King William III
William was born on 4 November 1650. His father, William II Prince of Orange died on 27 October 1650. His mother was Mary Stuart, daughter of King Charles I. William was brought up in the Protestant Faith and he spoke English, French, Dutch, German, Latin and Spanish. His first visit to England was in 1670 and at the invitation of Charles II, he stayed for four months.
In 1667 Louis XIV of France had attacked the Netherlands and by 1672 occupied large areas of the Lowlands. By the end of 1673 William had driven the French from Dutch soil. On 14 November 1677 William and Mary were married, although she was only 15 years old and he was 27. The wedding was very popular in England at the time. In 1683, Louis XIV invaded and looted the Province of Orange and persecuted the Protestants, which led to William's undying hatred of Louis XIV.
On 6 February 1685, Charles II died and his brother James II was proclaimed King of England. James II became obsessed with the idea of a Roman Catholic England, having at first gained the Parliament, he brought it to heel and greatly increased the powers of the Monarchy. His naivet of the true feelings of the English people against Catholicism were to bring him down just as quickly as he had risen to power.
Recent history had taught the English people of the impieties and superstitions of Catholicism and of the persecution of Protestants during the reign of 'Bloody' Mary. Charles I's link with Catholicism precipitated the English Civil War and Louis XIV's intensive persecution of his Protestant subjects reminded English people of the dangers of allowing Catholicism its head. So by his own stupidity, James rendered unusable the most compliant Parliament of the century. He could not repeal the Penal Laws of the Test Act without them and they were not prepared to do so.
In 1687, James suspended the Penal Laws and Test Act pending their repeal by Parliament. This was intended to encourage conversions to the Catholic faith and to win over dissenters, without whom the repeal could not be achieved. His main ambition was, by hook or by crook, to secure a Parliament that would do as he wished. He now used the powers that the Crown had over Parliament to get rid of the Tories who had been installed from 1681-1685 and to replace them with dissenters. James mounted an intensive campaign to achieve his aim and when this failed, he resorted to trickery and intimidation. He was far more reckless and radical than Charles I in his attempts to secure Absolutism and Catholicism. This obsession with Catholicism could only mean one thing - he was about to alter the Succession in favor of a Catholic. Since all else was aimed at putting Catholics into privileged positions, why not achieve the ultimate?
James kept up a barrage of correspondence with William and Mary attempting to win them over to his aims of repeal, and in September 1686, he urged William to invade England at once stating that there would be no opposition. William replied that he would be prepared to act only if James tried to alter the Succession or if he threatened the nation's religion.
Late in 1687, Mary of Modena - James's wife - announced that she was pregnant. Catholic courtiers were jubilant but Protestants were extremely alarmed because if a son were born, he would be raised a Catholic and a Catholic dynasty would ensue. The Catholic confidence that a son was to be born led Protestants to believe that even if no son were born the priests would produce a baby boy and pass him off as James's son.
At the end of April 1688 William decided to invade, precipitated by his concern for James's campaign to fill Parliament, an action which William believed might have caused Civil War in England.
On 10 June 1688 Mary of Modena gave birth to a son. This child was felt to be spurious by both Mary and Anne - the boy's stepsisters and will always be known as the Pretender. Around this time James had seven Anglican Bishops put into jail and on June 30 had them tried for seditious libel. However, they were acquitted that same evening. William was asked to deliver England from the tyranny of James II but he demanded an invitation before he would help. The famous Edward Russel showed Prince William that it would be dangerous to entrust the secrets of this invitation to many people. William agreed and said he desired only the signatures of a few influential and representative men. A paper was drawn up and signed in cypher by seven important men - 'the immortal seven', as they have been called. The men were Lords Shrewsbury, Devonshire, Dunby, Lumley, Compton (Bishop of London), Edward Russel and Henry Sidney.
The famous paper, which was in the handwriting of Henry Sidney, formally invited the Prince to England, with as little delay as possible. If he would appear at the head of some troops, tens of thousands would flock to his banner. They pledged their life and honor that they would join him.
William's invasion was a mixture of good luck and brilliant strategy. It was not the done thing to sail with an army at the start of winter. At the end of September, James realized the danger and hurriedly revised his Catholicising program and abandoned his campaign to fill Parliament. It was too little, too late. The Protestant Armada set sail on 20 October 1688 but a violent storm forced him back into port until November 1st , when a favorable wind allowed him to make a second venture. The contrary wind had been noted with anxiety in England, when the Dutch deliverer was impatiently expected. "Crowds stood in Cheapside," says Macaulay, "gazing intently at the weather-cock on the graceful steeple of the Bow Church, and praying for a Protestant wind. "Great was their joy when it blew the right way at last."."
William was at last advancing before a Protestant wind, his flag unfurled, displaying the arms of Nassau quartered with those of England, and embellished with a motto embroidered in letters three feet long: "The liberties of England and the Protestant religion I will maintain."
Gallantly the Protestant Armada rode before the gale, the "Brill" with the prince on board leading the way. A hundred years earlier a Catholic Armada had set sail for the destruction of Protestantism in England - now a Protestant fleet is speeding to the same shore, having for its object the subversion of Catholicism. The former suffered shipwreck, the latter enjoyed the special protection and guidance of Divine Providence.
About six hundred vessels, with canvas fully spread, reached the Straits of Dover at midday on 3 November. The shores of Calais and the white cliffs of Dover could be seen by those on board, and the fortresses of each were saluted at the same time by the Men-of-War on the extreme left and right. Both coasts were densely packed with spectators. On 5 November 1688 William landed at Brixham, Devon and to this day William's motto "I Will Maintain" remains the motto of Brixham.
On 9 November William entered Exeter and waited for his promised support to arrive. It wasn't until 17 November that a certain Edward Seymour, the richest and most influential man in the South West of England arrived and swore allegiance, quickly followed by the Earl of Bath. James by this time had reversed all his policies in a vain attempt at regaining his country's support, but his Protestant subjects were by now rightly suspicious of the Catholic King and many of his Generals were switching allegiance to William. James's army was situated in Salisbury and on 21 November, William struck out eastwards from Exeter. On the 23rd James withdrew and decided to negotiate with William. By now, William had reached Hungerford and on 7 December, James's commissioners were received. The next day, 8 December, William stated his terms. They included the dismissal of all Catholic Officers, the revocation of all proclamations against William and his adherents and James was to pay William's army. James and William and their armies were to remain at an equal distance from London and both men were to attend the next session of Parliament.
These terms, not being unreasonable, prove beyond doubt that William was prepared to allow James to remain on the throne albeit with greatly reduced powers. James refused these terms and tried to flee to France but was captured and sent back to London. On 22 December James was escorted to Rochester where every means was taken to facilitate his escape which he did.
William ordered free elections in early January 1689 and the elected met on 22 January. After lengthy legal debate, wrangling and intrigue, it was eventually decided to offer William and Mary the throne jointly. Although both Parliament Houses believed James had repeatedly violated the system, trying to impose Catholicism and Absolution, the Constitution did not provide for a king who broke the law and this was the reason for the delay in proclaiming for William and Mary, with Mary's sister Anne to succeed them.
On 13 February, William and Mary heard the Declaration of Rights read to them and were asked to accept the Crown. William replied "We thankfully accept what you have offered us and promise to rule according to law and be guided by Parliament."
Having given freedom and rights to all, the country was not kind to William, withholding any form of payment to him by way of income or money to further his campaign. William also granted a free and unfettered Press. 11 April 1689 saw the coronation of William and Mary. The Toleration Act of 1689 was the first statutory grant of religious toleration in England and extended religious liberties to Catholic and Protestant alike, ending the Church of England's monopoly of the nation's religious life. High Anglicans resented this and subsequently grew to dislike William, which perhaps explains a lot of today's intransigence to the Orange Order.
In the spring of 1689, James landed in Ireland, at Kinsale where he took command of some 50,000 men who had rallied to Tyrconnel's (known as Lying Dick Talbot) standard.
Tyrconnel had made every preparation ready for this day including disbanding the Army of its Protestant soldiers decreeing that only Papists could be in the Army. Protestant Mayors, Judges and Sheriffs were all replaced by Papists. Many Protestants in the south fled the country, but those in the north drew together at Londonderry and Enniskillen. James sent some 25,000 soldiers north to subdue the Protestants at Londonderry. The Siege of Londonderry then followed.
Following their defeat at Londonderry the army of James II fell back to Dublin, where James had instituted a Catholic Parliament, and was creating havoc among the Protestants. Clergy were evicted from their parishes and Protestants were thrown out of Trinity College. Three thousand Protestants of name and fortune were deprived of Civil Rights, and of the right to inherit or transmit their property due to the Bill of Attainment passed by this Parliament. The ruin of all Protestants in Ireland was the object of James and his cronies in this Parliament. He was financing his affairs by robbing the Protestants. King William's presence was required in Ireland to subdue this insurrection and so in June 1690 he set sail for Ireland.
On that sunny day in July 1690 two great armies were converging. James, with 26,000 men arrived at the River Boyne first and set up his great tents and canons and he waited. King William, Prince of Orange with 30,000 men arrived and prepared to do battle. On seeing the opposing army William exclaimed with delight "Ah, I am glad to see you, gentlemen; if you escape me now, the fault will be mine!" On 12 July at 8:00 a.m. the battle started and continued throughout the day until 4:00 p.m., 1500 men were killed that day. James was defeated and fled to Kinsale and then on to France, followed by the scorn of even his own followers. Other battles took place, but the struggle in Ireland was short and William was victorious. The Battle of the Boyne established the throne of William Prince of Orange.
William and Louis XIV signed a treaty - The Peace Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 in which Louis XIV pledged to never again make any attempt to subvert the existing government of England. But four years later Louis broke his word and violated his pledge.
In the meantime the Queen of England died of smallpox, and was buried with due pomp and ceremony in Westminster Abbey. The Heir apparent to the throne (the son of Princess Anne) died some five or six years later. This necessitated the settlement of the succession. In 1701 the famous Act of Settlement was passed, which determined that if either William or Anne had no children, the Princess Sophia, Duchess Dowager of Hanover, should succeed to the English Throne on the death of the latter (Princess Anne), who was a daughter of James II, and wife of Prince George of Denmark, thus excluding the Catholic Prince of Wales. Sophia was the daughter of James I of England and was mother to George I.
This Act perpetuated the Protestant succession to the throne, and enjoined that only a member of the Church of England should wear the English Crown. Thus were all Papists excluded from the English Throne, forever.
When William met his Parliament, he spoke these memorable words : "Let there be no other distinctions heard amongst us for the future, but of those who are for the Protestant religion and the present establishment, and of those who mean a Popish prince and a French government. I will only add this, if you do in good earnest desire to see England hold the balance of Europe, and to be indeed at the head of the Protestant interest, it will appear by your right improving the present opportunity" (Stoughton).
In 1702 William, while recovering from ill health, broke his collarbone when his horse stumbled over a molehill in Richmond park. Jacobites later toasted the little gentleman in a black velvet suit - the mole.
On 4 March, William was very weak and had great difficulty eating. By the 7th he had a fever and was in great pain, but he accepted death in the same fearless manner in which he had lived. Early on 8 March 1702 he received the sacrament and he died shortly after 8.00 a.m. Around his neck was a necklace attached to which were a lock of Mary's hair and her wedding ring.
Thus ended the life of King William III Prince of Orange, the first monarch who loved and upheld a constitutional system of religious liberty. Under his tolerant and wise policy Protestantism was firmly established on a sure, and let us hope, an immovable basis.