King Willem II of the Netherlands (1792 -1849)
- HRH William, Prince of Orange
British General & Wellington's Aide de Camp in the Peninsular Campaign
HRM Willem II, By the Grace of God King of the United Kingdom of the
Netherlands, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Duke of Lauenburg, Prince of
Orange, Prince of Nassau-Dietz, GCB, GCH, made Field Marshall of Great
Britain on July 28, 1845
William, hereditary Prince of Orange, served on Wellington’s
Staff in the Peninsula and rose from a Lieutenant Colonel  to a
General  in the British Army. He served on Wellington’s staff as
an Aide-de-Camp. His nickname in the Peninsular army was "Slender
Billy". His personal bravery was never in dispute and he along with Lord
Fitzroy Somerset were warned about their conduct after they personally
joined in one of the assaults in early 1812, Ciudad Rodrigo or Badajoz.
He was also a General in the Netherlands Army.
Wellington liked the young Prince, and wrote that "he
has a very good education, his manners are very engaging, and he is
liked by every person who approaches him" (Wellington Dispatches, vol x,
page 390, to Earl Bathurst, 18 May 1813). The Prince left the Peninsula
after his countrymen revolted against Napoleon in 1813 and held a
command in the Netherlands. He succeeded Sir Thomas Graham in the summer
of 1814 as the commander of the British Subsidiary Army in the
Netherlands. He held the command until April 1815 when Wellington was
appointed the Commander of the Forces to face Napoleon.
Document – Signed: William of Orange
Dated: October 15th 1811
Text as Follows:
Freneda miserable village near Almeida
My dear Bull,
You will have seen in the Papers that we have at last been fighting and
had a most gallant little action near El Bodon; nothing can afford a
more positive proof of the superiority of our Troops than this affair
did, since according to Lord Wellington’s own opinion, it is impossible
that any troops, can at any time be Exposed to the attack of numbers,
relatively greater than those which attacked the troops under Major
General Colville and Major General Alten on the 25th September, which
day shall ever be memorable to me, and shall ever be recollected by me
with delight. How extraordinary great is our Commander in an action, and
how much does his coolness, decision, and promptness in discerning the
enemy’s intentions inspire confidence to those under his command, it is
however not less pleasing to see the confidence and love he bears to his
Troops and the justice he does to the conduct of the Officers and men
after an action; how kind and unmerited is the manner in which he
mentions me in his Dispatch for which I can not enough express my
gratitude to this most great and excellent man, the more one sees him
the more one knows of him, the more one loves and admires him; he is
according to my opinion at once a perfectly morally good man a great
General, Great Politician, and Financier, very severe to those who
neglect their duty and to the utmost kind and grateful to those who
fulfill it well. –
Don Julian’s Guerillas took Yesterday a famous prize since they made
General Renaud the Commandant of Ciudad Rodrigo a prisoner at about a
cannon shot’s distance from the place, and took besides about 200 oxen
and nearly 300 sheep and goats which formed part of the provisions of
the town, we hope to see the General at Head Quarters tomorrow or the
next day which will be very good fun.
I suppose you are now in all the agonies foreboding a near deliverance
in the shape of a first class, which I wish with all my heart you may
obtain, I trust this letter will find you having got over your hot
business with Bachelor’s sleeves, how respectable you must look in them!
Leinster and Company have been a week with us and just during the late
engagements with the French they were all very well, and seemed to like
our way of living, Clare excepted who was particularly anxious to get
back to Lisbon. Remember me if you please to the Howley’s and all my
other Oxford Friends and Acquaintances, and Believe me your faithful
[signed] William of Orange
The Baron and Johnson wish to be remembered and are very well.
NB: William, having lived in exile in
England and attended Oxford, was an Anglophile and thus wrote his own name in the English
form: William - His name in Dutch form: Willem.
was Dr. William Howley,
DD,(1766 - 1848), Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford
(1809-1813), Canon of Christ Church; afterwards Bishop of London. Howley, once a rector of Bradford
Peverell, eventually rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury (1828-48), and it was
he who crowned Queen Victoria.
The ‘Baron’ is likely Baron Jean de Constant Rebecque, of later Quatre
Bras fame. As William was the Prince of Orange he had his own suite and
the Baron was a Flemish mentor or aide who looked after the young
Prince. "Johnson" also most likely Mr. Johnson, an Englishman and tutor
to the young Prince. He is also known to have been in the suite.
Battle at el Bodon - September 25th 1811
The British were falling back from Cuidad Rodrigo from a superior French
force arriving to relieve and re-supply the fort during a siege by
Wellington's British/Portuguese troops. The British were forming a new
headquarters at Fuente Guinaldo. Wellington did not expect any pursuit
or battle. About half way to Fuente Guinaldo, on the day after they
began the retreat, 2,500 French Cavalry caught up to several British
battalions. There followed fighting for about 2 hours with the British
able to fall back under their sabres. French Commander Marmont was not
able to proceed and make it a general attack between armies.
The following are from The Napoleonic War Journal of Captain Thomas
Henry Browne: 1807 - 1816. Browne served on Wellington's staff in the
Adjutant General's Office from 1810 - 1814:
p.156: April 1812 "The Prince of Orange was at head-quarters during this
time as one of Ld. Wellington's Aid de Camps. He was ... not deficient
in personal courage."
p.180: September 1812 "The Prince of Orange continued still at Head
Quarters, acting as Aid de Camp to Ld. Wellington, & became popular by
his quiet & unassuming manners. I may here mention that when in 1814 the
Revolution favor of his family took place in Holland, he left us at San
Jean de Luz. A British sloop of war was sent there to receive him, & the
boat which put him on board was rowed by British Officers."
p.202: Winter 1812 - 1813: "The Prince of Orange was at Head Quarters,
acting as one of Lord Wellington's Aids de camp. There were attached to
him, two very gentlemen-like & agreeable men one a Fleming, Baron de
Constant, the other an Englishman of the name of Johnson, who had been
with the Prince at College. They were both very fond of music, & used to
visit me occasionally in an evening & sing Spanish duets & trios."
