William I, King of the Netherlands. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
December 12, 1843 – Death of William I, King of the Netherlands
Wikipedia: William I, King of the Netherlands
William was the eldest son of William V, Prince of Orange, the last stadtholder of the Dutch Republic and Wilhelmina of Prussia. The younger William was descended from the British Hanoverian royalty through both his mother and his father. William received an education with a strong military focus, something that would aid him when he later had to fight to win back control of the Netherlands.
William married his cousin, Wilhelmine of Prussia, in October 1791 in Berlin. Although it was a political match intended to strengthen Dutch ties to Prussia, the marriage was also a very happy one. The couple had three surviving children – the future William II, Frederick, and Marianne – and remained married until Wilhelmine’s death in 1837.
In 1795, William and his family were driven into exile following the Dutch Republic’s loss to the First French Republic during the War of the First Coalition. The family first fled to Britain, then Germany where they stayed for four years. William participated in an Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland during the War of the Second Coalition in 1799, but the invasion was quelled by French-Dutch forces intent to keep the Oranges out of the country. Following a meeting with Napoleon in 1802, William was given the new (and small) principality of Nassau-Orange-Fulda as compensation for his lost lands. The principality existed until 1806.
The Dutch public was content to govern themselves in the short-lived Batavian Republic, a result of the Dutch loss to the French in 1795. The Dutch tolerated French involvement in the formation and loose supervision of the republic – until Napoleon created the Kingdom of Holland for his brother Louis in 1806. Meanwhile, William was fighting with his Prussian relatives against Napoleonic forces in Germany. William was briefly taken prisoner of war following the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt; although he was freed, he lost the principality of Nassau-Orange-Fulda.
Even after his imprisonment and the loss of his territory, William was not through with jumping armies to fight against the French. He joined the Austrian army in 1809, where he served as an aide to commander and Archduke Charles of Austria.
Aware of the discontent of the Dutch under French rule, William met with Alexander I of Russia for assistance in 1813 to appeal for help in restoring him to the Netherlands. Alexander agreed to help, and following Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig later that year, the Dutch provisional government agreed to accept William as King following the departure of the French. He was also proclaimed Grand Duke of Luxembourg and Duke of Nassau, uniting the Low Countries. The Netherlands was formally proclaimed a kingdom at the Congress of Vienna.
William worked toward furthering economic progress in the Netherlands, concentrating on industry in present-day Belgium. He also increased educational opportunities, founding the University of Leuven, the University of Ghent, and the University of Liege. The increase in industry and knowledge along with flourishing trade in the north and from the colonies resulted in great wealth for the new kingdom – and resentment in the south (Belgium), which saw the fewest benefits from the economic growth. This eventually led to revolution in the south and the creation of the Kingdom of Belgium.
The loss of Belgium and resulting constitutional change left William, who had been focused on keeping the Low Countries together, dejected. William abdicated in October 1840, after a controversy arose when he declared his wish to marry Belgian noblewoman Henriette d’Oultremont. His eldest son succeeded him as William II.
William married Henriette in 1841, and the couple settled in Berlin. William died two years later and is buried in Nieuwe Kerk in Delft. William was the first modern-day monarch of the Low Countries to abdicate. Although not all monarchs following William have abdicated, the trend more accepted than in other parts of the world. William’s descendants Wilhelmina, Juliana, and Beatrix of the Netherlands have all abdicated, as well as non-descendants Charlotte and Jean in Luxembourg and Albert II in Belgium.