The staunch royalist Willem III depicted on the 10 guilder gold coin
Born in 1817, Willem III succeeded his father as King of the Netherlands in 1849. With a military background, Willem was a simple man, a conservative figure that loved the army and disapproved of any limitations to royal power. Whilst he was popular with the common person, the more liberal layers of Dutch society were less fond of him.
Disregarding King Willem’s personality, what really marked his reign was the Netherlands’ rapid economic expansion from 1850 to 1900. Prior to the mid-19th century, the Netherlands had been plagued by several economic crises, epidemics and natural disasters that had left it somewhat backward compared to other countries of Europe. This, however, changed during Willem’s reign. By 1890, industrial production had almost doubled from the levels of the 1820s, and, coupled with reforms that set out to boost exports, the country became highly specialised in agricultural products – an industrial hallmark that remains to this day. In order to transport the goods, more than 2,000 km of railway track were laid, ports were built and vast canal networks were constructed. By the end of the century, the Netherlands had recaptured lost ground, so King Willem’s reign became firmly associated with a favourable period in the country’s history. Willem ruled until his death in 1890, leaving the throne to this daughter and future queen, Wilhelmina.