Born in The Hague, the son of King William I of the Netherlands and Queen Wilhelmina, princess of Prussia, when he was three he and his family were driven into exile by the French revolutionaries, and so William spent his youth in Berlin at the Prussian court. There he followed a military education and served in the Prussian army. Afterwards he studied at the University of Oxford. He entered the British army, and in 1811, as aide-de-camp to the Duke of Wellington, took part in several campaigns of the Peninsular War. He returned to the Netherlands in 1813 when his father became sovereign prince. In 1815 William became crown prince and he took service in the army when Napoleon escaped. He fought as commander of combined Dutch and Belgian forces at the Battle of Quatre Bras and the Battle of Waterloo, where he was wounded. He was considered a hero.
In 1816 William became briefly engaged with Charlotte of Wales, eldest daughter of George IV of the United Kingdom. The marriage was arranged by George but Charlotte didn't want to marry William so the engagement was broken. Later in that year he married Anna Paulowna, sister to Czar Alexander I of Russia, who arranged the marriage to seal the good relations between Russia and the Netherlands.
He enjoyed considerable popularity in Belgium, as well as in Holland for his affability and moderation, and in 1830, on the outbreak of the Belgian revolution, he did his utmost in Brussels as a peace broker, to bring about a settlement based on administrative autonomy for the southern provinces, under the house of Orange. His father afterwards rejected the terms of accommodation that he had proposed. Relations with his father remained tense.
In April 1831 he was leader of the disastrous campaign in Belgium which was driven back to the North by French intervention. European intervention established Leopold of Saxe-Gotha on the new throne of Belgium. Peace was finally established between Belgium and the Netherlands in 1839.
On October 7, 1840, on his father's abdication, he acceded the throne as William II. Like his father he was conservative and less likely to initiate changes. He intervened less in policies as his father did. There was increased agitation for broad constitutional reform and a wider electoral franchise electoral. And though he was personally conservative and no democratic, he acted with sense and moderation.
In 1848 revolutions broke out all over Europe. In Paris the Bourbon-Orléans monarchy fell. William became afraid for revolution in Amsterdam. After a night he woke up and said: "I've become from conservative to liberal in one night". He gave orders for a new constitution which included that the Eerste Kamer (Senate) would be chosen indirectly by the Provincial States and that the Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives) would be chosen directly. Electoral system changed into census suffrage in electoral districts (in 1917 census suffrage was replaced by common suffrage for all adults, and districts were replaced by party lists of different political parties), whereby royal power decreased sharply. The constitution is still in effect today.
|List of Kings and Queens of the Netherlands||