Raad (Supreme Council) ruled that guardianship would be shared between Mary, Amalia and Frederick William, the Elector of Brandenburg. The Prussian — and suitably Protestant — prince was chosen for this honour because he could act as a neutral party mediating between the two women but also because as a possible heir he had a vivid interest in protecting the Orange family fortune that Amalia feared would be squandered by the rather frivolous Mary.

William's mother showed little personal interest in her son — sometimes being absent for years on end to enjoy the luxuries of the French court— and had always deliberately kept herself apart from Dutch society, affecting not even to understand the Dutch language. His education was first laid in the hands of several Dutch governesses and some of English descent, including Walburg Howard (a stepdaughter of the future Countess of Chesterfield and halfsister of the future 1st Earl of Bellomont); from April 1656 a Calvinist preacher, Cornelis Trigland, a follower of the very puritan theologian Gisbertus Voetius, was chosen to daily instruct the prince in the state religion, Calvinism. A short treatise is known, perhaps by Christiaan Huygens, on the ideal education for William: the Discours sur la nourriture de S.H. Monseigneur le Prince d'Orange. The prince, a very serious little boy, became convinced by these lessons that it was his predestination to become an instrument of God under the guidance of Divine Providence, fulfilling the historical destiny of the House of Orange.

Early in 1659 William went for seven years to the University of Leyden for a more formal education — though never officially enrolling as a student — under the guidance of professor of ethics Hendrik Bornius. Until February 1660 Protestant scholar Samuel Chappuzeau taught him French. The prince showed little inclination to read the great philosophers or classical literature but preferred the study of the arts, especially painting, architecture and gardening, which flowered during the Dutch Golden Age. While residing in the Prinsenhof at Leyden, William had a small personal retinue, and a new governor: Frederik van Nassau, Lord Zuylestein, the bastard son of stadtholder Frederick Henry of Orange, William's grandfather. Also a page of honour was present: Hans Willem Bentinck. William, who always was fiercely loyal to his friends, formed a deep emotional attachment to both men.

On 25 September 1660 the States of Holland resolved to take charge of William's education to ensure he would acquire the necessary skills to be employed in some, 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 designated Charles as William's legal guardian. Charles now demanded the States of Holland would end their interference; to appease the powerful king they complied on 30 September 1661. Charles delegated his share of the responsibility to William's paternal grandmother, the Princess Dowager Amalia, with the understanding that Charles's advice would be sought whenever it was needed. This arrangement did not prevent Charles from corresponding with his nephew. In 1661 Lord Zuylestein began to work for Charles, cooperating with the English ambassador George Downing, the de facto English spymaster in the Dutch Republic. He made William write letters to the English king asking his uncle to interfere on his behalf to improve his prospects on the stadtholderate. Charles exploited this issue for political leverage, trying to sow dissension in Dutch society between the Orangists and the republican "States" faction.

The Dutch authorities at first did their best to ignore all these intrigues, but in the Second Anglo-Dutch War they became impossible to avoid as one of Charles's standard 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", a legal novum. Amalia's consent was obtained by granting her a considerable state pension, something William would never forgive her for. This was supposedly done in order to prepare William for a role in the nation's government, although what this role would be exactly, was again left unspecified. A direct result was that all pro-English elements, first of all Lord Zuylestein, were removed from William's company. William was heartbroken by this and in tears begged Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt to allow Lord Zuylestein to stay. This was refused, but De Witt, the leading politician of the Republic, took part of William's education into his own hands, instructing him weekly in state matters — and joining him in a regular game of real tennis. William and De Witt, both having an introvert and outwardly emotionally restrained character, failed to become personal friends. In 1667 the core of the English navy was destroyed by the Raid on the Medway and the Treaty of Breda made no mention of William. In September 1668 Amalia and Frederick William declared that William had reached the age of majority; an illegal act as boys only attained majority at 23 and a special permit had to be obtained for an earlier age. Although this never happened, it was condoned by the authorities in order to avoid raising political tensions.

Early offices

William II held, in official feudal order, the office of stadtholder of Guelders, Holland, Zealand, Utrecht, and Overijssel. All these five provinces however, suspended the office of stadtholder upon William II's death. During the "First Stadtholderless Era," power was de facto held from 1653 by Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt. The Treaty of Westminster (1654), ending the First Anglo-Dutch War, had a secret annex attached on demand of Oliver Cromwell, the Act of Seclusion, forbidding the province of Holland ever to appoint a member of the House of Orange as stadtholder. After the English Restoration the Act of Seclusion, which had not remained a secret for very long, was declared void as the English Commonwealth with which the treaty had been concluded no longer existed and Mary and Amalia in September 1660 tried to convince several provincial States to designate William as their future stadtholder, but all eventually refused.

