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William III (Willem; 4 November 1650 – 8 March 1702), also widely known as William of Orange, was sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from 1672 and King of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702. It is a coincidence that his regnal number (III) was the same for both Orange and England. As King of Scotland, he is known as William II. He is sometimes informally known in Northern Ireland and Scotland as "King Billy".
In 1691 the Society for the Reformation of Manners began its activities, some of them designed to put an end to the ‘scourge’ of sodomy that was said to have polluted the streets of London. The references to same-sex love among males may have been heated by rumours about the new king, William III, who had been given the crown in 1689. William himself had been attached to William Bentinck, ennobled as the Earl of Portland, and the gossip about the two men reached the public in satires and ballads. The king was accused of buggering Bentinck and the favourite was called a ‘catamite who rules alone the state’ or, more unusually, a ‘bardash’ or the equivalent of the French ‘bardache’, meaning man-woman or passive male prostitute. One satire put it this way: In love to his minions he partial and rash is, Makes statesmen of blockheads and earls of bardashes. When the king seems to have transferred his affections to another Dutchman, Arnold Joost van Keppel, Bentinck threw up all his public offices in a fit of pique. William remonstrated with him, and Bentinck replied that ‘the kindness which your majesty shows to a young man and the manner in which you appear to authorize his liberties and impertinencies make the world say things I am ashamed to hear’. The king’s friend, Bishop Burnet, remarked in his History of His Own Time (1723) that William ‘had no vice, but of one sort, in which he was very cautious and secret’, to which Swift responded in a marginal handwritten entry that ‘it was of two sorts – male and female – in the former he was neither cautious nor secret’.
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The wife of one of the king’s most notoriously queer relations, ‘Monsieur’ or the Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, had no doubt about the English attachment to same-sex unions. The duchess, Liselotte, wrote that the new English king (William III) had no fondness for women and ‘he is believed to have very different inclinations’; he was part of ‘that brotherhood’ and in the year before his death she wrote of those men ‘who share the inclinations of king William’. She was once asked whether the English court had become a ‘château de derrière’, or arse castle. She added that ‘nothing is more ordinary in England than this unnatural vice’. For England, she meant London.
An anonymous writer posing as a procuress and brothel-keeper, ‘Jenny Cromwell’, composed a pamphlet entitled Jenny Cromwell’s Complaint Against Sodomy (1692) which associated the London court with its queer inhabitants. Among the elite circle of the sodomites she mentioned ‘Bardash’ or Bentinck and the king; another candidate for inclusion was the Earl of Scarsdale who was wont ‘to skulk about the alleys / And is content with Bettys, Nans and Mollys’. ‘Jenny Cromwell’ rose to a final condemnation against William III: ‘Till you came in and with your Reformation / Turn’d all things Arsy Versey in the Nation.’
William inherited the principality of Orange from his father, William II, who died a week before William's birth. His mother, Mary, was the daughter of King Charles I of England. In 1677, he married his fifteen-year-old first cousin, Mary, the daughter of his maternal uncle James, Duke of York.
A Protestant, William participated in several wars against the powerful Catholic king of France, Louis XIV, in coalition with Protestant and Catholic powers in Europe. Many Protestants heralded him as a champion of their faith. In 1685, his Catholic father-in-law, James, Duke of York, became king of England, Ireland and Scotland. James's reign was unpopular with the Protestant majority in Britain. William, supported by a group of influential British political and religious leaders, invaded England in what became known as the "Glorious Revolution". On 5 November 1688, he landed at the southern English port of Brixham. James was deposed and William and Mary became joint sovereigns in his place. They reigned together until her death on 28 December 1694, after which William ruled as sole monarch.
William's reputation as a staunch Protestant enabled him to take power in Britain when many were fearful of a revival of Catholicism under James. William's victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 is still commemorated by loyalists in Northern Ireland and Scotland. His reign in Britain marked the beginning of the transition from the personal rule of the Stuarts to the more Parliament-centred rule of the House of Hanover.
During the 1690s, rumours grew of William's alleged homosexual inclinations and led to the publication of many satirical pamphlets by his Jacobite detractors. He did have several close male associates, including two Dutch courtiers to whom he granted English titles: Hans Willem Bentinck became Earl of Portland, and Arnold Joost van Keppel was created Earl of Albemarle. These relationships with male friends, and his apparent lack of mistresses, led William's enemies to suggest that he might prefer homosexual relationships. William's modern biographers disagree on the veracity of these allegations. Some believe there may have been truth to the rumours, while others affirm that they were no more than figments of his enemies' imaginations, and that there was nothing unusual in someone childless like William adopting or evincing paternal affections for a younger man.
Whatever the case, Bentinck's closeness to William did arouse jealousies in the Royal Court. William's young protegé, Keppel, aroused more gossip and suspicion, being 20 years William's junior, strikingly handsome, and having risen from being a royal page to an earldom with some ease. Portland wrote to William in 1697 that "the kindness which your Majesty has for a young man, and the way in which you seem to authorise his liberties ... make the world say things I am ashamed to hear." This, he said, was "tarnishing a reputation which has never before been subject to such accusations". William tersely dismissed these suggestions, however, saying, "It seems to me very extraordinary that it should be impossible to have esteem and regard for a young man without it being criminal."
In 1702, William died of pneumonia, a complication from a broken collarbone following a fall from his horse, Sorrel. The horse had been confiscated from Sir John Fenwick, one of the Jacobites who had conspired against William. Because his horse had stumbled into a mole's burrow, many Jacobites toasted "the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat". Years later, Winston Churchill, in his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, stated that the fall "opened the door to a troop of lurking foes". William was buried in Westminster Abbey alongside his wife. His sister-in-law, Anne, became queen regnant of England, Scotland and Ireland.
William's death brought an end to the Dutch House of Orange, members of which had served as stadtholder of Holland and the majority of the other provinces of the Dutch Republic since the time of William the Silent (William I). The five provinces of which William III was stadtholder—Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, and Overijssel—all suspended the office after his death. Thus, he was the last patrilineal descendant of William I to be named stadtholder for the majority of the provinces. Under William III's will, John William Friso stood to inherit the Principality of Orange as well as several lordships in the Netherlands. He was William's closest agnatic relative, as well as son of William's aunt Albertine Agnes. However, King Frederick I of Prussia also claimed the Principality as the senior cognatic heir, his mother Louise Henriette being Albertine Agnes's older sister. Under the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), Frederick I's successor, Frederick William I of Prussia, ceded his territorial claim to King Louis XIV of France, keeping only a claim to the title. Friso's posthumous son, William IV, succeeded to the title at his birth in 1711; in the Treaty of Partition (1732) he agreed to share the title "Prince of Orange" with Frederick William.
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