Popular name of two Stadtholders of the Netherlands, father and son, William II of Orange and William III of Orange. William I of Orange is more commonly known as William the Silent.
1. William II of Orange. More details needed.
2. William III of Orange (November 24 1650-March 8 1702). Also known as William III of England, Scotland, and Ireland (later, the United Kingdom). Dutch Stadtholder and (jointly with his wife Mary II) King of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
William of Orange was born in The Hague, eight days after the death of his father. His mother was Mary Stuart, the daughter of Charles I of England. In 1672 he was appointed to the office of Stadtholder in the Netherlands, as well as captain-general of the Dutch forces opposing the French invasion of the Third Anglo-Dutch War. He was successful in forcing peace on them in 1678. Fearing that another invasion would follow in future, he worked to create an anti-French alliance, the League of Augsburg. As it happened, the most important event leading towards this goal had taken place the year before.
After the end of the Puritan Commonwealth, the restored king of England, Charles II married Mary, the daughter of his younger brother the Duke of York, to William in 1677. When Charles II died childless, the crown passed to the Duke, now James II. James was Catholic, a dangerous thing in the largely Protestant British Isles, but enjoyed qualified support from his subjects because of his heir: Mary. She was Protestant, as was her husband.
Crisis came when the middle-aged James had another child in June 1688 -- this time a son -- bumping Mary down the line of succession and threatening a Catholic dynasty in England. A high-powered conspiracy of notables, the "Immortal Seven", invited William and Mary to depose James. War had broken out between the League of Augsburg and France in October (the War of the Grand Alliance) and James had allied with the latter power. Seeing the invitation as a chance to drive a wedge between England and France, and to add England to his side, the couple invaded on November 5, 1688 and succeeded in capturing James in Kent. The largely bloodless coup, widely hailed as borderline miraculous in light of the violent past English Civil War and the War of the Roses, was dubbed the Glorious Revolution.
At first Parliament intended to give the throne of England to Mary alone, but she refused on the grounds that she should be subservient to her husband. In February 1689, their de facto co-rule was made official, and William became William III of England while Mary became Mary II. In return for this, the Bill of Rights was passed; along with 1701's Act of Settlement, this made Parliament the supreme power in England (and soon to follow, the United Kingdom).
In practice, the first part of their reign was one of Mary ruling and William acting as field commander. In 1690, he fought the Battle of the Boyne, which put down an Irish rebellion in favour of James II, and forced that claimant to the throne out of the British Isles for the time being. Later, William took the battle against the French to Flanders.
Mary II died of smallpox in 1694, and William continued to rule without her. In 1697, he brought the war against France to a successful conclusion with the Peace of Rijswijk. During this time his solo rule of England was growing progressively more unpopular. As his primary interest was with his native Holland, he had no compunctions against using English resources to further that end. His reign ended soon after, however -- in 1702, he died of complications resulting from a fall off his horse. Under the laws passed upon William and Mary's accession and in 1701, the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland passed to Mary's sister, Anne. The leadership of the Dutch passed to John William Friso and the troublesome personal union between Britain and the Netherlands came to an end.
William's primary achievement was the hemming in of France when she was in a position to impose her will across much of Europe. His life was largely opposed to the will of Louis XIV. This effort continued after his death, with the alliance he built opposing the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. His other main effect on history was granting the British Parliament wide powers in return for its support in his continental wars. This settled the intense 17th century conflict between Crown and Parliament in England, and was a major step in the development of that nation's political institutions. In parts of the United Kingdom where religion is still an issue (notably Northern Ireland and, to a much lesser extent, Scotland), William is a symbol of the Protestant partisanship -- references to "King Billy", Orange lodges, and the colour orange hark back to him.