There was a time in the history of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ when the fortunes of the church in the Netherlands were inextricably tied to fortunes of the church in Great Britain. This was the time of William III of the House of Orange.
The times were extremely perilous for countries which had become Calvinistic. Through the efforts of the Roman Catholic counter-reformation, the Protestant Reformation had not only been stopped in its tracks, but the Roman Catholics had once again taken the offensive in Europe. Spain had always been firmly on the side of the Romish Church; France, by slaughtering the Hugenots and forcing the faithful to escape torture and death by seeking refuge in other countries, had become an ally of the papacy in the battle against Protestantism; the Roman Catholic party was still strong in the British Isles, and God's people were well acquainted with suffering and death for Christ's sake. Rome's servants were ready to launch powerful armies to subdue Protestant kingdoms and force Europe once again to bow before the papal throne. Even in the Netherlands, that bulwark of the Reformed faith, there were those who, weary of war, sought compromise with the enemy.
The one man whom God used to thwart these papal purposes was William III of the house of Orange, Stadholder in Holland. His story is an intriguing one, though no less intriguing than the man himself. His impenetrable reserve made him something of a mystery even to his closest associates.
Birth And Early Years
William was the third by that name in the notable line of Dutch rulers which began with William the Silent. He was born at the Hague, the Netherlands on November 14, 1650 from William II, prince of Orange, and Mary, daughter of Charles I of England. He was thus in the direct line of Dutch royalty and had close ties to the royal line of the Stuarts in England. Charles I was the king of England who was beheaded by Parliament with the approval of Oliver Cromwell during England's civil war. Charles II, another Stuart, was proclaimed king in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1649, and in London in 1660. He was William's uncle.
William was born eight days after his father died and was left an orphan in his early youth. Although he was by a recently-passed law prevented from assuming the rule of the United Provinces of Holland, his education through University was geared towards acquainting him with the responsibilities of the throne. When 16 years old he was made a ward of the States-General, the ruling body in the Netherlands. Under Johan de Witte, grand pensionary of Holland, he received a knowledge of the intricate affairs of government and the niceties of diplomacy and rule.
William's Early Wars
In 1671 the perfidious Charles II of England and the equally untrustworthy Louis XIV of France joined in a plot to invade the Netherlands. Their purpose was to destroy the strongest bastion of Calvinism in all Europe. This was particularly treacherous of Charles for he had professed repeatedly to be a friend of the Hollanders. It was not strange that Louis XIV was a part of the plot, for the king of France was constantly searching in all the corners of Europe for places in which to meddle and for countries to bring under his rule. Yet, of more importance, both Charles and Louis hated with a passion the deep and staunch Calvinism which was the religion of the Lowlands.
When the plot to invade the Netherlands was discovered, alarm spread through the country and William was appointed Captain-general of the nation's forces. However, the appointment was not to include Stadholder, even though his father and grandfather had held both positions. The Dutch, always fearful of giving too much power to her rulers, and being staunch lovers of liberty, had passed a law preventing the same man from holding both positions.
The French immediately invaded the southern provinces and captured three of them in as many weeks. In defense of their country the Dutch opened the dikes and flooded the polders to stop further French advance. William was ordered to hold the "water-line."
The times were exceedingly difficult. Although the Dutch navy was able to hold England at bay and prevent an immediate invasion from across the channel, William had all he could do to slow the French advance.
The people, alarmed at the threat of being overrun by foreign powers, clamored for the States-General to make William Stadholder in spite of the recently passed law. And the States-General reluctantly proceeded to do so. Thus, William held the same posts which his father and grandfather had held and was now responsible for the defense of the country and its administration.
Charles and Louis, thinking they had the Netherlands at their mercy, made offers of peace which many in the Netherlands, weary of war, wanted to accept. In fact, so tumultuous were some of those who belonged to the French Party that disorders arose in the streets. The result was the assassination of Johan De Witt by a mob. Because the peace offers included ruinous conditions for the Lowlands, William refused them, although he had, almost by sheer will-power, to impose his determination upon the people. The Netherlands stood alone against two of Europe's greatest powers. By dint of great courage did William manage to hold out. And such courage was born out of a firm conviction that the Netherlands had to remain Calvinistic and ought not return to the bondage of Romanism.
In 1673, with help from the emperor, Leopold I, William was able to rebuild his army and defeat the French in a couple of key battles which restored to him a few strategic cities. But war continued sporadically, and William was by no means successful in every battle which he fought.
In 1677, through a strange twist of history and through intricate diplomatic maneuvers, William married Mary, daughter of James, duke of York (later to be James II, king of England), and niece of Charles I. Because Mary was in the line of succession, this marriage not only established a pact between the Netherlands and England, but made William a potential heir to England's throne.
Much has been written about the relation between William and Mary, and what has been written is by no means complimentary. It is not always easy to sort fact from fiction and determine correctly the nature of their relationship. But the following seems true.
William determined to make Mary his wife because he thought it would result in an alliance between the Netherlands and England, which would make the lot of his people easier in their wars with France. When he married Mary, he took her away from a frivolous, opulent, giddy court and from the only life she knew and enjoyed. The thought of leaving the palace in London and living in dark and damp Holland and the relatively ascetic life of William's court filled her with dismay. She did not want William nor life in Holland even in her husband's court. Her first years were misery in the extreme.
Equally, William hated life in London. He did not fit well in the English court because his plainness stood in sharp contrast to the opulence of the palace; his plain speaking was considered vulgar in comparison with the smooth flattery and hypocritical blandishments of London society; his Calvinism was an abomination to those who, though members of the Anglican Church, possessed no religion at all; and his obvious sincerity could not be tolerated amidst the frivolity of life in the king's palace.
