This post is dedicated to Mary, a controversial, intelligent, beautiful, ill-fated, yet beloved Queen, died on this day the 28th of December, 1694. She was only thirty-two years old.
I say that she was controversial because her reign was, and still is, a subject of controversy. You see, William and Mary were invited to take the throne by the Immortal Seven – seven of the most influential men in the kingdom – away from Mary’s father, King James II. Ultimately, it boiled down to a question of religion: James II, his Queen consort, Mary of Modena, and their children, were Catholics. Mary and William were Protestants (the latter a Calvinist). There were those that did not accept the new sovereigns, and so we began to see a division – those who supported the old reign were Jacobites, and the followers of William and Mary were Williamites.
Mary had had a sad time of it. She was forced into marrying her older cousin William when she was fifteen, back in 1677. He was in no way like most of the courtiers she had known, who were usually flamboyant, foppish, and very handsome. William was incredibly serious, taciturn, reserved, and not very physically attractive…at first sight.
Fortunately, she fell deeply in love with her husband, who was actually a pretty good man once a person got to know him. Sadly, the one thing Mary wanted more than anything else in her life – children – was denied her. Soon after their marriage, Mary became pregnant. Everything seemed fine until an unfortunate desire to be with her husband made her travel to Breda (near where he was encamped with his army) and she suffered a terrible miscarriage.
Things in their relationship went from good to bad, for she had at least one other miscarriage, and then again thought she was pregnant a third time, but wasn’t. William then turned to another woman, Betty Villiers, a lady-in-waiting and a supposed friend to Mary. Relations between the married couple became strained and Mary began to put on weight, in much the same manner as her mother, Anne Hyde, before her. Mary became increasingly lonely.
Though she had this emotional betrayal to deal with, Mary was very happy in her adoptive country of the Dutch Republic. She loved the people, and they loved her in return, and she was generally happy with her situation. Everything changed in 1685. King Charles II, William and Mary’s uncle, had died without legitimate heirs, and the throne passed to his younger brother James. Shortly after he acceded to the throne, Charles’s oldest illegitimate son, James, Duke of Monmouth, rose up in rebellion against him – he lost the war and his head.
That her father had retaliated with such cruelty seems to have impacted Mary in her relations with him, laying the groundwork for their future, terrible rift. Three years into his reign, James had irritated and alienated too many important people in his court that something had to be done. When his queen, Mary, gave birth to a son, the Catholic succession was ensured, and this was the final straw. Rumours abounded that the child was a changeling, and the infamous warming pan baby myth arose – even Mary seems to have believed it (fuelled on by her sister Anne’s suspicions). To cut a long story short, this was when William invaded England and, unlike Monmouth before him, he was successful, and James eventually fled after his family into exile in France. They called this invasion the Glorious Revolution of 1688/89.
William and Mary’s time upon the throne was not fun. First of all, Mary had deep troubles about usurping her father’s throne – she loved him very much, and she was plagued by guilt. She was torn between duty to her father, her husband, and her religion. As her love of her faith and her husband were so strong – these outweighed the devotion she had for her father. Also, once married, a woman had to support her husband first and foremost.
William and Mary had no end of troubles to deal with – situations and circumstances which they were never supposed to have had. Mary pretty much ruled on her own, though she often wrote to William asking for his opinion and guidance on matters. She was a very capable ruler whilst William was absent for he had to constantly go off to protect their throne. He was constantly engaged in battle against Jacobite forces – notably in Ireland. He decidedly beat James’s army at the Battle of the Boyne, but later the Glen Coe Massacre in Scotland dealt a terrible blow to his reign.
Fast forward to December of 1694, Kensington Palace: Mary awoke to find the rash of smallpox on her arms. She had never had the disease, unlike most of her family. She began to burn letters and pages of her diary and she put her affairs in order. William was summoned and he came immediately. She was given the standard horrible treatment by the physicians (sometimes the treatment made things worse for the patient!) and she seemed better. She could eat and was sitting up in bed. The doctors then thought that she had contracted measles and not smallpox, so some people were greatly relieved. Unfortunately, the pustules on her skin did not pop but sank into her flesh – a very bad sign indeed, for this proved that she had smallpox, but worse, she had hemorrhagic smallpox – the almost always fatal strain of the disease.
The time had come.
Mary was on her deathbed and she spoke to William, who had been sleeping on a camp bed by her side for days, and in the depths of the night, she died.
William was inconsolable. He, normally so outwardly cold and unfeeling, broke down into torrents of tears, sobbing and fainted. He would even break down and cry at the mere mention of her name. Matthew Prior observed this and said,
the marble weeps!
Many people thought he was going to die soon after. But he did not. He finally broke up with Betty and the rest of his life was miserable – he became a depressive, irritable, drunkard with worse health than ever before. He had truly loved Mary as he had loved no one else. Life was not the same without her. At her death, William said:
“from being the happiest of men I shall now be the miserablest creature on earth”.
William III died at Kensington Palace in 1702.
I have admired Mary for many years now, and that is another reason for the time it is taking me to write the novel about her and William – I want to do their story justice and be as historically accurate as is possible. She is so often overlooked in history, and I think that is terrible. Mary was, at the time, compared to Elizabeth I – no mean feat!
And so I hope you’ll join me – on this day – the 319th anniversary of her death, to remember the loving woman, and the great, though reluctant, Queen that she was.
Here is the moving funeral music composed for Mary II by Henry Purcell: