Willem Hendrik, Prince of Orange-Nassau, Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, and King of England, was born on this day the 14th of November, 1650.
It had been a dark week for the House of Orange. William II, aged only twenty-four, had died of smallpox on the sixth of November. His widow, the nineteen-year-old Mary Stuart, Princess of Orange, daughter of Charles I of England, was devastated…and heavily pregnant.
In a chamber (in the Binnenhof Palace, The Hague) which was swathed in black mourning cloth, Mary gave birth to a slightly premature child. A boy.
Some people did not think the boy would likely to live long, but he survived, in an age rife with high child mortality. Mary wished to name her son Charles, after her executed father and her beloved brother, but Amalia van Solms, her mother-in-law, insisted the boy be named Willem Hendrik.
Willem was your quintessential old-head-on-young-shoulders and was highly intelligent. He was, however, to be plagued his whole life long with persistent bad health – especially in the form of chronic asthma – and perhaps his physical pain contributed to his less than popular character. He was considered cold and austere. But to those who formed his inner circle of intimates, he could be warm and generous. He hated small talk and what he deemed “whipped cream” (I’d have to agree with him!). He was a complex man, and after several years of researching him, I still find him utterly fascinating.
He married Mary of York, his first cousin and daughter of James, Duke of York in early November 1677, when he was twenty-seven and she, fifteen. It seemed like a doomed match from the start, but Mary soon fell completely in love with Willem. They lived in the Dutch Republic, where they built Paleis Het Loo (which you can visit – it’s amazing). They suffered several personal tragedies including two miscarriages and William’s own personal indiscretion with one of Mary’s ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Villiers.
William & Mary eventually became King and Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which they ousted her unpopular Catholic father King James II from his throne. They presided over a period of great change, both for the monarchy and for the country itself.
Happy Birthday, William III! 🙂
Want to BUST A WILLIAM III MYTH? What *really* killed him…nope, ’twas not falling off Sorrel…Read more.