In 1667, as William III approached the age of eighteen, the pro-Orange party again attempted to bring the Prince to power by securing for him the offices of stadtholder and Captain-General. So as to prevent the restoration of the influence of the House of Orange, De Witt allowed the pensionary of Haarlem Gaspar Fagel to procure on 5 August 1667 the issuance by the States of Holland of the Eternal Edict, which declared that the Captain-General or Admiral-General of the Netherlands could not serve as stadtholder in any province. Furthermore, the province of Holland abolished the very office of stadtholder and the four other provinces in March 1670 followed suit, establishing the so-called "Harmony". De Witt demanded an oath from each Hollandic 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 comprise: De Witt would have preferred to ignore the prince completely but now his eventual rise to the office of supreme army commander was implicit; also De Witt conceded that William would be allowed 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, though De Witt had tried to limit his role to that of an advisor. Another very important victory for William was that the States of Zealand on 19 September 1668 received him in their midst as First Noble, the first in rank of the nobility delegates in the States of that province. William, for this to happen, had to escape the attention of his state tutors to secretly travel to Middelburg; it was this event that triggered him being prematurely declared of age by his guardians.

In November 1670 William obtained permission to travel to England to urge king Charles to pay back at least a part of the 2,797,859 guilder debt the House of Stuart owed to the House of Orange. The structural penury of the English crown precluded much being done in the financial respect. William was greatly surprised when Charles tried to convert him to Catholicism, recommended as the ideal religion for absolutist kings. His shocked reaction made Charles decide not to make his nephew privy to his secret Treaty of Dover with France, directed at destroying the Dutch Republic and installing William as puppet "sovereign" of a Hollandic rump state. In February 1671 William returned, having disappointed his uncle but also having made a very good impression on several politicians who later would belong to the Whig party.

During 1671 the situation of the Republic deteriorated quickly. Though De Witt was in a state of denial, there were many signs of an impending Anglo-French attack. In view of the threat, many provinces 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 one on his 22nd 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 have William appointed stadtholder. In return William would make the Republic an ally of England and serve Charles's interests as much as his "honour and the loyalty due to this state" allowed. Charles took no action on this; for him it would have meant a difficult renegotiation with France. He intended to enforce Dutch servitude by means of arms.

Becoming stadtholder

The year 1672 proved calamitous for the Dutch Republic, becoming known as the "disaster year". Although the Anglo-French fleet was disabled by the Battle of Solebay, the Netherlands were invaded by France, under Louis XIV, who had the aid of England, (Third Anglo-Dutch War), Münster, and Cologne. In June the French army quickly overran Gelderland and Utrecht and the States of Overijssel surrendered on 5 July to Münster; William on 14 June withdrew with the remnants of his field army into Holland, where the States on 8 June had ordered to flood the Dutch Water Line. Louis XIV, believing the war was over, began negotiations to extort 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. There were many disturbances and in most cities the councils turned orangist. On 4 July the States of Holland appointed William stadtholder; on 9 July he made his oath. On 5 July a special envoy of Charles, Lord Arlington, met with William in Nieuwerbrug, offering to make William Sovereign Prince of Holland if he would capitulate — whereas a stadtholder was a mere civil servant. William refused, upon which Arlington threatened that William would then witness the end of his state. 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, to its great surprise, effectively blocked. On 16 July Zealand offered the stadtholderate to William. The same day England promised Louis in the Accord of Heeswijk never to conclude a separate peace. On 18 July William received a letter from Charles, claiming that the only real obstacle to peace was the continued influence of De Witt and his faction. William sent a secret letter back offering £400,000, Surinam and Sluys; in return Charles should make him Sovereign Prince and conclude a separate peace. Charles, greatly annoyed, refused, accusing William of scheming behind his back with "Whig" leaders.

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 Charles's letter of 18 July to incite the populace against De Witt. On 20 August, he and his brother, Cornelis de Witt, were brutally murdered by an orangist civil militia in The Hague. Today, some historians believe that William may have been directly complicit in the murder. Gaspar Fagel now became Grand Pensionary. After this William replaced 130 regents with his followers. He was also appointed Admiral-General of the Netherlands.