For these and other reasons the marriage was in its early years a marriage of convenience in which the two rarely saw each other. But gradually Mary came to admire the steely determination of her husband and even came to adopt the faith which was the driving force of all he did. Her loyalty to him was above question, and when William came to see it and appreciate it, she became the object of his admiration and attention. They were, after a rocky start, a devoted couple.
William's Rule In England
Shortly after William's marriage, his father-in-law came to the throne in England, but he was true Roman Catholic and was determined to restore Roman Catholicism to the British Isles. This meant that his own son-in-law and daughter had to be pushed out of the way and the staunch Calvinism of the Netherlands made ineffective.
James' rule of the British Isles was so cruel, so heavy-handed, so obviously an effort to restore the papacy to England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland that his own people rose against him. By delegations from the nobility, William was invited to become the king.
The only way in which William could become king of England was through invasion. This was also carried out. We shall allow another to tell the story.
On the 19th of October, William went on board, and
the Dutch fleet, consisting of fifty-two men-of-war,
twenty-five frigates, as many fire-ships, with four
hundred victuallers, and other vessels for the
transportation of 3,660 horse, and 10,692 foot, put to
sea from the flats near the Brielle, with a wind at
south-west by south. Admiral Herbert led the van, and
Vice-Admiral Evertzen brought up the rear. The prince
placed himself in the centre, carrying an English flag,
emblazoned with his arms, surrounded with the legend,
"For the Protestant Religion and Liberties of England."
Underneath was the motto of the House of Nassau, Je
Maintiendray (I will maintain).
Since the days when a storm destroyed the Spanish armada, the British have always maintained that God fought for Britain and for the Protestant cause in that land. So again the wind helped William. Although the wind first veered to the north and drove the Dutch fleet back to its ports, it became "a Protestant wind" once again. It not only brought the ships of William to the southern coast of England, but held the British navy at bay to the north and enabled the Dutch to land their troops unmolested in Tor Bay near Devon.
After landing successfully and without opposition, indeed, after being jubilantly welcomed by the British, William marched on London and forced James to flee to France. The throne was declared vacant by abdication, and William was pronounced king of all Britain. The date was February of 1689. In April the throne of Scotland was offered him and opposition to William was quelled.
But James, determined to maintain the Stuarts on the throne, landed in Ireland with the promise of French help. Soon he launched attacks against key cities in Ulster with the purpose of making Ireland a launching pad to recover England and Scotland.
As the danger grew and after Londonderry and Enniskillen were successfully defended, William took his troops across the Irish Sea and landed at Carrickfergus, where to this day is a stone marking the place where he first set foot on Irish soil. James was soundly defeated at the great battle of the Boyne on July 1, 1690 and Ireland was subdued. This day is still celebrated by Ulster's Protestants with parades and speeches recalling God's deliverance of Ireland from Roman Catholicism.
William was now king of all Britain, and Mary, his wife, had returned to her homeland.
William could not stay long in Britain however, for Louis was still meddling in continental affairs and was determined to restore Europe to papal rule. Showing his diplomatic skill, William forged an alliance with Brandenburg, Hanover, Saxony, Bavaria, and Savoy (all Protestant provinces), with England as the linchpin of the federation, to defeat the nefarious purposes of Louis. Because Spain, thoroughly Roman Catholic, hated France with a passion, William was sometimes able to solicit the help of Spain; but this help was of dubious value.
Through many efforts towards peace and through many broken treaties, William, by sheer determination of his own will, was able to protect Protestant countries from the schemes of popery.
He died a weary and broken man on March 19, 1720.
William's Place In History
God uses strange and sometimes sinful ways to accomplish His purpose. It cannot be denied that much of William's efforts were based on the principle that the cause of God is advanced by the sword. Even given the fact that in William's days the relation between church and state was so close that one could hardly avoid resorting to the sword in defense of the faith, the fact remains that the cause of the gospel is not advanced by human might and power. Nevertheless, God can and sometimes does draw a straight line with a crooked stick.
William's accomplishments were many although his critics constitute a multitude.
One forceful criticism lodged against William is against his character. He is portrayed by biographers as stiff, withdrawn, stern, taciturn, and reserved to the point of coldness. There is some truth to this charge, and all his life William was an alien among the ruling class in England which scorned him and ridiculed him behind his back. But it is often forgotten that William had no patience with the intrigue, double-dealing, duplicity, and double-crossing which so characterized diplomacy in those days -- and in these. He was honest, forthright, and single-minded in purpose, and he said what was on his mind, whatever may have been the consequences.
Further, William was a man of iron will and deep principle who would stand by his principles though all were against him. He fought on against the powers of the papacy when his own people counseled compromise and dishonorable peace, and when his cause seemed on the brink of defeat. He believed passionately that he was God's instrument to protect Calvinism from Rome and he unwaveringly stood for what he was sure was God's cause. Scorned by the nobility, he was loved by the common people, both in the Netherlands and the British Isles.
And his courage bore its fruits. Even those who hate Calvinism speak glowingly of his vast accomplishments. The freedom, union, and prosperity of Holland were due to him. He preserved the crown in England by judicious rule and gave England the stability and continuity it enjoys to the present. He was a patron of the arts, kind to the tenants on his royal estates, a brave general who commanded intense loyalty from his troops, and a friend and helper of thousands of refugees fleeing Roman persecution. He spent himself in affairs of State and ruined his health in the defense of the cause of the Reformed faith. His irritability and sometimes ungracious conduct was due to ill-health and overwork. He could also be kind, courteous and forbearing.
His deepest drive was to create a Europe in which was religious toleration, along with which would come a cessation of religious wars, a curbing of papal power, and a European citizenry which could live in quietness and peace.
These ends he accomplished. And the cause of Calvinism, though now again at low ebb, was successfully defended by his fortitude.