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The Fifteen Princesses of Orange: Mary II of England

The 8th Princess of Orange was also a British Princess and a namesake of the previous Princess. This Mary Stuart was born on 30 April 1662 as the daughter of James II of England and Anne Hyde. She grew up in the relative peace of Richmond Palace with her sister Anne. She spoke excellent French, learned to play several instruments, and she loved to read as well as dance. Despite her father’s protests she was raised a protestant and she was confirmed in the Church of England in 1676.

In 1677 Mary married her first cousin William, Prince of Orange, again against her father’s wishes. It was well-known that James II, a member of the Catholic faith himself, would have preferred a Catholic match. It was a tearful and dramatic marriage and departure. Mary supposedly wept all afternoon and the following day after being told of the marriage. Her reception in the Netherlands was grand and Mary would later describe her time in the Netherlands as the happiest of her life. She learned to speak Dutch quite well and she was popular among the public. Her relationship with William was relatively good. He preferred the company of soldiers and he was disappointed when Mary and he had no living children. She suffered a miscarriage in 1678 and likely had more later on.

Their relationship changed when she publicly made a scene at the Loo Palace when he returned from his mistress at a late hour. In 1685, Mary’s father became King of England after the death of King Charles II. Mary herself realised by 1688 her father’s politics might lead to  a crisis. Due to her earlier mistrust of her father, she easily believed the rumours that his son born in 1688 was a changeling. That year, William agreed to invade England to depose James, though he was initially reluctant. He was probably jealous of Mary’s position as heiress and feared she would be more powerful than him. Mary herself convinced him she did not care for political power. William agreed to invade and issued a declaration which referred to James’s newborn son as the “pretended Prince of Wales.”

He issued a declaration and a list of grievances. William left the Netherlands without Mary and landed on 5 November 1688. The defeated King attempted to flee on 11 December, but was intercepted. He succeeded in escaping on 23 December, probably because William let him go. He escaped to France and despite an attempt at returning via Ireland, he never made it back to England.

Mary returned to England in February 1689 and she would never return to the Netherlands again. On 11 April 1689 she and her husband were jointly crowned at Westminster Abbey. Mary did not take much part in the running of the country. In her memoirs she described how she was convinced women shouldn’t interfere in politics. Some interference was inevitable though. While William was in battle or in the Netherlands between 1690 and 1694 Mary took on all the duties. After a hesitant start, she became a resolute leader, finally earning her the nickname ‘Good Queen Mary’.

Death came suddenly at the end of 1694. After a brief bout of the smallpox, she died on 28 December 1694. William was apparently inconsolable and swore that no better person had ever lived. Mary was embalmed and was not buried until 5 March 1695. It was a grand funeral with a procession from Whitehall Palace to Westminster Abbey. Her father James refused his court in exile to go into mourning for her.

Mary was succeeded by William as sole monarch. He never remarried, despite having no heirs to succeed him directly. Mary’s sister Anne was pregnant several times, but a single son lived to age of 11, before dying suddenly. Eventually the Act of Settlement settled the succession of Sophia of Hanover. In the Netherlands William was succeeded as Prince of Orange by John William Friso, of the Frisian branch of the Nassaus. He was William’s closest agnatic relative, as well as son of William’s aunt, Albertine Agnes.

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