William of Orange was born in The Hague eight days after the death of his father from smallpox. His mother was Mary Stuart, the eldest daughter of Charles I of England. She died in 1660, also from smallpox.
Third Anglo-Dutch War
On June 28, 1672 he was appointed to the office of Stadtholder in the Netherlands, as well as captain-general of the Dutch forces opposing the French invasion of the Third Anglo-Dutch War. He was successful in forcing peace on them in 1678. Fearing that another invasion would follow in future, he worked to create an anti-French alliance, the League of Augsburg. As it happened, the most important event leading towards this goal had taken place the year before.
The Glorious Revolution
After the end of the Puritan Commonwealth, the restored king of England, Charles II married Mary, the daughter of his younger brother the Duke of York, to William in 1677. When Charles II died childless, the crown passed to the Duke, now James II. James was reported to be Catholic, and his wife certainly was. Anti-Catholicism was at a zenith, and members of the dissenting religions (the various Protestant churches, including the Puritains (modern Presbyterians), Independents (modern day Baptists), and Quakers, among many others) had rebelled against a potential Catholic conversion previously. However, James II was tolerated because of his heir: Mary. She was Protestant, as was her husband.
Crisis came when the middle-aged James had another child in June 1688 -- this time a son, James Francis Edward Stuart -- bumping Mary down the line of succession and threatening a Catholic dynasty in England. A high-powered conspiracy of notables, the "Immortal Seven", invited William and Mary to depose James. Parliament began the steps necessary to raising a military force. War had broken out between the League of Augsburg and France in October (the War of the Grand Alliance), and James had allied with the latter power. Seeing the invitation as a chance to drive a wedge between England and France, and to add England to his side, the couple invaded on November 5, 1688, landing at Brixham in Devon, and succeeded in capturing James in Kent. The largely bloodless coup, widely hailed as borderline miraculous in light of the violent past English Civil War and the Wars of the Roses, was dubbed the "Glorious Revolution." James II, his wife and child, moved to France.
At first Parliament intended to give the throne of England to Mary alone, but she refused. Not only was she nervous about the prospect of ruling alone, but William was also concerned about his status. On February 13, 1689, their de facto co-rule was made official, and William became William III of England while Mary became Mary II. In return for this, the British Bill of Rights was passed; along with 1701's Act of Settlement. The effect of these two measures was to make Parliament the supreme power in England (and soon to follow, the United Kingdom) and to make Protestantism a greater factor than sanguinuity in settling the succession to the throne of England. William and Mary were crowned on April 11, 1689.
In practice, the first part of their reign was one of Mary acting as administrator and William as field commander. Their marriage was in other ways unsatisfactory, producing no heirs. Throughout the reign of William and Mary, and of Queen Anne, the presence of James II on the continent cast doubts and sowed dissent. James II (known later as "The Old Pretender" in contrast to his son, Charles (or "Bonny Prince Charlie")) attempted to exploit this dissent. In 1690, William fought the Battle of the Boyne, which put down an Irish rebellion in favour of James II and forced him out of the British Isles for the time being. Later, William took the battle against the French to Flanders, appointing Dutchmen to command the English army and Royal Navy, to the distaste of the ranks. He also brought in Dutch troops to guard London.
William had several male favourites including a Rotterdam bailiff Van Zuylen van Nijveld. He granted English titles to two of these alleged lovers, who served him loyally as courtiers: Hans Willem Bentinck, who became Earl of Portland, and Arnold Joost van Keppel who he made Earl of Albemarle.
Peace of Rijswijk
Mary II died of smallpox in 1694, and William continued to rule without her. In 1697, he brought the war against France to a successful conclusion with the Peace of Rijswijk. During this time his solo rule of England was growing progressively more unpopular. As his primary interest was with his native Holland, he had no compunctions against using English resources to further that end. His reign was soon to end, however.
Under the laws passed upon William and Mary's accession and in 1701, the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland passed to Mary's sister, Anne. The leadership of the Dutch passed to John William Friso, and the troublesome personal union between Britain and the Netherlands came to an end.
William's primary achievement was the hemming in of France when she was in a position to impose her will across much of Europe. His life was largely opposed to the will of Louis XIV. This effort continued after his death, with the alliance he built opposing the French in the War of the Spanish Succession.
His other main effect on history was granting the British Parliament wide powers in return for its support in his continental wars. This settled the intense 17th century conflict between Crown and Parliament in England, and was a major step in the development of that nation's political institutions. In parts of the United Kingdom where religion is still an issue (notably Northern Ireland and, to a much lesser extent, Scotland), William is a symbol of the Protestant partisanship -- references to "King Billy", Orange lodges, and the colour orange hark back to him.
James II of England/
James VII of Scotland
List of British monarchs