William the Silent

views updated May 18 2018

William the Silent

The Dutch statesman William the Silent (1533-1584), or William I, Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau, led the revolt of the Low Countries against Spain and created the independent republic of the United Provinces.

A German nobleman by birth, William the Silent became the leader of a rebellion in the Netherlands against the king of Spain. Passionately devoted to the cause of the unity of the Netherlands, he saw the country dividing into distinct northern and southern states under the impact of military events and religious antagonisms. At various times a Lutheran, a Roman Catholic, and a Calvinist, William was most of all dedicated to Erasmian tolerance in religion; yet in the end he had to rely upon fanatical Calvinists in order to stand up to the assaults of conquering Spanish armies. A wealthy, luxury-loving noble in his younger years, he learned to live the meager life of an exile and rebel and came to love the Dutch people, high and low, for whom he gave his life and who loved him as Father of the Fatherland. Trying ceaselessly to persuade foreign princes to take over the sovereignty of the Low Countries in order to save it, he ended by becoming the founder of a free and independent Dutch republic, and only his assassination prevented Holland from making him its count.

Early Years

William was born on April 24, 1533, at Dillenburg, the ancestral castle of the Nassaus near Wiesbaden, Germany, to Count William of Nassau-Dillenburg and Juliana von Stolberg. His early life was one of simple comforts and close family affection—a rough and easy life in a castle in the countryside. His mother raised him as a Lutheran, but after he inherited the vast possessions of his cousin, René of Châlon-Nassau, in 1544 (including the principality of Orange and numerous baronies and manors in France and in the Low Countries), Emperor Charles V, as a condition of his receiving his heritage in the Netherlands, required that William come there in 1545 to be raised as a Roman Catholic.

Under the guidance of the regent, Mary of Hungary, William grew into a handsome young nobleman, elegant and well-spoken in French and Dutch as well as in his native German, and intelligent and at ease with people. He married a wealthy heiress, Anne of Egmont and Büren, in 1551, thus becoming the richest nobleman in the Netherlands. Charles V was particularly fond of him, and during his abdication at Brussels on Oct. 25, 1555, he rested his weary arms upon young Orange's shoulders.

Appointment as Stadholder

Given military commands in the war against France in 1555, William proved to have little talent as a warrior, but he clearly displayed political ability on diplomatic missions to Germany and in the peace negotiations at Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559. Philip II, who had inherited the Netherlands as well as Spain from Charles V, made William a member of the Council of State in 1555 and a knight of the Golden Fleece, the Burgundian chivalric order, in 1556. In 1558 Anne of Egmont and Büren, who had given him a son, Philip William, and a daughter, died. Philip II recognized William's preeminence among the nobility by making him stadholder of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht in 1559.

William's second marriage was to Anne, the daughter of Elector Maurice of Saxony; she was a Lutheran princess who was even wealthier than Anne of Egmont and Büren had been. This 1561 marriage was a sign that William was not a passive instrument of his sovereign. When he returned to Brussels from the wedding in Leipzig, William joined the counts of Egmont and Hoorn, his colleagues in the Council of State, in resistance to the centralizing absolutist policies of Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, who was Philip's principal agent in the Netherlands while Margaret of Parma, the King's half sister, acted as regent. They were able to compel the King, who depended upon them as the most influential persons in the country for effective government, to recall Granvelle in 1564. But Philip would make no concession in the matter of repression of Protestant heresy, although William, a nominal Roman Catholic at the time, strongly urged a policy of tolerance on the principle that men's consciences should not be forced. However, William was aware that his young brother, Louis of Nassau, was one of the leaders of the movement of the lower nobility to prevent enforcement of the ordinances introducing the Inquisition.

Opposition to the Duke of Alba

William was shocked by the "image-breaking" movement of fanatical Calvinists in 1566, which made Philip decide to replace Margaret of Parma with the Duke of Alba, who brought an army of Spanish regulars to the Low Countries in 1567 in order to crush all resistance to the King's will. William, forewarned of Alba's task of terror, resigned his offices and withdrew beyond the duke's reach into Germany, where from his refuge at Dillenburg he renewed efforts to thwart the suppression of the Netherlands. Military expeditions led by himself and by Louis of Nassau in 1568 failed in the face of Alba's superior generalship and the people's passivity. During the next 4 years, while Alba ruled the Netherlands without visible hindrance, William and his brother Louis spent their time, after a year in service with the French Huguenots under Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, in preparing to return to the struggle in the Low Countries.

In 1570 the secret resistance movement in Holland encouraged William to attempt another expedition against Alba, which also failed. However, in 1572, after the "Sea Beggars" had seized Brill, they attempted a second campaign in the southern Netherlands, which failed. William, whose hopes of help from the French Huguenots were dashed by their destruction in the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day, thereupon decided to join the rebels in Holland and Zeeland "to find my grave there." These provinces, which continued to recognize William as their stadholder, thus maintaining the fiction that they were fighting not Philip II but only his general, Alba, became the base of William's new strategy of resistance. William became a Calvinist, although a moderate one, in order to hold the support of the most vigorous opponents of Spain, and he reorganized the governments of Holland and Zeeland upon the basis of the authority of their States, with himself as governor and commander. William was able to relieve Leiden in 1574 after a long siege, and he established a university there as the city's reward.

Pacification of Ghent

Also in 1574, William's marriage to Anne of Saxony, who had run off with another man and was obviously mentally unbalanced, was annulled, and in 1575 he married Princess Charlotte de Bourbon-Montpensier, who became an affectionate stepmother to his children. Negotiations in Breda for peace the same year with Luis de Lúñiga y Requesens, the Spanish commander, shortly before Requesens' death, failed over the question of religion. After a mutiny of Spanish troops in 1576, William was able to arrange an agreement among all the provinces, north and south, called the Pacification of Ghent, which enabled him to maintain their common resistance to Don John of Austria, the new governor general from Spain. He persuaded the Austrian archduke Matthias to accept appointment as governor general from the States General, but William's attempt to preserve the unity of the provinces failed due to the intransigence of religious extremists on both sides. The northern provinces, under the urging of his oldest brother, John of Nassau, joined together in the Union of Utrecht in January 1579, a union that William accepted reluctantly at first. Meanwhile Alessandro Farnese forged the almost simultaneous Union of Arras among Roman Catholics and Walloons in the opposite camp. The civil war resumed with new fury.

Last Years and Assassination

Philip II put William under the ban of outlawry in 1580, to which he replied in a bitter Apology. The States General abjured the sovereignty of Philip in 1581, and the French Duke of Alençon and Anjou was called in to take his place as a constitutional sovereign. An attempt upon William's life by Jean Jaureguy on March 18, 1582, almost succeeded; Princess Charlotte, who nursed him through a difficult recovery, died of overstrain. In January 1583 Anjou, revealing his true purpose of becoming an absolute lord in the Netherlands, unleashed his troops on Antwerp in the so-called French Fury, but he was saved from the revenge of the populace by William. That April, William married Louise de Coligny, a French Huguenot noblewoman, at Antwerp, and then moved his residence to Holland, despairing at last of keeping the Low Countries, though divided in religion, united against Spain.

During 1584 the States of Holland and Zeeland proposed to give William the title of count with limited powers, but he was slain on July 10 by Balthasar Gérard, a Roman Catholic from Franche-Comté, at the Prinsenhof in Delft before any action was taken. The last words attributed to him, "God, have pity on me and this poor people," expressed his devotion to the cause for which he had fought so long. This cause was to triumph, although not before 6 more decades had passed, under the leadership of his sons Maurice of Nassau and Frederick Henry, and then only in the northern provinces, which became the Dutch Republic. The United Provinces, which accepted the Union of Utrecht, constituted only a fragment of the Low Countries that he had sought to hold together. But it endured, became rich and powerful, and was the direct historical origin of the modern kingdom of the Netherlands (Holland).

Further Reading

As readable biographies, Frederic Harrison, William the Silent (1910; repr. 1970), and Ruth Putnam, William the Silent, Prince of Orange, and the Revolt of the Netherlands (1911), have been superseded by C. V. Wedgwood's brilliant William the Silent (1944). For historical background see Pieter Geyl, The Revolt of the Netherlands, 1555-1609 (1931; trans. 1932), and B. H. M. Vlekke, Evolution of the Dutch Nation (1945).

Additional Sources

Swart, K. W. (Koenraad Wolter), William the Silent and the revolt of the Netherlands, London: Historical Association, 1978. □

William I

views updated Jun 08 2018

William I (1027/8–87), king of England (1066–87) and duke of Normandy (1035–87), known as ‘the Conqueror’, was born at Falaise in Normandy. His father was Robert the Magnificent, duke of Normandy (1027–35), and his mother was Herleva, a woman about whose origins various theories have been developed, but who was certainly an established partner of the duke. William's succession to the duchy occurred when he was 8 and had the prior agreement of the Norman magnates and of his lord, the king of France. The first years of his rule in Normandy were turbulent and his survival at times precarious. He faced rival claimants from within his own family and his illegitimate birth was sometimes mocked by contemporaries—his other nickname (‘the Bastard’) was used in his own lifetime—but, after defeating Norman rebels in 1047 and 1053–4, he established a formidable control within the duchy which was never thereafter seriously threatened. For reasons which are not entirely clear, his overlord the French king turned against him in the early 1050s and he had to overcome invasions led by Henry I of France and the count of Anjou, Geoffrey Martel, in 1053–4 and 1057. William began to make territorial gains to the south of Normandy in the 1050s and in 1063 acquired the large county of Maine. In 1051 he received a promise of succession to the English kingdom from Edward the Confessor, apparently out of gratitude for the protection which Edward had been given while in exile in Normandy, and in 1066 he defeated Harold Godwineson at the battle of Hastings to make good his claim. William appears initially to have tried to rule conquered England with the support of an aristocracy which was a mixture of natives and Normans, but it is clear in retrospect that there was no trust between the two groups and that the policy was doomed to failure. Six years of often brutal campaigning, which included the notorious ‘harrying of the orth’ in the winter of 1069–70, were needed to complete the subjugation of William's new kingdom. He thereafter relied almost exclusively on his northern French followers, a new aristocracy whose dominance is clearly revealed by Domesday Book. After 1072 he visited England infrequently, usually to deal with crises such as the revolt of the earls in 1075 or the threatened invasion from Denmark in 1085. The last decade of his life was troubled by the revival of enemies in northern France, dissensions within the ruling group of Normans fomented by his eldest son Robert Curthose, and threats of invasion of England from Scandinavia. On his death-bed, he divided his lands between Robert Curthose, who received Normandy, and his second surviving son, William Rufus, who was given England. The reasons for this division are not definitively known; it is probable that years of conflict had made him distrust Robert, whose claims to Normandy were none the less undeniable, and that he was influenced by a long-standing custom whereby territorial provision was often made for the younger sons of the Norman ducal kindred.

William's achievement was based on a powerful personality, which appears to have overawed almost all who came into contact with him, and a strong physique which made him one of the most formidable warriors of his day. A capacity for often excessive cruelty and for leadership in war was combined with an unbending will and a shrewd political mind. His power base in Normandy was constructed around a small inner circle of kinsmen and associates who were ruthlessly advanced at the expense of rivals. Members of this group were also at the centre of Norman rule in England. His wife Matilda, to whom he was faithful in a way which is remarkable among contemporary medieval kings, often acted as his deputy in Normandy when he was in England. He cleverly ensnared Harold Godwineson in a web of perjury, by obliging him to swear the celebrated oath at either Bonneville or Bayeux, and he skilfully used his reputation as a religious reformer to secure the papacy's sponsorship of the war of conquest of 1066 and its co-operation in the reorganization of the English church which followed, in which Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury was a skilled and well-chosen collaborator. Intelligently and probably cynically, he used Edward the Confessor's promise of the succession to construct a framework of legality within which lands could be transferred from the dispossessed English to French newcomers; even if this was a disorderly process exacerbated by the rapacity of many of the conquerors (to which William himself seems at times to have turned a blind eye), the idea of legal continuity created a structure within which royal authority could sometimes operate effectively. He maintained English overlordship over Wales and Scotland. He enjoyed a measure of good fortune, most notably in the deaths in 1060 of his major rivals in France, the French king Henry I and Count Geoffrey Martel, which enabled him to intervene in England without having to be much concerned about possible threats to the duchy. He was also lucky in that Harold Godwineson's victory at the battle of Stamford Bridge over Harold Hardrada removed a contender whom William would otherwise have had to fight and in that Edgar the Atheling was not a credible alternative around whom the English could unite after 1066. William's death was followed by a civil war between his sons over his inheritance, which was not finally resolved until Henry I's reunification of Normandy and England in 1106. This struggle is testimony to the solidity of William's achievements, since his sons were basically fighting to continue them. Almost every aspect of the Norman Conquest is controversial. But there can be no doubt that it was William's formidable abilities which laid the foundations for its success.

David Richard Bates


Bates, D. , William the Conqueror (1989);
Douglas, D. C. , William the Conqueror (1964);
Fleming, R. , Kings and Lords in Conquest England (1991).

William I

views updated May 14 2018

William I

The English king William I (1027/1028-1087), called the Conqueror, subjugated England in 1066 and turned this Saxon-Scandinavian country into one with a French-speaking aristocracy and with social and political arrangements strongly influenced by those of northern France.

William I was the illegitimate son of Robert I the Devil, Duke of Normandy, and Arletta, a tanner's daughter. Before going on pilgrimage in 1034, Robert obtained recognition of William as his successor, but a period of anarchy followed Robert's death in 1035. As he grew up, Duke William gradually established his authority; his victory over a rival at Val-e's-Dunes in 1047 made him master of Normandy. One chronicle relates that in 1051 or 1052 he visited his childless cousin king Edward the Confessor of England, who may have promised him the succession to the English throne.

About 1053 William married a distant relative, Matilda, daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders. She bore him four sons and four daughters, including Robert, Duke of Normandy; King William II; King Henry I; and Adela, Countess of Blois, mother of King Stephen.

William's military ability, ruthlessness, and political skill enabled him to raise the authority of the Duke of Normandy to an entirely new level and at the same time to maintain practical independence of his overlord, the king of France. William completed the conquest of Maine in 1063, and the next year he was recognized as overlord of Brittany.

Norman Conquest of England

In the same year, according to Norman sources, Harold, Earl of Wessex, son of Godwin, chief of the Anglo-Saxon nobility, fell into William's hands and was forced to swear to support William's claim to the English throne. Harold was nonetheless crowned king following the death of Edward on Jan. 6, 1066. William secured for his claim the sanction of the Pope, who was interested in correcting abuses in the English Church; at the same time, he ordered transports to be built and collected an army of adventurers from Normandy and neighboring provinces. William was also in touch with Harold's exiled brother, who with the king of Norway attacked the north of England. Harold defeated these enemies at Stamford Bridge on Sept. 25, 1066, but his absence allowed William to land unopposed in the south three days later. Harold attempted to bar William's advance, but he was defeated and killed in the Battle of Hastings on Oct. 14, 1066. After a brief campaign William was admitted to London and crowned king on Christmas Day.

In the next four years William and his Norman followers secured their position; after the last serious rising, in Yorkshire in 1069, he "fell upon the English of the North like a raging lion," destroying houses, crops, and livestock so that the area was depopulated and impoverished for many decades. William took over the old royal estates and a large part of the land confiscated from Saxon rebels. He kept for himself nearly a quarter of the income from land in the kingdom. About two-fifths he granted to his more important followers, to be held in return for the service of a fixed number of knights. This feudal method of landholding was common in northern France, but it was rare if not unknown in England before the Conquest.

Government of England

Claiming to be King Edward's rightful heir, William maintained the general validity of Anglo-Saxon law and issued little legislation; the so-called Laws of William (Leis Willelme) were not compiled until the 12th century. William also took over the existing machinery of government, which was in many ways more advanced than that of France. Local government was placed firmly under his control; earl and sheriff were his officers, removable at his will. He made use of an established land tax and a general obligation to military service.

William also controlled the Church. In 1070 he appointed Lanfranc, abbot of St. Stephen's Abbey at Caen, as archbishop of Canterbury. Lanfranc became William's trusted adviser and agent. The higher English clergy, bishops, and abbots were almost entirely replaced by foreigners. In a series of councils Lanfranc promulgated decrees intended to bring the English Church into line with developments abroad and to reform abuses. Though encouraging reforms, William insisted on his right to control the Church and its relations with the papacy. He controlled the elections of prelates; he would allow no pope to be recognized and no papal letter to be received without his permission; and he would not let bishops issue decrees or excommunicate his officials or tenants-in-chief without his order. About 1076 William rejected the demand of Pope Gregory VII that he should do fealty to the Roman Church for England, and the matter was dropped.

Domesday Book and Death

At Christmas, 1085, William ordered a great survey of England to be carried out, primarily in order to record liability to the land tax, or "geld." The results were summarized in the two great volumes known as the Domesday Book. Six months later, at a great gathering in Salisbury, William demanded oaths of fealty from all the great landowners, whether or not they were tenants-in-chief of the Crown. In this as in the Domesday survey, he was asserting rights as king over subjects, not simply as feudal lord over vassals.

Throughout his life William was involved in almost ceaseless campaigning: against rebels in Normandy and England, enemies in France, and the Welsh and the Scots. The Scottish king was forced to do homage to William in 1072. William died in Rouen, France, on Sept. 9, 1087. He was respected for his political judgment, his interest in Church reform, the regularity of his private life, and his efforts to maintain order. But above all he was feared; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that "he was a very stern and harsh man, so that no one dared do anything contrary to his will."

Further Reading

The standard biography of William I is David C. Douglas, William the Conqueror (1964). R. Allen Brown, The Normans and the Norman Conquest (1970), treats the invasion in detail, while F. M. Stenton, ed., The Bayeux Tapestry (1947; 2d ed. 1965), offers a vivid contemporary record from the Norman viewpoint. The best general history of the period is Stenton's Anglo-Saxon England (1943; 3d ed. 1971), which concludes with the death of William. □

William I

views updated May 21 2018


WILLIAM I (in German, Wilhelm I; 1797–1888), emperor of Germany (1871–1888) and king of Prussia (1861–1888).

William I was the second son of the future King Frederick William III of Prussia and Louise of Mecklenburg. As the younger brother of the heir, William was expected to make a career in the military, and this was a role that he relished. He served in the wars against Napoleon I and was devoted to the army.

In 1829 William married Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. The union produced two children: Frederick, who later reigned as Frederick III, and Louise, who married the grand duke of Baden. William's marriage was one of convenience; he had abandoned his love affair with a Polish countess, Elise Radziwill, who was not deemed to be a suitable consort for a Prussian prince. William and his wife were ill-suited temperamentally and politically; he particularly had no use for his wife's more liberal political views.

William's conservatism and advocacy of the use of force against the forces of change earned him the enmity of revolutionaries during the revolutions of 1848, and he was forced to flee to England incognito. When the tide of the revolution turned, William returned to Prussia and commanded the troops that put down a republican insurrection in Baden.

As the result of the revolution, Prussia became a constitutional monarchy. Although William was no advocate of constitutionalism, he believed that the monarch had the obligation to uphold the constitution. His beliefs on this score were tested in 1858 when he became regent of Prussia after his brother, King Frederick William IV, was declared unfit to rule. As regent, William gave hope for progressive change when he appointed moderate liberals to his cabinet. But after he became king in 1861, he introduced military reform bills that ran afoul of liberals in parliament who believed that it would create an army that would be used to suppress reforms. Liberals in the Prussian parliament repeatedly rejected his army reform bills, as government operations ground to a halt. For weeks, relations between crown and parliament stood at an impasse, and William threatened to abdicate. Liberals advocated the accession of William's son Frederick, who was more liberal than his father, whereas conservatives flocked to William's nephew Frederick Charles, who threatened to do away with the constitution altogether.

