Defiant Facts About Mary II, The Traitor Queen

Dancy Mason

On the surface, Mary II of England seemed like the ultimate good girl of the 17th century—but nothing could be further from the truth. The heir of two successive kings, Mary was raised and trained to be an exquisite, useless jewel of the English court…until the day she shattered her world into a million pieces. Her betrayal was so stunning, many said her dark end was just karma coming for her at last. Watch your back with this “traitor queen.”


Mary II Facts

1. She Was In The Lap Of Luxury

Mary II got very lucky when she was born. Not only was her uncle, Charles II, the current King of England, but her own father James was next in line for the throne. This meant her childhood was full to the brim with fêtes, feasts, and everything a little princess could ever want. Yet despite this luxury, there was a rot right at the heart of Mary’s family.

2. Her Siblings Died Around Her

Mary’s mother, Anne Hyde, knew she had to do her duty as a royal wife, and she gave birth to an incredible eight children over the course of her marriage. Tragically, however, times were rough during the 17th century, and only Mary and her younger sister Anne survived childhood. Though Mary II grew up surrounded by death, she was about to receive the real blow of her young life.

3. She Went Through A Horrible Tragedy

Before Mary was even 10 years old, she experienced every child’s worst nightmare. Her poor mother Anne, after decades of near-incessant pregnancy, succumbed to breast cancer shortly after giving birth to yet another child who didn’t survive infancy. Yeah, that one sentence pretty much sums up why being a woman in the Restoration was a load of hot garbage.

And while the vulnerable Mary II mourned her mother deeply, her passing had other huge consequences.

4. Her Uncle Controlled Her

Although Mary’s uncle Charles was the reigning king, he had no other heirs. Translation: All of his attention was on Mary. With no mother around to protect her, this was a very bad thing. Charles controlled almost every aspect of Mary’s life, forcing both her and her sister Anne to become Anglican even though their parents were both Catholic, and making them live entirely apart from their family just to make sure.

As we’ll see, this tragic childhood would have major, MAJOR consequences for Mary II. But for right now, she had more immediate heartbreak on the way.

5. She Got A New Stepmother

Just two years after her mother’s passing, Mary II got the shock of her life. Her father James, still hoping there was time to pop out a male heir to supplant his daughters, quickly remarried. He chose the Catholic Maria of Modena as his new bride, a beautiful Italian aristocrat who was utterly devoted to him. But there were two extremely awkward issues with this.

6. She Hated Her Stepmother On Principle

See, Mary’s new stepmother was big trouble for the English court. The Anglican powers hated that Maria of Modena was Catholic, particularly since James was next in line for the throne. But this especially bothered our girl Mary, who had been fully indoctrinated by her isolated, lonely upbringing. Now, as a devout Anglican, she deeply disapproved of daddy’s second wife. Only, issue number two was the real doozy.

7. Her Father Was A Cradle-Robber

When Mary II’s father James was scouring Europe for a new wife, he must have had one consideration in mind: long-term fertility. Because when the princess’s stepmother arrived on the scene, she was only 15 years old—just a mere four years older than Mary. Realistically, the two “women” (I use that term lightly) could have been playmates. Ew. But behind the scenes, Mary II was doing some very adult things herself.

8. She Had A Scandalous Friend

Starting from when she was nine years old, Mary II started up a scandalous correspondence. After making friends with Frances Apsley, the young daughter of a courtier, the princess began writing letters to the girl. And not just any letters—the missives were fiery and passionate, with Mary giving herself the name “Mary Clorine” and Apsley the nickname “Aurelia.” Then, as time wore on, the letters went from intense to alarming.

9. She Wrote Inappropriate Letters

Eventually, Mary II so clearly idolized Frances that the other girl began to feel their correspondence was inappropriate and started to reply back in a more formal, distant manner. To this day, historians are divided about the nature of their relationship, and some believe Mary harbored deep romantic feelings for the girl. In any case, she still kept writing to Frances—until her life took a twist that shook her to her core.

10. She Was Almost Queen Of France

Before Mary was even 15 years old, the men in her family began looking for a potential suitor for her. After all, as a Princess of England and a current heir to the throne, what else was she going to do with her life except get married and have babies? At first, it looked like Mary’s husband was going to be the eldest son of King Louis XIV of France, at least if her uncle King Charles II had anything to say about it. Instead, a much stranger choice emerged.

