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From the Emperor’s Desk: A few days ago I compared the joint rule of Mary I of England and Felipe II of Spain with that of William III and Mary II. Today I’d like to examine the reign of Mary II as co-sovereign with her husband.

Mary II (April 30, 1662 – December 28, 1694) was Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, co-reigning with her husband, King William III-II, from 1689 until her death. Popular histories usually refer to their joint reign as that of William and Mary.

Queen Mary II of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Although their father James, Duke of York, was Roman Catholic, Mary and her younger sister Anne were raised as Anglicans at the wishes of their uncle, King Charles II. Charles lacked legitimate children, making Mary second in the line of succession.

William and Mary were first cousins. Her father, James, Duke of York (later King James II-VII) and William’s mother, Mary, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange were siblings, the son and daughter of King Charles I of England.


William and a tearful Mary were married in St James’s Palace by Bishop Henry Compton on November 4, 1677. The bedding ceremony to publicly establish the consummation of the marriage was attended by the royal family, with the King himself drawing the bedcurtains. Mary accompanied her husband on a rough sea crossing back to the Netherlands later that month, after a delay of two weeks caused by bad weather. Rotterdam was inaccessible because of ice, and they were forced to land at the small village of Ter Heijde, and walk through the frosty countryside until met by coaches to take them to Huis Honselaarsdijk.

She was devoted to her husband, but he was often away on campaigns, which led to Mary’s family supposing him to be cold and neglectful. Within months of the marriage Mary was pregnant; however, on a visit to her husband at the fortified city of Breda, she suffered a miscarriage, which may have permanently impaired her ability to have children. She suffered further bouts of illness that may have been miscarriages in mid-1678, early 1679, and early 1680. Her childlessness would be the greatest source of unhappiness in her life.

Charles II died in 1685 and James took the throne as James II-VII of England, Scotland and Ireland, making Mary heir presumptive. James’s attempts at rule by decree and the birth of his son, James Francis Edward Stuart, led to his deposition in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the adoption of the English Bill of Rights.

Mary was upset by the circumstances surrounding the deposition of her father, and was torn between concern for him and duty to her husband, but was convinced that her husband’s actions, however unpleasant, were necessary to “save the Church and State”.

William and Mary became king and queen regnant. The Bill of Rights also confirmed the succession to the throne. Following the death of either William III or Mary II, the other was to continue to reign. Next in the line of succession would be any children of the couple, to be followed by Mary’s sister Anne and her children. Last in the line of succession stood any children William III might have had from any subsequent marriage. Mary completely refrained from interfering in political matters, as had been agreed in the Declaration and Bill of Rights, and as she preferred. However, she did act on her own accord when William III was out of the country.

William III and Mary II of England, Scotland and Ireland

Mary mostly deferred to William, a renowned military leader and principal opponent of Louis XIV, when he was in England. She did, however, act alone when William was engaged in military campaigns abroad, proving herself to be a powerful, firm, and effective ruler.

From 1690 onwards, William was often absent from England on campaign, each year generally from the spring until the autumn. In 1690, he fought Jacobites (who supported James) in Ireland. William had crushed the Irish Jacobites by 1692, but he continued with campaigns abroad to wage war against France in the Netherlands.

Whilst her husband was away, Mary administered the government of the realm with the advice of a nine-member Cabinet Council. She was not keen to assume power and felt “deprived of all that was dear to me in the person of my husband, left among those that were perfect strangers to me: my sister of a humour so reserved that I could have little comfort from her.”

Anne had quarrelled with William and Mary over money, and the relationship between the two sisters had soured. When her husband was away, Mary acted on her own if his advice was not available; whilst he was in England.

Queen Mary II of England, Scotland and Ireland

However, she proved a firm ruler, ordering the arrest of her own uncle, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, for plotting to restore James II to the throne. In January 1692, the influential John Churchill, 1st Earl of Marlborough, was dismissed on similar charges; the dismissal somewhat diminished her popularity and further harmed her relationship with her sister Anne (who was strongly influenced by Churchill’s wife, Sarah). Anne appeared at court with Sarah, obviously supporting the disgraced Churchill, which led to Mary angrily demanding that Anne dismiss Sarah and vacate her lodgings.

Mary was tall (5 foot 11 inches; 180 cm) and apparently fit; she would regularly walk between her palaces at Whitehall and Kensington. In late 1694, however, she contracted smallpox. She sent away anyone who had not previously had the disease, to prevent the spread of infection. Anne, who was once again pregnant, sent Mary a letter saying she would run any risk to see her sister again, but the offer was declined by Mary’s groom of the stole, the Countess of Derby.Mary died at Kensington Palace shortly after midnight on the morning of December 28, at the young age of 32.

William, who had grown increasingly to rely on Mary, was devastated by her death, and told Burnet that “from being the happiest” he was “now going to be the miserablest creature on earth”. While the Jacobites considered her death divine retribution for breaking the fifth commandment (“honour thy father”), she was widely mourned in Britain.