William III was born in Brussels as son of William II of the Netherlands and Queen Anna Paulowna, daughter of Czar Paul I of Russia and Empress Maria Fyodorovna (Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg). He served in the military in his early years. He married his first cousin, Sophie, daughter of King William I of Württemberg and Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna of Russia, in Stuttgart on June 18, 1839. This marriage was unhappy and characterized by struggles about their children. Sophie was a liberal intellectual and hated everything related to the dictatorship including the army. William III was simpler, more conservative, and loved the military. He prohibited “intellectual exercise” at home, for which action Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, who corresponded with Sophie, called him an “uneducated farmer.” His extramarital enthusiasms led the New York Times to call him "the greatest debauchee of the age". His capriciousness was another cause of marital and political tension. He could rage against someone one day, and be extremely polite the next.
William III loathed the 1848 constitutional changes initiated by his father (William II) and Johan Rudolf Thorbecke. William II and Sophie saw them as key to the monarchy's survival in changing times. William III saw them as useless limitations of royal power, and wished to govern like his grandfather, William I. He tried to relinquish his right to the throne to his younger brother Henry. His mother convinced him to cancel this action. One year later (1849) William became King upon the death of his father.
King William III contemplated abdicating as soon as his eldest son William, Prince of Orange, turned eighteen. This occurred in 1858 but, as Prince William was uncomfortable making a decision, William III remained King. His first act was the inauguration of the parliamentary cabinet of Thorbecke (whom William III loathed). When the Roman Catholic hierarchy of bishops was restored in 1853 he found a reason to dismiss Thorbecke. In the first two decades of his reign he dismissed several cabinets and disbanded the States-General several times, installing royal cabinets which ruled briefly as there was no support in elected parliament.
He tried to sell the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in 1867. The attempt nearly caused a war between Prussia and France and helped make Luxembourg a fully-independent country.
In 1877, Queen Sophie died and years of strife in the palace came to an end. In 1879, King William decided to marry Princess Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont, a small German principality. This angered some politicians because she was 41 years the king's junior. She was not his first choice. He had previously been rejected by her sister, Princess Pauline, as well as Princess Thyra of Denmark, a sister of England's Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra) and of Empress Maria Feodorovna.
Emma showed herself as a cordial woman, and when William asked permission from parliament it was easily granted and the couple were quickly married on January 7, 1879. She had a relieving influence on William's capricious personality and the marriage was extremely happy. In 1880, Wilhelmina was born. She became heiress in 1884 after the death of the last remaining son from William's first marriage (all named William). William III became seriously ill in 1887 but he managed to personally hand over a gold medal of honor to naval hero Dorus Rijkers for saving the lives of 20 people in 1888. He died in Het Loo in 1890. Because Wilhelmina had not yet reached adulthood Emma became Queen-Regent for her daughter. She remained Queen-Regent until Wilhelmina's eighteenth birthday in 1898. Because the Luxembourg Grand Duchy could only be inherited through the male line at the time, under Salic law, it went to Adolphe, the former Duke of Nassau.Read more...