Nov 042015


Today is the birthday (1650), and wedding anniversary, of William III sovereign Prince of Orange from birth and king of England, Scotland (as William II), and Ireland from 1689 until his death in 1702. His reign with his wife Mary as co-regent, was a transitional period from the absolute monarchies of the early Stuarts to the constitutional monarchies of the House of Hanover and beyond. He was not very prominent in the history books when I was in school and, in consequence, I never knew much about him. With the exception of Charles II, the Stuarts were not a popular lot. They also did not have many heirs, so the succession was constantly in jeopardy after Charles II, who was succeeded by his brother James, because Charles had no children. William was also deeply unpopular and was only made king because James II, his father-in-law and uncle, was even more so. The intrigues among the latter Stuarts revolved around the continuing struggles between Protestants and Catholics initiated by Henry VIII.


William inherited the principality of Orange from his father, William II, who died of smallpox a week before William’s birth. His mother Mary, Princess Royal, was the daughter of King Charles I of England. In 1677, he married his mother’s niece and his first cousin, Mary, the daughter of his maternal uncle James, Duke of York. A Protestant, William participated in several wars against the powerful Catholic king of France, Louis XIV, in coalition with Protestant and Catholic powers in Europe. Many Protestants heralded him as a champion of their faith. In 1685, his Catholic father-in-law, James, became king of England, Ireland and Scotland. James’s reign was unpopular with the Protestant majority in Britain. William was invited to invade England by a group of influential political and religious leaders in what became known as the “Glorious Revolution.” On 5 November 1688, William landed at the southern English port of Brixham. James was deposed (although a number of battles between James and William ensued), and William and Mary became joint sovereigns in his place. They reigned together until her death on 28 December 1694 after which William ruled as sole monarch.

William was not healthy as a child, small and thin, with a slightly hunched back, he suffered very badly from asthma all his life. Tragically, William also lost his mother when he was nine years old. On a visit to England after the Restoration of her brother, Charles II, she had contracted smallpox and died there. Being left alone at this early age, he developed a strong sense of self reliance. William was brought up in Holland in the Protestant, Calvinist faith.


His future wife and first cousin, Mary Stuart, was born at St. James Palace on 30th April, 1662, the eldest daughter of the future James II of England and his first wife Anne Hyde, daughter of Edward, Earl of Clarendon. Anne Hyde had been a maid of honour to William’s mother, Mary Stuart. Mary’s parents secret marriage had been occasioned by the fact that Anne was pregnant with his child. Although Charles II welcomed Anne into the family, the Queen-Mother, Henrietta Maria, felt James had married beneath him and opposed the marriage vehemently. The child, a son, died young.

The marriage of William and Mary was arranged for diplomatic motives by Charles II. It did not get off to a very auspicious start, on first sight of William, Mary wept inconsolably. At twenty-seven, he was not an attractive prospective partner, with his thin, hunched body, extremely large aquiline nose and piercing eyes. Mary’s sister Anne (also future queen and last of the Stuarts), unkindly referred to him as ‘Caliban’, after the mythical Greek ogre of monstrous appearance. Her father consented reluctantly to the match. The wedding took place on 4th November, 1677 and was a dismal affair, the bride cried throughout while her father looked on anxiously, William, as groom, was austere and uncomfortable, with only King Charles II smiling and joking in an attempt to lighten the dour atmosphere. After such an unpromising start, the marriage surprisingly proved to be a successful one, though it was never to produce any children.


Mary was displaced in the Line of Succession on the birth of her half brother, James Francis Edward, in 1688. The English, weary of James’s pro-Catholic policies, and faced with the prospect that he now had a catholic heir to continue his work, invited William to England to redress the situation. William arrived in England on 5th November, 1688. James II, deserted by many of his followers and unnerved, it is reported, by recently reading of the fates of the deposed Kings Richard II and Henry VI, fled to France. A convention was set up to determine the government of the country in January, 1689, which came to the decision that James could be said to have abdicated.

The crown was accordingly offered to Mary, however William would not agree to rule only in his wife’s name, which he considered humiliating. The crown was consequently offered to William and Mary jointly. On her arrival in England, Mary was widely criticized for having no respect for the father whose throne she had come to take and she and Anne were compared to the unfilial daughters of King Lear. James himself wrote bitterly to Mary, disowning her and laying a curse upon her. A devout woman, Mary’s actions bore heavily on her conscience in the years to come.

William III and Mary II formally promised to rule according to law and to be guided by Parliament. The Declaration of Rights designated the succession was to go to Mary’s children, then Anne’s, failing those it was to pass to any children of William (who was strictly speaking only third in line to the throne) by another marriage. It declared that no Catholic could become either sovereign or consort and imposed a new Oath of Allegiance. Secondly, it decreed that no monarch could keep a standing army in time of peace except with the consent of Parliament.

William never inspired the loyalty of his English subjects and was always dismissed as an arrogant foreigner who was chillingly reserved. The smog ridden air of London badly affected the chronic asthma he had suffered from since childhood and gave him a constant deep cough. The court was accordingly moved to the Tudor palace of Hampton Court, outside London. He spent much of his time campaigning abroad, in Ireland opposing James’s attempt to win back the throne in 1690 and in the Netherlands from 1691-97.

During the King’s frequent absences, Mary ruled England. In 1689, Mary’s sister Anne, after many miscarriages and stillbirths, gave birth to a son who survived, an heir to the throne in the next generation, named William in honor of the king. William created the boy Duke of Gloucester. Anne was dominated by her friend Sarah Churchill. A petty quarrel which developed between the sisters was made far worse by the interference of Sarah. William disliked Anne’s husband, Prince George of Denmark, which he made no attempt to conceal. Mary failed to visit Anne during her subsequent pregnancy, the two sisters were never to speak to each other again.

In December, 1694, Mary fell ill with smallpox, the disease that had killed both of William’s parents. The Queen’s condition steadily deteriorated. William was distraught but remained at her bedside until the end. Queen Mary died aged only thirty-two on 28th December. William was prostrate with grief at her death. It was to be several months before he managed to come to terms with the loss of his wife.

Purcell’s funeral music for Mary is palpably hanting:

The heir to the throne, Anne’s only surviving child, William, Duke of Gloucester, a delicate child who suffered from brain damage, died in July, 1700. Although there were many who possessed a superior claim, the next Protestant in the line of succession was Sophia, Electress of Hanover. She was the youngest child of James I’s daughter Elizabeth who had married Frederick, the Elector Palatine and was married to Ernest Augustus, Electoral Prince of Hanover. In 1701 the succession was fixed, after the death of Anne, on Sophia and her heirs, by Act of Parliament.

On 21st February, 1702, William’s horse stumbled on a molehill while he was out riding, causing him to fall badly and break his collar bone. He was unwell throughout the following month and did not recover from the accident. By the first week in March, his condition had deteriorated so badly that it became obvious that he was unlikely to survive. He died on 7th March 1702. He was later found to have kept a lock of Mary’s hair and her wedding ring next to his heart. His death was not greatly lamented in England, where he had never been liked.

Dutch cuisine these days is a bit on the plain side, but in William’s day it was remarkably elegant and complex. Because the Dutch controlled the spice trade from the East Indies, many contemporary recipes use rich spice combinations. I came across a recipe for roast pigeon in a 17th century cookbook which seems as if it would be worth a try. It was in an antiquated style of Dutch and was very brief. But the basics seem clear enough. This recipe can be made with squab if you can find it (one per person). I used to be able to find it frozen in Rockland Co., NY, or you can use game hen halved. Squab is stronger.


Pigeon with Celeriac Puree and Grapes

Roast the pigeon or squab at high heat, 200°C, for about 15 to 20 minutes. You want the skin to be golden and the meat cooked but not dry. Also place in the oven a pan of black seedless grapes with a little olive oil.

Meanwhile, peel and dice I cup of celeriac per person and simmer until tender. Drain and mash with butter and freshly grated nutmeg to taste.

Spread the mashed celeriac on a plate, and top with a roast squab, drizzled with the roast juices and pulp of the grapes.

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