It’s rare when a country invites a foreigner to invade their country and supplant their leader. However, this happened to England in 1688, when James II’s unpopularity was such that an invasion by the Dutch leader William of Orange seemed preferable. The key figure in this “Glorious Revolution,” however, was William’s wife, Mary. The daughter of King James II, she played a crucial role in overthrowing him and seating herself and her husband on the throne of England. So how did this power couple work? Who were they on an individual level? Find out more about them below!
William and Mary Facts
43. New Record
William remains to be the last English King who won his crown by force. This is likely a record which he will keep for the rest of history—unless Prince Harry mounts a coup against his brother William in ten or twelve years.
42. Her Birthday
Mary was born on April 30, 1662 in London’s St. James’ Palace. At the time of her birth, her father was only the Duke of York, as his older brother Charles II was still King of England, Scotland, and Ireland. This was also before her father converted to Catholicism, so Mary was baptized as an Anglican.
41. Interesting Namesake
Mary was named after her great-great-grandmother, Mary Queen of Scots. Thankfully, that was all she took from her ancestor, as opposed to the Queen of Scot’s tragic life and cruel execution.
40. We Start Counting from Scratch Then?
Technically, William wasn’t the king of the Netherlands. His official title was Stadtholder and the area he governed was known as the Dutch Republic. His title has been compared to that of a steward or a head of state, rather than a traditional monarch. The Netherlands would not have a king until William I proclaimed himself as such in 1815.
39. Isolated Existence
Despite her father and uncle’s embrace of Catholicism, Mary and her sister Anne were brought up as Anglicans in Richmond Palace. Mary was brought up by private tutors and a governess, rarely seeing her parents.
38. Custody Wars
William’s father, William II of the Dutch Republic, had died of smallpox just eight days before his son was born. According to William II’s will, he named his wife, Mary, the guardian of their son. However, the will hadn’t been signed before William II died, and was thus declared void. William would spend his childhood between his mother, his paternal grandmother, Amalia, and his uncle, Frederick William of Brandenburg.
37. Forced to Grow Up Fast
The position of stadtholder in the Dutch Republic was not hereditary, and so William had to fight for the chance to inherit his father’s position. From when he first reached manhood, William entered into several years of political maneuvering, compromises, and a hard-fought campaign to become raised to the title of Captain-General of the Dutch Army.
36. Dodged a Bullet There!
By the time that Mary was engaged to William of Orange, her father was a staunch Catholic and disliked the match. His brother King Charles II also took issue with the idea and much preferred the French Dauphin Louis, who was a Catholic. It was only the protests of Parliament and the anti-Catholic public opinion which made Charles II back down and approve the marriage to go forward. As for Louis, he would die before his father, Louis XIV, and would never sit on the throne of France.
35. Take Notes, George R. R. Martin
You might be wondering how William ended up going from fighting the English to marrying one of their princesses. Given the tempestuous state that all these European powers were living in at the time, William thought he could bring England into the fold as an ally of the Dutch by marrying Mary. For his part, Charles II wanted to exploit a marriage like that in the war which was still going on between the Dutch, English, and French. William, however, insisted that the matter of war and the matter of his marriage be treated as separate issues.
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34. The Sad Bride
Reportedly, when Mary was told that she would be marrying William, “she wept all that afternoon and all the following day.” Mary was reported to weep again during her wedding in St. James’ Palace.
This might be evidence for a certain theory which exists concerning Mary—more on that later—though it’s worth pointing out that she would later be described as being completely devoted to William, so it seems she managed to make things work.
33. Sun King? I'm More of a Night Owl
If William ever had a mortal enemy, it was King Louis XIV of France. In fact, Louis used that very term to describe William! Despite this animosity, the Dutch and the French tried to maintain a wary peace in 1678, but the French continued to persecute non-Catholics, specifically the Huguenots, which led to many of them fleeing to the Dutch Republic. William, meanwhile, joined an anti-French coalition known as the League of Augsburg. While the coalition included Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, William tried to have James II bring England into the League, but James’ Catholicism meant that plan never worked.
