Mary II (1662–1694)
Mary II (1662–1694)
English princess who took over the throne from her father and ruled successfully as queen of England . Name variations: Mary Stewart or Stuart. Reigned 1689–1694; born on April 30, 1662, at St. James's Palace, London, England; died of smallpox on December 28, 1694, at Kensington Palace, London; interred at Westminster Abbey; daughter of James, duke of York, later James II, king of England (r. 1685–1688), and Anne Hyde (1638–1671); sister of Anne (1665–1714), queen of England (r. 1702–1707), queen of Scotland (r. 1702–1707), queen of Britain (r. 1702–1714); educated under Protestant guidelines, apart from parents; married William III, prince of Orange (r. 1672–1702), later William III, king of England (r. 1689–1702), on November 4, 1677; children: three who died stillborn.
Spent twelve years in Holland at Dutch royal court (1677–89); became queen of England after father was deposed by English Parliament (1688); acted as regent for William on four separate occasions (1690–94).
On a cold, windswept morning in March 1694, a large and lengthy procession of mourners gathered at Whitehall Palace. As the snow began to fall, they followed an open purple-draped chariot drawn by six horses onto the street. Over 500 members of Parliament as well as various city and court officials walked behind the hearse that carried the body of their much-beloved queen, Mary II. Upon reaching Westminster Abbey, where the funeral ode by Henry Purcell filled the hall, Mary Stuart was finally laid to rest.
Although she died queen of England, Mary Stuart's birth at St. James's Palace on April 30, 1662, was neither auspicious nor welcome. Her parents, James, duke of York (the future King James II of England), and Anne Hyde , had been married for over two years, and Anne Hyde had not yet produced the long-hoped-for male heir. The princess, who was named after her paternal aunt, Mary of Orange , and her great-great grandmother, Mary Stuart , queen of Scots, soon became her father's favorite. More significantly, Mary became second in line to the English throne when her only surviving brother died in 1671. Anne Hyde died that same year, just one month short of her daughter Mary's ninth birthday.
Mary's life was complicated by the politics surrounding the English crown. In 1660, her uncle, Charles II (1660–1685), was restored to the English throne, which the Stuarts had lost in the English Civil War (1642–49). Because Charles and his queen Catherine of Braganza were unable to provide an heir, Mary's father, as duke of York, was next in line for the throne. But James had converted to Catholicism, and Charles II feared his influence over his daughters. Thus, Charles made sure that Mary and her only surviving sister Anne (1665–1714) were declared wards of the state. They were given a separate lodging at Richmond Palace where they were raised by a Protestant governess, Lady Frances Villiers , and two Anglican chaplains. For the rest of her life, Mary remained a constant and devoted member of the Church of England.
Mary's early education consisted of accomplishments that were typical for a royal princess; she was tutored in dancing, singing, drawing, and needlework. Unfortunately, the academic component of her education was not as comprehensive. She did not learn Latin, Greek, or history, and her spelling and arithmetic remained rudimentary. She was, however, given a strong grounding in French and religious instruction. In appearance, the princess was tall and slender. Her oval-shaped face, with clear complexion and almond-shaped eyes, was surrounded by dark curls. Fond of the latest fashions, she carried herself gracefully, with a majestic air.
Mary's childhood companions at Richmond were the daughters of Charles II's officers, including Frances Apsley , with whom Mary developed an intense and intimate friendship. When Mary's father married his second wife, 15-year-old Mary of Modena , in 1673, she, too, became a close companion. Like all royal princesses, however, Mary was not allowed to remain a child for long, and plans were soon being made for her marriage. The choice of her husband was guided by politics rather than emotion and rested on William III of Orange, the son of Mary's aunt (Mary of Orange) and Prince William II of Orange.
Prince William III was Hereditary Stadholder and military leader of the Dutch United Provinces and spent most of his early life maintaining Dutch independence against the encroachments of the French king, Louis XIV. While William's English uncle, Charles II, had attempted to remain on friendly terms with the French king by engaging in a trade war with Holland, by 1674 it became apparent that Charles' pro-French policy was neither popular nor financially advantageous. Overtures to William were made and in February 1674, England and Holland signed the Peace of Westminster. Although a marriage alliance was suggested at this time, it was not finalized until three years later.
