As an Institution dedicated to the memory of King William III Prince of Orange, his birthday has long been a source of celebration for the Orange Order. Indeed at one time its celebration and the commemoration of his landing in England on 5 November gave rise to a double celebration which for many years was a civic event established by law. Dublin became a center for these celebrations and the equestrian statue of King William at College Green in front of Trinity College hosted annual parades and celebrations.

Initially, the Lord Justices of Ireland had authorised a major public celebration on 4 November 1690, King Williams’s fortieth birthday. This took place in College Green in Dublin and consisted of a two-hour long firework display. During the fireworks, a hogshead of claret, given by the Lords Justices to the spectators, was set out in the street so that they could drink to his Majesty’s health. The day ended with the ringing of bells, bonfires in all parts of the city and other demonstrations of ‘public joy and satisfaction’. Most of the nobility and gentry and ladies of quality in and about the city were invited by the Lord Justices to supper, where they had a splendid entertainment and banquet and afterwards ended the night with dancing.

This was in line with tradition as the birth of the monarch was an annual celebration and even continues today with traditions such as the Queens Birthday Parade. The monarch’s birthday has been officially celebrated since 1748, during the reign of King George II. Our present Queen’s Official Birthday was originally celebrated on the second Thursday of June, the same day that her father, King George VI, celebrated his Official Birthday during his reign. However, this was changed in 1959, seven years after she became Queen, and her Official Birthday has since then been celebrated on the second Saturday of June.

The day is marked in London by the ceremony of Trooping the Colour, which is also known as the Queen’s Birthday Parade. The list of Birthday Honours is also announced at the time of the Official Birthday celebrations. In British diplomatic missions, the day is treated as the National Day of the United Kingdom. Parts of Scotland also still mark Queen Victoria’s birthday on the last Monday before or on 24 May. Local government and higher education institutions typically close on this day. Many of these traditions trace their origins to the practice of celebrating King William’s birthday and it is a practice still maintained by the Independent Loyal Orange Institution to this day

There was also a popular desire to commemorate William’s military victory over King James at the Boyne on 12 July. During his reign, many cities and towns in Ireland and across the United Kingdom sought to celebrate William and the Glorious Revolution and display their loyalty to that cause. In October 1696 Dublin Corporation had a monument erected at Thosel ‘in praise and honour’ of the King. The following year new mayoral chain for the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the centrepiece of which featured William III, was introduced, while in 1699-1700, Grinling Gibbons was commissioned to cast a statue of the King for a site on the Old Cornmarket. However, the more central location of College Green, across the road from Trinity College, found favour and the statue was unveiled amidst great pomp and ceremony on the eleventh anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne (1 July 1701).

The pattern established was that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland would lead a parade of nobility and military from Dublin Castle to College Green to salute the statue of William III. On this day the Boyne Society a precursor of Orange Order marched through the streets of Dublin, bearing colours, banners and arms; and in the evenings there were bonfires, illuminations, and ever more elaborate fireworks. The Mayor and Sheriffs of the City of Dublin participated in these celebrations. The Protestant Parliament which sat in Dublin had two wall-sized tapestries commissioned, of the Seige of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne, and Orange dinners, parades, and events were a feature of life throughout the 1700s.

Volunteers Parade at the Statue of King William III in front of Trinity College, Dublin Painting by Francis Wheatley depicting the Dublin Volunteers on College Green.


Birth of William of Orange

What then of the actual birth of the future King William III, it was in contrast, a sombre event that still offered a glimmer of hope to the ordinary people of the Netherlands. However, the family into which he was born was in mourning at the death of his father only the day before, and the loss of status and role in their own country. His grandfather King Charles I of England had been beheaded only a year previous and both nations were now avowed republics. Fears for the health of the baby and his future role in the world gripped the family and while born into royalty, it was clear his life would be far from easy.

The story is taken up by Richard Cavendish writing for  History Today

The future king of England was born in his family’s court at The Hague on November 4th, 1650. The future William III of England was born on his mother’s nineteenth birthday in an atmosphere of profound funereal gloom. The baby’s father had died of smallpox only eight days before and the room in the Binnenhof, the inner court of the family’s house at The Hague, was draped in black. The young widow and her attendants were all in deep mourning and the bed and even the cradle were swathed in black. The child was born between eight and nine at night and crowds gathered in the streets to celebrate. Fireworks soared and poets hastily scribbled verses about a new fruit on the orange tree. Inside the Binnenhof a sudden draught in the birth-chamber put out all the candles.

Descendants of the German Counts of Nassau settled in the Netherlands and in 1544 had inherited the minor principality of Orange in southern France. Willem Henrik, the new baby, would be the last direct male descendant of his great-grandfather, William the Silent, indomitable leader of the Protestant Dutch of the United Provinces of the Netherlands in their struggle for independence from Spain. The baby’s mother was an English princess, Mary Henrietta Stuart, eldest daughter of Charles I. Her father had been executed in Whitehall the year before.

A formidable maritime and commercial power, the Dutch republic was a federation of seven largely autonomous provinces. The salaried chief executive, the stadholder, had limited powers, but potentially considerable influence, and usually commanded the army and navy as captain-general. The house of Orange had been stadholders for generations, but the office was not hereditary and the baby did not succeed to it. From his first breath, he was caught in the antagonism between his mother, who found Holland a bore and thought she had married beneath her, and her mother-in-law, Amalia of Solms-Braunfeldt, who detested Mary Henrietta. It is scarcely surprising that William grew up deeply reserved and a lifelong prey to asthma.

The affairs of the United Provinces were in the hands of Johan de Witt, while young William lived quietly with his mother, though she was often away. At the age of nine, he was sent off to Leiden to be educated as a future head of state. His mother died of smallpox a year later on Christmas Eve 1660, on a visit to England. When he was told, he fell into a passion of grief and an alarming asthmatic attack, and all his life he cherished her memory. Trained in affairs of state by de Witt, at twenty-one he was appointed captain-general and stadholder by popular demand in face of the invading French and in the end decisively defeated them. In 1677 he married his cousin Mary Stuart, daughter of the future James II of England. This was the alliance that a dozen years later would bring him to the English throne.


Development of a King

Despite having not crown William was raised as a King and showed a very clear and serious disposition from his earliest years. He had a childhood like most nobility, but far removed from what we would expect today. Orphaned at ten, he was effectively in state care, raised as a future military leader and figurehead for the state. He found comfort and direction in faith and became a resolute and very plain Calvinist.