32. Tough Trip?
The downside of William and Mary’s marriage in November 1677 was the fact that traveling back to the Netherlands proved an utter chore. The winter weather delayed their voyage for two weeks, and even after they made it across the English Channel, it was impossible to sail into the Rotterdam because the harbor was locked in ice.
The royal couple had to land the village of Ter Heijde instead, finally making it to the Dutch capital of the Hague in mid-December—just in time for Christmas, at least!
31. We Are Not Amused
During James II’s reign, Mary and William protested against his inaction when Louis XIV persecuted the Huguenots because they weren’t Catholics. Both publicly expressed their disappointment with James’ policies, which included the kind of religious tolerance towards Catholics that meant overruling Parliamentary legislation.
30. Making the Best of It
Due to William’s frequent military campaigns, Mary was often left alone in the Netherlands. This led her family to accuse William of being a cruel and neglectful man, and considering the religious differences, it’s safe to say that family reunions were very awkward.
As for Mary, though, she was popular back in Britain for being married to such a prominent Protestant royal family as the Dutch one, and the Dutch population was won over by her “animated and personable nature.”
29. The Last Straw
Before 1685, it was understood that James II’s successor was to be his eldest child, Mary. However, in 1685, James’ wife (and Mary’s stepmother) gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward Stuart. This aroused serious concerns in England, who feared a Catholic dynasty taking charge of England once again. Nobles and politicians began suggesting that William and Mary invade England and usurp James II.
28. Cruel Tragedy
Despite accusations of William neglecting Mary, the young princess was pregnant just months into the marriage. Tragically, Mary would lose the baby in a miscarriage. It’s been widely speculated that this miscarriage caused Mary to become unable to bear children. Mary herself would be haunted by her lack of children for the rest of her life.
27. With Your Permission
For his part, William wanted to avoid a disastrous war which would not only leave him facing a hostile British population but would also leave the Dutch Republic open to attack. As a result, he insisted on an official invitation publicly made from the leading figures in English society before he actually committed to an invasion. Additionally, William waited until the French military forces were committed to war against the Germans and Italians.
26. The Die is Cast
William’s desired invitation came on June 30, 1688, from a group of high-ranking Englishmen later known as the “Immortal Seven.” William’s preparations to invade England were known about as early as September of that year, but the planned invasion didn’t occur until November when storms delayed the October invasion for weeks.
25. Correcting the Past’s Mistakes
In what can only be described as a massive coincidence, the Dutch Armada which invaded England in 1688 occurred a century to the year after the Spanish Armada had tried—and failed—to conquer England. It just goes to show that if you want to conquer England, you make sure they’re okay with it first!
24. Move Over, Khaleesi
The army which William led to invade England consisted of “250 carrier ships and 60 fishing boats [carrying] 35,000 men, including 11,000 foot and 4,000 horse soldiers.” However, William’s wife Mary was not part of the Armada. She stayed behind in the Netherlands and did not come to England until the following year.
23. Successful Conquest
William’s invasion of England was largely less bloody than one would expect. James II saw the writing on the wall after an initial attempt at resistance. Many English nobles immediately declared their support for William, and even more officers in the army defected to his side. James II tried to flee but was brought back to London to face William when he arrived.
However, William had no intention of making James a martyr; he actually wanted James to voluntarily leave England, which would look a lot better from a PR perspective than if he executed or banished James himself. James took the opportunity to leave, living in France for the rest of his life. He and his family would continue to provoke trouble in Great Britain, particularly in Scotland, with the Jacobite risings which occurred in 1689, 1715, 1719, and 1745.
22. Familial Disloyalty
In private, Mary maintained a conflicted view on the Glorious Revolution, and she was torn between loyalty to her father and her husband. However, she publicly kept up an unflinching support for William. This led to some criticism of her apathy towards her father’s fate.
For his part, the supplanted James II harshly condemned his daughter’s betrayal, conveniently forgetting that he’d sat back and done nothing when that same daughter was being threatened by French forces encroaching on Dutch territory.
21. Girl Crush?
Starting when she was about nine up until her marriage, Mary maintained a very close correspondence with her maid of honor, Frances Apsley. Historians have often speculated that, based on the content of her letters, Mary may have had a romantic desire for Apsley. If such is the case, Apsley did not share those feelings, as her letters were far more formal in their content. The question of whether Mary was bisexual remains inconclusive.