Willem was apparently quite popular as one of Wellington's aides de
camp. During a party he was hoisted into the air on a chair by fellow
celebrants with predictable results because of the large quantities of
liquor consumed. The group could not handle it and collapsed in a pile
on the floor. William of Orange was one of several Aides de Camp of
Wellington during the Peninsular War. He was wounded during the Battle
of Waterloo and the Dutch have been told ad infinitum that if it were
not for his actions at Quatre Bras, Wellington would have lost, while
the English version of Waterloo casts a different light on the young
General's performance claiming that he nearly compromised victory due to
his inexperience. Ah well, history is written from the viewpoint of
one's own backyard.
Thanks to Kees Adema for the Dutch perspective and Ron McGuigan for his
extensive Peninsular and Napoleonic background.
King Willem II of the Netherlands
Willem II (William Frederick George Louis) (December 6, 1792 – March 17,
1849) was King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg from
October 7, 1840 until his death on March 17, 1849. Note that Willem is
the Dutch form of William, who actually used the English form, William,
of his name within the family and among friends.
He was born in The Hague, the son of King William I of the Netherlands
and Queen Wilhelmina, princess of Prussia. His maternal grandparents
were Frederick William II of Prussia and his second wife Frederika
Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt. When William was three he and his family fled
to England after allied British-Hanoverian mercenaries left the Republic
and entering French troops joined the anti-orangist Patriots. William
spent his youth in Berlin at the Prussian court. There he followed a
military education and served in the Prussian army. Afterwards he
studied at the University of Oxford. It was to his friends at
Oxford that this letter was written. He entered the British Army, and in
1811, as aide-de-camp to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, took
part in several campaigns of the Peninsular War, where he was mentioned
in dispatches and noted approvingly by Wellington. He returned to the
Netherlands in 1813 when his father became sovereign prince following
the defeat and retreat of Napoleon from the Low Countries following the
battle of Leipzig. In 1815 William became crown prince and he took
service in the army when Napoleon I of France escaped from Elba. He
fought as commander of combined Dutch and Belgian forces, The Royal
Netherlands Mobile Army, at the Battle
of Quatre Bras (June 16) and as Commander of the 1st Corps at the Battle of Waterloo (June 18), where he
was wounded. He was considered a hero although his military inexperience
was the cause of several critical errors.
In 1813 William became briefly engaged with Princess Charlotte Augusta
of Wales, only daughter of George IV, Prince Regent of the United Kingdom and Caroline
of Brunswick. The marriage was arranged by George but Charlotte did not
want to marry William so the engagement was broken. On February 21,
1816, William married Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia, sister to
Czar Alexander I of Russia, who arranged the marriage to seal the good
relations between Imperial Russia and the Netherlands. On February 17,
1817 his eldest son Willem Alexander was born (the future King Willem
III) in Brussels, where he lived. He enjoyed considerable popularity in
Belgium, as well as in the Netherlands for his affability and
moderation, and in 1830, on the outbreak of the Belgian revolution, he
did his utmost in Brussels as a peace broker, to bring about a
settlement based on administrative autonomy for the southern provinces,
under the House of Orange-Nassau. His father afterwards rejected the
terms of accommodation that he had proposed. Relations with his father
remained tense. In April 1831 he was leader of the ten day campaign in
Belgium which was driven back to the North by French intervention.
European intervention established Leopold of Saxe-Gotha on the new
throne of Belgium. Peace was finally established between Belgium and the
Netherlands in 1839.
King of the Netherlands
On October 7, 1840, on his father's abdication, Willem acceded the
throne as Willem II. Like his father he was conservative and less likely
to initiate changes. He intervened less in policies than his father did.
There was increased agitation for broad constitutional reform and a
wider electoral franchise. And though he was personally conservative and
no democrat, he acted with sense and moderation. The Revolutions of 1848
broke out all over Europe. In Paris the Bourbon-Orléans monarchy fell.
William became afraid of revolution in Amsterdam. One morning he woke up
and said: "I changed from conservative to liberal in one night". He gave
orders to Johan Rudolf Thorbecke to create a new constitution which
included that the Eerste Kamer (Senate) would be chosen indirectly by
the Provincial States and that the Tweede Kamer (House of
Representatives) would be chosen directly. Electoral system changed into
census suffrage in electoral districts (in 1917 census suffrage was
replaced by common suffrage for all adults, and districts were replaced
by party lists of different political parties), whereby royal power
decreased sharply. The constitution is still in effect today. He swore
in the first parliamentary cabinet a few months before his sudden death
in Tilburg, North Brabant (1849).
From left to right: Willem III (1817–1890), Alexander
(1818–1848), Willem II (1792–1849)
Anna Pavlovna (1795–1865), Sophie (1824–1897) and Hendrik (1820–1879).
A single sheet of watermarked (R&T on
Royal Crest), batonne laid paper, bifolium into four pages. Handwritten
letter on two pages dated October 15th, 1811 at Freneda and signed
"William of Orange". Addressed to John Bull at Christ Church, Oxford
with a blue Lisbon postal cancel and a 2 Shilling & 4 Pence manuscript
marking. A wonderful, and extremely scarce Peninsular War letter by a
future King who was the Duke of Wellington's Aide de Camp and later a
Field Marshall of England.
by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.