William III-II (William Henry; Dutch: Willem Hendrik; November 4, 1650 – March 8, 1702), also widely known as William of Orange, was the sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from the 1670s, and King of England, Ireland, and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702.
William III-II was born in The Hague in the Dutch Republic on 4 November 4, 1650. Baptised William Henry (Dutch: Willem Hendrik), he was the only child of Mary, Princess Royal, and stadtholder Willem II, Prince of Orange. His mother was the eldest daughter of King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland and Princess Henrietta Marie de Bourbon of France. The Princess Royal was also the sister of King Charles II and King James II-VII.
Willem II, Prince of Orange and Mary, Princess Royal of England
Eight days before William was born, his father died of smallpox; thus William was the sovereign Prince of Orange from the moment of his birth as Prince William III of Orange. Immediately, a conflict ensued between his mother and paternal grandmother, Amalia of Solms-Braunfels, over the name to be given to the infant.
Mary wanted to name him Charles after her brother, but her mother-in-law insisted on giving him the name William (Willem) to bolster his prospects of becoming stadtholder.
Prince Willem II had appointed his wife as their son’s guardian in his will; however, the document remained unsigned at Willem II’s death and was void. On August 13, 1651, the Hoge Raad van Holland en Zeeland (Supreme Court) ruled that guardianship would be shared between his mother, his grandmother and Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg, husband of his paternal aunt Louise Henriette of Orange.
A Protestant, William participated in several wars against the powerful Catholic ruler King Louis XIV of France and Navarre in coalition with both Protestant and Catholic powers in Europe. Many Protestants heralded Prince William III of Orange as a champion of their faith.
William III, Prince of Orange
At the age of fifteen, Princess Mary of England became betrothed to her cousin, Prince William III of Orange. At first, King Charles II opposed the alliance with the Dutch ruler—he preferred that Mary wed the heir to the French throne, the Dauphin Louis, thus allying his realms with Catholic France and strengthening the odds of an eventual Catholic successor in Britain—but later, under pressure from Parliament and with a coalition with the Catholic French no longer politically favourable, he approved the proposed union.
Mary’s father, the Duke of York, agreed to the marriage, after pressure from chief minister Lord Danby and the King, who incorrectly assumed that it would improve James’s popularity among Protestants. When James, Duke of York told Mary that she was to marry her cousin, “she wept all that afternoon and all the following day”.
William and a tearful Mary were married in St James’s Palace by Bishop Henry Compton on November 4, 1677. The bedding ceremony to publicly establish the consummation of the marriage was attended by the royal family, with her uncle the King himself drawing the bed curtains.
Mary II, Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland, Princess of Orange
Mary accompanied her husband on a rough sea crossing to the Netherlands later that month, after a delay of two weeks caused by bad weather. Rotterdam was inaccessible because of ice, and they were forced to land at the small village of Ter Heijde, and walk through the frosty countryside until met by coaches to take them to Huis Honselaarsdijk. On December 14, they made a formal entry to The Hague in a grand procession.
In 1685, his Catholic uncle and father-in-law, James, Duke of York became king of England, Scotland, and Ireland as King James II-VII. James’s reign was unpopular with the Protestant majority in Britain, who feared a revival of Catholicism.
In June 1688, two events turned dissent into a crisis. Firstly, the birth of James’s Catholic son and heir, Prince James Francis Edward on June 10, with his second wife Princess Mary of Modena, raised the prospect of establishing a Roman Catholic dynasty and excluding his Anglican daughter’s Mary and her sister Anne and Mary’s Protestant husband William III of Orange from the line of succession.
James II-VII, King of England, Scotland and Ireland
Secondly, the prosecution of the Seven Bishops for seditious libel was viewed as further evidence of an assault on the Church of England, and their acquittal on June 30 destroyed his political authority in England. The ensuing anti-Catholic riots in England and Scotland led to a general feeling that only James’s removal from the throne could prevent another Civil War.
Supported by a group of influential British political and religious leaders, William III of Orange was invited to invaded England in what became known as the Glorious Revolution. In 1688, he landed at the south-western English port of Brixham; King James II-VII was deposed shortly afterward.
William’s reputation as a staunch Protestant enabled him and his wife to take power. On February 13, 1689 the Convention Parliament proclaimed both William and Mary as equal joint sovereigns as King William III and Queen Mary II of England and Ireland. William and Mary were declared King and Queen by the Parliament of Scotland on April 11, 1689. As King of Scotland, William is known as William II. Under the 1542 Crown of Ireland Act, the English monarch is automatically king of Ireland as well.
King William III-II and Queen Mary II of England, Scotland and Ireland
During the early years of his reign, King William III-II was occupied abroad with the Nine Years’ War (1688–1697), leaving Queen Mary II to govern Britain alone.
In late 1694, Queen Mary II contracted smallpox. She sent away anyone who had not previously had the disease, to prevent the spread of infection. Anne, who was once again pregnant, sent Mary a letter saying she would run any risk to see her sister again, but the offer was declined by Mary’s groom of the stool, the Countess of Derby. Several days into the course of her illness, the smallpox lesions reportedly disappeared, leaving her skin smooth and unmarked, and Mary said that she felt improved.
Her attendants initially hoped she had been ill with measles rather than smallpox, and that she was recovering. But the rash had “turned inward”, a sign that Mary was suffering from a usually fatal form of smallpox, and her condition quickly deteriorated. Queen Mary II died at Kensington Palace shortly after midnight on the morning of December 28 at the young age of 32.
William III-II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland. Prince of Orange
The death of Queen Mary II left William III-II to rule alone. William deeply mourned his wife’s death. Despite his conversion to Anglicanism, William’s popularity in England plummeted during his reign as a sole monarch.
During the 1690s rumours grew of William’s alleged homosexual inclinations and led to the publication of many satirical pamphlets by his Jacobite detractors.
King William III-II never remarried. Had he remarried his new wife would not have been a joint sovereign, or a Queen Regnant, as Queen Mary II had been; she would have been a Queen Consort, the traditional role of women married to a reigning British King.
In 1696 the Jacobites, a faction loyal to the deposed King James II-VII plotted unsuccessfully to assassinate William and restore James to the throne. William’s lack of children and the death in 1700 of his nephew Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, the son of his sister-in-law Anne, threatened the Protestant succession.
The danger was averted by placing distant relatives, the Protestant Hanoverians, in line to the throne with the Act of Settlement 1701.
On March 8, 1702, King William III-II died of pneumonia, a complication from a broken collarbone following a fall from his horse, Sorrel. William was buried in Westminster Abbey alongside his wife. His sister-in-law and cousin, Anne, became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland.
William’s death meant that he would remain the only member of the Dutch House of Orange to reign over England.
With the death of William III as sovereign Prince of Orange, the legitimate male line of Willem the Silent (the second House of Orange) became extinct. Prince Johan Willem Friso, the senior agnatic descendant of Willem the Silent’s brother and a cognatic descendant of Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange, grandfather of William III, claimed the succession as stadtholder in all provinces held by William III. This was denied to him by the republican faction in the Netherlands.
Under William III-II’s will, Johan Willem Friso stood to inherit the Principality of Orange as well as several lordships in the Netherlands. He was William’s closest agnatic relative, as well as grandson of William’s aunt Countess Henriette Catherine of Nassau.
Countess Henriette Catherine of Nassau
Countess Henriette Catherine of Nassau was a daughter of Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange, and Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. She was princess of Anhalt-Dessau by marriage to Johann Georg II, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, and regent of Anhalt-Dessau from 1693 to 1698 during the minority (and then the absence) of her son Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau.
However, King Friedrich I in Prussia also claimed the Principality as the senior cognatic heir, his mother Louise Henriette of Nassau being Henriette Catherine’s older sister.
Countess Louise Henriette of Nassau was forced to marry Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg (1620-1688), “the Great Elector,” at The Hague on December 7, 1646, her nineteenth birthday. She was the eldest daughter of Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange, and Amalia of Solms-Braunfels and they were the parents of King Friedrich I in Prussia.
Under the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), Friedrich I’s successor, King Friedrich Wilhelm I in Prussia, ceded his territorial claim to King Louis XIV of France and Navarre, keeping only a claim to the title. Friso’s posthumous son, Willem IV, succeeded to the title at his birth in 1711; in the Treaty of Partition (1732), Willem IV agreed to share the title “Prince of Orange” with King Friedrich Wilhelm I.
Incidentally, Prince Willem IV of Orange also married a British Princess. On March 25, 1734 he married at St James’s Palace Anne, Princess Royal, eldest daughter of King George II of Great Britain and Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach. They had five children and are the ancestors of the present Dutch Royal Family.