William III

(1650—1702) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and prince of Orange

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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. 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 Anglo‐French attack on the Dutch republic 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. 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.

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.

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. 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. William's contribution to the disclosure of foreign policy to Parliament, however unwilling, opened a new era in crown–Parliament relations. When he died on 8 March 1702 he had won a measure of international recognition for Britain's protestant succession. No British king has stood higher than William in international renown.


Subjects: British History.

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