William III continued to fight against the invaders from England and France, allying himself with Spain. In November 1672 he took his army to Maastricht to threaten the French supply lines. In August 1672 Münster had lifted the siege of Groningen and in December the territory of Drenthe was liberated. In 1673 the situation further improved. Though Louis took Maastricht and an audacious attack of William 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 (1674); from late 1673 onwards France slowly withdrew from the territory of the Republic with the exception of Maastricht. Fagel now proposed to treat the liberated provinces of Utrecht, Gelderland (Guelders) 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 tried to exploit this to fulfill his desire to become sovereign. His followers in the States of Utrecht on 26 April 1674 appointed him hereditary stadtholder in the male line of descent. The States of Guelders on 30 January 1675 offered the titles of Duke of Guelders and Count of Zutphen. Very negative reactions to this from Zealand and the city of Amsterdam, where the stock market collapsed, made William ultimately decide to decline these honours; in 1675 he was merely appointed stadtholder of Gelderland and Overijssel.

Meanwhile the war lingered on as the French army was much too strong to be decisively defeated in open battle. To strengthen his position, William endeavoured to marry his first cousin Mary, the daughter of James, Duke of York (the future James II of England), against the desire of her father, who was forced by Charles to comply. The marriage occurred on 4 November 1677; after a difficult start the marriage was a success although fruitless. His finances exhausted and tired of the war the King of France, Louis XIV, made peace in 1678.

William however remained very suspicious of Louis, thinking the French king desired "Universal Kingship" over Europe, whereas Louis described William as "my mortal enemy" and saw him as an obnoxious warmonger. Continued smaller French annexations in Germany (the Réunion policy) and the recalling of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, causing a surge of Huguenot refugees to the Republic, led William III to join all kinds of anti-French alliances, such as the Association League, culminating in the League of Augsburg (an anti-French coalition which also included the Holy Roman Empire, Sweden, Spain and several German states) of 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 first Charles 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 to bring William over but now to put pressure on Charles. The ever cautious stadtholder remained at home however. Nevertheless he secretly made the States-General send the Insinuation to Charles, beseeching the king, without naming James explicitly, to prevent that any Catholic would be his successor. Receiving indignant reactions from Charles and James, William denied any involvement.

In 1685, when James II ascended, William at first attempted to conciliate James, whom he hoped would join the League of Augsburg, whilst at the same time trying not to offend the Protestant party in England. At the time William and Mary were still direct heirs. But by 1687, it became clear that James would not join the League and in November his wife Mary of Modena was announced to be pregnant. That month, to gain the favour of English Protestants, William in an open letter expressed his disapproval 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.

Glorious Revolution

William at first opposed the prospect of invasion, but in April 1688, when England concluded a naval agreement with France, began to assemble an expeditionary force. Still, he was hesitant about such an operation, believing that the English people would not react well to a foreign invader. He therefore in April demanded in a letter to Rear-Admiral Arthur Herbert that the most eminent English Protestants first invite him to invade. In June, James II's second wife, Mary of Modena, bore a son (James Francis Edward), 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 II's religious policies and had petitioned him to reform them. The acquittal of the bishops signalled a major defeat for the Government of James II, and encouraged further resistance to its activities.

On 30 June 1688 — the same day the bishops were acquitted — a group of political figures known as the "Immortal Seven" complied with William's earlier request, sending him 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 Den Briel ("Brill") carried aloft by a local fisherman Peter Varwell to proclaim "the liberties of England and the Protestant religion I will maintain". William had come ashore with 15,500-foot soldiers and up to 4,000 horse. Gilbert Burnet, the Bishop of Salisbury, was more precise and claimed the figure to be 14,352. On his way to London William stayed at Forde House in Newton Abbot and is alleged to have held his first parliament nearby (Parliament Cottages, as they are now known, can still be seen today). 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. Though the invasion and subsequent overthrow of James II is commonly known as the "Glorious Revolution", it was more nearly a coup d'état, with one faction ultimately successful in deposing James II and installing William of Orange in power.

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 actually permitted James to leave the country, not wanting to make him a martyr for the Roman Catholic cause.

In 1689, a Convention Parliament summoned by the Prince of Orange assembled, and much discussion relating to the appropriate course of action ensued. William III 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, it was agreed that the latter would take the title of King. But Philip II 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 on 11 December 1688, 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 II'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 Scotland. William and Mary were offered the Scottish Crown; they accepted on 11 May. William was officially "William II" of Scotland, for there was only one previous Scottish King named William (see William I).

