Willem III (February 9, 1817 – November 23, 1890) was King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg from 1849 until his death in 1890. He was also the Duke of Limburg from 1849 until the abolition of the duchy in 1866.
Willem III was the son of King Willem II and Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia. Anna Pavlovna was born in 1795 at Gatchina Palace, the eighth child and sixth daughter of Emperor Paul I of Russia and Empress Maria Feodorovna (born Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg).
King Willem III of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg
On the abdication of his grandfather Willem I in 1840, and the accession of his father as King Willem II, Prince Willem became the Prince of Orange. On the death of his father in 1849, he succeeded as King Willem III of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg.
Willem III married his first cousin Princess Sophie of Württemberg in 1839. Sophie was born in Stuttgart; her parents were King Wilhelm I of Württemberg and Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna of Russia, the fourth eldest daughter of Emperor Paul I and Empress Maria Feodorovna (born Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg).
Shortly after Sophie’s birth, her mother died, and she was cared for by her aunt, Catharina of Württemberg. She was niece of tsars Alexander I and Nicholas I of Russia.
Princess Sophie of Württemberg
Willem III and Sophie had three sons, William, Maurice, and Alexander, all of whom predeceased him.
In 1877, Queen Sophie died and in the same year, King Willem III announced his intention to marry Émilie Ambre, a French opera singer, whom he ennobled as countess d’Ambroise – without government consent. Under pressure from society and the government, he abandoned these marriage plans.
Willem III remained eager to remarry. In 1878, he first proposed to his niece, Princess Elisabeth of Saxe-Weimar. He then considered marriage with Princess Pauline of Waldeck and Pyrmont, a small German principality, and Princess Thyra of Denmark, the daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark, who had her own private scandalous history
He finally decided to marry Pauline’s younger sister Emma.
Princess Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont
Emma was born a princess of Waldeck and Pyrmont on August 2, 1858 in Arolsen Castle in Arolsen, the capital of the small German principality of Waldeck and Pyrmont. She was the fourth daughter of Georg Viktor, Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont, and Princess Helena of Nassau-Weilburg. Her brother, Friedrich, was the last reigning prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont. Her sister, Helena, was the wife of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, a son of Queen Victoria.
Some politicians were quite angry, as she was 41 years the king’s junior. Emma showed herself, however, as a cordial woman. Willem III asked permission from parliament, this was easily granted. The couple were quickly married in Arolsen on January 7, 1879.
When Willem III married Emma in 1879 there was a 41 year age gap between them. Willem III was 62 and Emma was 21.
Princess Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont and King Willem III of the Netherlands
Emma had a relieving influence on Willem’s capricious personality and the marriage was extremely happy. The king had stopped interfering with most aspects of government.
In 1880, Princess Wilhelmina was born. She became heir presumptive in 1884 after the death of the last remaining son from Willem’s first marriage, Alexander, Prince of Orange.
King Willem became seriously ill in 1887. He was suffering from a kidney-ailment.
In 1888 and 1889, the ailing king became increasingly demented. The Council of State and then Queen Emma became regents. Willem III died in Het Loo in 1890. Because Wilhelmina had not yet reached adulthood, Emma became regent for her daughter. She would remain regent until Wilhelmina’s eighteenth birthday in 1898.