William III

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.

My favourite image of a young Willem: “Flower garland with portrait of William III of Orange, aged 10,” by Jan Vermeer van Utrecht and Jan Davidsz de Heem.

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.

Hear ye! 5 thoughts — so far — on “William III”:

  1. Jangir

    A very passionate article, thanks. But how do you know, the portrait of William is by Jan Vermeer van Utrecht? As far as I know the portrait painter is unknown, and Jan Vermeer was just the commissioner of the whole painting. Am I wrong?

    1. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

      Hello, and thanks for your comment. The portrait of Willem in “Guirlande de fleurs et de fruits avec le portrait de Guillaume III d’Orange,” was probably painted by Jan Vermeer van Utrecht, with the elaborate garland painted by Jan Davidsz de Heem. Le Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, where the painting is at present, state that the painting is by the latter painter, de Heem, though as he was a still-life painter, not known for portraits. de Heem would, however, paint flowers, etc upon paintings done by other artists, and this seems the most likely case with this painting.

      1. Jangir

        Thank you for your reply! Meanwhile I did some research myself and it looks like you’re right. The english wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Vermeer_van_Utrecht) lists this painting as being a collaboration between De Heem and Jan Vermeer. So it seems to be an approved fact. Though the collective portrait of orphanage regents (in the same article at wikipedia) seems to me to be of much poorer quality as in the case of William III. Thank you for the chance to enlarge my knowledge of Dutch painting of the Golden Age, of which I am a fan.

        1. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

          Great! It’s always a pleasure to meet another admirer of de gouden eeuw! 🙂

  2. Lisa

    Hi there, I love this painting (and your website!). Do you think he is supposed to be sitting in a theatre-seat? As a florist I’m trying to work out how it was constructed! Was it set up do you think, or painted from imagination. What do the eagles (?) signify? And the lion (lionheart?) And what are the pieces of wood beside the eagles…so many questions… !!


Please contribute thy thoughts!

Your e-mail address will not be published.