WHO WAS WILLIAM PRINCE OF ORANGE?
The twelfth of July celebrations, not only in Ulster, but everywhere in the world where the Orange Order has established itself, commemorate the legacy of one King of England, William 3rd, Prince of Orange. It is sad, that in the life of our nation, this tiny corner of these islands, which comprises a population of 1.7 million, should be the last place in Britain which recognises the significance of this great English King in a meaningful way.
This is an opportune time, to think about our history, by asking the question, “Who was the Prince of Orange?”
William Prince of Orange was a continental Gentleman, from German ancestry, possessing a French principality, the hero of the Dutch, with an English princess as his wife and with a mother who was an English and Scottish Princess. His wife, Mary, was a Stuart, and the Stuarts were the British royal family in the 17th Century. She was in fact the daughter of James 2nd, the same James that William defeated at the Boyne. William and Mary were the only joint monarchs in English and British History. William’s mother was the daughter of Charles 1st which meant that James 2nd as well as being his father-in-law was also his uncle. These connections were critical, however, as they gave him legitimacy when England required and demanded a new King.
Being Dutch, was a highly significant fact in the forming of King William’s character and convictions. I imagine that the Prince of Orange understood the plight of the Ulster Protestant Planters in the 17th Century, particularly because of his Dutch Protestant heritage. Less than fifty years before William’s battles in Ireland, 100,000 Irish Protestants were massacred by the Irish uprising of 1641. In the two years before William arrived in Carrickfergus in the Spring of 1690, the Ulster Protestants were at war with the armies of James. It was a life and death struggle, because freedom itself was at stake. The Prince of Orange would have understood this as his people in The Netherlands had their own fair share of battles for survival.
To appreciate his Dutch Protestant influences let us think a little about William’s Great Grandfather, William the Silent, as he was known. William the Silent was the founder of the Netherlands as an independent nation.
At the time of the Reformation the Netherlands was a crowded nation of 3 million people. It was part of the Spanish Empire of Charles 5th. Charles 5th, in his attempt to destroy Protestantism established the Inquisition, known as the Spanish Inquisition. With many people in the Netherlands having converted to the teachings of Luther and Calvin, this Inquisition acted brutally. Dutch Protestants, were burned, strangled and even buried alive. By Charles’ abdication in 1555 it is estimated that he martyred 5,000 Protestants in Holland. He bitterly learned, however, the gross miscalculation and folly of his actions. His hobby was the making and the collecting of clocks:
“How foolish I have been to think I could make all men believe alike about religion, when I cannot make two clocks keep the same time.”
His son Philip 2nd succeeded him. Philip 2nd was determined to rule Protestant England. When he failed to marry Elizabeth 1st, he sent his vast Armada, which was defeated by a storm, the “Protestant winds”; these same winds would carry William 3rd to England in 1688. The Dutch Protestants however, were not to escape. Thousands were killed, thousands were deprived of lands and businesses, thousands fled to Germany, England and elsewhere.
William the Silent was not a quiet man. His nickname arose from a specific incident where he kept silent. He was a man noted for his grace. He was a German by birth, who inherited family estates in the Principality of Orange near the town of Avignon in the South of France. He had been a close adviser of Charles 5th but had converted to Protestantism. Recognising the tragedy that was taking place in the Netherlands he was determined to lead the people into freedom. As a result, the Dutch went to war against the might of the Spanish Empire. They flooded the dykes, the sea rushed over the land and they fought a successful naval war. Charles 5th offered an enormous reward for the head of William the Silent. In 1584 he was assassinated. The little children cried in the streets. He was fondly remembered for his steadfast character. In 1609 the suffering people of the Netherlands finally gained their independence and William the Silent became known as the founder of the Dutch Republic. The motto of his house was “I will Support” or “I will Maintain”.
Let us now move forward about 70 years to 1672. The Netherlands was a Republic, she had no King. She was protected from the Catholic powers of Europe by an alliance with two Protestant nations – England and Sweden.
But Protestantism in England was not as secure as once it was. Charles 2nd was the King, a most immoral man, who had inclinations towards Romanism. But there was one strong man in Europe at this time – Louis 14th. He was determined to make France stronger in Europe. He persuaded Charles 2nd to break his treaty with the Netherlands and join him in a war against this little Protestant nation. To his disgrace Charles agreed.
The plan was that France would invade by land and the English navy would secure sea supremacy. It looked highly likely that the Netherlands would crumble and this nation less than 100 years only would lose its hard-fought freedoms.
