Thursday, October 26, 2017

October 26


King William III, Prince of Orange

William (1650-1702) was born in the Hague, just a week after the death of his father, Willem II (Stadhouder of the Netherlands). William’s mother was Mary, the daughter of Charles I of England, but she died of smallpox when William was ten. When he was fourteen, the orphaned William received into his household a Dutch page named Hans Willem Bentink (1649-1709). To say that they became “lifelong companions” is understatement. The page instantly endeared himself to his master, who had little use for or interest in women. When William contracted smallpox (the disease that had killed his mother) at age 24, the strikingly handsome Bentink lovingly cared for his master for 16 days. William’s doctors declared that the progress of the disease could be stopped only if “a young man of the same age, lying in bed with the Prince, exposed himself to the contagion”.* Bentink volunteered immediately, and it was said that the warmth of his body caused the Prince to sweat so profusely that the smallpox broke out. The Prince recovered, but Bentink contracted the disease. He, too, eventually recovered.

*Your blogger can put 2 and 2 together to assume that this was a plot by the doctors to get rid of the foreign-born Bentink, whose influence over the Prince greatly disturbed his English subjects.

Such devotion paid off, because when William was crowned King of England as William III, he created the title of Earl of Portland for his Dutch-born advisor Bentink, inciting the ire of William’s English subjects. But William did not stop there. He made Bentink Groom of the Stole, first gentleman of the bedchamber, a Privy Counsellor, and created titles for Bentink as a Baron and Viscount. The English Peers resented the sway that Bentink held over their king, who did nothing without Bentink’s approval. Bentink had earned William’s confidence, and in their correspondence William was very open. There was public gossip in London, the Hague and among the military that the relationship between William and Bentink was sexual, but modern researchers waver, since proof is difficult when examining a relationship hundreds of years after the fact. William eventually took a wife, but the union was childless. Bentink, however, went on to father thirteen children by two wives.

Whatever the case, William’s lavish generosity made Bentink one of the wealthiest men in the country. For starters, William gave Bentink 135,000 acres of land in Ireland, and the king attempted to bestow a large gift of crown lands in North Wales, but was thwarted by the resistance of the House of Commons. However, the friendship and cooperation between William and Bentink ended abruptly in 1699. Bentink became severely jealous of a much younger (and notably handsome) Arnold Joost van Keppel, another Dutchman who had begun his career as a lowly page but went on to enjoy a rapid rise to become the Earl of Albemarle, thus ennobled by William III. Whenever William would kiss Albemarle`s hand before all the court, as with a woman, Bentink became enraged, leading to his resignation of all his offices in the royal household. Although Bentink resigned his posts, he did not lose the devotion of the king. When William died, it was Bentink who was at his bedside, clasping his hand in his own.

Make of this what you will. Although we have no proof these three men were engaged in same sex relationships, what else can explain the over-the-top generosity of the king towards Bentick and Keppel, or the jealous fits that ensued? And consider this. Although Bentink outlived William by seven years, he was buried in Westminster Abbey just a few feet away from William, pointing to the closeness of the relationship between the two men. Hmmm.

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