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Mary, Princess Royal (Mary Henrietta; November 4, 1631 – December 24, 1660) was Countess of Nassau by marriage to Prince Willem II of Orange and co-regent for her son during his minority as Sovereign Prince of Orange from 1651 to 1660.

Mary Henrietta was born at St. James’s Palace, London to Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland and Henrietta Maria de Bourbon of France, the eldest daughter of the youngest daughter of King Henri IV of France (Henri III of Navarre) and his second wife, Marie de’ Medici.

Mary, Princess Royal

Princess Mary was named after her mother. Her father, King Charles I, liked to call his wife Henrietta Maria simply “Maria”, with the English people calling her “Queen Mary.”

Charles I designated Mary Princess Royal in 1642, thus establishing the tradition that the eldest daughter of the British sovereign might bear this title. The title came into being when Queen Henrietta Maria, the daughter of Henri IV of France to imitate the way the eldest daughter of the French king was styled (Madame Royale). Until that time, the eldest daughters of English and Scottish kings were variously titled lady or princess (The younger daughters of British sovereigns were not consistently titled Princess of England/Scotland or Great Britain with the style Royal Highness until the accession of George I in 1714). George I of Great Britain codified styles and titles using the German system and this code is still in effect today.

Betrothal portrait of Princess Mary and Prince Willem of Orange

Her father, Charles I, wished that Mary should marry her first cousin Balthasar Carlos, Prince of Asturias, the son of Felipe IV of Spain. The Prince of the Asturias died on October 9, 1646 (aged 16) before succeeding to the throne. Mary’s first cousin, Charles I Ludwig, Elector Palatine, was also a suitor for her hand. Both proposals fell through and she was betrothed to Willem of Orange, the son and heir of Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange and Stadtholder of the United Provinces, and of Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. The marriage took place on May 2, 1641 at the Chapel Royal, Whitehall Palace, London.

The Prince and Princess of Orange

The marriage was reputedly not consummated for several years because the bride was nine years old. In 1642, Mary moved to the Dutch Republic with her mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, and in 1644, as the daughter-in-law of the stadtholder, Frederik Hendrik she became more engaged in courtly and public events.

In March 1647, Mary’s husband, Willem II, succeeded his father as stadholder. However, in November 1650, just after his attempt to capture Amsterdam from his political opponents, he died of smallpox.


The couple’s only child, Willem III Prince of Orange and Stadthouder of the Netherlands (later William III of England, Scotland and Ireland), was born two weeks after his father’s death. Mary, now a Dowager, was obliged to share the guardianship of her infant son with her mother-in-law, Amalia of Solms-Braunfels, and brother-in-law, Friedrich Wilhelm I, Elector of Brandenburg. They had more power over the young Prince’s affairs than she, as evidenced by his being christened Willem, and not Charles as she had desired.

Prince Willem II of Orange, Stadthouder of the Netherlands

She was unpopular with the Dutch because of her sympathies with her own family, the Stuarts. She lived in the palace of the Stadthouder at the Binnenhof in the Hague, the building complex that now houses the Senate of the Netherlands. Her boudoir is still intact. At length, public opinion having been further angered by the hospitality that she showed to her brothers, the exiled Charles II and the Duke of York (later James II-VII) she was forbidden to receive her relatives.

Her moral reputation was damaged by rumours that she was having an affair with (or had been secretly married to) Henry Jermyn, a member of her brother James’ household. The rumours were probably untrue, but Charles II took them seriously, and tried to prevent any further contact between Jermyn and Mary. From 1654 to 1657, Mary was usually not in Holland. In 1657, she became regent on behalf of her son for the principality of Orange, but the difficulties of her position led her to implore the assistance of her first cousin Louis XIV of France and Navarre.


The restoration of Mary’s brother, Charles II in England and Scotland greatly enhanced the position of the Princess of Orange and her son in Holland. In September 1660, she returned to England. She died of smallpox on December 24, 1660, at Whitehall Palace, London and was buried in Westminster Abbey.