Friday, 1 January 2016

William of Orange, Great Britain's Dutch king

14th November 1650 was the day on which Prince William of Orange, a grandson of the British King Charles I, was born. 14th November 1677 was the day on which he married Princess Mary, the elder daughter of King James II. Despite his Dutch origins, it was his British connections that would lead to him becoming King William III.

He spent much of his young life fighting against the France of King Louis XIV, a Catholic king who invaded the Protestant Netherlands in 1671.

This action therefore made him the ideal candidate for the British Parliament to invite to overthrow their own king, namely William’s father-in-law, James, who was reverting to type and becoming far too Catholic for the likes of his subjects.

William landed in Devon in November 1688 and he marched unopposed to London as James escaped to France.

Although the succession should have fallen on Princess Mary alone, Parliament decided to offer the crown jointly to William and Mary, the only time that such an arrangement has applied in British history.

Unfortunately, Mary was unable to have any children (all her pregnancies ended in miscarriages), so when she died from smallpox in 1694 (aged only 32), William ruled alone as king until his own death in 1702, with no heir to succeed him. Mary’s sister Anne was also childless at her death in 1714, so the Crown was once again offered to a foreigner with remote British connections, namely George of Hanover. George’s descendants have ruled as monarchs of Great Britain and the United Kingdom ever since.

William did not prove to be a particularly popular king, especially among Catholics. His death came about after he fell from his horse, and the traditional reason for the fall was that his horse stumbled on a molehill. When later Jacobites (Catholics who schemed for the return to the throne of King James’s male descendants) raised a toast it was to “the gentleman in black velvet”.

© John Welford

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