William III (1650–1702), prince of Orange and king of Great Britain and Ireland, was born in The Hague on 4/14 November 1650, only son of stadholder William II and his wife Mary Stuart, daughter of Charles I of England and sister to Charles II and James (qv), duke of York (later James II). The birth took place eight days after his father had died from smallpox. He was baptised ‘Willem Hendrik’ (later anglicised as ‘William Henry’) on 5/15 January 1651. As William II had challenged the authority of the States (governing assembly) of Holland, one of the constituent provinces of the United Provinces, the latter refused to agree to the infant William as stadholder in succession to his father. Throughout the 1650s and for much of the 1660s the house of Orange was effectively marginalised in the governance and politics of the United Provinces and its constituent parts. But by the late 1660s, as the threat from Louis XIV's France grew more considerable, the political fortunes of the house of Orange began to revive as those of Johann de Witt, grand pensionary of Holland and the United Provinces, began to wane. This political shift was partly for domestic reasons within the individual provinces, but more especially in view of the growing external threat. It was in fact the crisis created by French invasion (June 1672), as western provinces fell to the French army, that led to William, already captain-general of the Dutch forces, accepting the office of stadholder of the United Provinces on 9 July; six weeks later, de Witt was lynched by a mob. Over the following year and a half, Dutch forces under William's command drove the French from most of their territory. At the same time England, which had opportunistically allied with the French, suffered naval defeats at the hands of the Dutch and withdrew from the war.
William took the view that Louis XIV was attempting to establish a universal monarchy and thereby endangered the vrijheden (liberties) of Europe. His policies from 1672 onwards can be seen as a concerted attempt, through war and diplomacy, to limit and contain the power of France in Europe as a whole. Initially he sought, in vain as it happens, to do this through a coalition of the Dutch Republic, Spain, and the German emperor, whose objective was to push France back to the boundaries agreed at the peace of the Pyrenees in 1659. To William's great dismay his brother-in-law, Charles II of England, remained at best neutral. In an effort to get England into the allied camp William married (4/14 November 1677) his first cousin Mary, elder daughter of the duke of York. The marriage took place at Whitehall. Unlike her father, Mary, the daughter of his first marriage, remained loyally protestant. Despite this marriage alliance and a subsequent visit to England by William (1681), Charles II did not abandon his neutrality and showed no wish to assist William's long-term ambitions to control Louis XIV. By the early 1680s the United Provinces was becoming a place of refuge for English whigs who had supported the attempts to exclude the catholic duke of York from succeeding Charles II. In the years after James II's accession (1685), as his catholicising policies in England and Ireland developed, contacts between James's political opponents in England and the protestant William grew apace. William began to consider armed intervention as a way of drawing England into his European design, but he was not prepared to initiate action until he received an invitation from England; this was forthcoming on 30 June 1688, when a group of leading whig and tory politicians, organised by Henry Sidney (qv), formally asked William to intervene.
On 5 November 1688 William landed with a substantial army at Torbay in Devon, then travelled to Exeter, where he set up camp. The previous month he had issued from his court at The Hague a declaration of ‘the reasons inducing him to appear in arms in the kingdom of England, for preserving of the protestant religion, and for restoring the laws and liberties of England, Scotland and Ireland’. The reasons lay in James II's abuse of his prerogative powers, the threats to the established church, and the role of ‘evil counsellors’. The expedition was ‘intended for no other design, but to have a free and lawful parliament assembled as soon as possible’. So far as Ireland was concerned, William promised to ‘study to bring the kingdom of Ireland to such a state, that the settlement there may be religiously observed: and that the protestant and British interest there, may be secured’ (The declaration of his highness William Henry . . . (1688)). It was not until James II's flight to France that he allowed his interest in taking the crown for himself to become apparent. In January a convention of lords and commons was summoned to Westminster, in which whig and tory politicians fought over the terms of the settlement and eventually agreed to offer the crown to both William and his wife Mary as joint monarchs, though executive power was to rest exclusively with William. As joint monarchs of England, William and Mary automatically claimed the crown of Ireland under the terms of the Irish act for kingly title (1541).
In early January, in response to reports from Dublin that the earl of Tyrconnell (qv) might be prepared to give up the viceroyalty, William sent Richard Hamilton (qv), whose late brother George had been the first husband of Lady Tyrconnell (qv), to negotiate with Tyrconnell, an initiative that backfired when Hamilton joined the Jacobite side on arrival in Dublin. Generally William showed little interest in Ireland during January, and it was ten days after accepting the crown that he issued a declaration to his Irish subjects requiring them to submit by 10 April.
