Willem V was born at The Hague, the son of Willem IV of Nassau.
He was only 3 years old when his father passed away in 1751. Willem V assumed the position of stadtholder (chief executive and military commander) in 1766 after a long regency, first by his mother, and then by the German Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Willem oversaw a serious political decline of the Dutch Republic.
In 1776, his nation was the first country to give official recognition to the newly independent United States. His policy, inspired by wealthy Dutch merchants seeking to benefit in the New World at the expense of England, and the development of close ties with England's former colony, created a deep rift that led to war with England in 1780.
After four years, the Dutch were defeated and an impoverished nation grew restless over Willem's rule. By 1787, a band of young revolutionaries began challenging his authority. Willem V responded by having his powerful brother-in-law, King Frederick William II of Prussia send in an army to attack the dissidents. These young revolutionaries fled to Paris in time to see the overthrow of King Louis XVI of France and the rise of "people power." The year 1795 was a disastrous one for the Netherlands. The Dutch East India Company, rocked by a scandal of corruption and theft, had to declare bankruptcy.
Supported by the French Army, the revolutionaries returned from Paris to fight in the Netherlands and in 1795 Willem V fled to the safety of his former enemy, England. The last of the Dutch stadtholders, he died in exile at Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany.
In 1813, his son, William would return to the Netherlands and become king.