Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands would never know her elder half-brother as he died a year before she was born, but for a long time, it was he who was meant to be King.
William was born on 4 September 1840, shortly before the abdication of his great-grandfather, King William I of the Netherlands. He was thus born third in the line of succession, behind his grandfather and father. Being yet another William, he was nicknamed Wiwill in the family. His parents were the future King William III of the Netherlands and his first wife, Sophie of Württemberg. His parents were famously mismatched, and he would grow up in an evergrowing battle. Yet, they managed to have two more sons. Maurice was born in 1843, but he would die in infancy. Alexander was born in 1851.
William grew up to be quite the hothead, and his mother spoiled him much to his father’s dismay. Perhaps it is no surprise as he was often witnessing violent arguments. Once, Sophie had to wear long gloves for weeks after her husband scratched her arms. From the age 7, William’s day was planned out to the minute for his education. In 1849, his grandfather died quite suddenly, and his father reluctantly became King William III. Young William was now formally heir to the throne and the Prince of Orange. His more delicate younger brother Maurice fell ill with meningitis in early 1850, and he died at the age of six on 4 June 1850. His devastated mother left to take a cure, and William was left with his governor. His father found solace with a mistress.
Nevertheless, his warring parents managed to make up long enough for Sophie to fall pregnant for the third time. As the situation in the palace deteriorated, it was decided to send William to boarding school. his younger brother Alexander was born on 25 August 1851.
Despite Sophie’s despair of William’s leaving, the boarding school actually did him some good. Sophie’s visits to him were limited, and his behaviour seemed to improve. However, he wasn’t able to make many friends there. He left the school in 1854, and he then attended Leiden University for two years. By then, his parents were officially separated, but they would never divorce.
In 1861, William was introduced to Princess Anne Murat, a granddaughter of Caroline Bonaparte and Joachim Murat, but if a marriage was the intended goal, it never took place. Likewise, Princess Alice, daughter of Queen Victoria, was considered for him. Meanwhile, William joined the army, but it did little to repair the bad reputation he had already built up, and the relationship with his father was famously bad. The city of Paris had stolen William’s heart, and he would spend most his time there. Stories of his escapades there soon made the papers. He was mocked with cartoons and even received the nickname Prince Citron for his notoriously moody behaviour. His mother was soon writing to a friend that she did not expect her son ever to marry. His younger brother Alexander was known to be delicate and was also expected never to marry. Yet, King William did not want to think about the succession, according to Sophie. He was healthy enough and would probably live quite a long time. However, it was becoming a growing problem. King William’s only surviving brother Henry was childless and his elderly uncle Frederick had just two daughters. King William’s sister Sophie’s descendants would lead to a German prince becoming King of the Netherlands, something nobody wanted.
However, young William did have a bride in mind, but she wasn’t quite up to everyone’s standard. Her name was Anna Mathilda – Mattie – Countess of Limburg Stirum. His father would never allow a marriage to a Dutch noblewoman, only a woman of royal blood would do. And so William partied his worries away in Paris while going into huge debts. He would return to the Netherlands just once more, for the funeral of his mother. On 7 January 1879, King William remarried to Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont. Emma would never meet her stepson. In the late spring, the younger William became seriously ill with pneumonia. He died on 11 June 1879 in the arms of his chamberlain; he was still only 38 years old. His position as heir and the title of Prince of Orange passed to his younger brother Alexander. He would die almost five years later to the day, leaving the four-year-old Wilhelmina as the heir.