This article will provide information about Prince William III of Orange, the influence he had on the country of Ireland, and the politics of the time.
The story of King William III of Orange is one of religious differences, political maneuverings and of family conflict. It is also a tale of how a weak, unhealthy, asthmatic man rose to become King of England, Scotland and Ireland while at the same time holding the head of state in the Netherlands. This article will describe William's life, the impact several notable battles he led had on various countries' histories and the subsequent ‘Jacobite Uprisings', which began during his reign and raged for over sixty years.
William was born November 1650, 2 weeks after his father, King William II of the Netherlands had died. He was raised a protestant in the Calvinist tradition and was well educated. Multilingual, William spoke English, French, Dutch, German, Latin and Spanish fluently. His first trip to England was in 1670; around the time Louis XIV of France was attacking the Netherlands. By 1672, Louis had occupied much of the Lowlands but by 1673 William and his armies had succeeded in driving the French from the country and regaining control. Conflict, however, was to continue between William and the French king throughout his lifetime.
When William was 27 years old he married (14th November, 1677) a 15-year-old – Henrietta Mary Stuart – known as Mary, the daughter of James II (the heir-apparent and brother to the ruling Charles II of England). The union proved to be very popular and also allied William with the English monarchy.
In 1683 Louis XIV of France once again seemed to be directly attacking William when the French king invaded the Province of Orange in France (a province ‘held' for many years by the Dutch monarchs and thus derived the name ‘William of Orange'). Many Protestants were killed and William saw this act as an incitement to war against the French. Louis XIV appeared to be power-crazy, bent on capturing land for France.
When the King of England, Charles II died on February 6th 1685, his brother and William's Father-in-law was crowned James II. James quickly irritated Parliament and the Army in his single-minded quest to bring back Catholicism to England. Many had not forgotten the rule of Bloody Mary (Mary Tudor) and the massacres of Protestants during her reign, and the powerful and mostly protestant classes feared a repeat under James. This fear was heightened when James' wife, Mary of Modena, announced that she was pregnant in 1687. Protestants throughout England were alarmed – if Mary had a son, a Catholic dynasty looked inevitable.
Powerful protestant statesmen plotted behind James II's back and invited William to take the English throne, by force if necessary. William stated that he required a formal invitation from Parliament before he would consider an invasion of England. James and Mary of Modena had meanwhile had a son on June 10th 1658, and this new ‘heir' was met with great suspicion. Many called the boy, also called James, ‘The Pretender' believing him to be illegitimate and not James' true son. The birth of a boy seemed too convenient.
Seven powerful men drew up a formal invitation asking William to take the English throne from his Father-in-law. These men were referred to as the ‘immortal seven' and included: Lords Dunby, Shrewsbury, Lumley, Devonshire, Compton, Edward Russel and Henry Sidney. With this invitation in hand William accepted and began to organize an invasion of England.
The Protestant Armada sailed from Holland on October 20, 1688 but a storm forced them to return. They tried again on November 1st and with good fortune, fine weather and excellent strategy on their side, William and his fleet of 600 ships reached Dover, in the south of England at noon on November 3rd. Many supporters of the protestant cause were there to greet them. They did not, however land at Dover, but at Brixham, Devon on the 5th November 1688. Williams' motto ‘I will maintain' remains Brixham's motto to this day.
By the 9th November Williams army had reached Exeter, where they waited for support to arrive. They waited until the 17th November when Edward Seymour, followed by the Earl of Bath arrived. The Orange Order was founded in Exeter at this time.
The ‘battle lines' were now drawn. James II's army was based at Salisbury and on the 21st of November William and his army set out in pursuit. James withdrew just two days later stating that he was willing to negotiate with William. He did not like William's terms, however, which included: dismissing Catholic officers, recanting protests against William and for James to pay for Williams's army. At this stage William was prepared to allow James to remain on the throne. James refused Williams' plea-bargaining.
The following year William and Mary were declared the joint monarchs of England on February 13th. Mary's sister Anne was named as their successor due to the fact that they had no children. They were crowned on April 11th. William was now king of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the Netherlands and declared ‘Defender of the Faith'.
Rebellions broke out in Scotland and Ireland and these were collectively known as ‘Jacobite Uprisings' – supporters of James and the Stuart dynasty wanting to restore him and his heirs to the throne. In Scotland, William and Mary were recognized as monarchs under the Convention of Estates and an uprising resulted, led by ‘Bonnie Dundee' – the Earl of Claverhouse, John Graham, who was killed at the Battle of Killicrankie in July 1689. The Jacobite rebellion in Scotland was subsequently crushed at the Battle of Dunkeld.
James sailed to Ireland and set up a parliament in Dublin with the sole purpose of seizing protestant land. Many Protestants were expelled from high-ranking positions in parliament and in the army, which resulted in many fleeing to England. This caused a crisis because they took their business and therefore available money with them. Money was scarce and plundering commonplace. Meanwhile, the city of Derry in the North of Ireland was under siege as was the town of Enniskillen. William and his armies landed in Ireland on 14th June 1690 at Carrickfergus in the North. The people of Derry were suffering great hardships, especially famine. They fought to survive rather than any great support for William, but when James' Redshanks were defeated in Derry, William had effectively established a base of support in Ulster.
William's armies were multinational made up of Danes, Dutch, English, French Huguenots, Germans, Scots, Irish, Swiss, Italians, Norwegians and Poles. His highest-ranking unit – the Dutch Blue Guards – was actually Catholic, and his leader was an eighty year old - General Marshall Schomberg. James' armies were made up of English, Irish, Scots and French. Louis XIV, Williams's old enemy, had great interest in helping James because he believed he could ultimately gain control of Ireland for France.
The most famous battle during Williams reign was undoubtedly the Battle of the Boyne (30th June-2nd July 1690). The battle took place on the banks of the river Boyne, near Oldbridge, which was once a village five miles from Drogheda in the South of Ireland. James had 26 thousand men, while William had 36 thousand; the latter being much better equipped and trained. James army wore the white cockade in honor of their French support and his leader was Sarsfield - James did not fight himself. William favored wearing full military costume and was wounded while parading before the battle commenced. Despite his shoulder wound William motivated his troops and when General Schomberg was killed William took his place despite protests from the men.
William won the Battle of the Boyne and James retreated to Dublin saying that he would never lead an Irish army again. He fled to France but his troops continued to fight Williams. The war finally ended at the Battle of Aughrim in 1691. Penal laws were subsequently imposed upon the Irish Catholics as a result, despite Williams' wishes for tolerance. The Battle of the Boyne was significant because it cemented the Protestant cause in Ireland, tied England to the country and resulted in persecution against the native Irish Catholics (despite Williams protests). Significantly too, it stopped France from fulfilling Louis XIV's wish for European domination. Louis subsequently signed the Peace Treaty of Ryswick with William in 1697 where the French king pledged not to subvert the government of England. He broke his promise only four years later.
William's wife Mary had died of smallpox on December 28, 1694 and William was heartbroken. He continued to rule despite suffering from almost constant pain and ill health. He died on March 8th 1702 after a fall from his horse and subsequent pneumonia, reputedly with a lock of Mary's hair in a necklace around his neck.
In conclusion, William of Orange's reign impacted greatly on the subsequent English monarchy. His legacy of tolerance was however not heeded – Catholics continued to be persecuted. His victories in Ireland prevented France's ambition for European domination and Williams' victory at the Battle of the Boyne is still celebrated by Protestants and Orangemen in Ulster and Scotland annually on the 12th July. For such an unhealthy man, who had stooped shoulders, his achievements were nothing short of miraculous.