Hopefully you guys had a good Saint Patrick's Day, and that all you guys out there celebrated it the same way me and the rest of America did – by shamelessly wringing every last drop out of our one-thirty-second Irish ancestry in the most unabashed excuse for public drunkenness this side of Cinco de Mayo. Because, when it comes down to it, there is truly no better tribute to the proud, glorious, occasionally tragic and consistently badass history of the heroic Irish people than to hit every bar in your city woofing barrels full of green Guiness in a "Kiss Me I'm Irish" shirt while discussing how you once had a great great half uncle twice removed who might have lived in Dublin at some point in the past, then finishing your evening by starting bar fights with strangers while speaking in your best approximation of what the Lucky Charms guy would sound like if he was drunk as fuck doing a Boondock Saints impression.
Anyway, now that we've had our fun it's time to troll all of you massively by posting the story of a man who is the ultimate arch-nemesis of all Irishmen south of Ulster – William of Orange, the Dutch ruler and career warrior who overcame countless impossible obstacles to seize power of the English Crown, hold it against all comers, and set the precedent for a Protestant-Catholic divide that pisses off people in Northern Ireland to this day.
Hopefully all the actual legit Irish readers of this site are still hungover enough that I can sneak him in this week, because, William of Orange is seriously fucking rad. Sorry dudes. I'll get you back soon.
Today's my birthday so hold all angry comments
and hate mail until tomorrow please.
William of Orange was born on November 14, 1650 in The Hague, Netherlands. I know very little about this place, but I assume it is probably the most awesome town in the world, because aside from just being the place where they convict people of war crimes it's also the only city I can think of that begins with the word "The," and I've played enough D&D to know that this means it's super significant.
Even though William was the son of the Stadtholder, the head of the Dutch Republic, the royal deck was stacked pretty hardcore against him right from the beginning. For starters, his dad died eight days before his birth, meaning that a regent had to be appointed to rule on his behalf... and the regent, a guy named Johan de Witt, was one of those regents who seizes power and doesn't really feel like giving it back once the kid becomes old enough to rule. If that's not enough, Wililam's mom died when he was ten, and he was pale, in poor health, and suffered from asthma attacks. His grandfather on his mom's side was King Charles I of England, a dude who was such a tyrannical asshole that the British Parliament started the English Civil War to overthrow him, and a year before William was born Charles had been executed for treason. William's other grandpa was William the Silent, who was basically the George Washington of Holland. This is a guy so big time over there that the fucking national anthem of the Netherlands is called "The William" and talks about how great he is. Do you ever think it's weird that the fucking Dutch area always wearing orange at the Olympics even though that color doesn't appear on their national flag? It's because they love the House of Orange, their traditional rulers, and William the Silent was the first of them. So yeah, he's a big deal.
William of Orange was pretty much held back by Johan de Witt, but shit got real in 1672 when the Netherlands were hardcore invaded by a rampaging French army under King Louis XIV. William was just 22 years old, but when Johan de Witt shit a brick at the attack, William grabbed his rapier and swung into action in the most awesome way possible – by fucking destroying the dams and dikes of Holland, flooding the entire countryside, and basically single-handedly turning Holland into an island. The French attack was stalled, since they weren't expecting to encounter lakes and rivers where they thought there were supposed to be farms, and this bought William time to organize his troops, build up defenses, and launch counterattacks to defeat the enemy. When England joined the war on the side of France, William didn't freak out, he got even – he sent hardcore naval motherfuckers like Michiel de Ruyter out to defeat the British Navy and set fire to London, then he allied with the Germans and liberated the city of Bonn from Louis' Frenchmen. England made peace in 1672 and France in 1678, yet Louis XIV and William of Orange remained mortal enemies and constantly threw shade at each other any time they possibly could.
On his 27th birthday, William of Orange cemented peace with England by agreeing to marry an English princess named Mary who just so happened to also be his first cousin, which is gross, and who also just so happened to be physically repulsed by William and not really want to marry him or move to the friggin' Netherlands of all places (although she eventually came around on all points and is said to have had a happy marriage/life/etc.). You know the College of William & Mary? They're not in the NCAA tournament this year, but it's the second-oldest university in the United States, and it was founded by a massive endowment from these two happy Dutch lovebirds.
King Charles II of England, Scotland, and Ireland (they were all together at this point) died in 1685 and was succeeded by his brother James (who was also Mary's dad). Now, James was an OK guy, but he made the English nobles nervous because he was Catholic and the rest of England was mostly Protestant and this was a big deal for some reason back in 17th-century Europe and also to a lesser degree today. James suspended the writ of Habeas Corpas, arrested a bunch of Anglican bishops for not being Catholic, tried to form an alliance with France, and had the indecency to spawn a human male child who was also Catholic, so the nobles wrote William of Orange a letter telling him and Mary to get their Protestant asses across the Channel and seize the throne from the Papists. William was totally super into it, but he didn't want to be some conquering tyrant asshole – instead, he asked that he be selected king by Birthright, through his wife's claim as James' daughter (you still with me on this?). The nobles were like yeah sure whatever, so in November of 1688 William arrived off the coast of Dover with 600 ships packed full of badass Dutch soldiers and hired professional Euro mercenaries. They were immediately joined by everyone from British nobles to peasant warriors from the English countryside.
James formed up his armies, took one look at the heat William was packing, and immediately decided, fuck this, maybe we can make peace. William refused. James ran for it. He was caught, but William was a good son-in-law and let his wife's dad move to France to live in exile so he could celebrate mass with the rest of the Catholics there. William was coronated King William III of England, Ireland, and Scotland in 1688, and the English called the whole thing the "Glorious Revolution", because it pretty much went down without so much as a fight (although there was one particularly-awesome skirmish where William's forces in some town were supported by English citizens firing muskets and shotguns out the windows of their houses).
Well, instead of kicking back, chilling with saints, and trying to remember not to eat meat on Fridays during Lent, James borrowed a few thousand of King Louis XIV's most badass French heavy cavalrymen, caught a boat to Ireland, and raised an army of Irish Catholic peasant warriors who were determined to re-take the British crown in the name of King James. They seized Dublin, drove out the Protestants, and mobilized 30,000 men for war.
Shit was about to get real.
Say what you want about William of Orange's asthma and weak constitution, but this guy was a hardcore soldier who fought front and center at the heart of his soldiers like something out of the glory days of the Lord of the Rings middle ages. Even though he was the fucking King of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Holland, this guy personally went to deal with his father-in-law and this Catholic army nonsense himself, sailing 36,000 English and Dutch soldiers head-long into the action in 1690. He met James' army at the Boyne River, 30 miles north of Dublin, on July 1, 1690, for an epic ultimate deathmatch to determine who was the Rightful King and whose slightly-different interpretation of Christ's "love your enemies and turn the other cheek" teachings would reign supreme.
The night before the battle, William of Orange personally rode along no man's land surveying the battlefield and scouting the terrain to help him strategize his attack. While he was out there, he was shot in the chest by an Irish sniper, the bullet drilling him and knocking him from his horse. When his closest advisor asked if he was ok, the King replied, "The ball came close enough, but it's nothing."
The next morning he was at the head of his forces, deployed in the teeth of the enemy formation.
It took William's army, let by the elite Dutch Blue Guards, four hours to force their way across the Boyne river in the face of brutal, determined fire. When his exhausted troops finally forced their way to the other side, James sent his French cavalry shock troops in to hammer them, redeploying them from another part of the field. It was exactly what William was waiting for. At that moment, while his Blue Guards calmly formed infantry squares and fixed bayonets to repel the French cavalry, William rushed out his reserves of Hugonout, English, and Irish Protestant troops across a fordable pass he'd already scouted (with a bullet in his chest, no less), and sent them head-on into the less-defended opposite flank. They rolled up the Catholics, who, to their credit, fell back in good order, but the battle was over and the ending was decisive. James ran for it, William either wiped out, deported, or otherwise "pacified" any continued Irish resistance to his ultimate hardcore no-holds-barred Protestant kingliness, and the victory at the Boyne is celebrated by Northern Ireland Protestants to this very day.
From that point on, William pretty much made life miserable for Catholics in England, but him and Mary did do some good stuff as well. They founded the Bank of England so that they could rack up tons of national debt to fund their wars, they established the College of William & Mary in Virginia, and they send supplies and weapons to the American colonists so they could invade Quebec (they failed). Despite being all-powerful rulers, William & Mary also relinquished autocratic control to Parliament, setting up a Bill of Rights that took a lot of power away from the monarchy and set up a government system that's a lot more like the one in England today, which is cool and chill of them. To further illustrate their coolness and chillness, they passed the Toleration Act, an act that said they would tolerate pretty much anything except rebellious Catholic Scotsmen, who they would quite honestly just ruthlessly massacre without hesitation (and did once or twice). Oh they also wouldn't tolerate Kilts, so those were banned, probably because of excessive balls/dong action.
But this whole King of England thing was just another step for William towards his ultimate goal of beating the shit out of King Louis XIV of France, and basically as soon as James was taken out he took his army and went right back to Mainland Europe for more war.
Look men, more war!
Commanding the Grand Alliance of England, Holland, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire, William launched into the Nine Years' War against France. There was massive, heavy fighting all across the continent, as William captured towns in Luxembourg, fought off a few naval attacks on England, bombarded Normandy cities and marched troops through the south of France. He commanded able generals like the Duke of Marlborough and went into combat at the head of newly-formed (and now super-famous) British military regiments like the Scots Guards, Coldstream Guards, Grenadier Guards, and the Royal Irish Regiment. By 1697 he'd kicked so much ass in nearly a decade of fighting that France sued for peace and agreed to give back the lands Louis XIV had taken from Spain, Holland, Germany and Belgium.
William went home to England, content that he'd stomped a sufficient amount of asshole, and in 1702 he died at the age of 51 when his horse stepped in a molehill, threw him face-first into the turf, and his broken collarbone got fatally infected. He'd been king of the Dutch for 51 years – literally his entire life. And while he's a true hero of the Netherlands and a mighty avenging war hero to the Protestants of Ulster, most Irish Catholics across the realm celebrated his death by toasting a glass to the mole that killed him.
And, sure, while it's awesome to be remembered as a hero to your people, I'd argue that it's also equally awesome to be so hatefully despised that people drink a toast to the creature responsible for your death.
Pimpin' ain't easy
Cawthorne, Nigel. Military Commanders. Enchanted Lion, 2004.
McNally, Michael. Battle of the Boyne. Osprey, 2005.
Sellar, W.C. and R.J. Yeatman. 1066 and All That. Methuen, 1930.
Weigley, Russell F. The Age of Battles. Indiana Univ. Press, 2004.