Our links with The Netherlands have been long-standing. We shared a monarch in the guise of William III of England, known as William II in Scotland. He might be better known, to all but the most historically inclined, as the William of ‘William and Mary’ fame. The blood connection isn’t as strong now as then but the families are still close, being in the same ‘business’, so to speak.
Baby William was born on 4 November 1650 in The Hague in Holland. He would likely have been considered an unlucky infant; Charles Dickens might, a couple of hundred years later, have described him as a ‘posthumous’ child. His father, William II Prince of Orange, had just died of smallpox. His mother was Mary Princess Royal who was the eldest daughter of King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland – it is he who lost his head the previous year – and sister of King Charles II and King James II & VII. William was born on his mother’s nineteenth birthday with little celebration, and one would be still further convinced that this lad was a Jonah when one learns that his mother followed his father just 10 years later, on Christmas Eve 1660, on a visit to England, when she too died of smallpox.
William was given the title Sovereign Prince of Orange from the moment of his birth. Willem III van Oranje, in Dutch, ruled over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic, and from 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland, William II over Scotland; he would be the last direct male descendant of his great-grandfather William the Silent, who was head of the Protestant Dutch of the United Provinces of The Netherlands in their struggle for independence from Spain.
William, as was typical of regal arrangements of the time, married his first cousin Mary Stuart, daughter of the future king James II of England. In 1689 the couple were offered the throne by the Parliament of England following William’s successful invasion of England in 1688 in what became known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’, an action that would eventually overthrow King James (Mary’s father and William’s uncle/father-in-law) and gain them the crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland. He and his wife were crowned the King and Queen of England on 11 April 1689. With the accession to the thrones of the three kingdoms, he became one of the most powerful sovereigns in Europe, and the only one to defeat Louis XIV of France.
On his death the title ‘Prince of Orange’ passed to a cousin, John William Friso, and his descendants reigned in Holland until the French invasion in 1795. The then William V, Stadholder of The Netherlands, went into exile in England and Germany, and died in 1806. His son William was determined to regain the throne of Holland, and, on the withdrawal of the French in 1813, was brought by HMS Warrior to land on the beach at Scheveningen on 30 November that year. He declared himself ‘sovereign prince’ and in 1815 became King William I of The Netherlands. His landing marked the start of independence of the Netherlands from the French and the beginning of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The British connection to the House of Orange continued via other descendants of John Friso (Jan Willem). His son William IV was an ancestor of Princess May of Teck, who married King George V and became Queen Mary.
The festivities for ‘200 Years of the Kingdom’ is a Dutch national celebration with hundreds of people taking part in events including the re-enactment of the celebrated landing of William of Orange on Scheveningen beach. The new King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima attended on a cold, windy and wet day.
This ‘Landing Day’ is commemorated every 25 years in Scheveningen but this year was a special anniversary. Yes, the weather was grey but the enthusiasm of the participants and the audience was undiminished. Hundreds of traditionally-clad locals welcomed actor Huub Stapel playing the role of the Prince. The crowd cheered and waved orange flags as the ’king’ was carried shoulder-high through the angry sea to his waiting carriage. He processed to the grandstand to pay his respects to the authentic King and Queen, who acknowledged his contribution to the nation.
There is no need to wait another quarter-century to visit The Netherlands. It’s a country boasting a proud history, garnished with arresting architecture, festivals, fine food and welcoming locals.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018