Willem III of Orange
1650-March 8, 1702), also known as William III of England, Scotland,
, was a Prince of the House of Orange (November 4, 1650-
March 8, 1702), and Dutch Stadtholder(June 28, 1672 - March 8, 1702) and
(jointly with his wife Mary II until her death) King of England, Scotland,
and Ireland(February 13, 1689-March 8, 1702).
William of Orange was born in The Hague eight days after the death of his
father from smallpox. His mother was Mary Stuart, daughter of Charles I
of England. She died in 1660, also from smallpox.
On June 28, 1672 he was appointed to the office of Stadtholder in the
Netherlands, as well as captain-general of the Dutch forces opposing the
French invasion of the Third Anglo-Dutch War. He was successful in forcing
peace on them in 1678. Fearing that another invasion would follow in future,
he worked to create an anti-French alliance, the League of Augsburg. As
it happened, the most important event leading towards this goal had taken
place the year before.
After the end of the Puritan Commonwealth, the restored king of England,
Charles II married Mary, the daughter of his younger brother the Duke of
York, to William in 1677. When Charles II died childless, the crown passed
to the Duke, now James II. James was Catholic, a dangerous thing in the
largely Protestant British Isles, but enjoyed qualified support from his
subjects because of his heir: Mary. She was Protestant, as was her husband.
Crisis came when the middle-aged James had another child in June 1688
--- this time a son, James Francis Edward Stuart -- bumping Mary down the
line of succession and threatening a Catholic dynasty in England. A high-powered
conspiracy of notables, the "Immortal Seven", invited William and Mary
to depose James. War had broken out between the League of Augsburg and
France in October (the War of the Grand Alliance), and James had allied
with the latter power. Seeing the invitation as a chance to drive a wedge
between England and France, and to add England to his side, the couple
invaded on November 5, 1688, landing at Brixham in Devon, and succeeded
in capturing James in Kent. The largely bloodless coup, widely hailed as
borderline miraculous in light of the violent past English Civil War and
the War of the Roses, was dubbed the "Glorious Revolution."
At first Parliament intended to give the throne of England to Mary alone,
but she refused. Not only was she nervous about the prospect of ruling
alone, but William was also concerned about his status. On February 13,
1689, their de facto co-rule was made official, and William became
William III of England while Mary became Mary II. In return for this, the
British Bill of Rights was passed; along with 1701's Act of Settlement,
this made Parliament the supreme power in England (and soon to follow,
the United Kingdom).They were crowned on April 11, 1689.
In practice, the first part of their reign was one of Mary acting as
administrator and William as field commander. Their marriage was in other
ways unsatisfactory, producing no heirs. In 1690, William fought the Battle
of the Boyne, which put down an Irish rebellion in favour of James II and
forced that claimant to the throne out of the British Isles for the time
being. Later, William took the battle against the French to Flanders.
Mary II died of smallpox in 1694, and William continued to rule without
her. In 1697, he brought the war against France to a successful conclusion
with the Peace of Rijswijk. During this time his solo rule of England was
growing progressively more unpopular. As his primary interest was with
his native Holland, he had no compunctions against using English resources
to further that end. His reign ended soon after, however -- in 1702, he
died of complications resulting from a fall off his horse. He was buried
in Westminster Abbey with his wife, Mary.
Under the laws passed upon William and Mary's accession and in 1701,
the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland passed to Mary's sister,
Anne. The leadership of the Dutch passed to John William Friso, and the
troublesome personal union between Britain and the Netherlands came to
William's primary achievement was the hemming in of France when she
was in a position to impose her will across much of Europe. His life was
largely opposed to the will of Louis XIV. This effort continued after his
death, with the alliance he built opposing the French in the War of the
Spanish Succession. His other main effect on history was granting the British
Parliament wide powers in return for its support in his continental wars.
This settled the intense 17th century conflict between Crown and Parliament
in England, and was a major step in the development of that nation's political
institutions. In parts of the United Kingdom where religion is still an
issue (notably Northern Ireland and, to a much lesser extent, Scotland),
William is a symbol of the Protestant partisanship -- references to "King
Billy", Orange lodges, and the colour orange hark back to him.