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William was the son of William II, Prince of Orange, and was born in The Hague. The Orange-Nassau dynasty was one of the most important families in the United Netherlands. William's mother was the English princess Mary, daughter of King Charles I. In 1672, following an invasion of Holland by the French king Louis XIV, William was proclaimed stadhouder (leader) of the Dutch provinces. He also took command of the army. William's military preoccupation for the next thirty years was the formation of a Grand Alliance of European countries against France.
In 1677 he married Mary, the elder daughter of the heir to the English and Scottish thrones, the Duke of York (later James II). The Duke of York had no surviving sons, so William's wife was the heir presumptive.
When James ascended the throne in 1685, his promotion of Roman Catholicism alienated many of his subjects. William urged his father-in-law to be moderate, but finally accepted an 'Invitation' from several prominent aristocrats and politicians to invade England and take the throne on behalf of the Protestant interest.
William's fleet sailed from Holland in October 1688 and landed at Torbay on 5 November. When James fled to France in December, William was offered the throne. He agreed to take it jointly with Mary, and for it to pass successively to Mary's issue and then to her sister Anne and her issue, and finally to William's own heirs. This excluded James II and his offspring, and any other Catholics. William and Mary were crowned monarchs on 11 April 1689.
The deposed James II and his army landed in Ireland later in the year. They were defeated by William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. During the remainder of the 1690s, William's armies fought against the French in Europe.
Mary died in 1694, and Anne had no surviving children. William agreed to the Act of Settlement of 1701, which settled the throne on James I's granddaughter, Princess Sophia of Hanover, and her Protestant heirs.