The reign of King William III and his cousin and wife Queen Mary II of England began in 1689. When Mary died of smallpox in 1694 an inconsolable William had fainted at her bedside. He continued to rule alone but was far from popular. A contemporary commented that: ‘He put on some appearance of application – but he hated business of all sorts – and hated talking and all house games even more. This put him on a perpetual course of hunting, to which he seemed to give himself up beyond any man I ever knew’.
It was in February 1702, William’s horse stumbled on a molehill at Hampton Court and he was thrown, breaking his collarbone. His health, which had never been strong, deteriorated rapidly and he died of pneumonia Wednesday, 8th March 1702.
When courtiers undressed the king they found he was wearing Mary’s wedding ring and a lock of her hair close to his heart.
William had no heir and his death brought an end to the House of Orange. The supporters of James II, who had died in exile the year before, did not mourn him and toasted the mole who had made his horse trip as ‘the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat’.