Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: William III

William III ruled England and Scotland jointly with his wife Mary II, and alone after her death.

William was born at Binnenhof Palace at The Hague in Holland in 1650. His parents were William II of Orange and Maria Henrietta, the Princess Royal, daughter of Charles II, and he was great grandson of William the Silent, Prince of Orange. His own father, William II, died of smallpox eight days before he was born, and his mother died of the same illness when he was ten years old.

In his childhood and youth, William was deprived of his titles because of his father`s arguments with the regents in Holland, but in 1672 he was restored, following the overthrow and murder of John de Witt.

William, who had visited England in 1670 and been given honorary degrees from both universities, and had survived smallpox in 1675, secured a political alliance with England in 1677 by marrying his cousin Mary, daughter of James, Duke of York, at St. James`s Palace in London. In 1678 he successfully led the Dutch forces against the French.

When his father-in-law became James II in 1685 and began to pursue unpopular Catholic measures, William at first distanced himself from the matter, but in 1688 responded to an invitation from seven English peers to invade England with a view to taking over from James. He landed at Brixham, and James was deemed to have abdicated by virtue of fleeing the country. This became known as the Glorious Revolution.

William did not wish to be seen as a consort, however, and Mary was not happy at ruling along, fearing that she would be seen to have usurped her father`s throne. In 1689, William and Mary were offered, and accepted, joint rule, being crowned at Westminster Abbey.

James was at the time in Ireland and besieging Derry. William crossed over and defeated James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, causing him to flee back to France. It was William`s title of Prince of Orange that led to Irish Protestants being called "Orangemen".

The Highlanders in Scotland also caused problems for William, and eventually the clansmen were given until 1st January 1692 to swear their allegiance. Alexander MacIan MacDonald failed to meet the deadline, and he and nearly forty members of his clan (including women and children) were massacred at Glencoe.

William, a short man (his wife was five inches taller) with asthma and a bad temper, had little interest in government, and Mary had even less interest, so much of the decision-making was left to Parliament.

William waged war against France for years. He won the naval Battle of La Hogue in 1692, ending James`s efforts to invade England, but suffered defeat at Neerwinden in 1693. It was to help with finances for the war that the Bank of England was set up in 1694.

Mary died of smallpox in 1694. They had never been a well-suited couple, in terms of physical size and otherwise. William was widely believed to be homosexual, although he certainly had a mistress, Elizabeth Villiers, possibly to give him a more normal image. Mary might well have been similarly disposed, having had a lesbian relationship in her youth. They did try, but had a succession of stillbirths.

William had never been popular in England, but simply tolerated out of respect for his wife. After her death, his popularity grew even smaller, and he survived an assassination attempt in 1696.

When his nephew William the Duke of Gloucester, his sister-in-law Anne`s only surviving son, died in 1700, the resulting succession problems led to the Act of Succession being passed, securing the throne for Protestants.

In 1702, William`s horse tripped over a molehill at Hampton Court, throwing the king, who as a result broke his collarbone. Fever, pleurisy and pneumonia set in, and he died soon after, at Kensington Palace. The circumstances of his death led to the Jacobite toast to "the little gentleman in black velvet".

He was buried at Westminster Abbey.Although he was not a popular king, William brought stability to the country, and because of his lack of interest in such matters, parliamentary government began to emerge.

William and Mary had three children, all of whom were stillborn.