Revolution Settlement

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 to Roman Catholics or those of non-Christian faiths. Thus the Act was not as wide-ranging as James II's Declaration of Indulgence, which attempted to grant freedom of conscience to people of all 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 wisely 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. Non-Protestants, as well as those who married Roman Catholics, were excluded from the succession.

Rule with Mary II

William continued to be absent from the realm for extended periods during his war with France. England joined the League of Augsburg, which then became known as the "Grand Alliance." Whilst William was away fighting, his wife, Mary II, governed the realm, but acted on his advice. Each time he returned to England, Mary gave up her power to him ungrudgingly. Such an arrangement lasted for the rest of Mary's life.

Although most in England accepted William as Sovereign, he faced considerable opposition in Scotland and Ireland. The Scottish Jacobites— those who believed that James II was the legitimate monarch — won a stunning victory on 27 July 1689 at the Battle of Killiecrankie, but were nevertheless subdued within a month. William's reputation suffered following the Massacre of Glencoe (1692), in which seventy-eight Highland Scots were murdered or died of exposure for not properly pledging their allegiance to the new King and Queen. Bowing to public opinion, William dismissed those responsible for the massacre, though they still remained in his favour; in the words of the historian John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, "one became a colonel, another a knight, a third a peer, and a fourth an earl."

In Ireland, where the French aided the rebels, fighting continued for much longer, although James II had perforce to flee the island after the Battle of the Boyne (1690). The victory in Ireland is commemorated annually by the The Twelfth. 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 conquered shortly thereafter. At the same time, the Grand Alliance fared poorly on land. William lost Namur in the Spanish Netherlands in 1692, and was disastrously beaten at the Battle of Landen in 1693.

Mary II died of smallpox in 1694, leaving William III to rule alone. Although he had previously mistreated his wife and kept mistresses (the best-known of which was Elizabeth Villiers), William deeply mourned his wife's death. Although he was brought up as a Calvinist, he converted to Anglicanism. His popularity, however, plummeted during his reign as a sole Sovereign.

During the 1690s rumors of William's homosexual inclinations grew and led to the publication of many satirical pamphlets. He had several male favourites, including a Rotterdam bailiff Van Zuylen van Nijveld, and two Dutch courtiers to whom he granted English dignities: Hans Willem Bentinck became Earl of Portland, and Arnold Joost van Keppel was created Earl of Albemarle. William was especially close to his fellow Dutch countrymen and made little headway into his new dominions as a monarch, always something of an outsider to his British subjects. He himself expressed it this way: "I clearly perceive that this people was not made for me, nor was I made for this people".

Later years

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. Considering the failure, Louis XIV offered to have James elected King of Poland in the same year. James feared that acceptance of the Polish Crown might (in the minds of the English people) render him ineligible as King of England. In rejecting this offer, James made what would prove a fateful decision: less than a year later, France ceased to sponsor him. In accordance with the Treaty of Rijswijk (20 September 1697), which ended the War of the Grand Alliance, 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 did not pose any 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 (whom William himself chose) would obtain Spain, while France and the Holy Roman Emperor would divide the remaining territories between them. The Spaniards, however, expressed shock at William's boldness; they had not been previously consulted on the dismemberment of their own empire, and strove to keep the Spanish territories united.

At first, William and Louis ignored the wishes of the Spanish court. 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.

The Spanish inheritance, however, was not the only one which concerned William. His marriage with Mary II had not yielded any children, and he did not seem likely to remarry. Mary's sister, the Princess Anne, had borne numerous children, all of whom died during childhood. The death of William, Duke of Gloucester in 1700 left the Princess Anne as the only individual left in the line of succession established by the Bill of Rights. As the complete exhaustion of the line of succession would have encouraged a restoration of James II's line, Parliament saw fit to pass the Act of Settlement 1701, in which it was provided that the Crown would be inherited by a distant relative, Sophia, Electress of Hanover and her Protestant heirs if Princess Anne died without surviving issue, and if William III failed to have surviving issue by any subsequent marriage. (Several Catholics with genealogically senior claims to Sophia were omitted.) The Act extended to England and Ireland, but not to Scotland, whose Estates had not been consulted before the selection of Sophia.