20. Boy Crush?
Additionally, there have been theories around the possibility that William may not necessarily have been heterosexual. These mostly stemmed from Jacobite sympathizers who wanted to smear William’s reputation, but court rumors of the time also argued that William’s lack of mistresses and his close relationship with a few male courtiers—specifically Hans Willem Bentinck and Arnold Joost van Keppel—could very well be evidence that he was bisexual or gay. Historians remain divided on the matter and will likely never be able to prove it one way or the other.
19. Who’s the Boss?
When William and Mary had secured their new position in England, there remained a serious issue as to whether both Mary and William should be crowned, or Mary should be the ruling queen with her husband as a consort. William, naturally, insisted on being crowned King, but Mary supported this action as well. She maintained that she, having sworn to be his faithful and devoted wife in a church, would like to maintain those vows even as a monarch.
18. King Billy the Third
Conveniently, William wasn’t just William III of England, but also William III of the Netherlands as well! In Scotland, he was technically William II, however, but his Dutch and English monikers have taken precedence in the history books—no doubt Highlander fans are weeping right now.
17. Working Wife
As before, William was often away on military campaigns, leading Mary to act as the ruling monarch in his stead. Assisted by a Cabinet Council, Mary proved a very able administrator. However, she personally disliked ruling, and when William was home, she completely retreated from power and allowed him to take charge.
16. Hey Shorty!
According to sources, Mary was actually the taller of the two of them. She stood 5’11” tall, far above the average for women in those days, while William was less than 5’7” tall. We can only assume that he would beg her not to wear heels when they went out in public!
15. Farewell to the Queen
In 1694, Mary contracted smallpox, and became bedridden. She insisted that anyone who had not had the disease to stay away as she feared spreading her sickness onto others. She died on December 28, at the tragically young age of 32. Despite celebrations amongst the Jacobite supporters, she was mourned on a national level as a competent and beloved ruler.
14. And Then There Was One
By all accounts, William was devastated by his wife’s death, with one record describing him as “the miserablest [sic] creature on earth.” He never married again, spending the rest of his life as the sole monarch of England. However, his popularity in England never recovered following Mary’s death.
13. Trouble Ahead
With William in charge of England, he had it join the League of Augsburg, which was renamed the Grand Alliance. William would spend years fighting France with mixed success. It wasn’t just direct conflict, however; the powers of Europe hotly disputed the throne of the Spanish Empire, which was set to be vacated when its childless ruler died. The arguments over who would inherit that powerful throne would lead to the War of Spanish Succession after William’s death.
12. Farewell to the King
In 1702, William was thrown from his horse and suffered a broken collarbone. He developed pneumonia during his recovery process and died on March 8 that year, at 51 years of age. He was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey beside his wife, Mary. Mary’s sister Anne became the Queen regent following his passing.
11. The Last of His Name
Because William died childless, he was the last ruler of the Dutch House of Orange. His title of stadtholder was suspended by the five Dutch provinces which he had ruled.
10. And Starring…
William and Mary have been portrayed several times on screen and on stage. Mary has been played by such actresses as Rebecca Front, Victoria Wood, and Lisa Daniely, while William has been portrayed by Corin Redgrave, Bernard Hill, Thom Hoffman, and Laurence Olivier.
9. Boyne Brawl
One region which hotly resisted the invasion of William and Mary was Ireland and its predominantly Catholic population. In 1690, James II traveled to Ireland with French support in an attempt to get his throne back. On July 1, James’ force of more than 21,000 French and Irish troops faced 36,000 troops of various backgrounds, commanded by William.
The Battle of the Boyne was a defining moment, as both leaders were seasoned military commanders, and though William’s forces were better armed and more numerous, James still had a chance to reverse history and reconquer England.
8. Well… That was Anticlimactic
Surprisingly, the Battle of the Boyne was not the bloodbath which one would have expected it to be. This was partly because William, out of respect for Mary, did not want to harm her father, despite facing him in battle. The total casualties numbered around 2,000 men dead, with the Jacobite forces defeated.
