William and Mary

William III (king of England, Scotland, and Ireland)

William III, 1650–1702, king of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1689–1702); son of William II, prince of Orange, stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and of Mary, oldest daughter of King Charles I of England. William's personality was cold and his public policy calculating, but he was an able soldier and an astute politician, and his reign was of momentous constitutional importance.

Early Life

He was born at The Hague after his father's death, when the office of stadtholder was suspended and power fell into the hands of Jan de Witt. In 1672, however, a revolution was precipitated by Louis XIV's invasion of the Netherlands; De Witt was overthrown, and William was made stadtholder, captain general, and admiral for life. In the ensuing warfare with France (see Dutch Wars3), William was able to drive the French out of the Netherlands. He made peace with England in 1674 and finally with France in 1678. Thereafter he endeavored to build up a European coalition to prevent further French aggression.


The Glorious Revolution

In 1677, William had married the English Princess Mary (see Mary II), Protestant daughter of the Roman Catholic James, duke of York (later James II). After James's succession (1685) to the English throne, the Protestant William kept in close contact with the opposition to the king. Finally, after the birth of a son to James in 1688, he was invited to England by seven important nobles.

William landed in Devon with an army of 15,000 and advanced to London, meeting virtually no opposition. James was allowed to escape to France. Early in 1689, William summoned a Convention Parliament and accepted its offer of the crown jointly with his wife. The Glorious Revolution was thus accomplished in England without bloodshed, and it proved a decisive victory for Parliament in its long struggle with the crown; William was forced to accept the Bill of Rights (1689), which greatly limited the royal power and prescribed the line of succession, and to give Parliament control of finances and of the army.

In Scotland, the Jacobites resisted violently, but after their defeat at Killiecrankie (1689) William was able to make Scottish Presbyterianism secure. He blackened his reputation, however, by apparently condoning the bloody massacre of Glencoe (1692). In Ireland, after William's victory over the exiled James at the battle of the Boyne (1690) and the conclusion of the Treaty of Limerick (1691), the Penal Laws against Roman Catholics were increased in severity.

Foreign Policy and Constitutional Change

The Jacobite effort in Ireland had been supported by Louis XIV, who hoped thus to divert William from the larger war then being fought on the Continent (see Grand Alliance, War of the). William, however, took an English army to the Spanish Netherlands in 1691 and was constantly involved in campaigning until the conclusion of peace by the Treaty of Ryswick (1697). William attempted to ignore the party divisions in England, but he was forced to rely increasingly on Whig ministers because only the Whigs supported his foreign policy fully.

His Whig ministers, most notably Charles Montagu, earl of Halifax, were responsible for establishment (1694) of the Bank of England and the policy of the national debt. William and the Whigs were also responsible for the Toleration Act (1689), which lifted some of the disabilities imposed on Protestant nonconformists, and for allowing the Licensing Act to lapse (1695), a great step toward freedom of the press. William sought to maintain royal prerogatives but was unable to prevent passage of the Triennial Act (1694), which required a new Parliament every three years, and the Act of Settlement (1701), which imposed the first statutory limitation on royal control of foreign policy.

Later Years

A center of disaffection from c.1690 was the household of the queen's sister Anne (later Queen Anne), who with her favorites, the Marlboroughs, had been alienated by the hostile attitude of William and Mary. William's popularity diminished greatly after the death (1694) of the childless Queen Mary, and his concern near the end of his life with the Partition Treaties and with the War of the Spanish Succession (see Spanish Succession, War of the), in which England was involved in another long duel with France, did nothing to improve it.


A standard source for William's time is the history of Gilbert Burnet. See also biographies by N. A. Robb (2 vol., 1962–66), S. Baxter (1966), and H. and B. C. Van der Zee (1973); studies by L. Pinkham (1954, repr. 1969), D. Ogg (1956, repr. 1969), and G. Barany (1986); G. N. Clarke, The Later Stuarts (2d ed. 1956); R. P. MacCubbin and M. Hamilton-Phillips, ed., The Age of William III and Mary II (1988).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

William and Mary: Selected full-text books and articles

FREE! William the Third By H. D. Traill Macmillan & Co., 1888
William III By David Ogg Macmillan, 1956
The Conduct of the Earl of Nottingham By William A. Aiken Yale University Press, 1941
FREE! The History of England from the Accession of James II By Thomas Babington Macaulay Lippincott, vol.1, 1884
FREE! The History of England from the Accession of James the Second By Thomas Babington Macaulay Lippincott, vol.2, 1884
FREE! The History of England from the Accession of James II By Thomas Babington Macaulay Lippincott, vol.3, 1884
FREE! The History of England, from the Accession of James II [Microform] By Thomas Babington Macaulay W. L. Allison, vol.4, 1885
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