In September 1862, at the height of the crisis, William accepted his advisors' suggestion to appoint Otto von Bismarck as prime minister. Bismarck found a convenient loophole in the constitution that allowed him to push through the king's military reforms. Bismarck then proceeded to assuage liberals' anger over his manipulation of the constitution by achieving their long-held desire for a united Germany under Prussia, which became a reality after Prussia's victories over Austria in 1866 and France in 1871. William I commanded troops during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, received the surrender of Napoleon III at Sedan, France, and was proclaimed German emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

William reigned as emperor for the next seventeen years, despite advanced age and two attempts on his life. Although Bismarck told his biographers he was a mere servant of his emperor, historians usually refer to the period of William's rule as the Age of Bismarck, because the chancellor dominated both domestic and foreign policy. Yet William was no mere cipher of his chancellor; he often disagreed with his policies. William did not favor Bismarck's struggle against the Roman Catholic Church during the 1870s, and gave it only his tacit consent. In the end, William was a modest, hard-working, and conscientious ruler. His letters and memoranda show that he carefully thought through issues affecting his realm. Though his militarism and conservative views often put him at odds with radical elements in the German Empire, he was a popular monarch.

As William lay dying at the age of ninety-one, his wife permitted a cameo of Elise Radziwill to be placed in his hand. After clutching it briefly, the old emperor passed away. He was succeeded by his son Frederick, who was ill with cancer and reigned for only three months. Frederick in turn was succeeded by his son, who became Emperor William II. Although the young emperor worshipped his late grandfather, it was Germany's misfortune that he lacked the elder man's conscientiousness and sense of restraint.

See alsoAustro-Prussian War; Bismarck, Otto von; Danish-German War; Franco-Prussian War; Frederick William IV; Germany; Prussia; Revolutions of 1848.


Aronson, Theo. The Kaisers. London, 1971.

Börner, Karl Heinz. Kaiser Wilhelm I, 1797 bis 1888: Deutscher Kaiser und König von Preussen. Cologne, Germany, 1984.

Marcks, Erich. Kaiser Wilhelm I. Leipzig, Germany, 1897.

Schultze, Johannes, ed. Kaiser Wilhelms I: Weimarer Briefe. Berlin, 1924.

Patricia Kollander

William I

views updated Jun 08 2018

William I

William I (1797-1888) was king of Prussia from 1861 to 1888 and emperor of Germany from 1871 to 1888. He was the first of the three Hohenzollern rulers of the German Empire of 1871-1918.

Born in Berlin on March 22, 1797, William I was the second son of Prussian king Frederick William III and Queen Luise. William spent much of the Napoleonic Wars as a somewhat sickly refugee in Konigsberg, Memel, and St. Petersburg. He participated in the 1813-1814 War of Liberation, gaining an Iron Cross for action at Bar-sur-Aube and being promoted to general major on his twenty-first birthday.

After a brief "forbidden romance" with Princess Elizabeth Radziwill, in 1829 William wed the lively Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar, with whom he enjoyed a happy marriage despite habitual arguments. William became heir presumptive in 1840 on the accession of his childless brother, Frederick William IV. This fact, and his military conservatism, made William the "Cartridge Prince," whom the revolutionaries of 1848 hounded from Berlin to a diplomatic refuge in England. He returned in a few months, advocating order and enforcing it in an 1849 "campaign" against rebels in the Palatinate, where military administration brought William promotion to field marshal in 1854.

William became deputy sovereign in 1857 and regent in 1858 for his expiring brother, whom he succeeded on Jan. 2, 1861. The authoritarian policy and advisers of the new reign soon created a constitutional crisis. William sought to conscript a larger regular army to support his foreign policy, while pursuing a progressive "new era" in domestic politics. This united only the Landtag opponents of the military budget. War Minister Albrecht von Roon persuaded William to appoint Otto von Bismarck as minister president in 1862, and thenceforth Bismarck's skill as a diplomatist soon made him so indispensable that his right to advise William became in effect a power to rule in the King's name.

William presided over, without directing or controlling, the political and military conflicts by which Bismarck and chief of staff Count Moltke drove Austria from the German Confederation (1866) and then led the remaining German states to victory over Napoleon III (1870). The united Deutsches Reich under Kaiser William was acclaimed at Versailles on Jan. 18, 1871, during the siege of Paris. William regarded his new title as a burden of doubtful value and complained that "it is very difficult being Kaiser under a Chancellor like Bismarck." However, Bismarck was kept as chancellor to the end of William's long reign.

The new German Empire needed more modern institutions of government than the old kaiser could develop or tolerate. This proved a misfortune for his successors, Frederick III and William II, as well as for Germany, but William's generation was content to understand "German freedom" simply as national independence. The diplomatic effort to preserve this by averting another war consumed the old king's declining years. The last hours before his death on March 9, 1888, were expended in royal monologues on foreign policy, and the dying monarch rejected suggestions that he rest with the ironic retort, "I have no time to be tired now."

Further Reading

A full-length study of William I in English is Paul Wiegler, William the First (1927; trans. 1929). See also Walter H. Nelson, The Soldier Kings (1970), and Theo Aronson, The Kaisers (1971). For historical background see Golo Mann, The History of Germany since 1789 (trans. 1968), and Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 1840-1945 (1969). □

William I

views updated Jun 11 2018

William I

William I (1772-1843) was king of the Netherlands from 1815 to 1840. He was one of the restored rulers of post-Napoleonic Europe whose power derived from no clearly settled precedent.

William I was born at The Hague on Aug. 24, 1772. His father was the Dutch stadholder (executive ruler) William V, Prince of Orange. In 1791 the younger William married his cousin, Princess Wilhelmina of Prussia; and in 1792 the couple had a son, who, as William II, succeeded his father as king of the Netherlands.

In the administrative system of the Dutch Republic (United Provinces of the Netherlands), inherited from the long revolutionary war against Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries, the office of stadholder played a prominent role in affairs. In the 18th century the formal power of the stadholder was greatly augmented. But the strengthening of the executive power in the hands of traditional Orangeist leadership was by no means sufficient to halt the gradual decline of the Netherlands into weak-power status. William V, a rigid conservative, ruled with an iron hand, using Prussian troops to put down the native revolutionary Patriot movement (1787). But when the French Revolution began to spill across the borders of its homeland, William V, his son, and his grandson were forced to flee the Netherlands into English exile.

The younger William at first showed liberal tendencies in marked contrast to the autocratic temperament of his father. In 1802 both men returned to Europe, the elder to take up residence in the family's hereditary estates in Nassau, the younger to German territories granted him as a favor by Napoleon. The father's death in 1806 left William the title of Prince of Orange (as William VI) and the Nassau lands. But his switch to the Prussian side against Napoleon in the same year deprived him of all his holdings and turned him into a pensioner of the Prussian court.

In 1813, however, the French pulled out of the Netherlands, to which William returned first as "sovereign prince," then as king (March 16, 1815). His original grant of territory made him sovereign not only of the former United Provinces but of Belgium and Luxembourg as well. The restoration that reunited, if briefly, those territories which had once coexisted in tenuous unity under their Burgundian and Hapsburg overlords until the Dutch Revolution and partial Spanish reconquest, set them on different historical paths.

This history of separation—rather than any semimythical Netherlandish unity—was to prove William's undoing. The joining of the Netherlands to Belgium upset the linguistic balance in the latter country, antagonizing the French-speaking Walloons of the south. Religious tensions in the Low Countries, long divided by the Reformation, were also aggravated. Although not as conservative as his father, William ruled as a restored enlightened despot rather than as the liberal monarch his subjects desired. In 1830, the year which ended the restoration regime in France, Belgium successfully broke away from its northern ruler; but William I learned little from this experience. He continued his opposition to liberal demands, and on Oct. 7, 1840, he was forced to abdicate in favor of his son. William once again retreated to Prussia, where he died in Berlin on Dec. 12, 1843.

