William I of the Netherlands

From Academic Kids

King William I of the Netherlands was born as Willem Frederik on 25 August 1772 in The Hague, and died 1843 in Berlin, Germany. He was named 'Sovereign Prince' of the Netherlands in 1813, proclaimed himself King in 1815, and abdicated in 1840. William I was also the grand duke of Luxembourg and count of Nassau.



King William I's parents were the last stadtholder William V of Orange and his wife Wilhelmina. Until 1813, William was known as Prince William VI of Orange. In 1791, William married (Frederica Louisa) Wilhelmina, born in Potsdam. She was the daughter of King Frederick William II of Prussia. After Wilhelmina died in 1837, William was remarried to Countess Henriette d'Oultremont de Wegimont, in 1841 in Berlin. Two years later, William died there.

William was hereditary stadtholder when the Republic of the Seven United Provinces was invaded by the French Revolutionary armies. He fled with his father to England. Unlike his father, William was a strong personality and he tried to regain the Republic.

In 1799, William landed in the current North Holland. After some battles he was forced to leave the country again. Napoleon Bonaparte gave him some small German principalities as indemnities for the lost territories. These principalities were confiscated when Napoleon invaded Germany (1806).

After Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig (October, 1813), French troops retreated to France. A provisional government was formed under the lead of some former Patriots who recalled William, in contrast to their 1785 rebellion.

On November 30, 1813 William landed at Scheveningen beach, only a few metres from the place where he had left the country with his father eighteen years previously, and on December 6 the provisional government offered him the title of King. William refused and declared that he only wanted the throne if he was sovereign prince — a title somewhere between King and stadtholder — and that the rights of the people were guaranteed by "a wise constitution". The constitution offered William extensive (almost absolute) powers. Ministers were only responsible to him and to nobody else. He was inaugurated as sovereign prince in the New Church in Amsterdam. In 1814 he gained sovereignty over the whole of the Low Countries.

On March 16, 1815 William proclaimed himself King of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, feeling threatened by Napoleon who had escaped from Elba. His son, the future king William II, fought as Dutch commander at the Battle of Waterloo. After Napoleon had been sent into exile, William adopted a new constitution which included much of the old constitution, such as extensive royal powers.

Principal changes

The States-General was divided in two chambers. The Eerste Kamer (First Chamber or Senate or House of Lords) was appointed by the King. The Tweede Kamer (Second Chamber or House of Representatives or House of Commons) was elected by the Provincial States, which were in turn chosen by census suffrage. The 110 seats were divided equally (55:55) between the North and the South (Northern pop.: about 2 million, Southern pop.: about 3,5 million). The States-General's function basically came down to approving the King's laws and decrees. The constitution contained many present-day Dutch political institutions, however their function and way of election have changed greatly over the years.

A problem with the constitution was the under-representation of the Southern Netherlands (modern-day Belgium). This under-representation was one of the causes of the Belgian Revolution. Understandably, the constitution was accepted in the North and rejected in the South. Especially in the South, the referendum turn-out was low. William abused this for a sort of "Dutch mathematics": he declared all abstainees "YES" voters. He planned a lavish inauguration for himself in Brussels, where he gave the people copper mints (his first nickname was Copper King).

The spearhead of King William's policies was economic progress. As he founded many trade institutions, his second nickname was King-Merchant. Especially in the South, industry flourished. The Northern provinces were the centre of trade. This, in combination with the colonies (Dutch East Indies, Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles) created great wealth for the Kingdom. However, the money flowed into the hands of Dutch directors. Only a few Belgians managed to take profit from the economic growth. Herein lies another cause for the Belgian uprising. William also built personal wealth out of the country's industrial wealth.

Officially Church and State were separated. However, William himself was strongly Reformed. This led to some resentment among the people in the South, who were Catholic. William had also devised controversial language and school policies. Dutch was imposed as the official language in (the Dutch-speaking region of) Flanders. For the Flemish, this wasn't too much of a problem, but it was unacceptable for French-speaking aristocrats and industrial workers. Schools throughout the Kingdom were forced to teach the Reformed religion and the Dutch language. Catholics feared that the King sought to exterminate Catholicism and the French language.

Belgian uprising

In August, 1830 the opera "La Muette de Portici" (about repression of Neapolitans) was staged in Brussels. This caused acute nationalism and Hollandophobia in Brussels, which spread to the rest of modern-day Belgium. It soon came to mass riots. These riots were mainly aimed at the unpopular Minister of Justice, who lived in Brussels and was almost killed. An infuriated William responded by sending troops to repress the riots. However, the riots had spread to other Southern cities. The riots quickly became popular rebellions. It didn't take long for the new independent state of Belgium to be proclaimed.

The next year (1831), William sent his sons to Belgium to repress this state. Although they were initially victorious, after the threat of French intervention the Dutch army had to retreat. Some popular feelings towards the Orange dynasty remained for a score of years but the Oranges never regained control over Belgium. William was stubborn and continued with the war. His economic successes were overshadowed by mismanagement caused by the war. The mismanagement increased the cost of the war, which put a burden on the economy. This hampered the war, and in combination with continuing mismanagement, this led to an ever-rising cost of the war. In 1839, William was forced to end the war. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands was disbanded and renamed the "Kingdom of the Netherlands".

Constitutional changes were initiated in 1840 because the terms which involved the United Kingdom of the Netherlands had to be removed. These constitutional changes also included the introduction of judicial ministerial responsibility. Although the policies remained uncontrolled by parliament, the prerogative was controllable now. The very conservative William could not live with these constitutional changes. This, the disappointment about the loss of Belgium and William's intention to marry Henrietta d'Oulremont created desires about abdication. He fulfilled his desires on October 7, 1840 when his eldest son acceded to the throne as king William II. William died in Berlin after three years with Henrietta.

Preceded by:
King of the Netherlands Succeeded by:
William II
Grand Duke of Luxembourg
de:Wilhelm I. (Niederlande)

fr:Guillaume Ier des Pays-Bas nl:Willem I van Nederland ja:ヴィレム1世 (オランダ王) pl:Wilhelm I Holenderski sv:Vilhelm I av Nederlnderna


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