11. Her Family Pushed Her To Marry Her Cousin

Before long, everyone was eyeing up Prince William of Orange, the stadtholder of Holland, as Mary’s new beau. Not that he was any Prince Charming: Though Protestant like Mary, William also happened to be 11 years older than her, only interested in the power the match would gain him, and he was her cousin to boot. Still, Mary’s father and uncle didn’t seem to mind these “hurdles.” But as for what Mary thought, her response was infamous.

12. She Didn’t Want To Marry

At the time, Mary was still crushing hard on Frances Apsley, so when her father James told—not asked—his daughter that she was going to marry some random old Dutch dude, Mary burst almost immediately into tears…and she didn’t stop. Reportedly, “she wept all that afternoon and all the following day.” Again: Thank God we’re not women in the Restoration. Unfortunately for poor Mary, it was about to get a whole lot worse.

13. She Cried Through Her Wedding Ceremony

Mary’s wedding day on November 4, 1677, was a dark one for the naïve princess. According to even more reports, she wept throughout the ceremony, having still not come to terms with the fact that she was now some stranger’s wife. When her aunt tried to comfort her by saying, “When I came to England I had not even seen the King,” Mary snapped back, in reference to her new Dutch destiny, “Madam, you came into England, but I am going out of England.” Then it went from sad to excruciating.

14. She Underwent A Gross Ritual

Get ready for some more bizarre Restoration practices, because after Mary II’s wedding came her “public bedding” ceremony. Yep, this was where a room of people were supposed to lead the newlyweds to the marriage bed and then (often) watch them consummate the union. Look, I know that sounds incredibly awful, but in practice, it was even more horrific than it sounds.

15. She Suffered A Public Humiliation

Although public beddings were a big thing in an age obsessed with making sure women had legitimate male heirs, Mary’s was more ridiculous than most. Practically her entire family attended the “ceremony,” and her uncle King Charles II even drew the bed curtains, encouraging Mary’s new husband William to lay her down and get going. As the monarch put it so eloquently, “Now nephew, to your work! Hey! St. George for England!”

And as it happened, the ritual was a little too successful.

16. She Was Going To Be A Teen Mom

Our poor Mary II could never catch a break. Besides enduring a nightmare journey over to her new home in Holland, the English princess quickly discovered her pregnancy just months after her marriage. Yes, she was barely out of childhood herself, and now she was carrying a child. Although she must have been terrified about her future, her husband William did NOT help matters.

17. Her Husband Abandoned Her

Mary II already spent so much of her life in near isolation, and moving halfway across Europe to Holland certainly didn’t solve her problems. She was alone there most of the time too since William was frequently away on military campaigns. It got so bad that even Mary’s family, never the most affectionate, started thinking William was a cold fish.

Nonetheless, eager to connect with her husband, a pregnant Mary made the effort to visit him while he was in the city of Breda. Little did she know, she was walking into an ordeal from which she would never recover.

18. She Suffered A Vicious Miscarriage

While in Breda, Mary II realized something was seriously wrong. She suffered a violent miscarriage of her baby, kicking off a period of intense illness over the next couple of years. Indeed, many historians believe that this first miscarriage went so awry, it rendered her permanently infertile. Whatever the truth, Mary was crestfallen over the loss of her child and her continued inability to bear William a son.

It was a brutal loss of innocence, and in hindsight, it explains why Mary II suddenly began to show her rebellious streak.

19. She Defied Her Father

By the 1680s, both William and Mary were well aware that her uncle King Charles II was getting old, and that her father James was poised to become king. They weren’t too happy about this; after all, Papa James was still Catholic and William and Mary were still the Protestant Power Couple. So, stirring the pot a little, the pair began to wine and dine Charles’s illegitimate, Protestant son, the Duke of Monmouth.

Now, Mary didn’t seriously think Monmouth would challenge her father; she just wanted to be bad for a little while. As it happened, though, this was her gateway rebellion.

20. She Inched Closer To Her Destiny

In February 1685, when Mary II was just 23 years old, King Charles II did indeed die, making her father King James II—and Mary officially the heir presumptive to the English throne. Cool as a cucumber, Mary was playing a game of cards when her husband William came into the room and told her she was this close to the crown. Nothing was the same again.

21. She Played The Game Of Thrones

From almost the moment her father became King, Mary II transformed from daughter to rival. She hated practically everything her father did as monarch, and she could hardly believe that one of his first acts was to grant religious freedoms to some of his Catholic and other non-Anglican friends. Mary thought this was downright illegal, and even wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury to complain. Ooh, but daddy struck back.

22. Her Father Told Her A Big Secret

James and Mary had never been particularly close as she grew up, and the cracks between father and daughter were starting to show in a big way. Annoyed at his daughter’s attempts to undermine him, James started to attack her marriage. He wasn’t subtle about it either: Soon enough, James was claiming that Mary’s husband William was cheating on her—with none other than one of her ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Villiers. Er, Mary didn’t handle this well.

23. She Spied On Her Husband

By this point, Mary had grown very fond of the husband she once despised, and she was aghast at and disbelieving of her father’s petty whispers. Nonetheless, she couldn’t get them out of her head and decided to see for herself. One evening, she posted up at Elizabeth Villiers’ bedchamber at an ungodly late hour to see if she could catch William creeping out.

She didn’t have to wait long to find out the truth.

24. She Caught Her Man Red-Handed

As Mary kept a jealous eye on Elizabeth’s door, she witnessed a heartbreaking sight. Her husband William slowly made his way out. Beside herself, a furious Mary confronted William and laid into him about his good-for-nothing ways. Of course, the prince staunchly denied that there was any kind of affair going on between them, and Mary actually believed him. But though she forgave, she definitely didn’t forget…

25. She Went On A Firing Rampage

Good Christian that she was, Mary really did move on from this episode—although it was only after she got a certain revenge. Just in case there was any truth to the rumors, Mary fired her whole staff, including the offending lady-in-waiting Elizabeth Villiers, and sent them packing back to England. Only, if she thought that was the last of her father’s intrigues, he quickly proved her very wrong.

26. She Was In A Family Feud

From 1686 onward, Mary II watched in horror as her father grew more and more unpopular with her Anglican friends. Then everything came to an infamous head. In 1688, Mary’s stepmother Maria of Modena gave birth at last to a healthy male heir, James Francis, who would certainly be raised Catholic. The thought of a fully Catholic successor threw much of England into a tailspin—but Mary herself was out for blood.

27. She Was Suspicious Of Her Stepmother

People were so angry about the birth, they started saying someone must have snuck the boy in via a warming pan to hide the fact that Maria of Modena had really had yet another stillborn child. Moreover, the biggest proponent of this “Warming Pan Baby” conspiracy was none other than our girl Mary, who was convinced her baby brother wasn’t really her brother.

So she took matters into her own hands.

28. She Accused Her Father Of A Desperate Plot

Desperate for more information on the royal baby, Mary II wrote to her sister Anne back in England to discover everything she could about the circumstances of his birth. The reply back made her blood run cold. Anne, too, had doubts about the child’s legitimacy, writing that she thought the pregnancy could have been a fake, saying, “It may be it is our brother, but God only knows.”

With this, Mary needed no further proof that her father was trying to ruin her own claims to the English throne in order to secure a Catholic succession. Look, was there really a “Warming Pan Baby”? Absolutely not. But did this one whisper change the whole of Mary II’s history? Absolutely yes.

29. She Got An Indecent Proposal

Just days after James Francis’s birth, Mary and William got one indecent proposal. Seven high-ranking nobles in England, nicknamed “The Immortal Seven” forever after, sent a missive to the Dutch Republic actually begging them to come over to England, invade, and overthrow Mary’s father. Now, a dutiful daughter might have said no. Only, Mary II wasn’t a good girl anymore, remember?

30. She Knew How To Work Her Husband

Over the next months, Mary II and her husband plotted one of the most notorious betrayals in the annals of English history—and it was Mary who had to convince William to take up the call. Since she was the real heiress to the English throne, William was worried about her upstaging him. Like a true Lady Macbeth, Mary soothed his ego, told him she would only be his right-hand woman, and promised to “do all that lay in her power to make him king for life.”

Yet, also like Lady Macbeth, the road she was going down had a mighty high toll.

31. She Usurped Her Own Father

In November 1688, Mary completed her treachery. That month, William’s forces landed in England and all too easily routed the English in what everyone soon called “The Glorious Revolution.” In another month, her father James fled to France with his tail between his legs, abandoning his kingdom and leaving his daughter her bloody spoils. The deed was finally done, and as Mary soon discovered, it could not be undone.

