There have so far (2009) been four monarchs ruling England called William, of whom one (William IV) was a King of Great Britain and one (William III 'of Orange') held the crowns of both England and Scotland. There has been one King William ('William the Lion') of Scotland alone. The accession of William the Conqueror marks the end of the Anglo-Saxon era of English history, and the beginning of the modern system.
- The adjective Williamite normally refers to followers of William III - the term is in opposition to Jacobite. The williamite war in Ireland (1688-1691) was that following the Glorious Revolution which replaced James II with William III (and Mary II). The adjective Wilhelmine (from the German form of the name, Wilhelm) usually refers to Kaiser Wilhelm II (familiarly known to British troops as 'Kaiser Bill'), who ruled Germany during the First World War. Wilhelmine and Wilhelmina are girls' forenames, not in much use in the twenty-first century so far (2009).
William I (of England)
William I, most often nicknamed 'The Conqueror', also 'William of Normandy' and 'William the Bastard', born c. 1028; married Matilda of Flanders c.1050; succeeded Harold in 1066; died 1087.
- Duke of Normandy from 1035, when he was eight years old. Normandy was a Viking state, and comparatively lawless: Duke William had a troubled minority. ODNB says that the later story that he supported the succession of Edward the Confessor is unlikely to be true, but it appears possible that Edward thought of him as a successor, partly as a matter of internal politics - he wanted to reduce the power of the Godwine family. Harold Godwineson, then Earl of Wessex, visited Normandy in 1065, and is said to have promised, or been tricked into promising, William the English throne: he may simply have brought a message from Edward the Confessor to that effect. In 1066, William invaded, and defeated Harold (by then King) at the Battle of Hastings, at which Harold was killed. For the next six years, William fought a war of conquest, defeating a series of rebels against the new order; after 1072, he spent most of his time in Normandy, as England was subdued. In 1085, he ordered a survey of landholding there. This became the Domesday Book.
William II (of England)
(known as William Rufus, probably because either his hair or his complexion was red, or 'rufous' [rufus in Latin]), was born about 1060. Unmarried. Succeeded William I in 1087; died 1100.
- William was his father's third son. The eldest, Robert 'Curthose' (~ 'short socks'; also nickname in Norman French Gambaron, 'fat legs') (d. 1134) was duke of Normandy; the second died young. William and Robert disputed throughout their lives, sometimes at war with each other; although when Robert went on the (First) Crusade in 1096, William was given custody of the Duchy of Normandy - for a down payment. Died in a hunting accident in the New Forest that he had created in the modern Hampshire and Wiltshire.
William I of Scots
(known as William the Lion - not in his lifetime - perhaps as his family shield bore the 'lion rampant' that became the royal coat of arms in Scotland): born about 1142 or 3; succeeded his brother Malcolm IV in 1165. Married Ermengarde de Beaumont, a granddaughter, through an illegitimate daughter, of Henry I of England in 1186. Died 1214; succeeded by his son Alexander II.
- Created Earl of Northumberland, William the Lion lost his estates when his brother Malcolm IV surrendered what are now the northern counties of England to Henry II of England in 1157. His reign saw many attempts to repossess them, including the war of 1173-74, which ended in William's capture at the Battle of Alnwick, as a result of which Henry became overlord of Scotland. This was set aside under Richard I, who sold sovereignty back to William to fund his crusading. William introduced Norman families, like the Bruces and Stewarts, into Scotland and founded Arbroath Abbey 1178, which may show the way he strengthened the law, the peace and the civilization (in a more European sense) of Scotland, where the people were still mostly Celtic.
William III (actually, 'the third' of England; he was 'the second' (William II) of Scotland)
William 'of Orange'; born 1650, in the province of Orange (the United Provinces, now the Netherlands), where his birth soon after his father's death made him Prince William III of Orange; married his cousin Mary II 1677; took the thrones of England and Scotland after his invasion (1688) 1689; died 1702
- William of Orange, nicknamed 'King Billy', particularly in Northern Ireland, was the grandson of Charles I and nephew of Charles II and James II. This gave him a claim to the thrones of England and Scotland in his own right, but Mary, the daughter of James II by his first wife, had the better claim (though female). Both were protestants. When James and his second wife, after five daughters, had a son who would be Catholic and displace Mary as heir apparent ('James III'), anti-Catholic feeling in Britain resulted in an invitation from the 'Immortal Seven' to William to replace King James. He landed at Torbay with a powerful army in November 1688; James fled in December, and the English crown was offered jointly to William and Mary in February 1689, the Scots in March. (Hence the common practice of referring, in speech, to the monarch at this stage as the immortal dual incarnation 'William-and-Mary': it is written of course, especially in academic English, without hyphens as William and Mary). This was the Glorious Revolution. Generally accepted in England and Scotland (at least lowland Scotland), William had to fight Jacobite forces in Catholic Ireland for three years: his victory in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 is still a rallying point for Irish protestants in The Troubles. His forces put down a rising in Scotland led by 'Bonny Dundee' (John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee) in the same year. After Mary's death (1694), he ruled alone, to be succeeded by her sister Queen Anne at his death in 1702.
William IV, nicknamed 'the sailor king' from his service and commission in the Royal Navy, born 1765, third son of George III; married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, 1818; succeeded his brother, George IV in 1830, becoming the oldest British monarch to do so; died 1837, succeeded in the United Kingdom by his niece Queen Victoria, daughter of Prince Edward, the 4th son of George IV; and in his Kingdom of Hanover by Ernest Augustus I (his brother, 5th son of George IV: Victoria could not inherit here, as Salic law applied in Hanover).
- As a younger son, Prince William needed a position,. and at 13 was commissioned midshipman in the Royal Navy; in 1780 he was at the Battle of St Vincent; in 1785 he was promoted to lieutenant and in 1786 he commanded a frigate. In 1789 he was created Duke of Clarence and of St Andrews and Earl of Munster, which effectively ended his professional career in the Navy. As a junior Prince, he had little to do, and being a man of strong amorous propensities, he devoted himself to Mrs Dorothy Jordan, the stage name, implying, inaccurately, her married status, of the actress Dorothy Bland (or Phillips) (1761–1816). They lived together and had ten children(all surnamed FitzClarence), while she continued acting successfully; but as he became more and more the the confirmed heir apparent, after his elder brother, Frederick Duke of York died in 1827, to the crown, he needed a proper marriage. In 1811 he and Mrs Jordan separated (she died in poverty abroad, having been defrauded by a son-in-law, husband to her daughter Frances Daly, from a previous relationship). In 1818, he married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen (1792–1849), but none of at least five children survived childhood. Consequently the crown was inherited by Victoria.
- In 1827, William was appointed Lord High Admiral, in effect the head of the navy following the refusal of Lord Melbourne to serve under Canning. While doing some good (commissioning Britain's first steam warship, reducing the use of corporal punishment, and trying to improve naval gunnery), he learned that he had to be subject to the law, when he tried to go above the Lord High Admiral's council that was charged with endorsing his actions. This may have contributed to his behaviour during his reign of supporting his ministers and in general behaving as a constitutional monarch, paving the way for the future development of the institution of royalty in the United Kingdom. This was shown in his behaviour during the political crisis around Reform (of the voting system and suffrage) which culminated in the Reform Act of 1832. In general, he is remembered as a man of integrity, who tried to behave well - - the ODNB) judges him "naïve but well-meaning".