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The Fifteen Princesses of Orange: Mary, Princess Royal

You may have heard of this Princess of Orange before, as the 7th Princess of Orange was also an English Princess. Mary was the daughter of Charles I and Henrietta Maria of France and also the first bearer of the title, ‘Princess Royal’, which was created by Henrietta Maria who wished to imitate the French ‘Madame Royale’ style. Mary was born on 4 November 1631 at St. James’s Palace as the eldest of nine children.

By 1640, Mary was already the subject of negotiations for a possible marriage between her and William, the only son of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange and Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. Mary’s father agreed to the marriage on the condition that the Dutch Republic entered into a political alliance with England. However, the alliance never happened and Charles finally agreed to the marriage without it. As Mary was still very young it was agreed that she would stay in England until the end of 1643. By April 1641 William arrived in London with a grand entourage. They married in person at the Chapel Royal in Whitehall Palace. The nine-year-old bride wore a traditional silver gown with a train that was carried by 16 ladies while the 14-year-old groom wore a red velvet suit. Perhaps to evade the dangers of the looming troubles Mary left England in March 1642. Mary never learned to speak Dutch and she did not enjoy living the Dutch Republic.

Mary and William

Mary and William

Mary became Princess of Orange in March 1647 when William’s father died. Mary’s relationship with her mother-in-law worsened due to her elevated position and her good relationship with Amalia’s rival Elizabeth Stuart, who also happened to be Mary’s aunt. Amalia also did not appreciate all the funds that went to English exiles who had come to The Hague. William was a main supporter of the future Charles II and the future James II in exile. Now that William had succeeded as Prince of Orange the pressures increased for Mary to have a child. She had a miscarriage in the autumn of 1647 and it was feared that she had become infertile. She squashed those rumours when she became pregnant again in 1650. On 14 November 1650 she gave birth to a healthy son. He was to be fatherless, however. Mary’s husband William had died of smallpox on 6 November 1650. He was just 24 years old.

Mary was now a widow at the age of 19. Tensions between her and her mother-in-law were again at a high. Mary had wished to name her son after her father and brother, but Amalia insisted on the name William. Mary withdrew from court life in The Hague and lived at a hunting lodge called Honselaarsdijk. She also often spent time at Castle Teylingen, owned by Johan Polyander van den Kerckhoven, who was the head of her household and his wife Lady Catherine Stanhope. It was at Teylingen that Mary received her three brothers in exile. Mary would follow her brother Charles across Europe. Between January 1656 and February 1657 she lived with her mother in France, after which she returned to The Hague.

By May 1660, Charles had signed the Treaty of Breda accepting the crown of England, Scotland and Ireland. Mary attended all the ceremonies in Breda and The Hague. With her son now fifth in line to the English throne, Mary took him around the Dutch Republic for an official tour, which was a great success. Mary’s brother Henry died suddenly of smallpox in September 1660 just as Mary was about to leave for England. She left anyway and just two months later she herself became seriously ill. The various attempts at bloodletting made her condition even worse and she realised she was dying. On Christmas eve 1660 Mary dictated her will. She named her brother Charles as her son’s guardian, which was not accepted by the regents of the Dutch Republic. Instead, Amalia of Solms-Braunsfels was appointed. Mary died that same day, lamenting that her greatest pain was to be separated from her son. She was buried in Westminster Abbey. Her greatest triumph came after her death, her son William became King William III of England, Scotland (II) and Ireland.

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