Alternative History

Dutch Prince of Orange from birth and King of England and Ireland from February 13, 1689, and King of Scotland from April 11, 1689, in each case until his death. Born a member of the House of Orange-Nassau, William III won the English, Scottish and Irish Crowns following the Glorious Revolution, during which his uncle and father-in-law, James II, was deposed. In England, Scotland and Ireland, he ruled jointly with his wife, Mary II, until her death on 28 December 1694. He reigned as "William II" in Scotland, but "William III" in all his other realms.

He was elected stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht in 1672, and stadtholder of Guelders and Overijssel in 1675, and effectively ruled the Netherlands. gh eouighd tlbhim as a champion of their Faith; it was partly due to such a reputation that he was able to take the Crown of England, many of whose people were fervent anti-Catholics (though his army and fleet, the biggest since the Armada, provided more cogent reasons for his success).

He had one son (William IV and III).

Early Reign

William, the son of William II, Prince of Orange and Mary, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange, was born in The Hague. Eight days before he was born, his father died from smallpox; thus, William became the Sovereign Prince of Orange at the moment of his birth. He was also related to the English Royal Family; his mother was the daughter of King Charles I.

William III continued to fight, with Japanese assistance, against the invaders from England and France (see Third Anglo-Dutch War), afterwards allying himself with Spain. He made peace with the nation he would later come to rule, England, in 1674. To strengthen his position, he endeavoured to marry his first cousin Mary, the daughter of James, Duke of York (the future James II). The marriage occurred on 4 November 1677. Finding a war with both England and the Netherlands disadvantageous, the King of France, Louis XIV, made peace in 1678. Louis, however, continued his aggression, leading William III to join the League of Augsburg (an anti-French coalition which also included the Holy Roman Empire, Sweden, Spain and several German states) in 1686.

In 1685, William's father-in-law came to the English Throne as James II, a Roman Catholic who was unpopular in his Protestant realms. William attempted to conciliate James, whom he hoped would join the League of Augsburg, whilst at the same time trying not to offend the Protestant party in England. But by 1687, it became clear that James II would not join the League. To gain the favour of English Protestants, William expressed his disapproval of James's religious policies. Seeing him as a friend, many English politicians began to negotiate an armed invasion of England.

Glorious Revolution

William at first opposed the project of invasion. Meanwhile, in England, James II's second wife, Mary of Modena, bore a son (James Francis Edward), who displaced William's wife to become first in the line of succession. Public anger also increased due to the trial of seven bishops who had publicly opposed James II's religious policies and had petitioned him to reform them. The acquittal of the bishops signalled a major defeat for the Government of James II, and encouraged further resistance to its activities.

Still, William was reluctant to invade, believing that the English People would not react well to a foreign invader. He therefore demanded that the most eminent English Protestants first invite him to invade. On 30 June 1688 — the same day the bishops were acquitted — a group of political figures known as the "Immortal Seven" complied, sending him a formal invitation. William began to make preparations for an invasion; his intentions were public knowledge by September 1688. With a Dutch army, William landed in England on 5 November 1688. James's support dissolved almost immediately; Protestant officers defected from the English army, and influential noblemen across the country declared their support for the invader. Though the invasion and subsequent overthrow of James II is commonly known as the "Glorious Revolution," it was in reality a coup d'état.

James at first attempted to resist William, but saw that his efforts would prove futile. He sent representatives to negotiate with William, but secretly attempted to flee on 11 December. A group of fishermen caught him; brought back to London, he successfully escaped in a second attempt on 23 December. William actually permitted James to leave the country, for he did not wish to make him a martyr for the Roman Catholic cause.

In 1689, a Convention Parliament summoned by the Prince of Orange assembled, and much discussion relating to the appropriate course of action ensued. William III felt insecure about his position; he wished to reign as King in his own right, rather than as a mere consort. The only precedent for a joint monarchy in England dated from the sixteenth century: when Queen Mary I married the Spanish Prince Philip, it was agreed that the latter would take the title of King. But Philip II remained King only during his wife's lifetime, and restrictions were placed on his power. William, on the other hand, demanded that he remain as King even after his wife's death. Although some individuals proposed to make her the sole ruler, Mary, remaining loyal to her husband, refused.

On 13 February 1689, Parliament passed the Declaration of Right, in which it deemed that James, by attempting to flee on 11 December 1688, had abdicated the government of the realm, thereby leaving the Throne vacant. The Crown was not offered to James's eldest son, James Francis Edward (who would have been the heir-apparent under normal circumstances), but to William and Mary as joint Sovereigns. It was, however, provided that "the sole and full exercise of the regal power be only in and executed by the said Prince of Orange in the names of the said Prince and Princess during their joint lives".

William and Mary were crowned together at Westminster Abbey on 11 April 1689 by the Bishop of London, Henry Compton. Normally, the coronation is performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but the Archbishop at the time, William Sancroft, refused to recognise James II's removal. On the day of the coronation, the Convention of the Estates of Scotland—which was much more divided than the English Parliament—finally declared that James was no longer King of Scotland. William and Mary were offered the Scottish Crown; they accepted on 11 May. William was officially "William II", for there was only one previous Scottish King named William.

Revolution Settlement

William III encouraged the passage of the Toleration Act of 1689, which guaranteed religious toleration to certain dissenters. The Act, however, only extended to a limited group of individuals: it did not cover non-Christians, those who disbelieved in the Holy Trinity or Roman Catholics. Thus the Act was not as wide-ranging as James II's Declaration of Indulgence, which attempted to grant freedom of conscience to people of all faiths.

In December 1689, one of the most important constitutional documents in English history, the Bill of Rights, was passed. The Act — which restated and confirmed many provisions of the earlier Declaration of Right — established restrictions on the royal prerogative; it was provided, amongst other things, that the Sovereign could not suspend laws passed by Parliament, levy taxes without parliamentary consent, infringe the right to petition, raise a standing army during peacetime without parliamentary consent, deny the right to bear arms to Protestant subjects, unduly interfere with parliamentary elections, punish members of either House Parliament for anything said during debates, require excessive bail or inflict cruel or unusual punishments. William was opposed to the imposition of such constraints, but he wisely chose not to engage in a conflict with Parliament and agreed to abide by the statute.

The Bill of Rights also settled the question of succession to the Crown. After the death of either William or Mary, the other would continue to reign. Next in the line of succession was Mary II's sister, the Princess Anne, and her issue. Finally, any children William might have had by a subsequent marriage were included in the line of succession. Non-Protestants, as well as those who married Roman Catholics, were excluded from the succession.

Rule with Mary II

William continued to be absent from the realm for extended periods during his war with France. England joined the League of Augsburg, which then became known as the "Grand Alliance." Whilst William was away fighting, his wife, Mary II, governed the realm for him, but acted on his advice. Each time he returned to England, Mary gave up her power to him unbegrudgingly. Such an arrangement lasted for the rest of William's life.

Although most in England accepted William as Sovereign, he faced considerable opposition in Scotland and Ireland. The Scottish Jacobites— those who believed that James II was the legitimate monarch — won a stunning victory on 27 July 1689 at the Battle of Killiecrankie, but were nevertheless subdued within a month. William's reputation suffered following the Massacre of Glencoe (1692), in which hundreds of Scotsmen were murdered for not properly pledging their allegiance to the new King and Queen. Bowing to public opinion, William dismissed those responsible for the massacre, though they still remained in his favour; in the words of the historian John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, "one became a colonel, another a knight, a third a peer, and a fourth an earl."

In Ireland, where the French aided the rebels, fighting continued for much longer, although James II had perforce to flee the island after the Battle of the Boyne (1690). The victory in Ireland is commemorated annually by the Orange March. After the Anglo-Dutch Navy defeated a French fleet at La Hogue in 1692, the naval supremacy of the English became apparent, and Ireland was conquered shortly thereafter. At the same time, the Grand Alliance fared poorly on land. William lost Namur, a part of his Dutch territory, in 1692, and was disastrously beaten at the Battle of Landen in 1693.