In the aftermath, William would offer pardons to any Jacobite soldier who surrendered, though he punished their leaders. James, meanwhile, went on the run again back to France, presumably snapping “Don’t ask!” whenever someone inquired how he’d done.
7. Well, This Took a Turn…
Ironically, it was William’s conquering of England which would lead to the diminishing power of the Dutch, whose Bank of Amsterdam had been an important economic organization in the 17th century. During William’s reign, the Whig government in Parliament set up the Bank of England, in imitation of the Bank of Amsterdam. This Bank of England was granted a Royal Charter by William in 1694. This would lead to England rising in the 18th century and eventually defeating France as the primary European power.
6. His Birthday
William was born in Den Haag (The Hague) on November 4, 1650. Mary and William were actually first cousins. William’s mother had been the sister to Charles II and James II. To make it extra Freudian, her name had also been Mary.
5. Not Cool, Dad
In 1671, Mary’s mother, Anne Hyde, tragically lost her life. Mary was only nine years old at the time. Her father, meanwhile, would get remarried two years later to Mary of Modena, a devout Catholic woman who was just four years older than Mary herself!
4. One Nation’s Disaster is a Man’s Moment of Glory
In Dutch history, 1672 is known as the Rampjaar, which loosely translated means “disaster year.” At the time, the Dutch Republic was in a war with France and also England, which resulted in both nations, along with a few other allies on mainland Europe, to invade the Dutch Republic.
Despite being hopelessly outnumbered, the Dutch managed to inflict several victories on the invaders. Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter managed to defeat the combined English and French fleets at the Battle of Solebay in June of that year, while William had the dikes opened to flood a part of the Netherlands in final effort to hold the invading army at bay.
In this time of crisis, William became stadtholder on July 4 at the age of 22. Just a day later, William was confronted by Lord Arlington, who had a message from William’s uncle, Charles II. If William would capitulate the Dutch Republic to England and France, he would be made Prince of Holland. William bravely refused, prompting Arlington to threaten William with the destruction of the Dutch Republic.
In a reply that has become famous in history, William declared “There is one way to avoid this: to die defending it in the last ditch.” He would go on to successfully defend the Netherlands across two more years of fighting, securing his position as stadtholder. You can’t say he didn’t earn it!
3. Mr. White vs Mr. Orange
One sinister side to William’s ascendance to power in the Dutch Republic was an incident involving his rivals, the De Witt family. One of its members, Johan, had been instrumental in preventing the rise of William to the position held by his father.
In August 1672, William released a letter from Charles II of England, Scotland, and Ireland to the general public. It stated that De Witt’s aggressive policies, as well as those shared by the rest of his family and followers, had prompted the English and French invasion of the Netherlands.
Days later, De Witt and his brother were lynched by a mob. It’s impossible to conclusively connect William with the actual lynching, but he actively opposed prosecuting those responsible.
2. Snitches Get… Well, Sent Home
Early in her marriage, Mary was given information by her staff through her father, James II, that her husband was having an affair with Elizabeth Villiers, the daughter of Mary’s former governess who had come to the Netherlands with her. Mary acted on her own and confronted William after catching him leaving Villiers’ room.
According to the histories, however, William convinced her that he had not been committing adultery, and she forgave him. It has never been conclusively proven that Villiers and William were actually lovers, but it has been confirmed that James II was trying to undermine his daughter’s marriage for his own gains. Ironically, this would further drive a wedge between daughter and father, and the staff who had passed on the word were dismissed and sent back to Britain.
1. Sad Ending for the Sisters
When Mary and William were crowned monarchs of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Mary’s sister Anne was made their heir should they have no children. However, Mary and Anne quarreled bitterly during Mary’s time as ruler.
One noble whose wife was close with Anne was revealed as conspiring to restore James II to his triple throne. Mary had him punished, which angered Anne in turn. The two sisters would rarely see each other and would not attempt a reconciliation until Mary’s illness.
Anne urgently wrote to Mary, wishing to see her one last time, but Mary refused to allow it because she was afraid that Anne would also contract smallpox if she came.