Historical opinions about William's character differ, but he is generally considered to have been reserved, somewhat humorless, and very formal. In appearance, he was a stark contrast to his tall, pretty, 15-year-old fiancée. Four inches shorter than Mary, and 12 years older, William of Orange was asthmatic, thin, with a beak-like nose and poor posture. Although he was next in line to the English throne after James, duke of York, and his children, William's interest in a matrimonial alliance with England was based upon English military and naval support rather than any personal ambitions for the English throne. The marriage served political and diplomatic purposes while assisting William in his continued attempts to prevent French dominance in Holland. When Mary was told of the marriage, she wept for two days before accepting her father's decision. Nevertheless, the marriage was solemnized on November 4, 1677. Fifteen days later, Mary and William left for Holland. For the next 12 years, Mary lived a quiet and reserved life in Holland.
Although initially homesick for England, Mary quickly grew to love her new home and was rewarded with love from the Dutch people. Over the years, she gradually came to cherish her husband, although the early years of her marriage were not happy. Mary suffered from frequent bouts of illness as well as an inability to conceive. More seriously, within three years of their marriage William was having an affair with one of Mary's former childhood companions and ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Villiers . Confronted, William refused to give up his mistress, but he did make considerable efforts to keep the affair as secret as possible.
It is generally considered that Mary "grew up" in Holland. She became more religiously devout and broadened her education to include more diverse areas such as mathematics, science, and architecture. She also settled into a daily routine of walking, reading, painting, and needlework. Her usual residence was the "House in the Wood" near The Hague, although she and William drafted plans for a new palace at Het Loo. Mary had a fondness for flowers, and she soon began to amass a growing collection of rare plants and botanical catalogues. She also began a collection of Dutch china.
In 1679, James, Mary of Modena, and Princess Anne visited Mary at The Hague. While the visit was a pleasant one, her family had come in the wake of political crisis in England. In 1678, a plot to assassinate Charles II and place James on the English throne was discovered. Although James had played no part in the affair, anti-Catholic sentiment in England was rife. This visit to his Protestant daughter and son-in-law was intended to diffuse the tension.
Over the next several years, concerted, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempts were made to exclude James from the line of succession. Consequently, when Charles II died in February 1685, James ascended to the throne peacefully. While the early years of his reign caused little controversy, James II soon began alienating much of the political community not only for his increasing favoritism towards Catholics, but for his tendencies to practice arbitrary rule.
In addition, James began to apply pressure upon Mary in two of the most important areas of her life. In 1687, James began a correspondence with his daughter in which he urged her to divorce William, convert to Catholicism, and marry a Catholic prince. This was the first of the divided loyalties that Mary was forced to negotiate. As an obedient daughter, she was upset not only by her father's attempts to convert her, but also by his attempts to test her loyalty as a wife. Rejecting her father's proposals, Mary remained steadfast in her adherence to both her husband and her religion. Mary's unwavering loyalty to Protestantism had also been apparent three years earlier in 1685 when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, the official toleration of French Protestants. When exiled French Huguenots arrived in Holland, she set up schools for them and continued to support them in whatever ways she could.
There was a union of their thoughts, as well as of their persons and a concurring in the same designs, as well as in the same interests. He was to conquer enemies, and she was to gain friends. She prepared and suggested what he executed.
—Bishop Gilbert Burnet
The political situation in England worsened, and in 1688 matters came to a head. On June 10, Mary of Modena gave birth to a boy to whom popular reaction was decidedly cool. A rumor circulated soon after the birth that the baby had been smuggled into the lying-in chamber in a warming pan, and, although there was no historical truth to the story, the birth precipitated a political crisis. A male heir would now take precedence over Mary and her sister, and, fearing that there would be an endless succession of Catholic kings, a group of parliamentarians sent a letter of invitation to William on June 30 urging him to come to England. Mary's support for her husband's expedition was based upon her belief that the baby was, indeed, a replacement. Similarly, although William insisted that he did not want to usurp the throne but rather protect England's laws, liberties, and religion, both Mary and William believed that James II was guilty of a fraud that represented the continuation of a Catholic succession.
Mary's participation in what became known as the "Glorious Revolution" led to contrasting imagery of her both during, and after, the Revolution. The Whigs, those parliamentarians who supported the Revolution, used propaganda that portrayed Mary as the good dutiful wife. The supporters of James II, who later came to be known as Jacobites, characterized Mary as the betraying daughter who broke the fifth commandment by dishonoring her father. William fared no better in Jacobite propaganda. He was portrayed as a cruel, negligent husband who used his wife to obtain power. In her own memoirs, however, Mary characterized herself as a reluctant queen, and she continued to feel guilt about the fate and safety of her father for the rest of her life. Nevertheless, Mary did not act alone.
