Childhood & Early Life
Mary was born on April 30, 1662 at St James’ Palace, London, to James, Duke of York and Anne Hyde. She was baptised in Anglican faith unlike her father who converted to catholic. She had a younger sister, Anne. Her uncle, Charles II was the King of England.
Since King Charles II had no legitimate children of his own, Mary, since young, became second in line to the throne, after her father. For most of her childhood, she and her sister Anne were raised at Richmond Palace by their governess. Occasionally, the girls met their parents and grandparents.
Mary was educated by private tutors. Moreover, she was trained in dance, music and drawing. Following the death of her mother, her father remarried Mary of Modena.
At a young age, Mary was betrothed to Protestant Stadtholder of Holland, William of Orange. She was unhappy with the alliance but had no choice but to accept. The marriage took place in 1677.
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Accession & Reign
Following the death of King Charles II in 1685, Mary’s father James, Duke of York served as the King of England, Ireland and Scotland. His accession was opposed by the former King’s illegitimate son, Monmouth who enforced an invasion but the latter was defeated, captured and executed.
King James’ controversial pro-catholic policies led to a constitutional crisis. Through the Declaration of Indulgence, he granted freedom of religion to Catholics by suspending acts of parliament by royal decree. This made King James highly unpopular amongst politicians and noblemen who turned in favour of Mary and William.
The birth of King James’ son, James Francis Edward created an alarm amongst the Protestants who feared the boy’s inheritance and virtual turning of the state from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. Adding to the woes was the gossip that the son born was not King James and Queen Mary’s child but a baby secretly smuggled by the King to assure a Catholic succession.
James’ opponent invited Mary and William to come to England with an army of their own and depose King James. Though William was reluctant of the move as it would make his wife Mary II powerful than him, he eventually agreed after Mary assured him that she would do all in her capacity to make him the King. She also assured him that she would abide by him and obey him
William, along with his army, reached the British shores in November 1688. He issued a declaration in which he claimed King James’ son as illegitimate and a ‘pretended Prince of Wales’. Fearing defeat, James fled to France, where he lived in exile until his death. Mary on the other hand was in a dilemma of whether to care for her father or dutifully support her husband.
Following James’s exile, a convention parliament was called for by William to determine the future course of action. As per the norms, Mary was the rightful hereditary heir to the throne who should succeed as the sole monarch of the British Kingdom. However, Mary did not wish to be a queen regnant. On the other hand, William wished to reign as a King and not be a mere consort to Queen Mary. Furthermore, his supporters claimed that a husband could not be subject to his wife.
The complexity of the situation to determine the ruler of the British Empire ended on February 13, 1689 when the Parliament passed the important Declaration of Right, according to which Parliament offered the Crown to William and Mary as joint sovereigns.
It was the second time in history that a joint monarchy ruled in the form of William and Mary. However, William’s powers were unrestricted, unlike in the earlier case. He would serve as the King even after his wife's death and exercised full regal powers in all matters. 8On April 11, 1689, William and Mary were crowned together by the Bishop of London at Westminster Abbey. A month later, they accepted the Scottish crown.
Under William and Mary’s reign, the Bill of Rights was introduced in the parliament in 1689. It became one of the most important constitutional documents as it limited sovereign powers. It forbade suspension of laws passed by the parliament, enforcing acts without parliamentary consent such as levying of taxes, infringing the right to petition, denying the right to bear arms to Protestant subjects, unduly interfering with parliamentary elections or inflicting cruel or unusual punishments. All in all, it reaffirmed parliamentary powers.
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The Bill of Rights also confirmed the line of succession to the British throne, according to which following the death of either William or Mary, the other would continue to reign. He/she would be followed by their children. Next in line of succession would be Anne and her children who would later be followed by any children William might have had from any subsequent marriage.
William directed military campaigns in Ireland and on the Continent during the decade of 1690. In his absence, Mary took over as the Queen regnant. During the little time that Mary took the political powers in her hand, she proved to be a firm ruler. She ordered arrest of her uncle, Henry Hyde for plotting against her and William and even dismissed the influential John Churchill on similar charges.
A devout Protestant, Mary was deeply religious. She attended prayers twice a day and participated in the affairs of the Church. Matters concerning ecclesiastical patronage by and large passed through her.
Personal Life & Legacy
At the age of fifteen, Mary was engaged to William of Orange, her cousin and fourth in line to the throne. The proposed alliance was initially unapproved by King Charles II, who wanted Mary to marry Dauphin Louis, heir to the French throne. However, he later agreed to it after pressure from the Parliament.
Mary and William were married on November 4, 1677 in St James’ Palace by Bishop Henry Compton. She became a devoted wife and was popular within the Dutch circle due to her amicable personality.
Mary underwent a miscarriage early in her marriage. This incident probably impaired her ability to have children and thus, the couple remained childless.
Mary was a healthy and fit woman. However, this stability was marred by the infliction of smallpox in late 1694. She breathed her last on December 28, 1694. William was devastated by her death.
Her body lay in state before being buried at Westminster Abbey on March 5, 1695. Her funeral was attended by members of both the Houses.