William III

views updated Jun 11 2018

William III (1650–1702), king of England, Scotland (as William II), and Ireland (1689–1702), prince of Orange. Appointed stadtholder of Holland and Zeeland, and captain- and admiral-general of all the Dutch provinces for life in July 1672, these posts were rendered hereditary in 1674 and 1675, when William was additionally elected stadtholder of Utrecht and Gelderland. He was the only child of William II of Orange and Mary Stuart, eldest daughter of Charles I, and was born on 4 November, eight days after his father's death, at a time of extreme crisis in Orange's relations with Amsterdam, always the seat of anti-Orangist sentiment. Twenty years of republican rule then ensued, setting the Orangist interest at a discount: it was excluded from all future participation in Holland's government, the young prince's upbringing being left to his mother and then to his redoubtable paternal grandmother, Amalia van Solms. Like his cousin and lifelong antagonist Louis XIV, William's early life was overshadowed by adversity, though this proved preparation for an astute character with a destiny of exceptional challenge. Impressively educated in sciences and languages, and severely tutored in Dutch republican doctrine, William yet had his Stuart ties, the exiled Charles II conferring the Garter on his infant nephew in 1653. Charles's restoration in 1660 in fact saw Orange's readmission to Holland's public life, the 10-year-old William being ceremonially received at Amsterdam.

During the 1660s William, puny in stature and incurably asthmatic, reached manhood. The Dutch republicans tried to bolt the door against any renewed Orange challenge. In 1667 the Holland stadtholderate was abolished, and the other six provinces following suit in 1670. William's first visit to England in November 1670, when he was received with gratifying honour, left him distrustful of Charles II, who was now planning the dismemberment of the Dutch republic in conjunction with Louis XIV. The Anglo-French attack in 1672 brought forth so strong an Orangist reaction that the Dutch savagely discarded republican government and bore the 22-year-old William upwards as the embodiment of resistance to aggression. In the formation of an anti-French front, William attained European stature and, returning to England in October 1677, was able to take momentous advantage of Charles II's embarrassed foreign policies by marrying his 15-year-old cousin Princess Mary, the elder and indubitably protestant daughter of James, duke of York, a professed catholic since 1670. William's underlying objective, frustrated by Charles II's wiles and Louis XIV's bribes, was to bring England into the anti-French front, but since Mary at this time was heir to the British crown, after her father, William manifestly enhanced his own more distant claim through his mother. The duke of York's last son by his first marriage had died in 1671, but his second duchess, the Italian Mary of Modena, at 19 only four years the senior of Princess Mary, might well have a healthy son. From different motives the British and French monarchs resolved to acquiesce in the Orange marriage. Difficult though the marriage proved to be for two people of very different temperaments, and remaining childless, it enabled William to play the dynast and laid the foundation for his intervention in England's affairs in November 1688. His visit in July 1681 confirmed William's view that the collapse of the opposition to his father-in-law's succession would indefinitely prolong British non-alignment in Europe's struggle against France. His ‘failure’ to prevent Monmouth's attempt against James II from Holland in May 1685 may have been calculated, William presuming that the expedition would end in disaster.

In November 1685 James II's assertion of the prerogative on behalf of his non-Anglican subjects alienated the most loyal Parliament a Stuart king had known. That William could prepare to intervene in England in the spring of 1688, some three months before he received the celebrated ‘Invitation’ of 30 June to rescue English liberties ‘before it be too late’, was owing to a series of reverses for France, and misjudgements by Louis XIV. The French thrust across the Rhine in September 1688, which enabled William to take 40,000 men in 400 ships across to England in autumn weather six weeks later, was occasioned by a series of diplomatic reverses which threatened the collapse of French policy towards Germany. No less consequential was Louis XIV's revocation of the Edict of Nantes in October 1685 which united behind Orange a spectrum of Dutch protestant opinion of unprecedented breadth. Further, the French government endeavoured to arrest economic decline by reimposing in 1688 its harsh tariffs of 1667, a measure devastating for Dutch textile and dairy product exports. If William's move into England brought a renewal of war between the republic and France, even Francophile Amsterdam now accepted that the French market could only be prised open by a resort to arms.

William had no illusions about English dislike of his countrymen, but his experience as a Dutch prince with more influence than real authority was providential for his exercise of Britain's ‘Revolution’ kingship. He never doubted, and gratefully recognized, Mary's own contribution to the device of the joint monarchy, and her death on 27 December 1694 prostrated him for months. With whatever reservations, the couple had accepted the radical drift of the traditionally based Declaration of Rights in February 1689; and subsequent statutory changes in treason law and judicial tenure coincided with William's own preferences. But his rule in Scotland, where he delegated too much, is a blight on his record; and those terms in the Act of Settlement of 1701 which placed limits upon the executive were unmistakably censorious. His conduct of the war against France, once Jacobite forces had been defeated in Ireland in 1691, placed him and his ministries under unrelenting parliamentary scrutiny, the more severe since coherent political parties were still in germination. How much the reforms in British public finance, for example the founding of the Bank of England in 1694, owed to initiatives from William is uncertain, since such reforms had begun under Charles II. What is clear is that William's contribution to the disclosure of foreign policy to Parliament opened a new era in crown–Parliament relations, even if this was occasioned by strident criticism of his use of prerogative power in this area. When he died on 8 March 1702 he had won a measure of international recognition for Britain's protestant succession, and had endeavoured to resolve peaceably, in partnership with Louis XIV, the problem of the Spanish succession. No British king has stood higher than William in international renown.

David Denis Aldridge


Baxter, S. B. , William III (1966);
Jones, J. R. , ‘William and the English’, in Wilson, C., and Proctor, D. (eds.), 1688: The Seaborne Alliance and Diplomatic Revolution (1989);
Robb, N. A. , William of Orange: A Personal Portrait (2 vols., 1962–6).

William III

views updated May 23 2018

William III

William III (1650-1702), 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 favor 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 counselors 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.

Further Reading

The most thorough of the modern biographies, focusing particularly on William III's role and importance during England's crisis with France, is Stephan B. Baxter, William III and the Defense of European Liberty, 1650-1702 (1966). An anecdotal glimpse into William's private life is provided by Nesca A. Robb's highly readable William of Orange: A Personal Portrait (2 vols., 1962-1966). David Ogg, William III (1956), is an attractive brief sketch. Three indispensable works on William's age are John B. Wolf, The Emergence of the Great Powers, 1685-1715 (1951); David Ogg, England in the Reigns of James II and William III (1955; corrected 1963); and Maurice Ashley, The Glorious Revolution of 1688 (1966). Peter Geyl, Orange and Stuart, 1641-1672 (trans. 1970), is superb.

Additional Sources

Miller, John, The life and times of William and Mary, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1974. □

William III

views updated Jun 11 2018

William III ( of Orange) (1650–1702) Prince of Orange and King of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1689–1702). He was born after the death of his father, William II, and succeeded him as the effective ruler of the United Provinces (Netherlands) in 1672. In 1677, he married Mary (later Mary II), daughter of James II of England. Following the Glorious Revolution (1688), he and Mary, strong Protestants, replaced the Catholic James II. They ruled jointly until her death in 1694. After crushing a Jacobite revolt in Scotland and Ireland (1690), William devoted himself to his lifelong task of resisting the forces of Louis XIV of France – a threat to the Netherlands in particular. He spent much of the 1690s campaigning, eventually forcing the exhausted French to sign the Peace of Ryswick (1697). In 1699, he organized the alliance that was to defeat the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. Never popular in England, William approved the Bill of Rights (1689) and other measures that diminished the royal prerogative.

About this article

William III (England)

All Sources -
Updated Aug 18 2018 About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic