The story of King William's life is an interesting one.
He was born in Holland in 1650, and was a prince of the distinguished house of Orange, which for many years had been prominent in the history of the Netherlands.
William was carefully educated. He showed so much ability that when he was only twenty-two years old he was chosen stadtholder, or president of the Netherlands.
In 1672, Louis XIV, with an army of one hundred and twenty-five thousand men, under the command of Turenne and Condé, invaded the Netherlands. England united her forces with France, and lent her fleet to crush the power of the Dutch. Town after town was taken by the French, and the Dutch were in a terrible plight.
Young as he was, William carried on the war like an experienced general. His army had reverses at first; but his belief in the final triumph of the Dutch never left him.
Once a despondent official said to him, "Do you not see that the country is lost?"
"Lost!" replied William, "No, it is not lost; and I shall never see it lost!"
In this spirit of confidence he fought his enemies, never despairing, never acknowledging defeat.
After many successes the French were about to seize the city of Amsterdam. William ordered the dikes to be cut, and the waters of the North Sea spread over the lowlands. The growing crops were ruined, but the flood checked the invading army.
When, in 1674, peace was made with England, New York, which was originally a Dutch settlement and was called New Amsterdam, was ceded to Great Britain. It was renamed New York in honor of James, Duke of York, to whom his brother Charles II had, in 1664, granted all the land between the Connecticut and the Delaware.
France inflicted great disasters upon the Netherlands and actually secured part of her territory, but Louis was at length forced to withdraw from the country. The Dutch, under the heroic leadership of their young stadtholder, maintained their independence.
On the death of King Charles II, in 1685, the Duke of York came to the English throne under the title of James II.
He, however, aroused very great dissatisfaction in England by some of his acts; and in June 1688 a letter was sent to William of Orange, inviting him and his wife Mary, who was a daughter of James II., to become sovereigns of England.
This letter was signed by seven leading men of both the great political parties in England. It assured William that it was the universal wish of the English nation that he should become its ruler.
The invitation was accepted. The Netherlands, glad to have their honored stadtholder on the English throne, furnished him with an army of about thirteen thousand men, and a fleet of more than six hundred ships, and with these forces he reached England in November, 1688.
William landed his army and marched to Exeter, where the citizens welcomed him in a very enthusiastic manner. Thousands of the nobles, gentry and common people flocked to his standard. His army rapidly increased. Everywhere in England there was great rejoicing at his arrival.
Coronation of William and Mary.
King James gathered a strong force, mostly from Scotland and Ireland, and marched to Salisbury to check the revolt. But William met him bravely, and the king's army fell back in disorder and many of the officers and men deserted.
James gave up the struggle in despair, and hastened to London. There he learned that his daughter, Anne, had left his palace to join the revolters.
"God help me," cried the king, "for my own children have forsaken me!"
His spirit was utterly broken, and he prepared for a rapid journey to France. He knew that the throne was lost to him, and he resolved to flee from England and cast himself upon the hospitality of his cousin, the French king, Louis XIV.
Leaving the palace at night, and in disguise, he threw the seals of state into the Thames, and then took a boat to a ship which was lying some distance down the river. James hoped to sail in this ship to France; but his escape was prevented by a fisherman who thought him a suspicious character, and he was brought back to London.
William and Mary, with the army that supported them, came to London. There was a wonderful demonstration of joy by the people of the metropolis, and the queen was greeted with acclamation. A committee of Parliament drew up a Declaration of Rights, which was presented to William and Mary. It declared what the rights of Englishmen are, stated that no sovereign could interfere with those rights, and expressed the resolve of both houses of Parliament to maintain them.
It seemed like a second Magna Charta. William and Mary both signed it, and they were then, in February, 1689, declared king and queen of England.
This change in the rulers—the abdication of King James and the coming of William and Mary—is called the Revolution of 1688.
As has been said, it was easily accomplished in England; but in Ireland there was decided opposition to it. Londonderry and Enniskillen were the only Irish towns that declared for William and Mary. The other towns were strongly in favor of James.
Finally, James came from France to Ireland, collected an army and began a war on those who supported the new sovereigns. He received assistance from Louis XIV of France. Those who fought for James were called "Jacobites" and the others were called "Orangemen." The war in Ireland lasted but a few months; for at the battle of the Boyne, on July 12, 1690, James's army was defeated, and all resistance in Ireland came to an end.
Battle of La Hogue.
William was then formally recognized as king of Great Britain and Ireland.
England had declared war on France; and it became necessary for William to visit the European continent. He there made alliances with Austria, Spain, and other nations. While he was absent from England, Mary ruled the kingdom, and ruled it well.
William was engaged for some years in the contest on the continent. He won many great battles, but he also suffered disastrous defeats. While he was in Europe another attempt was made by James to invade England and regain the throne.
Louis XIV again provided James with soldiers and war ships; and an expedition sailed for England. James was confident of success; and all associated with him thought it would be an easy matter to accomplish the undertaking.
Near the coast of Normandy the invading fleet came upon the combined English and Dutch fleet; and, off Cape La Hogue, a furious battle took place. The English and Dutch gained a brilliant victory, and James sailed back to France, and never again made a movement to recover the English throne.
While England and France were fighting in Europe, the colonies of the two countries were fighting in America. The war is known in American history as King William's War.
The reign of William and Mary is of great interest to us in the United States. Those sovereigns were not accepted by the people of England until they had signed the Declaration of Rights; and the very first Act passed by Parliament during their reign was one which made the Declaration a part of the laws of the land.
That Declaration secured their rights not only to the subjects who lived in the "mother country," but also to those in the colonies. One of its provisions was "that it is the right of the subjects to petition the king."
George III spurned the petitions of the colonists, and otherwise violated the rights claimed in the Declaration, just as James II had done. What the American colonists did, therefore, when they fought the battles of the Revolution, was very similar to what the people of England had done a hundred years before, when they dethroned James and offered the crown to William and Mary.
The English Revolution of 1688, and the American Revolution, had exactly the same purpose.