by Susan Flantzer
The father of King William III of England, Willem II, Prince of Orange was the eldest of the nine children of Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange and Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. He was born on May 27, 1626 in The Hague, Dutch Republic (now in the Netherlands).
Willem had eight siblings but only four survived childhood:
- Luise Henriette of Nassau (1627 – 1667), married Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg, had six children including Friedrich, King in Prussia
- Henriëtte Amalia of Nassau (born and died 1628)
- Elisabeth of Nassau (born and died 1630)
- Isabella Charlotte of Nassau (1632 – 1642)
- Albertine Agnes of Nassau (1634 – 1696), married Willem Frederik, Prince of Nassau-Dietz, had three children; paternal grandparents of Johan Willem Friso, Prince of Orange
- Henriette Catherine of Nassau (1637 – 1708), married Johann Georg II, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, had ten children, maternal grandparents of Johan Willem Friso, Prince of Orange
- Hendrik Lodewijk of Nassau (born and died 1639)
- Maria of Nassau (1642 – 1688), married Ludwig Heinrich, Count Palatine of Simmern-Kaiserslautern, no children
King Charles I of England had wanted his eldest daughter Mary, Princess Royal to marry one of the sons of King Felipe IV of Spain or her first cousin Karl I Ludwig, Elector Palatine, but both marriage prospects failed. Instead, Mary was betrothed to Willem, whose parents were thrilled to have such an alliance with England. On May 2, 1641, at the Chapel Royal of the Palace of Whitehall in London, England, nine-year-old Mary married Willem, who would have his 15th birthday in a couple of weeks. Because of Mary’s young age, the marriage was not consummated for several years.
In February of 1642, Willem and Mary, accompanied by her mother Henrietta Maria of France, sailed from England to The Hague in the Dutch Republic. Once in The Hague, Mary was warmly greeted by her in-laws and her paternal aunt Elizabeth Stuart, Electress Palatine and some of her children. A second marriage ceremony was held in The Hague on November 4, 1643.
Mary and Willem had one child:
- Willem III, Prince of Orange, later King William III of England (1650 – 1702), married his first cousin and co-ruler Queen Mary II of England, no issue
Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange died in 1647 and his son Willem became Prince of Orange and Stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. His two brothers-in-law, the future King Charles II and King James II, exiled because of the English Civil War, were welcomed to William and Mary’s court in 1648.
Since 1568, initially under Willem II’s grandfather, Willem I (the Silent), Prince of Orange, the Dutch provinces had been engaged in the Eighty Years’ War against Spain for its independence. Under Frederik Hendrik, the Dutch provinces had largely won the war, and since 1646 had been negotiating with Spain on the terms for ending the war. In 1648, Willem II opposed the signing of the Peace of Westphalia, although it officially recognized the independence of the Dutch provinces. However, six of the seven Dutch provinces voted to accept it so the treaty went into effect.
In 1650, there was a serious confrontation between Willem II and the province of Holland, led by the regents of Amsterdam who requested the reduction of the army, according to the Peace of Westphalia. Willem II denied the request and imprisoned several members of the Provincial Assembly of the Netherlands and sent troops to take Amsterdam, but the campaign failed due to bad weather.
In 1650, Mary was pregnant with her first child when her husband Willem II fell ill with smallpox. He died on November 6, 1650, at the age of 24 and was buried at the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft. Eight days later, on November 14, 1650, Mary gave birth to her only child Willem III, Prince of Orange who went on to marry his first cousin Mary, eldest surviving child of the future King James II of England. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which James II was deposed, they jointly reigned as King William III and Queen Mary II.