William lll 1689-1702

William III, designated William II of Scotland.

Born: Binnenhof Palace, Holland, 4 November 1650.

Full name and titles: King of England, Scotland and Ireland; Stadtholder of Holland, Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau-Dillenburg (from 1672).

Crowned: Westminster Abbey, II April 1689.

Ruling jointly with: MARY II, 13 February 1689-8 March 1702. King of England and Scotland.

Married: 4 November 1677, at St James's Palace, London, Mary, dau. of James II of England: 3 children, all stillborn

Died: Kensington Palace, 8 March 1702, aged 51.

Buried: Westminster Abbey.

William III was descended from the ancient house of Nassau in Germany and was the great-grandson of William the Silent, Prince of Orange, who became Stadtholder (or chief executive) of the Netherlands in 1572. His father, William II, died just eight days before William was born. His mother, Maria Henrietta, was the daughter of Charles I of England and Scotland. He was thus the nephew of James II, whose daughter, Mary (II), he subsequently married. William was deprived of his titles in Holland in his childhood because of his father's arguments with the regents of Holland, but he was restored in 1672 following the overthrow of the dictatorial John de Witt who had governed Holland, first in alliance with France and then, after war broke out with France in 1667, with England and Sweden. Young William led the Dutch against the French and succeeding in forcing a peace in 1678 in which all of the Dutch terms were agreed. As a precursor to this, in his negotiations with his uncle, Charles II, who was acting as mediator between France and the Netherlands, William secured a political marriage with England by marrying his cousin, Mary, in 1677.

When James came to the throne and began to pursue his active Catholic measures, William first distanced himself and then, afraid that James might actually tip the balance and secure a Catholic majority in Parliament, and thereby become an immediate ally of the French, decided to intervene. He responded to an invitation from seven English peers, invaded England in November 1688 and within eight weeks had succeeded in a bloodless coup. The English Parliament determined that by fleeing the country James had abdicated, whilst the Scots argued that he had forfeited the Crown by his pro-Catholic actions against the Scottish nation. Either way James was no longer recognized as king other than in Ireland. There was some support for a regency, but while James II was still active, and support grew in Ireland and Scotland, Parliament did not want an interminable interregnum. William, on his part, did not want to be solely seen as a king consort, and was prepared to return to Holland. The English did not want a vacant throne and Mary was uncomfortable about reigning alone, especially as it looked as if she had usurped her father's throne. As a consequence in February 1689 William was offered joint sovereignty with Mary. Although common in the time of the early Saxon rulers, there had been no joint rule in England for over eight hundred years, and none in Scotland since the time of Edmund and Donald in the eleventh century. A Declaration of Rights was issued which outlawed the way James II (and others) had exercised their royal prerogative. The next month a Mutiny Act was passed, to make the existence of an army in peacetime depend on the agreement of the House of Commons. The Commons also tightened the control over the royal expenditure with a Civil List Act. These measures restricted the royal authority considerably and because William needed the support of England for Holland he was prepared to accept these changes. They went a long way toward the modern form of constitutional monarchy.

William still needed to secure his authority across the realm. James II was causing problems in Ireland where he remained King and his army was besieging Derry. William sent troops into Ireland in August 1689 and followed himself in June 1690. He defeated James II at the battle of the Boyne on I July, which forced James to flee back to France. The Irish Catholics fought back but were defeated again, the following July, at Aughrim. Uprisings amongst the Scottish Highlanders were less easily dealt with, and the clansmen were given an ultimatum to swear their allegiance to the King by I January 1692 or face the consequences. When Alexander Maclan MacDonald failed to make the deadline the troops made an example of him, and nearly forty members of his clan, including women, children and MacDonald himself, were massacred at Glencoe on 13 February. This was a deep stain on William's character and few Scots forgave him, even after he sought to acquit himself with a public enquiry three years later. This brought the perpetrators to justice but no sentence was enforced.

The action was not typical of William, but not surprising either. He was a deeply serious man, boringly so, who tolerated no nonsense, had no sense of humour, and had little interest in Scotland. He was short (Mary was five inches taller, and generally larger all round), bad-tempered - a tendency exacerbated by his asthma and obsessive about his desire to keep the French out of Holland. Everything drove him towards that goal, and apart from consulting with Parliament in order to raise finances for his foreign activities, William avoided government altogether, leaving this to his wife, Mary. Since Mary had no interest in government either, but merely followed her husband's wishes, Parliament had its own way much of the time. There were two attempts by jacobites to overthrow William. The Lancashire Plot in July 1694 failed virtually before it began, while Sir John Fenwick's conspiracy to assassinate William and restore James was uncovered in February 1696.

William's war with France dragged on until 1697. There were victories on both sides, none overwhelmingly decisive, but often involving severe losses. Although William was victorious in the naval battle of La Hogue on 19 May 1692, which curtailed James II's efforts to invade England, the English and Dutch suffered major losses at Neerwinden on 29 July 1693. The Treaty of Ryswick in September 1697 brought a temporary and uncertain end to the hostilities. One of the outcomes of this war was the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694 to help organize the finances required to support the war.

Mary had died of smallpox in December 1694. The couple had not been well matched. William was often accused of having homosexual tendencies, though it was also known that Elizabeth Villiers was his mistress. Mary was frigid and in her youth had had a lesbian relationship. They were also ill-matched physically, Mary being much larger than William, who was probably embarrassed by the whole procedure. Though they strove for an heir, they had a succession of stillbirths. The public had tolerated William because of their respect for Mary and, after her death, his popularity diminished further. This only drove him more into his foreign negotiations, in which he delighted. From 1698 till his death he became embroiled in the problems over the Spanish succession.

A succession crisis in England emerged in 1700 with the death of his nephew William, Anne’s only surviving son. As a consequence an Act of Settlement was passed, which secured the Protestant succession to the throne, specifically the Hanoverian succession (see George I).

William died as the result of a riding accident. In February 1702 his horse stumbled on a mole hill and threw William, breaking his collarbone. A fever set in, followed by pleurisy and pneumonia from which he died. William may not have been a much-loved king, but he was more stable than James and, because of his general lack of interest in England, he allowed the strength of parliament to grow (even though he tried to by-pass it when he needed to). It was in his reign that parliamentary government began to emerge.


By kind permission of "The Kings and Queens of England Website" (http://www.frhes.freeserve.co.uk/)