32. She Had A Bittersweet Victory

When Mary heard of her father’s disgrace, she didn’t feel triumphant. Instead, lingering guilt began creeping in that, slowly but surely, would eat her up until her dying days. Although she insisted she had only wanted to piously save “Church and state,” she knew she had desecrated the commandment “Honor thy father.” So as she traveled to England to collect her crown alongside William, she spoke of how “my father’s misfortunes” dashed her “secret joy.”

As it happened, that father had one final knife to twist in her side.

33. Her Father Got Revenge

As Mary and William finagled with the English parliament to stage a coronation, James watched enviously and bitterly from France. Then he dealt his daughter a cruel blow. The erstwhile king wrote her a nasty rant about how she was an ungrateful, disloyal daughter, further driving Mary into guilt when she should have been basking in her and her husband’s glory. Not that her first impression on the English people went well…

34. She Looked Cold-Hearted

When Mary and William entered London for the first time after their Glorious Revolution, Mary was so distraught about her father that William had to order her to be cheerful. However, many—including her sister Anne’s notorious friend Sarah Churchill—thought she was far too cheerful for an unfaithful daughter, and they criticized her for being a stone-cold witch.

35. Her Coronation Was A Mess

In April 1689, the fruit of all Mary’s strivings finally came to bear when she and William were jointly crowned King and Queen of England in Westminster Abbey. It was nothing like she expected. For one, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to perform the coronation because of the couple’s invasion. For another, Mary thought the ceremony was “all vanity,” while William thought it was “Popish.”

Still, Mary had now achieved everything she ever wanted. So why did it all go so, so wrong?

36. She Was Immensely Lonely

As Queen of England, Mary had a harsh awakening. Where before she had barely seen her husband William, she now saw him even less when he was King. William took the opportunity to campaign more to secure his shaky reign. Heartbroken, Mary complained that she felt “deprived of all that was dear to me in the person of my husband.” Meanwhile, the English courtiers were hardly welcoming.

37. She Had A Sibling Rivalry

Although Mary’s sister Anne was posted up in London, the sisters soon found that the years and Mary’s new status had driven an enormous gap through their relationship. While Anne wanted to be financially independent, Mary didn’t want her sister threatening her power, and refused to give her much of an allowance unless absolutely necessary.

Yeah, Anne didn’t like that one. But there were deeper, more personal issues, too.

38. She Barely Knew Her Own Sister

Time had not been kind to either Mary or Anne. Both women had suffered horrific miscarriages and pregnancies, with Anne in particular dealing with stillbirth after stillbirth. Perhaps because of this, Anne had become emotionally withdrawn, and Mary didn’t think she had much left to say to her sister. Mary claimed she was among “perfect strangers” at court and that Anne was “of a humour so reserved that I could have little comfort from her.”

Mary may not have had friends, but she did earn herself one formidable enemy.

39. She Had A Formidable Foe

With Mary and Anne drifting apart, a new woman was rising on the English scene: Sarah Churchill, the ambitious, social-climbing wife of the powerful Duke of Marlborough. Churchill’s sharp tongue had already denounced Mary for her coolness in the face of King James’s expulsion, and as the months passed, Churchill only grew closer to Mary’s sister Anne.

With tensions rising and the women on tenterhooks, it didn’t just end in a catfight—it ended in an all-out court brawl.

40. She Knew How To Lay Down The Law

Mary already had no love lost for Sarah Churchill, so when her husband the Duke of Marlborough got entangled in a plot to put James back on the throne, Mary wasted no time booting Marlborough out of her court. Anne, trying to defend her friend instead of her sister, protested vehemently, but Mary stood firm. Still, she never could have expected what was coming.

41. Her Sister Snubbed Her

After Mary put her foot down, the sibling situation went nuclear. At the next court function, Princess Anne appeared with Sarah Churchill at her side, sending her royal sister a very public message that she couldn’t care less. Mary, now apoplectic with rage and desperate to show a strong hand, took it up a notch and ordered that Anne dismiss Sarah from her household, too. Anne? Still said no. Then the other shoe dropped.

42. She Banished Her Sibling

To be sure, Mary could be demure and obedient when she wanted to, but she also had extensive experience in putting rogue family members in their place. That’s exactly what she now did with Anne: She not only had Sarah removed, she all but banished her sister, too; when Anne angrily left the palace, Mary stripped her of her honor guard and ordered courtiers to stay away from her. Did I mention Anne was pregnant again by then?

In time, the sisters might have worked through their emotions and reconciled. But Mary had precious little time left.

