Logo: small map of Scotland
Link to Scottish Biography Index








Statue of William of Orange  in Queen's Square, Bristol
Statue of William of Orange in Queen's Square, Bristol
Note About Image Copyright

William of Orange lived from 14 November 1650 to 8 March 1702. He became King William III of England and of Ireland on 22 January 1689, and King William II of Scotland on 4 April 1689, in each case ruling as joint monarch with his wife, Mary II, until her death on 28 December 1694, and then ruling as sole monarch. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

William was born in the Hague, the son of William II, Prince of Orange, and Mary Stuart, sister of Charles II and James VII/II of England. He came to power in the Netherlands in the aftermath of an occupation by French forces (supported by the English) in 1672. He made peace with England in 1674, and in 1677 was able to persuade the English (largely via pressure from a Protestant Parliament) to accept a marriage to his 15-year-old first cousin, Mary, daughter of his uncle James. The wedding took place in London on 4 November 1677, with Mary an unhappy participant. She then became William's consort in the Netherlands. Mary subsequently had three pregnancies that ended in miscarriage or stillbirth.

William's uncle and father-in-law father became James VII/II in 1685, an unpopular Catholic King ruling a virulently anti-Catholic nation. Matters came to a head in 1688 when James put seven Bishops on trial for seditious libel. And then, on 10 June, James' Catholic second wife, Mary of Modena, gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward Stuart, and Protestants found themselves looking at the prospect of a Catholic dynasty.

By now, William of Orange was regarded across Europe as something of a Protestant hero, and on 30 June 1688 a group of Protestant nobles asked him to come to England to overthrow James. William landed with an army comprising troops from Holland and many other nations in Brixham in south west England on 5 November 1688. It was the start of the "Glorious Revolution", and much of James' army switched allegiance to him. Even James' younger daughter Anne came out in support of William and Mary.

On 22 January 1689 an English Convention Parliament declared William III and Mary II to be rightful joint monarchs: while on 4 April 1689 a Scottish Convention declared William II of Scotland and Mary II to be joint monarchs of Scotland. A Jacobite uprising in Scotland was fairly quickly quelled, though William took rather longer to put down a rebellion started by James VII/II in Ireland, despite the decisive victory occurring early in the campaign at the Battle of the Boyne on 1 July 1690. Indeed, much of William's early attention was given over to putting down the rebellion in Ireland, which took until 1692 to suppress. He also found himself embroiled in conflicts with France on the Continent, where he remained Prince of Orange. Here he badly lost the Battle of Landen in 1693. William was not however, totally excluded from domestic issues: it is quite likely that he personally approved the plan to massacre the MacDonalds in Glen Coe on 13 February 1692.

In December 1689 William and Mary approved one of the most important constitutional documents in English history, the Bill of Rights. This established restrictions on the royal prerogative, declaring, amongst other things, that the Monarch 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 of Parliament for anything said during debates; or require excessive bail or inflict cruel or unusual punishments. The Bill of Rights also addressed the question of succession to the Throne and, in particular, it prohibited any Catholic becoming Monarch, or any Monarch marrying a Catholic: prohibitions that remain in force today.

On 28th December 1694, Mary II died of smallpox, still childless, leaving William III to govern alone. Their marriage had not got off to a good start and William had initially been far from faithful, but over the years he had grown increasingly to rely on Mary and was devastated by her death. William also missed the boost her presence gave to his popularity in England, where he found himself increasingly unpopular, in part because of rumours that began to circulate about his sexuality and his close male friends.

In 1695 William played a major role in ensuring the collapse of the Darien Scheme, critically important to the economy of Scotland, by ordering his English and Dutch subjects not to give any asistance to the Scottish colonists for fear of upsetting the Spanish. William's later reign was much occupied with political manoeuvreing in Europe to try to influence the succession to the Spanish Crown. In 1696 the Jacobites tried unsuccessfully to assassinate William, and the following year Louis XIV of France ended his support for James VII/II and recognised William III as King of England (though Louis was later to change horses again and support James Francis Edward Stuart when that became politically expedient).

In 1701 the English Parliament (without consulting the Scots) passed the Act of Settlement. This stated that the Crown would be inherited by a grand-daughter of James VI/I, Sophia, Electress of Hanover and her Protestant heirs if Princess Anne died without surviving issue, and if William III failed to have surviving issue by any subsequent marriage. When William III died in 1702 after a fall from his horse, he was succeeded by Queen Anne, Mary II's sister and James VII/II's younger daughter.

Top of Page Top of Page