While reading through the book Medallic illustrations of the history of Great Britain and Ireland to the death of George II vol. I, I came across this interesting description.

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My question is why William III is referred to as the "British-Batavian Nassau"? I am unfamiliar with both Batavia and Nassau.

  • terminex9 - you might just as properly ask why the writer referred to the Emperor elect of the Romans and King of Germany as the Emperor of Germany - a title never officially used, though Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II desired to use it instead of German Emperor - and called Mustafa II Sultan instead of Padishah.
    – MAGolding
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:09

4 Answers 4


William III was a member of the House of Nassau and, as the Prince of Orange a pre-eminent Dutch leader. In 1672 he became a Stadtholder in the Dutch Republic. Following the Glorious Revolution in 1688, he reigned in Britain as the King of England, Scotand, and Ireland.

Note that during this time, in a display of national romanticism, the Dutch people regarded the ancient Germanic tribe of Batavians to be their precursors.

Combine his position over the supposed Batavi nation (as stadtholder) and the British people (as king) with his Nassau lineage results in NASSAVIUS BRITAN . BATAV., i.e. "British-Batavian Nassau".

  • 1
    As Stadtholder was he the de facto Dutch leader or just a prominent politician?
    – terminex9
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 16:36
  • 3
    @terminex9 More or less the de facto leader. In theory he's appointed as Stadtholder to individual provinces within the republic, but in practice the Princes of Orange monopolised the position. It made him the chief executive official in each province, and by convention also commander in chief of the Dutch military.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 17:54
  • @Semaphore: the position of stadtholder was predominantly a military one, and was twice left vacant when the military needs were deemed superfluous. At least one member of the line attempted to be Stadtholder (of the individual provinces) instead of Prince, as he deemed it to be a position with more real power due to its martial responsibilities. Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 14:53
  • Why did it use this description rather than just naming him?
    – user69715
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 17:03
  • 1
    Semaphore - William III was NOT a pre-eminent Dutch leader as a result of being the Prince of Orange. The Principality of Orange was hundreds of miles from the Netherlands and gave him no power there - the title merely gave him high rank and status in other lands like the Netherlands. His political power in the Netherlands came from his position as Stadtholder.
    – MAGolding
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:03

William III was of the Dutch house of Orange-Nassau. The name “Batavia” comes from the Germanic tribe of the Batavians, living near the mouth of the Rhine during the Roman republic. The name “Batavia” was also used later, e.g. for the Batavian Republic, in a similar fashion to how “Gallia” and derivations thereof can sometimes be used instead of “France” or “French”.

Why William’s Dutch heritage was highlighted in this way, I cannot answer.

  • There were at least 10 closely related sovereign princes of the house of Nassau reigning in 1698 - does that help explain why William II would be described in such an unusually descriptive fashion? Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 15:07

William III was King of England because of his marriage to Queen Mary II of England, who shared power with him in a so-called "Crown Matrimonial." But he had earned this privilege by throwing the Dutch army on the side of the "rebels" against King James II of England (Mary's father).

William's real power base was as the Prince of Orange, known on the "other side" as the house of Nassau, having inherited this position as a descendant of William the Silent, the first "king" of the Netherlands. During the early 18th century, the Dutch considered themselves descended from the Batavians, a Roman-era people who had inhabited the Netherlands.

William added this adjective to his title to highlight his "Dutchness," because Nassau was actually a German place and title. Another way of reading his full title was as the "British-Dutch" German noble.

  • Tom Au - the Principality of Orange was in the kingdom of Burgundy and the Holy Roman Empire hundreds of miles from the Netherlands. It was just a title he happened to have and had nothing to do with his powerbase in the Netherlands where he owned many estates and had the political and military position of stadtholder.
    – MAGolding
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 19:52

This particular wording is being chosen to designate which particular sovereign prince of the House of Nassau is being referred to, there being a particularly large and confusing number in 1698 due to family holdings being divided amongst sons of Count Louis II of Nassau-Weilburg (1627) and Count John VI of Nassau-Dillenburg (1606) :

Consequently, when in 1698 one referred to a sovereign member of the House of Nassau one had to be specific as to which one was intended. The particular usage in your text, "British-Batavian Nassau" is probably being used to designate the territories ruled by William III, in line with how other branches of the family were designated.

The nomenclature House of Orange-Nassau, or Prince of Orange would have failed as a description, as the Principality of Orange had been annexed by Louis XIV a few years earlier in 1673. As William III ruled Luxembourg as well as Britain and Netherlands at this time, a reference to Dutch would likewise have failed descriptively. Thus the use of British-Batavian in this context both achieves a pleasant alliteration in English and captures the extent of the territory over which William reigned as one of the most powerful sovereigns in Europe.

As a side note, the city of Djakarta in Indonesia (Dutch East Indies) was named Batavia during Dutch rule

  • Pieter Geerkens - according to wikipedia King Charles II of Spain was the ruler of Luxemburg up to his death in 1700. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_monarchs_of_Luxembourg and it was not until 1815 that any member of the House of Orange became ruler of Luxemburg. As far as I remember William III as an ally of Charles II of Spain in 1698-99 and would not have invaded any of his provinces.
    – MAGolding
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 19:56

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