Like the Bill of Rights before it, the Act of Settlement not only addressed succession to the Throne, but also limited the power of the Crown. Future sovereigns were forbidden to use English resources to defend any of their other realms, unless parliamentary consent was first obtained. To ensure the independence of the judiciary, it was enacted that judges would serve during good behaviour, rather than at the pleasure of the Sovereign. It was also enacted that a pardon issued by the Sovereign could not impede an impeachment.


In 1702, William died of pneumonia, a complication from a broken collarbone, resulting from a fall off his horse. It was believed by some that his horse had stumbled into a mole's burrow, and as a result 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. The reign of William's successor, Anne, was marked by attempts to extend the provisions of the Act of Settlement to Scotland. Angered by the English Parliament's failure to consult with them before choosing Sophia of Hanover, the Estates of Scotland enacted the Act of Security, forcing Anne to grant the Royal Assent by threatening to withdraw troops from the army fighting in the War of the Spanish Succession. The Act provided that, if Anne died without a child, the Estates could elect the next monarch from amongst the Protestant descendants of previous Scottish Kings, but could not choose the English successor unless various religious, political and economic conditions were met. In turn, the English Parliament attempted to force the Scots to capitulate by restricting trade, thereby crippling the Scottish economy. The Scottish Estates were forced to agree to the Act of Union 1707, which united England and Scotland into a single realm called Great Britain; succession was to be under the terms established by the Act of Settlement.

William's death also brought an end to the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau, which had governed the Netherlands since the time of William the Silent (William I). The five provinces over which William III ruled — Holland, Zealand, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel — all suspended the office of Stadtholder after William III's death. The remaining two provinces — Friesland and Groningen — were never governed by William III, and continued to retain a separate Stadtholder, Johan Willem Friso. Under William III's will, 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-Nassau, as well as a descendant of William the Silent through a female. However, the Prussian King Frederick I also claimed the Principality as the senior cognatic heir, stadtholder Frederick Henry having been his maternal grandfather and William III his first cousin.

Johan Willem Friso died in 1711, leaving his claim to his son, William. Under the Treaty of Utrecht, which was agreed to in 1713, Frederick I of Prussia (who kept the title as part of his titulary) allowed the King of France, Louis XIV, to take the lands of Orange; William Friso, or William IV, who had no resources to fight for lands located in southern France, was left with the title of "Prince of Orange" which had accumulated high prestige in the Netherlands as well as in the entire Protestant world. William IV was also restored to the office of Stadtholder in 1747. (From 1747 onwards, there was one Stadtholder for the entire Republic, rather than a separate Stadtholder for each province.)


William's primary achievement was to hem in France when it was in a position to impose its will across much of Europe. His life was largely opposed to the will of the French King Louis XIV. 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.

His decision to grant the Royal Charter in 1694 to the Bank of England, 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 endowed the College of William and Mary (in present day Williamsburg, Virginia) in 1693.

Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is named after him. Similarly Nassau County, New York the western most county on Long Island, is a namesake. Long Island itself was also known as Nassau during early Dutch rule.

The modern day Orange Institution is named after William III, and makes a point of celebrating his victory at the Boyne. Orange marches in Ulster, England, Wales, United States, New Zealand, Canada, Ghana, Togo, Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Continental Europe on "the Twelfth" of July (the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne) often carry a picture of him with them. Hence "orange" is often thought of as a "Protestant" colour in Ireland. The flag of the Republic of Ireland includes the colour orange, as well as white and green, and signifies the aspiration to peace between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Ireland.

New York was briefly renamed New Orange for him. 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 when the Dutch renamed New York to New Orange and then as Fort William in 1691 when the English evicted Colonists who had seized the fort and city. Orange, Connecticut and The Oranges in northern New Jersey, are named for him.

Russian Tsar Peter the Great greatly admired William, and his Great Embassy visited the England of his time. There the two met a few times and Peter's portrait was painted by William's court artist, Sir Godfrey Kneller.

The joint style of William III and Mary II was "William and Mary, by the Grace of God, King and Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, etc." when they ascended the Throne. (The claim to France was only nominal, and had been asserted by every English King since Edward III, regardless of the amount of French territory actually controlled, see English claims to the French throne) From 11 April, 1689—when the Estates of Scotland recognised them as Sovereigns—the style "William and Mary, by the Grace of God, King and Queen of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, etc." was used. After Mary's death, William continued to use the same style, omitting the reference to Mary, mutatis mutandis'.









This web page was last updated on: 17 December, 2008