Further Reading

Two general surveys of Dutch history are G. J. Renier, The Dutch Nation (1944), and B. H. M. Vlekke, Evolution of the Dutch Nation (1945). Practically all significant historical and biographical literature on the Netherlands is in the Dutch language; but for a brilliant synthesis of modern Dutch history down to William's reign see Charles H. Boxer, The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1600-1800 (1965). □

William I

views updated Jun 27 2018

William I (c.1142–1214), king of Scots (1165–1214), later known as ‘the Lion’. Younger brother and successor to Malcolm IV, he was granted the earldom of Northumberland by his grandfather David I in 1152, and never accepted the loss of the border counties to Henry II in 1157. When Henry faced a major rebellion in 1173–4, William invaded Northumberland and Cumberland in a disastrous bid to reassert Scottish control. Captured at Alnwick, he had to recognize Henry as the superior lord of Scotland by the treaty of Falaise. Scottish independence was restored by the quitclaim of Canterbury, and in 1192 the papacy confirmed that the Scottish church was free of all external authority save the pope's. But Anglo-Scottish relations remained tense and, while Scotland retained its formal independence, King John imposed stringent terms by the treaty of Norham. Although William's conflicts with the English crown distracted his attention from the Highlands and Isles, his long reign nevertheless saw important advances on the lines laid down by David I, and ‘against his few startling failures we must set a larger though less dramatic record of unflagging achievement’. New burghs were founded outside the traditional royal heartlands; Anglo-Norman families gained new estates, especially north of the river Tay; and the bishopric of Argyll was established in about 1192. Though native lords were by no means excluded from William's favour, the intensification of royal control triggered a series of rebellions along the periphery, in Galloway, Moray, Ross, and Caithness. The crushing of these risings was striking testimony to William's resources and ability; but a contrast must still be drawn between the effectiveness of royal power in the Lowlands and its much more restricted nature in the far north and west. In addition, the Isles remained, however loosely, under the overlordship of Norway. William died at Stirling and was buried in Arbroath abbey, which he had founded in honour of St Thomas Becket. Not until the 14th cent. was he referred to as ‘the Lion’, an epithet evoking his reputation as an enforcer of justice.

Keith J. Stringer

William I

views updated May 23 2018

William I ( the Conqueror) (1027–87) King of England (1066–87) and Duke of Normandy (1035–87). Supported initially by Henry I of France, he consolidated his position in Normandy against hostile neighbours. On the death of Edward the Confessor, he claimed the English throne, having allegedly gained the agreement of King Harold II in 1064. William defeated and killed Harold at the Battle of Hastings (1066), and subsequently enforced his rule over the whole kingdom. He rewarded his followers by grants of land, eventually replacing almost the entire feudal ruling class, and intimidated potential rebels by rapid construction of castles. He invaded Scotland (1072) – extracting an oath of loyalty from Malcolm III Canmore – and Wales (1081), although he spent much of his reign in France. William ordered the famous survey known as the Domesday Book (1086).

William I

views updated May 23 2018

William I (1797–1888) King of Prussia (1861–88) and Emperor of Germany (1871–88). From 1858, He served as regent for his brother, Frederick William IV. His suppression of revolution in 1848–49 earned him a reputation as a reactionary, but as King he displayed sensible pragmatism and followed the advice of his minister, Otto von Bismarck. He supported the unification of Germany, but accepted his proclamation as Emperor reluctantly, fearing a reduction in Prussia's status.

William I

views updated Jun 27 2018

William I ( the Lion) (1143–1214) King of Scotland (1165–1214). He succeeded his brother Malcolm IV and forged what was later called the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France. Captured by the English during an attempt to regain Northumbria, he was forced to swear fealty to Henry II (1174). He bought back his kingdom's independence from Richard I in return for a cash payment towards the Third Crusade in 1189. William the Lion established the independence of the Church (under the Pope) and strengthened royal authority in the north.

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