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William I, King Of The Netherlands

WILLIAM I, KING OF THE NETHERLANDS (1772-1844), born at the Hague on the 24th of August 1772, was the son of William V., prince of Orange and hereditary stadtholder of the United Netherlands by Sophia Wilhelmina, princess of Prussia. In 1791 he married Frederica Wilhelmina, daughter of Frederick William II., king of Prussia, thus cementing very closely the relations between the houses of Orange-Nassau and Hohenzollern. After the outbreak of war with the French republic in 1793, he distinguished himself in the struggle against the revolutionary army under Dumouriez by the capture of Landrecies and the relief of Charleroi. By the victories of Pichegru the stadtholder and all his family were, however, compelled to leave Holland and seek refuge in England, where the palace of Hampton Court was set apart for their use. He afterwards made Berlin his residence, and took an active part in the unfortunate campaign under the duke of York for the reconquest of the Netherlands. After the peace of Amiens he had an interview with Napoleon at Paris, and received some territory adjoining the hereditary domains of the house of Nassau in Westphalia as a compensation for the abandonment of the stadtholderate and the domains of his house. William refused, however, in 1806, in which year by the death of his father he became prince of Orange, to separate his interests from those of his Prussian relatives, and fought bravely at Jena. He was therefore despoiled by Napoleon of all his possessions. In 1809 he accepted a command in the Austrian army under the archduke Charles and was wounded at the battle of Wagram. When Holland rose in revolt against French domination in 1813, after eighteen years of exile he landed at Scheveningen (on the 1pth of November) and was on the 3rd of December, amid universal rejoicing, proclaimed prince sovereign of the Netherlands. His assumption in the following year of the title of king of the Netherlands was recognized by the powers, and by the treaty of Paris his sovereignty was extended over the southern as well as the northern Netherlands, Belgium being added to Holland " as an increase of territory." After the battle of Waterloo, in which Dutch and Belgian troops fought side by side under his command, the congress of Vienna further aggrandized him by making him sovereign of the territory of Luxemburg with the title of grand duke.

William had many excellent qualities, but his long life of exile and hardship had made him niggardly and narrow. He was unable to rise to the great opportunity which lay before him of creating out of the Dutch and Belgian provinces a strong and united state. Two hundred and fifty years of political separation and widely differing experiences had caused the two kindred populations on this and that side of the Scheldt to grow apart in sentiment and tradition. This difference was still further accentuated by strong divergence in religious creed. Further, one-third of the Belgian provinces was inhabited by a Walloon population divided from the Flemings by racial characteristics and their use of a Romance instead of a Teutonic dialect. All these things William was inclined to ignore. He drew up a constitution, which was accepted unanimously by the Dutch, but was rejected by the Belgians, because it contained provisions for liberty of Worship. The king, however, by a subterfuge declared that the fundamental law had been approved. The new constitution, therefore, started badly, and it was soon evident that William intended to make his will prevail, and to carry out his projects for what he conceived the social, industrial and educational welfare of the kingdom regardless of the opposition of Belgian public opinion. The Belgians had many grievances. Their representation in the states general was exactly equal to that of the Dutch, though their population was in the proportion of seven to five. With the help of the official vote of ministers the Dutch were thus able to have a perpetual majority. The whole machinery of government was centralized at the Hague, and Dutchmen filled nearly all the principal posts. The attempt of the king to enforce the official use of the Dutch language, and the foundation of the so-called philosophical college at Louvain helped to exacerbate the growing discontent. The rapid advance of Belgium in industrial and manufacturing prosperity, due largely to the stimulus of William's personal initiative, did nothing to bring north and south together, but rather increased their rivalry and jealousy, for the Dutch provinces had neither manufactures nor iron- and coal-mines, but were dependent on agriculture and sea-borne commerce for their welfare. Such clashing of interests was sure to produce alienation, but the king remained apparently blind to the signs of the times, and the severe enforcement of a harsh law restricting freedom of the press led suddenly in 1830 to a revolt (see BELGIUM), which, beginning at Brussels at the end of August, rapidly spread over the whole country. The Dutch were almost without striking a blow expelled from the country, the strongly fortified seaport of Antwerp alone remaining in their hands. Had the king consented at once to the administrative autonomy of Belgium, and appointed the prince of Orange governor of the southern Netherlands, it is probable that the revolt might have been appeased. At the first there was undoubtedly a strong body of public opinion in favour of such a compromise, and the house of Orange had many adherents in the country. William, however, was too proud and too obstinate to lend himself to such a course. He appealed to the powers, who had, in 1815, created and guaranteed the independence of the kingdom of the Netherlands. By the treaty of the eighteen articles, however, concluded at London on the 2gth of June 1831, the kingdom of Belgium was recognized, and Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was elected king. William refused his assent, and in August suddenly invaded Belgium. The Belgian forces were dispersed, and the Dutch would have entered Brussels in triumph but for the intervention of the French. Still, however, William declined to recognize the new throne, and he had behind him the unanimous support of Dutch public opinion. For nine years he maintained this attitude, and resolutely refused to append his signature to the treaty of 1831. His subjects at length grew weary of the heavy expense of maintaining a large military force on the Belgian frontier and in 1839 the king gave way. He did so, however, on favourable terms and was able to insist on the Belgians yielding up their possession of portions of Limburg and Luxemburg, which they had occupied since 1830.

A cry now arose in Holland for a revision of the fundamental law and for more liberal institutions; ministerial responsibility was introduced, and the royal control over finance diminished. William, however, disliked these changes, and finding further that his proposed marriage with the countess d'Oultremont, a Belgian and a Roman Catholic, was very unpopular, he suddenly abdicated on the 7th of October 1840. After his abdication he married the countess and spent the rest of his life in quiet retirement upon his private estate in Silesia. He died in 1844.

See L. Jottsand, Guillaume d'Orange ayant son avbnement au trone des Pays-Bas; E. C. de Gerlache, Histoire du royaume des PaysBas depuis 1814 jusqu'en 1830 (3 vols., Brussels, 1842); W. H. de Beaufort, De eerste regeeringsjaren van Koning Willem I. (Amsterdam, 1886); H. C. Coienbrander, De Belgische Om-wenteling (The Hague, 1905) ; T. Juste, Le Soulevement de la Hollande en 1813 et lafondation du royaume des Pays-Bas (Brussels, 1 870); and P. Blok, Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Volk, vols. vii. and viii. (Leiden, 1907-1908).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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