Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Dead King Watch: William III

William III died on 8th March 1702, which makes tomorrow the 304th anniversary of his death. William or rather Willem Hendrik - was born in 1650 into the Hague into the powerful House of Orange-Nassau, an important Dutch aristocratic family which had helped unite the various provinces into the Dutch Republic. Given his father had died only eight days earlier, on his birth he became 'Prins van Oranje' or 'Prince of Orange'.

The future's bright, the future's Orange?

Unfortunately all was not well with the aristocratic House of Orange at this time - it was out of power and instead the Dutch Republic was ruled by an oligarchical group of powerful merchants - the Estates. Unbeknown to the young Prince, a quarrel about his education arose between his mother Mary (who wanted her son to have a 'modern' English education) and his grandmother Amalia (who wanted an education which was pointed at the resurgence of the House of Orange to power). In the event, the Estates meddled in the education and made William a 'child of state' educated by the state and very docile to rule of the regents and the Estates. This was the worst of both worlds - William was isolated from England and English culture, where after 1660 Charles II his uncle had become King - and yet also grew up a kind of token figure without real power. The regents even abolished the post of Stadtholder - military leader - that had been his fathers.

Then suddenly, in 1672, disaster struck the Netherlands, as it was invaded by France, (under Louis XIV), who had the aid of England, Münster, and Cologne. The French army quickly overran most of the Netherlands, though Holland managed to remain safe behind the Dutch water line. The Orange party managed to get rid of the old regents who had been so inefficient in waging war and William was elected Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht, and appointed Captain-General and Admiral-General of the Netherlands. William III, who seems to have been quite talented in military affairs, continued to fight against the invaders from England and France, afterwards allying himself with Spain. After admiral Michiel de Ruyter had defeated the Royal Navy, William made peace with England, in 1674. To strengthen his position, he endeavoured to marry his first cousin Mary, the daughter of James, Duke of York (the future James II of England). The marriage occurred on 4 November 1677; and I have written about much of the rest of William's life, including the Glorious Revolution under my entry for Mary. In short, in 1688 William embarked on a mission to depose his Catholic father-in-law from the English throne. He and his wife were crowned King and Queen of England on April 11, 1689. With the accession to the English throne he became the most powerful sovereign on Earth, the only one to defeat the Sun King. Many members of the House of Orange were devoted admirers of the King-Stadtholder afterwards.

Although most in England accepted William as Sovereign, he faced considerable opposition in Scotland and Ireland. The Scottish Jacobites— those who believed that James II was the legitimate monarch — won a stunning victory on 27 July 1689 at the Battle of Killiecrankie, but were nevertheless subdued within a month. William's reputation suffered following the Massacre of Glencoe (1692), in which almost one hundred Scots were murdered for not properly pledging their allegiance to the new King and Queen. In Ireland, where the French aided the rebels, fighting continued for much longer, though the Protestant William decisively defeated Catholic James II after the Battle of the Boyne (1690). After the Anglo-Dutch Navy defeated a French fleet at La Hogue in 1692, the naval supremacy of the English became apparent, and Ireland was conquered shortly thereafter.

William died childless after a horse riding accident on March 8, 1702. It was believed by some that his horse had stumbled into a mole's burrow, and as a result many Jacobites toasted 'the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat.' William's death left England to Anne, and the House of Orange extinct. However, 'Orange' lives on - in the twentieth century the Orange Order in Northern Ireland saluted Willem of Orange as 'King Billy' as though instead of being a warmongering Dutch aristocrat he was some sort of British hero. Today, we associate 'Orange' with a global mobile phone company.



At 9:04 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Snowball for posting this biography. William is the man to be remembered.

Just a note. In the last paragraph you wrote "James died" instead of "William died". Of course to the people who know the truth it is obvious but some newcomers may misunderstand the event so please correct this.

At 11:47 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

All present and correct now. Hopefully.

At 10:48 pm, Blogger Matt said...

Interesting post. The carrot is orange because it was bred for the Dutch House of Orange family - a cooler legacy than naming a phone company or Protestant order.

I would disagree with one point, however: "With the accession to the English throne he became the most powerful sovereign on Earth, the only one to defeat the Sun King." Surely the Glorious Revolution placed further limits on the monarch's power? James II was deposed for abusing his royal prerogatives by pushing for Catholic toleration, and the very nature of 1688-9 was the limitation of monarchical power: the Bill of Rights, final refutation of 'Divine Right' kingship and regular parliaments all reduced the Crown's authority, as did (more questionably) the political dominance of Parliament and 'the rise of the bourgeoisie'. Meanwhile Louis XIV was reigning absolutely in France...

At 1:26 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Good point, Matt. I suspect you are right. That'll teach me for being lazy and cutting and pasting chunks from wikipedia...

Nice blog by the way.

At 6:28 pm, Blogger Martin Wisse said...

The house of orange is still going strong actually, with the Dutch monarchy claiming its descent from it.

At 7:14 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Oh, that's a relief - cheers Martin.


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