William III, king of England and stadtholder of Holland (William Henry of Nassau, prince of Orange), born at the Hague, Nov. 4, 1650, died in Kensington, March 8, 1702. He was the son of William II., prince of Orange, and the princess Mary of England, eldest daughter of Charles I. 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 had put a stop to his projects for the establishment of a despotism over the republic, and threw the power into the hands of the opposite party. There was no member of the' Orange family of sufficient influence to be electr ed stadtholder or to maintain its policy, and for years that party was depressed, the republic being governed by Jan de Witt, grand pensionary. The attack upon Holland by France and England in 1672 changed everything. The prince of Orange was immediately and unanimously appointed captain and admiral general of the United Provinces. In the long and severe conflict which ensued, the allies were at first successful; but the ability of William as a general, and still more as a diplomatist, detached England from the alliance and brought her over to the side of the Dutch, and led to the honorable peace of Nimeguen (1678). In November, 1677, William married his cousin Mary, eldest daughter of James, duke of York, heir presumptive to the British crown.
This union was 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. The lifelong policy of William was already indicated, which was to lessen the power of France, which under Louis XIV. had become dangerous to all Europe, and the most dreaded foe of Protestantism. The prince consequently strove to sever the relations between England and France, a design approved of by most Englishmen. A breach was inevitable, however, between him and his father-in-law, whenever the full bearing of his plan should become known to the latter. James, on ascending the throne (1685), was determined to restore the old religion and to establish arbitrary power. Holland became the place of refuge for all the discontented English. The national dissatisfaction having reached its height, the prince of Orange was on June 30, 1688, invited by a number of prominent English statesmen to enter England with an army. He assembled a large fleet and an army 15,000 strong, and landed at Torbay, Nov. 5. Soon the whole country was at his side, and James was a fugitive. A convention of the estates of the realm of England, in February, 1689, called William and Mary to the throne.
In Scotland his cause was equally triumphant. The early part of William's rule was unfortunate. The adherents of James availed themselves of troubles in Scotland to work against the new sovereigns, and James himself went to Ireland, where his coreligionists enthusiastically received him, and nearly the whole island came again into his possession. England joined the coalition which William, as stadtholder of Holland, had formed with Austria, Spain, and other states against France, and declared war, May 7, 1689. In Ireland, notwithstanding the raising of the siege of Londonderry and the victory at Newton Butler, the year closed favorably to James. But in 1690 William himself took command, and at the battle of the Boyne, July 1 (O. S.), James was defeated, and fled to France. William was, however, repulsed before Limerick, the French were victorious at Beachy Head, and the forces of the coalition were beaten at Fleurus. Quiet was restored in Scotland after the death of Dundee, the only capable leader of the highlanders.
The measures taken for the maintenance of peace in that wild country, under Sir John Dalrymple, led to the massacre of the Macdonalds in 1692, a transaction usually thought to have left a stain on William's reputation. (See Glencoe.) Ireland was subdued by Ginkel in 1691, and William went to the continent, where the war was continued till the autumn of 1697 with but little advantage to the allies, who lost Namur, and were defeated at Steenkirk in 1692, and in the battle of Neerwinden or Landen in 1693. In both the latter actions William commanded, and his genius and energy shone bright in defeat. A powerful French fleet was destroyed at the naval battle of La Hogue in 1692. Queen Mary (see Mary II.) died on Dec, 28, 1694, and William became sole sovereign. He retook Namur in 1695, and concluded peace at Ryswick in September, 1697, both parties being exhausted, and neither having gained much. During the whole war William had been disturbed by Jacobite plots, some of them against his life. The bank of England had been created, and ministerial responsibility recognized. The liberty of the press was established, the coinage purified, a standing army constitutionally formed, and the independence of the judiciary secured.
During a period when most English statesmen were corrupt, and while many in William's service were in correspondence with James, the English constitution was placed on a firm basis. The remainder of William's life was passed in disputes with parliament or in continental diplomacy, his chief object still being to check the power of France and to strengthen that of the Netherlands. He was the chief agent in the negotiations providing for the settlement of the Spanish succession. The terms of the second treaty were broken by Louis XIV., who accepted the Spanish crown for his grandson the duke of Anjou. Still further, on the death of James II. Louis acknowledged his son king of Great Britain and Ireland. This enraged the English, and William was preparing for war when he was thrown from his horse, Feb. 21, 1702, and received injuries which caused his death. William, having no heir, promoted the act of settlement, calling the house of Hanover to the throne, which was adopted by parliament in 1701, and completed the English revolution. His immediate successor in England was his sister-in-law Anne, while in Holland the stadtholderate was suspended for many years. William was wary, thoughtful, and taciturn, hiding a naturally fiery temper under a phlegmatic exterior.
He was courageous and fond of business, cared little for pleasure, was little interested in letters, and was decided in his theological opinions, yet not illiberal.