In November 1688, when William landed in England with a force of 15,000 men, James II's fate was sealed. The king fled to France where he hoped to receive financial and military support from Louis XIV. However, when Parliament met in February 1689, it was declared that since James II had left the country, he had by implication abdicated and the throne was therefore vacant. The birth of his heir was conveniently ignored. While it was acknowledged that Mary's claim to the crown was the stronger, she refused to accept the throne unless her husband shared the royal title with her. It has been argued that William purposely delayed her arrival in England until his own position became stronger. Yet, Mary admitted publicly that she never wanted to rule alone. Similarly, she did not believe that women should govern independently.
The conflicting feelings that Mary felt about taking the throne from her father were apparent when she finally arrived in England on February 12, 1689. While happy to see her husband and her sister, she claimed that after this meeting, she was "guilty of a great sin. I let myself go on too much and the devil immediately took his advantage; the world filled my mind, and left but little room for good thoughts." The following day, Mary and William accepted the crown which they would share jointly, with administrative power vested in William. Over the next several years, several pieces of legislation were passed in order to legitimize the Revolution and set down in law the relationship between crown and country.
Mary remained reluctant to take on the reins of government. She noted that "my
heart is not made for a kingdom and my inclination leads me to a retired life, so that I have need of the resignation and self denial in the world, to bear with such a condition as I am now in." Similarly, she was unused to the noisy and, for her, more decadent life at the English court. Consequently, in the early years of her reign as queen of England, Mary was not very involved in governmental affairs. William, on the other hand, had to tread carefully as he was not immediately accepted by the English people.
In addition, the early years of their reign were not peaceful. Rebellions erupted in Scotland and Ireland, and from April 1689 England was once again at war with France. When it became apparent that William would have to leave England in order to lead an army against France, Mary's reluctance to govern was overlooked. In June 1690, Parliament passed the Regency Act which allowed Mary to rule both in her name and William's when he was away. From 1690 to 1694, Mary reigned alone on four separate occasions. Although she gave up her power whenever William returned, it is generally concluded that she handled these periods of regency with political skill and strength. During this period, England continued to have problems with war, naval mismanagement, and frequent threats of invasion and counter-revolution. Mary, however, rose to the challenge and won over not only many members of Parliament, but the hearts of the English people as well. Her own self-confidence increased, and many people came to admire and respect her.
When William returned from his campaigns, Mary happily gave up governing and took to redecorating several royal palaces, which included planning and cultivating the royal gardens. She continued to collect and promote Dutch porcelain. Her love of clothing and jewelry did not abate over the years, and, whenever possible, she gave fancy dress balls where her grace and beauty charmed the royal guests. Mary's activities as queen of England were not confined to the ballroom. She championed various social, religious, and moral reforms. Since she was not only devout but rigorously educated in Protestant doctrine, William gave her control over appointments to ecclesiastical offices.
While Mary's relations with the government and the English populace were improving, her relationship with her sister Anne was steadily deteriorating. In 1692, matters came to a head when William refused to give command of the English forces in Flanders to John Churchill, duke of Marlborough. Fearing a coup, he also banished Marlborough from court. Since Princess Anne was not only Marlborough's patron but the best friend of his wife, Sarah Jennings Churchill , she took the duke's dismissal as a personal slight. In addition, Anne was engaging in secret correspondence with her exiled father. Refusing to give up her friend, Anne left the court. Mary deeply regretted this alienation from her sister, but her loyalty to William over-rode all other familial commitments.
When William returned from his last campaign in November 1694, the queen fell ill. It soon became apparent that she was suffering from a particularly virulent attack of smallpox. Realizing that her death was imminent, Mary became very calm and began to inventory her jewels and debts. William, on the other hand, became increasingly distraught. When her illness took a turn for the worse, he set up a bed in her sickroom where he sat by her side day and night. Her condition steadily deteriorated and on December 28, 1694, Mary II, queen of England, died at the age of 32. Upon her death, MPs cried openly, the people of England were grief-stricken, and William was in a state of shock and depression.
Although Mary had wanted a simple funeral, this last wish was not granted. Shortly after her death, her body was embalmed and lay in state for over eight weeks. On March 5, she was finally laid to rest in Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey.
Chapman, Hester. Mary II, Queen of England. London: Jonathan Cape, 1953.
Hamilton, Elizabeth. William's Mary: A Biography of Mary II. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1972.
van der Zee, Henri, and Barbara van der Zee. William and Mary. London: Macmillan, 1973.
Maccubbin, R.P., and M. Hamilton-Phillips. The Age of William III and Mary II: Power, Politics and Patronage, 1688–1702. Williamsburg: College of William and Mary, 1989.
Margaret McIntyre , Instructor in Women's History, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada