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William III of the Netherlands

King William III (Alexander) (February 17, 1817 - November 23, 1890) was King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg (1849-1890)

Early life

William was born in Brussels as son of William II of the Netherlands and Queen Anna, sister to Tsar Alexander I of Russia.

William served in the military during his early years.

He married Sophie, princess of Württemberg in 1839. This marriage was unhappy and was characterized by struggle about their children. Sophie was a liberal intellectual, hating everything leaning toward dictatorship, such as the army. William was simpler, more conservative, and loved the military. He prohibited intellectual exercise at home, for which action Queen Victoria, who corresponded with Sophie, called him an uneducated farmer. Another cause of marital tension (and later political tension) was his capriciousness; he could rage against someone one day, and be extremely polite the next.

William loathed the constitutional changes (1848) initiated by his father (William II) and Johan Rudolf Thorbecke. William II and Sophie saw them as key to survival for the monarchy in changing times. William himself saw them as useless limitations of royal power, and wished to govern like his grandfather, William I.

He tried to relinquish his right to the throne to his younger brother. His mother convinced him to cancel this action. One year later (1849) William became King upon the death of his father.


William repeatedly contemplated abdicating as soon as his son turned eighteen. This occurred in 1858, but as William was uncomfortable making a decision he remained King. His first act was the inauguration of the parliamentary cabinet of Thorbecke, the liberal designer of the 1848 constitution. William loathed this man.

When the Catholic hierarchy of bishops was restored in 1853 he found a reason to dismiss his rival. In the first two decades of his reign he dismissed several cabinets and disbanded the States-General several times, installing royal cabinets which ruled briefly as there was no support in elected parliament.

He tried to sell the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg in 1867. The attempt nearly caused a war between Prussia and France, and meant the final end of William's royal plans.

William was popular with the ordinary people, presenting himself as a cordial man.

In 1877 Sophie died and years of war in the palace came to an end. In 1879 William decided to marry Princess Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont, a small German principality. Some politicians were quite angry, as she was 41 years the king's junior. Emma showed herself as a cordial woman and when William asked permission to parliament it was easily granted and they were quickly married.

Emma had a relieving influence on William's capricious personality and the marriage was extremely happy. The last decade was without any doubt the best of his reign. In 1880 Wilhelmina was born. She became heiress in 1884 after the death of the last remaining son from William's first marriage. Many potential heirs had died between 1878 and 1884, and the tomb in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft was never opened so many times in history.

William became seriously ill in 1887. He died in 1890 leaving his young daughter as Queen. Luxemburg went to another line of the Royal House because only men could inherit the Grand Duchy.

Preceded by:
William II
List of Kings and Queens of the Netherlands Succeeded by: