November 4, 1677, Willem III, Prince of Orange, Stadholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, and Overijssel (future King of England, Scotland, and Ireland), marries Mary (future Queen Mary II), the daughter of James, Duke of York (future King James II-VII).
Willem was born on November 4, 1650, his mother’s birthday, as the only child of Willem II, Prince of Orange, and Mary, Princess Royal, the eldest daughter of King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland and Princess Henrietta Maria de Bourbon of France, herself the daughter of King Henri IV of France and Navarre and his wife Maria de Medici.
Princess Mary was born November 4, 1631 and was married to the future stadtholder of the Netherlands, Willem II of Orange, at 9 years old in 1641. Initially, she remained in England with her parents because of the heated political situation in England until early 1642, when she and her mother left for the Netherlands.
Five years later in 1647, Mary’s husband inherited the titles of Prince of Orange and Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, Overijssel and Groningen in the United Provinces of the Netherlands.
Eight days after her husband’s death in 1650, Mary gave birth to a son, Willem III of Orange, on November 4, 1650 who later became King of England, Scotland and Ireland.
Mary wanted to name him Charles after her brother, but her mother-in-law insisted on giving him the name William (Willem) to bolster his prospects of becoming stadtholder.
Willem II had appointed his wife as their son’s guardian in his will; however, the document remained unsigned at Willem II’s death and was void. On August 13, 1651, the Hoge Raad van Holland en Zeeland (Supreme Court) ruled that guardianship would be shared between his mother, his paternal grandmother and Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg, whose wife, Louise Henriette, was Willem II’s eldest sister.
Mary, was not popular in the Netherlands because of her support of her brothers and her difficult relationship with her mother-in-law Amalia of Solms-Braunfels, who considered the princess young and inexperienced. After the restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660, Mary departed for celebrations in London, where she fell ill with smallpox and died.
During the war with France, Willem wanted to improve his position by marrying his first 15 year old first cousin Mary, elder surviving daughter of the Duke of York, later King James II of England (James VII of Scotland).
Mary was eleven years his junior and he anticipated resistance to a Stuart match from the Amsterdam merchants who had disliked his mother (another Mary Stuart), but Willem believed that marrying Mary would increase his chances of eventually succeeding to Charles’s kingdoms, and would draw England’s monarch away from his pro-French policies.
Mary’s father, James, Duke of York, was not inclined to consent, but Charles II pressured his brother to agree. Charles wanted to use the possibility of marriage to gain leverage in negotiations relating to the war, but Willem insisted that the two issues be decided separately.
Charles relented and agreed to the marriage. When James told Mary that she was to marry her cousin, “she wept all that afternoon and all the following day.”
Willem and a tearful Mary were married in St James’s Palace by Bishop Henry Compton on November 4, 1677, Prince Willem’s birthday.
The bedding ceremony to publicly establish the consummation of the marriage was attended by the royal family, with her uncle the King Charles II himself drawing the bedcurtains. Mary accompanied her husband on a rough sea crossing 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. On December 14, they made a formal entry to The Hague in a grand procession.
Mary became pregnant soon after the marriage, but miscarried. After a further illness later in 1678, she never conceived again.
Throughout Willem and Mary’s marriage, Willem had only one reputed mistress, Elizabeth Villiers, in contrast to the many mistresses his uncles openly kept.
King Charles II died in 1685 and James took the throne, as King James II-VII, making Mary heir presumptive. James’s attempts at rule by decree and the birth of his Catholic son from a second marriage, James Francis Edward (later known as “the Old Pretender”), led to his deposition in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the adoption of the English Bill of Rights.
In February 1689 Parliament offered the throne jointly to Willem and Mary who reigned as King William III and Queen Mary II.