William's Commanders: Hans William Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
William Bentinck was born into a well-known Dutch noble family with close links with the House of Orange.
From a young age he was friends with the future William III. When the Prince of Orange fell ill with smallpox, William Bentinck helped nurse him back to health. This resulted in him becoming a close advisor to the Prince for the rest of his life.
Bentinck was a key player in the Glorious Revolution, negotiating with German Princes to secure support, raising money, ensuring political support for the ‘invasion’ of the British Isles, and supervising the implementation of established plans. For his advice and support during the constitutional and royal change, Bentinck was created Earl of Portland.
Although more noted for his diplomatic skill - he ensured that none of William’s Dutch or German opponents took advantage of the fact that he was in the British Isles - Bentinck was also a commander in the field.
At the Battle of the Boyne he was given charge of a party of cavalry and, after the war in Ireland, he fought at the Battle of Landen (1693), where he was wounded, and later at the Siege of Namur in 1695. However, it was on the eve of the Battle of the Boyne that he was involved in a very famous incident.
William III and his army arrived on the north bank of the River Boyne on Monday, 30 June 1690. Some of his commanders were keen to launch an immediate attack but the Prince of Orange wanted to see how the enemy had set out their defences.
After a Council of War, William and his main advisors spent some time reviewing the Jacobite defences from the northern shore of the river. Seeing this, a party of Jacobites fired cannons from a hidden position. The resulting shots killed some soldiers near to William and injured him in the shoulder.
Bentinck was one of those who rushed to the King’s aid and tied a handkerchief around his wound. This incident would later be called ‘The Fortunate Escape of William, Prince of Orange’ and is depicted on the backboard of a chair, carved in 1692, for the Earl of Portland’s estate. This chair is on display in the Museum of Orange Heritage, Schomberg House, Belfast.
He remained a key advisor of William’s after the war in Ireland and played a leading part in foiling a Jacobite plot to kill the King in 1696. In return for his support he received many gifts and land grants from the King, actions which created considerable suspicion and envy from within the political Establishment.
He resigned most of his positions in 1699, but remained a significant figure until his death in 1709. Return to 12th at Home