43. Her Health Went Downhill

In April 1692, a devastating blow struck the queen. She caught a nasty fever, and the pious ruler even skipped out on Sunday church for the first and only time in over a decade. Besides that, she even missed out on Anne going into yet another difficult labor, having to confine herself to bed as well. Courtiers began to worry for her…and they very much should have.

44. She Could Be Cruel

Eventually, Mary recovered enough to pay a long-awaited visit to her sister Anne, although the princess had lost the baby soon after giving birth. Never one to stand on ceremony, Mary took the opportunity not to console Anne, but to lecture her yet again about her obsession with Sarah Churchill. Mary, we get it—and believe me, you’ve got better things to worry about.

45. She Caught A Deadly Illness

In 1694, Mary contracted the dreaded smallpox. Her reaction was swift and brutal. Taking the pragmatic perspective, she dismissed absolutely everyone who didn’t have any immunity from her presence, hoping to contain the illness. She even hoped to recover; she was, after all, only 32 years old, and had all the doctors money could buy. Tragically, that’s not at all what happened.

46. She Never Got One Important Message

Anne must have somehow understood what was to come, because she wrote frantically to her sister Mary, telling her—even though she was pregnant AGAIN—that she would rush to her side no matter what. Whatever Mary might have responded, we’ll never know; a member of her staff intercepted the letter and declined for her before the queen had to make any tough decisions.

Of course, this also meant Mary never realized how much her sister was still willing to sacrifice for her.

47. She Thought She Was Going To Make It

Just days into Mary’s bout with smallpox, something miraculous seemed to happen. The smallpox lesions on her skin disappeared, leaving her face smooth instead of pock-marked in the telltale way. Mary also felt better and began to believe that she’d actually had the less fatal measles this entire time. Fate, however, had one more cruel twist in store.

48. She Met A Brutal Fate

Little did Mary know, she was indeed suffering from smallpox and an extremely lethal case at that. The “disappearance” of the marks was actually the disease “turning inward” and attacking on an even deeper level. After the brief reprieve, the queen fell sicker than ever, and on December 28, 1694, she passed, barely into her 30s. She left destruction in her wake.

49. Her Husband Mourned Her

Over the years, William and Mary had grown to depend on and love each other in a deep, lasting way that neither of them could have predicted, and her passing devastated her husband. He confided in a friend that in an instant, he had gone from “being the happiest” to “the miserablest creature on earth.” The same went for his reign: Although he continued his rule solo for almost another decade, his popularity fell without Mary.

50. She Should Have Lived

No one could believe that Mary was the first to go of the royal family. Not only was her husband King William III constantly throwing himself into danger on the battlefield, but he was also sicklier than Mary. Her sister Anne and her many pregnancies didn’t make her a candidate for a long life, either. Meanwhile, Mary was a tall girl at 5 feet, 11 inches, and loved to stride around the palace in the pink of health.

Then again, maybe Mary’s bad luck was something else entirely…

51. She Carried A Secret Guilt Everywhere

After Mary died, her journals revealed a heartbreaking truth. She believed that the trials of the later part of her life, especially the rift between her and her sister Anne, were simply karma coming back to bite her. According to Mary, it was divine punishment for her “sin” in participating in the Glorious Revolution and overthrowing her own father. And she wasn’t the only one.

52. She Was A Bad Daughter

The Jacobites, those loyal to Mary’s father James, had an absolute field day with her tragic end. They practically crowed over her corpse, claiming it was just deserts for shattering the fifth commandment of “honor thy father.” Most of Mary’s subjects, however, disagreed, and they deeply mourned the passing of their monarch. She still lies in Westminster Abbey.

53. She Was A Contradiction

Mary’s legacy is still muddied, and modern historians continue to parse through what it means. She spoke the truth when she told her husband she wasn’t after power, but she still did a dang good job as queen. When William was in London, she deferred to him as his wife, but when he was away, she was a capable administrator and decision-maker. In fact, one of her decisions was downright chilling.

54. She Placed Her Own Uncle Behind Bars

When it came to her overthrowing her father, Mary only indirectly led to his exile. Still, she had a chance to prove her real mettle with her other rebellious family members. When she discovered that her own uncle, Henry Hyde, was plotting to put her father back on the throne, she ordered his arrest. Then, without batting an eye, she threw him in the infamous Tower of London for months on end.

55. She Had A Notorious Namesake

With Mary’s tumultuous life, it’s fitting that her mother and father named her after another dramatic queen, Mary, Queen of Scots.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

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