It was at this critical juncture that the Netherlands looked once again to the House of Orange for leadership, and in particular to the future William 3rd of England.
He was appointed Captain and Admiral General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Louis and Charles offered William the throne of Holland if he accepted their terms. He was a man who had the heart of a true Protestant – the no surrender spirit. William replied that he would lie in the last ditch before capitulating to their requirements and surrendering the hard fought freedoms that the people of the Netherlands had earned.
Against all the odds and with the help of God Almighty the Netherlands defeated England and France and preserved her independence. Suddenly the Prince of Orange became the undisputed Protestant leader of Europe – and seeds were planted in English Protestant hearts – perhaps this man will be our King one day.
After the death of Charles 2nd his brother became James 2nd of England. He officially converted to Catholicism. Protestantism was now at a crisis. With Roman Catholicism paraded on the streets in a fashion not seen since the Reformation the dark and bloody spectre of Queen Mary began to raise her head.
The leading Bishops of the Church of England appealed to the Prince of Orange to cross the channel and be their King.
Louis 14th policy of Imperialism had persuaded the Catholic powers of Europe not to intervene. No-one trusted Louis, therefore no-one was in a rush to support an ally of the mighty French monarch. German Protestant leaders, however, offered their support to William.
The Prince of Orange, therefore, made the crucial and history making decision that he would send an expedition to England.
On the 10th October 1688 he declared his noble intentions:
“This expedition is intended for no other design but to have a free and lawful Parliament assembled to which all questions might be referred touched the establishment of the Protestant religion and the peace, honour and happiness of these nations upon happy foundations.”
His fleet was carried across the English Channel to Torbay in Devon by the helpful “Protestant winds”. His flagship carried a banner with the inscription:
“For the Protestant Religion and Liberties of England I will Maintain.”
He appealed to the English army and navy to support him in this venture:
“We are come…to secure these nations from Popery and slavery…you are only made use of as instruments to enslave your nation and ruin your Protestant religion…you will in the first place consider what you owe to Almighty God, and next to your country and to your posterity”.
He also issued another appeal to the men of England:
“Our duty to God obliges us to protect the Protestant religion…Therefore gentlemen…and fellows Protestants welcome to my camp…it is our principle to die in a good cause, than die in a bad one.”
James fled England for Ireland, realising he no longer commanded the support of his nation just as he fled Ireland after the defeat at the Boyne. The contrast between the two men could not have been greater.
William was crowned with Mary as William 3rd and Mary 2nd of England.
The Parliament duly convened, drew up a Bill of Rights, which continues to be a most important legal document, underpinning the British Constitution.
This was the first human rights document of the modern era. It required all laws to be made by Parliament, it gave subjects the right to petition the King without fear and it provided for free parliamentary elections.
Whether William 3rd was German, French, Dutch, English or Scottish is of little relevance. He was a Protestant with a passion for freedom, a rare commodity in the 17th Century. His Protestant convictions moulded him into a character who believed that freedom is a God given right that we must cherish.
The Bill of Rights that arose out of “The Glorious Revolution”, transformed the course of history. With the expansion of the British Empire these principles were exported across the world. Today we find the influence of the Bill of Rights in nations across the continents of our world, chiefly within the Commonwealth. The most famous example outside the Commonwealth is the United States of America, whose declaration of Independence and subsequent Constitution were shaped by King William 3rd’s settlement. Interestingly, even the founders of the Irish Republic were shaped in their thinking by the principles of freedom which the Prince of Orange brought to these islands and this world.
We all owe a great debt to this stalwart and courageous champion of faith and freedom. Today we thank God for his memory.
The memory of William, Prince of Orange, also gives us hope for the future. In times of bitter persecution for the people of Holland God gave them a brave leader in William the Silent. His influences continued not only in Holland but in his family. His Great Grandson, in turn became an even greater leader who provided hope for Protestants across Europe, in Britain and Ireland, in times when it seemed the flames of the Reformation were burning low. With the Ulster planters still reeling from the ravages of 1641, with the Scottish Covenanters being murdered and deported in their thousands, with godly men like Bunyan and Baxter in England suffering greatly – God intervened and sent William Prince of Orange to establish the freedoms that we continue to enjoy today.
Therefore, we are reminded that cause of the Gospel and of God is not finished. God is still writing the story of the Church. He will continue to raise up His men in His time.
Let us trust the sovereign God of history who continues to govern the present, and the future as well as the past.
“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things”