History of King William III of England



WILLIAM and Mary were proclaimed King and Queen of the United Kingdom, and thus was consummated the English Revolution. It was of all revolutions the least violent and yet the most beneficent. It finally decided the great question whether the popular element which had, ever since the age of Fitzwalter and de Montfort, been found in the English polity, should be destroyed by the monarchical element, or should be suffered to develop itself freely, and to become dominant. The strife between the two principles had been long, fierce and doubtful. It had lasted through four reigns. The King at Arms, who proclaimed William and Mary before Whitehall Gate, did in truth announce that this great struggle was over; that there was entire union between the throne and the parliament; that England, long dependent and degraded, was again a power of the first rank; and that no reform which the two Houses should, after mature consideration, propose, would be obstinately withstood by the sovereign.

IN this reign, 1694, was established the Bank of England. It was the result of a great change that had developed in a few years, for old men in William's reign could remember the days when there was not a single banking house in London. Goldsmiths had strong vaults in which masses of bullion could lie secure from fire and robbers, and at their shops in Lombard Street all payments in coin were made. William Paterson, an ingenious speculator, submitted to the government a plan for a national bank, which, after long debate, passed both houses of parliament.

In 1694 the king and the nation mourned the death from smallpox--a disease always working havoc--of Queen Mary. During her illness William remained day and night at her bedside. The Dutch envoy wrote that the sight of his misery was enough to melt the hardest heart. When all hope was over, he said to Bishop Burnet, "There is no hope. I was the happiest man on earth, and I am the most miserable. She had no fault--none. You knew her well, but you could not know, none but myself could know, her goodness."

On the Continent the death of Mary excited various emotions. The Huguenots, in every part of Europe to which they had wandered, bewailed the Elect Lady, who had retrenched her own royal state in order to furnish board and shelter to the persecuted people of God. But the hopes of James and his companions in exile were now higher than they had been since the day of La Hogue. Indeed, the general opinion of politicians, both here and on the Continent, was that William would find it impossible to sustain himself much longer on the throne. He would not, it was said, have sustained himself so long but for the help of his wife, whose affability had conciliated many that were disgusted by his Dutch accent and habits. But all the statesmen of Europe were deceived and, strange to say, his reign was decidedly more prosperous after the decease of Mary than during her life.

During the month which followed his wife's death the king was incapable of exertion. His first letter was that of a heart--broken man. Even his martial ardour had been tamed by misery. "I tell you in confidence," he wrote to Heinsius, "that I feel myself to be no longer fit for military command. Yet I will try to do my duty, and I hope that God will strengthen me." So despondingly did he look forward to the most brilliant of his many campaigns.

All Europe was looking anxiously towards the Low Countries. A great French army, commanded by Villeroy was collected in Flanders. William crossed to the Continent to take command of the Dutch and British troops, who mustered at Ghent. The Elector of Bavaria, at the head of a great force, lay near Brussels. William had set his heart on capturing Namur. After a siege hard pressed, that fortress, the strongest in Europe, fortified by Vauban, surrendered on August 26, 1695.

The war was ended by the signing of the treaty of Ryswick by the ambassadors of France, England, Spain and the United Provinces on September 20, 1697. King William was received in London with great popular rejoicing. There was indeed reason for joy and thankfulness. England had passed through severe trials and had come forth wonderfully renewed in health and vigour.

Ten years before it had seemed that both her liberty and her independence were no more. Her liberty she had vindicated by a just and necessary revolution. Her independence she had reconquered by a not less just and necessary war. All dangers were over. There was peace abroad and at home. Many signs justified the hope that the revolution of 1688 would be our last revolution. Public credit had been re-established, trade had revived, the exchequer was overflowing, and there was a sense of relief everywhere, from the Royal Exchange to the most secluded hamlets among the mountains of Wales and the fens of Lincolnshire.

EARLY in 1702 alarming reports were rife concerning William's state of health. Headaches and shivering fits returned on him almost daily, and it soon became evident that the great king's days were numbered. On February 20 William was ambling on a favourite horse, named Sorrel, through the park of Hampton Court. The horse stumbling on a mole--hill, went down on his knees. The king fell off and broke his collar--bone. The bone was set, and to a young and vigorous man such an accident would have been a trifle. But the frame of William was not in a condition to bear even the slightest shock. He felt that his time was short, and grieved, with such a grief as only noble spirits feel, to think that he must leave his work but half finished. On March 4 he was attacked by fever, and he was soon sinking fast. His end was worthy of his life. His intellect was not for a moment clouded. His fortitude was the more admirable because he was not willing to die. From the words which escaped him he seemed to be frequently engaged in mental prayer. The end came between seven and eight in the morning. When his remains were laid out, it was found that he wore next to his skin a piece of silk ribbon. It contained a gold ring and a lock of the hair of Mary.





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