William III of England

William III Of England

(William, Henry of Nassau), prince of Orange, stadtholder of Holland, was born at the Hague, November 4, 1650. He was the son of William II of Orange, by Mary, daughter of Charles I of England, and was born to a large inheritance, though his party was kept in check for some time by the influence of Cromwell. The house of Orange had long sought to obtain supreme power in Holland, a country which its greatest member had freed from the Spanish yoke. The death of William II eight days before the birth of his son put a stop to the projects for the establishment of a despotism over the republic, and threw the power into the hands of the opposite party. For years the Orange party was depressed for want of a representative of sufficient influence to maintain its policy and secure the stateholdership. The republic was governed by Jan de Witt, the grand pensionary. The attack upon Holland by France and England combined, in 1672, made a great change in the fortunes of the young prince of Orange. He was immediately chosen captain and admiral-general of the United Provinces. The contest was at first unfavorable to the Provinces, but by the wisdom and determination of the young stateholder, the struggle, which lasted for nearly seven years, was, in 1678, terminated by the treaty of Nimeguen, in a manner highly advantageous and honorable to Holland. This was brought about more especially by the diplomatic abilities of William, who detached England from the alliance and brought her over to the side of the Dutch. A few years before their ruin had seemed inevitable, and the fame of William became great over Europe. In November 1677, William had married his cousin Mary, eldest daughter of James, duke of York, afterwards James II. This marriage was entered into chiefly for political purposes, and proved very popular in both countries, the prince being regarded as the natural head of the Protestant party, and his wife being expected to succeed to the English throne. James II came to the throne in 1685, and determined to establish the Catholic religion; but William was still the champion of Protestantism, and in 1686 became the head of a league formed among the Protestant princes of Germany, the kings of Spain, Sweden, and others, having for its object the crushing of the power of Louis XIV of France, whose influence was the dread of all Europe, and who was the most dreaded foe of Protestantism. The treaty by which the alliance was constituted was signed at Augsburg in July 1686. The oppressions of James II drove many of the Protestants into exile, and Holland became the place of refuge or the discontented English. The national dissatisfaction became so great that on June 30, 1688, a number of prominent English statesmen invited the prince of Orange to enter England with an army. William conducted his operations with great secrecy and skill, and on November 15 of the same year he landed at Torbay with an army of fifteen thousand men, composed of English and Dutch. Soon. the whole country was at his side. and James was an exile in France. Men of influence of all parties gave him their presence and support; and on December 18 following he entered London triumphantly as a national deliverer. The adherents of James held out for some time in Scotland and Ireland, but the death of Dundee, ended the resistance of the Highlanders; while in Ireland it was quelled after a vigorous contest in 1691. In spite of his sterling qualities and of the debt which they owed him, the English nation never really liked William III. In 1695 the death of queen Mary diminished her husband's influence, and leaving factious opposition at home, he had to maintain unequal strife with Louis, until the treaty of Ryswick was brought about by sheer exhaustion on both sides, in September 1697. During the whole war William had been disturbed by Jacobite plots, some of them against his life. A partition treaty regarding Spain was violated by Louis, who took the throne of that country for his grandson, the duke of Anjou, and the French king, on the death of James II, acknowledged his son as successor. The English, enraged at this, were making preparations for a powerful invasion, when William was thrown from his horse while hunting, and died March 8, 1702. His career was one of incessant and strenuous activity and he carried himself victoriously amidst immense difficulties and numerous discomfitures. The predominant motive of his foreign policy from the beginning of his career as stateholder of Holland until the close of it as king of England was resistance to the aggressive and tyrannous policy of Louis XIV. There is little room for doubt that he accepted the English throne for the sole purpose of enhancing his power against French despotism. While it is true that his policy dragged England more thoroughly than before into the circle of European politics, yet it brought to the English a free constitution, with political institutions capable of receiving indefinite improvement without danger of destruction. The sacred principle of toleration, both in civil and ecclesiastical matters, was firmly established, though its full bearings and application were not yet developed or even clearly apprehended. Covenanters, in the North, and highchurchmen, in the South hated him, but the great mass of moderate and reasonable Protestants felt that he was a thoroughly practical and inflexibly just sovereign.

He loved his own countrymen, and advanced them to positions of trust and honor; but no discredit is to be attached to him on this account, for they were loyal to him and not disloyal to England. While his temper was cold, the nobler passions of man were in him deep and strong, and he possessed that stern love of truth, honor, and right that distinguishes a moral hero. Few greater kings have ever ruled in England, but the massacre of the Macdonalds of Glencoe, and his conduct towards the promoters of the Darien scheme are two blots on his reputation which his most thorough- going apologists have been unable to efface. In addition to the above- mentioned services to the English nation it may be mentioned that during his reign the Bank of England was founded, the modern system of finance introduced, ministerial responsibility recognised, and the liberty of the press secured. His manner was wholly Dutch, and even among his own countrymen he was thought blunt. In his theological opinions he was decided but not illiberal. See Trevor, Life and Times of William III (Lond. 1835-36, 2 volumes); Vernon, Court and Times of William III (ibid. 1841, 2 volumes); Macaulay, History of England (1849-55); Ranke, Englische Geschichte vornehmlich im 17. Jahrhundert (1859-67, 6 volumes; Engl. transl. 1875).

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