But William could not ignore the threat from Ireland once James II had landed there in late March 1689 and established his authority over the whole island, except for Derry and Enniskillen. In June a Williamite force was sent to relieve Derry, and on 28 July a Williamite naval squadron broke the boom on the River Foyle, which led to the lifting of the Jacobite siege three days later. William followed up this success by sending in August a substantial army under Marshal Schomberg (qv). After some initial successes in north-east Ulster Schomberg's army was effectively incapacitated by weather and disease, retiring to winter quarters at Lisburn, Co. Antrim. In the light of Schomberg's failure to defeat James's army during the campaign of 1689, William decided in January 1690 to go to Ireland himself. He procured a Danish force which arrived in Belfast Lough on 13 March, and further reinforcements of English, Dutch, and German troops were then sent to Ireland. He himself landed at Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, on 14 June, with 15,000 troops and a train of artillery. Just over two weeks later, on 1 July (11 July new style), William achieved a substantial victory at the Boyne, after which the Jacobite armies retreated westward and James II took flight, sailing for France on 4 July. The day after his triumphant entry into Dublin on 6 July, William, convinced that the Irish Jacobites had been beaten, issued a declaration from his camp at Finglas in which he offered the Jacobites no concessions and demanded unconditional surrender. The Jacobites, who still controlled much of the country, decided to continue the war. William decided to take the Jacobite stronghold in Limerick, where he arrived on 7 August. Owing to lack of ammunition and heavy guns and to bad weather, he was unable to capture the city and decided to lift the siege on 30 August. He left Ireland on 5 September, having put Godard van Reede van Ginkel (qv) in command of his forces.
The war in Ireland lasted until autumn 1691. In the summer William's forces enjoyed substantial victories over the Jacobites: the taking of Athlone (30 June 1691), victory at Aughrim (12 July), and the capture of Galway (20 July). On 25 August Ginkel began the second siege of Limerick, which ended in a truce, not outright victory, on 24 September. Military and civil articles, generous to the Jacobite side, were negotiated and signed on 3 October. The first civil article stipulated the same degree of religious toleration that catholics, in practice, had generally enjoyed under Charles II, and held out the hope of further security for them. The second article, as negotiated, provided against the confiscation of land owned by Jacobites in the west of Ireland; it covered the officers and soldiers in the several counties of Limerick, Clare, Kerry, Cork, and Mayo, and ‘all such as are under their protection in the said counties’. These crucial words were omitted from the formal treaty signed on 3 October. When this was discovered and London advised of the omission, the words were explicitly restored in William and Mary's proclamation of 24 February.
As a stadholder in the Dutch Republic William had always followed a moderate course towards catholics. He would have liked to do the same in Ireland. He wished to have the treaty of Limerick ratified by the Irish parliament in 1692 and 1695, but the unpopularity of the treaty in protestant Ireland and the hostility of MPs to ratification made it impossible to introduce legislation for this purpose. Eventually in 1697 William agreed to a confirmatory act, which omitted those crucial words he had been happy to endorse on his own authority in February 1692, and no attempt was made in the 1697 act to give legislative expression to the first of the civil articles of the treaty. Indeed, in the 1695, 1697, and 1698–9 sessions William assented to penal laws against ‘popery’. The context for this legislation was the government's pressing need for subsidies from the Irish parliament and William's reliance on whig ‘junto’ ministers in Whitehall and Dublin castle. It is also true that after the signing of the treaty of Ryswick, which brought the war against France to an end, William no longer depended on his European catholic allies, who had been prepared to lobby on behalf of catholics in Ireland.
For reasons of English domestic politics Ireland became an issue once more for William in 1699–1700. This arose from the grants he had made, on his own authority, of the forfeited estates of Irish Jacobites. These had gone to William's favourites, some of them Dutch, who had in turn sold them on to Irish protestant landowners. This became a major issue at Westminster, driven more by a wish to discredit William and his ministry for political purposes than by any wish to regularise land grants in Ireland, but it led to William's having to assent to an act of resumption of forfeited estates, which caused consternation in protestant Ireland, in particular among those who had bought land from William's grantees, and more generally among those who resented the English parliament legislating for Ireland.
William III, who reigned on his own from the death of Queen Mary (December 1694), died from pulmonary fever at Kensington House, London, on 8 March 1702. Eight months earlier (1 July 1701) Dublin corporation had unveiled an equestrian statute of William, by Grinling Gibbons, on College Green. This became the focal point for both public celebration and political protest, in the latter case as early as 1710, when it was defaced by TCD students with tory or Jacobite sympathies. The statute was blown up in 1836 but subsequently reerected, surviving until 1929, when it was destroyed by a bomb. William's birthday, 4 November, became an annual day of celebration for Irish protestants. Later in the eighteenth century William's victory at the Boyne was celebrated on 12 July, wrongly thought to be the anniversary of the battle of the Boyne (which had taken place on 11 July 1690 new style).