Person NameWilliam III (of Orange) (1650-1702); King of Great Britain and Ireland
SurnameWilliam III (of Orange)
EpithetKing of Great Britain and Ireland
ActivityWilliam Henry was the only son of William II and Mary, daughter of Charles I. He was born in the Hague in 1650, shortly after his father’s death. He was fiercely protected by his relations as the house of Orange was undergoing a time of misfortune, in which it seemed unlikely that they would regain power either in Holland or in England. He attended the University of Leyden where he excelled in languages. He was declared of age at eighteen and took his place in the government of Holland, representing Flushing and Vere. He visited England for the first time in 1670 and was well-regarded there for his abstemious and religious habits. In the face of a threatened French invasion of Holland, William was made captain-general of the Dutch army, partly in order to encourage Charles II of England, his uncle, to take the Dutch side in the forthcoming war. He demonstrated excellent leadership and a statute which had prevented him from becoming Holland’s head of state (stadholder) was abolished in 1672, to allow him to become William III. Over the next few years, by judicious treaties and alliances, William pressed the French back and strengthened the position both of himself and of his heirs in Holland at the same time. In 1677 he married Charles II’s neice, Mary and returned with her to the Hague. Through her and through his own mother’s English connexions he maintained a close interest in England, though he resisted any attempts by Charles II to manipulate him to England’s ends and did not commit himself to any particular party. His father-in-law came to the throne at Charles II’s death in 1685: though their relations were never particularly good, at this time William was keen to support James II and James did not act to William’s disadvantage. James, however, was Catholic and tempted to ensure a Catholic crown for the future: William had been brought up Protestant and had no intention of changing. Initially James did not wish to align England with either France or the German Empire, but gradually French influence told with him and it was inevitable that he and William should grow more hostile. Diplomats seemed to spend their time sowing seeds of distrust in both camps: rumours of an Anglo-French alliance or of Protestant schemes to infiltrate English politics were rife. In 1687 William was asked by certain Protestant nobles and bishops to intervene to secure rights for English Protestants, and the states of Holland agreed to support such a move. France, having failed to find an alliance with England, declared war on the empire and left William free to leave his country, and he sailed for England. On arriving at London, he discovered that James had fled and assumed control of the Kingdom: the throne was a more difficult matter. William did not wish to be consort to his wife, who had the stronger claim to it, but this was eventually settled by parliament’s declaration that they should be joint monarchs. They were crowned in April 1688. William attempted to pass legislation on religious tolerance and on the closer unification of England and Scotland, but Scotland had large numbers of people sympathetic to James. Ireland, too, was a problem, as James had settled there and set up his own parliament. He decided to tackle Ireland first, and set off in 1690. He routed James at a decisive battle on the river Boyne, took Dublin, but initially failed to take Limerick. However, the Boyne was enough to prevent the French from using Ireland as a back door to England, and William could now turn his attention back to his wars in Europe. The sides were evenly matched, and though William is reported to have fought with considerable courage and intelligence, he could not defeat the French. He returned to England in 1692 to deal with conflict in parliament: the Whigs supported the war, but the Tories were opposed to it, and both sides were trying to consolidate their strengths by parliamentary reform. At the end of 1694, his wife and co-monarch Mary died of smallpox, which led to a reconciliation with her sister, Princess Anne, the heir-presumptive, but also inspired the Jacobites to plot to kill William, too. Support for his continued European war was waning, and he threw himself into efforts in 1696 to have a strong Whig government behind him after the elections. He was successful, and obtained expensive backing for his army, hoping for a final victory. A partial treaty was arranged by the end of the year which pleased the English people, if not William himself, but led to a call for national disarmament which William did not wish to support. He was proved generally right: the treaty with France did not last long, and William continued to divide his time between Holland and England, negotiating alliances and campaigning. Problems in Scotland, too, were aggravated by the massacre at Glencoe and the failure of the Darien venture. The heir presumptive, Princess Anne, lost her only son in 1700 and the succession had to be secured. He arranged in 1701 that the claims of the Electors of Hanover should be recognised, shortly before the death of James II in exile and the French government’s decision that his heir should be his son, James (later the Old Pretender). The French decision enraged the English and William set about defending against James’ possible succession by a series of parliamentary acts. However, a riding accident at Hampton Court seems to have brought on an attack of pleurisy, and William died there in March 1702. He was succeeded by Princess Anne.
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