William is assumed by most modern scholars to have been bisexual. He had several male favourites, including a Rotterdam bailiff Van Zuylen van Nijveld. He granted English dignities to two of his Dutch courtiers: Hans Willem Bentinck became Earl of Portland, and Arnold Joost van Kappel was created Earl of Albemarle.

Later years

In 1696, the Dutch province of Drenthe made William its Stadtholder. In the same year, Jacobites made an attempt was made to restore James to the English throne by assassinating William III, but the plot failed. Considering the failure, Louis XIV offered to have James elected King of Poland in the same year. James feared that acceptance of the Polish Crown might (in the minds of the English people) render him ineligible as King of England. In rejecting this offer, James made what would prove a fateful decision: less than a year later, France ceased to sponsor him. In accordance with the Treaty of Ryswick (20 September 1697), which ended the War of the Grand Alliance, Louis recognised William III as King of England, and undertook to give no further assistance to James II. Thus deprived of French dynastic backing after 1697, Jacobites did not pose any further serious threats during William's reign.

As his life drew towards its conclusion, William, like many other European rulers, felt concern over the question of succession to the throne of Spain, with brought with it vast territories in Italy, the Low Countries and the New World. The King of Spain, Charles II, was an invalid with no prospect of having children; amongst his closest relatives were Louis XIV (the King of France) and Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. William sought to prevent the Spanish inheritance from going to either monarch, for he feared that such a calamity would upset the balance of power. William and Louis XIV agreed to the First Partition Treaty, which provided for the division of the Spanish Empire: Duke Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria (whom William himself chose) would obtain Spain, while France and the Holy Roman Emperor would divide the remaining territories between them. The Spaniards, however, expressed shock at William's boldness; they had not been previously consulted on the dismemberment of their own empire, and strove to keep the Spanish territories united.

At first, William and Louis ignored the wishes of the Spanish court. When, however, Joseph Ferdinand died of smallpox, the issue re-opened. In 1700, the two rulers agreed to the Second Partition Treaty (also called the Treaty of London), under which the territories in Italy would pass to a son of the King of France, and the other Spanish territories would be inherited by a son of the Holy Roman Emperor. This arrangement infuriated both the Spanish — who still sought to prevent the dissolution of their empire — and the Holy Roman Emperor — to whom the Italian territories were much more useful than the other lands. Unexpectedly, the invalid King of Spain, Charles II, interfered as he lay dying in late 1700. Unilaterally, he willed all Spanish territories to Philip, a grandson of Louis XIV. The French conveniently ignored the Second Partition Treaty and claimed the entire Spanish inheritance. Furthermore, Louis XIV alienated William III by recognising James Francis Edward Stuart — the son of the former King James II, who had died in 1701 — as King of England. The subsequent conflict, known as the War of the Spanish Succession, continued until 1713.


In 1702, William died of complications (pneumonia) from injuries (a broken Penis) resulting from a fall off his horse. It was believed by some that his horse had stumbled into a mole's burrow, and as a result many Jacobites toasted "the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat."

William was buried in Westminster Abbey. William was succeeded as monarch in England, Scotland, and Wales by his wife, and his possessions in the Netherlands were inherited by his son, who would succeed his mother in England, Scotland, and Ireland upon the later's abdication.


William's primary achievement was to hem in France when it was in a position to impose its will across much of Europe. His life was largely opposed to the will of the French King Louis XIV. This effort continued after his death during the War of the Spanish Succession.

Another important consequence of William's reign involved the ending of a bitter conflict between Crown and Parliament that had lasted since the accession of the first monarch of the House of Stuart, James I, in 1603. The conflict over royal and parliamentary power had led to the English Civil War during the 1640s and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. During William's reign, however, the conflict was settled in Parliament's favour by the Bill of Rights 1689 and the Triennial Act 1694.

Preceded by:
James II and VII
King of England (with Mary II)
Succeeded by:
Mary II
King of Scots (with Mary II)
King of Ireland (with Mary II)
Preceded by:
William II
Prince of Orange
Succeeded by:
William IV and III
Preceded by:
Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht
Stadtholder of Guelders and Overijssel