The Forgotten Monarchs – Part 4

This fourth blog in the series focuses on the joint married Monarchs, Queen Mary II and King William III. Queen Mary being the fifth Monarch of the House of Stuart and King William being the first Monarch (in England) of the House of Orange.

Mary was born on 30th April 1662 at St James’s Palace to the future King James II and his first wife Lady Anne Hyde. At the time of her birth, the throne was occupied by Mary’s uncle King Charles II. Mary was baptised into the Anglican faith and was named after her ancestor Mary, Queen of Scots. William was born on 4th November 1650 in the Dutch Republic to William II, Prince of Orange and Mary Stuart, Princess Royal (the eldest daughter of King Charles I of England). Eight days before William was born his father died resulting in William becoming Sovereign Prince of Orange from the moment of his birth.

As the years progressed and whilst fighting the Franco-Dutch war, William desperately wanted to improve his strong holding in Europe. William did this by planning to marry his first cousin Mary, daughter of James Duke of York. William believed that marrying Mary would increase his chances of succeeding to the throne of England. Mary and her father agreed to the marriage and William and Mary were married by Bishop Henry Compton on 4th November 1677. Mary fell pregnant soon after the marriage but later miscarried. William and Mary never had any living children.

The opposition parliament of England convinced William to invade England in 1688 and depose James II, over fears of a Catholic dynasty emerging (owing to the fact that the catholic James and his new wife Mary of Modena had just had another son and heir). William did invade and defeated James on 11th December.  Although Mary was clearly distressed by the deposition of her Father, she fully supported what her husband had done feeling that it was right for the state and for the people. A convention parliament was called and they suggested that Mary should be made sole Monarch, being the rightful hereditary heir. William was adamant that he wished to reign as a King and not as a mere consort of a Queen. When the Declaration of Right was passed in 1689, the Throne was offered to William and Mary to rule as joint Monarchs, the only known example of this happening previously was with Queen Mary I and King Phillip.   However Phillip only ruled as King during Mary’s lifetime, William on the other hand would rule as King even if Mary predeceased him. Both were crowned together at Westminster Abbey on 11th April 1689.


One of the most important parliamentary acts passed during the reign of William and Mary was the Bill of Rights. The bill established restrictions on royal prerogative. Its declarations included; the sovereign could not suspend any parliamentary laws; they could not raise an army in peacetime without the consent of parliament; that they could not unduly interfere with parliamentary elections nor could they inflict cruel or unusual punishments. The bill also confirmed the succession to the throne, following the death of either William or Mary the other would continue to reign, following them any children they may have would succeed. If childless the throne would pass to Mary’s sister Anne then to any children she may have, if Anne was to die childless then the throne would pass to any children of William III from any subsequent marriages he may have had.

From around 1690 onwards William was often absent from England on various campaigns, from the Jacobites in Ireland to the war with France. Queen Mary was left to administer the government of the realm. Although Mary did not enjoy the King being at war, she did prove to be a firm ruler, she ordered the arrest of her uncle Henry Hyde, for treason and John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough, for similar reasons. Although William had success in Ireland, in Europe he was not so lucky, he lost Namur in the Spanish Netherlands in 1692 and was badly beaten at the Battle of Landen in 1693.

With various campaigns to deal with, William began to rely heavily on his wife Mary and so he was devastated when she died on 28th December 1694 at Kensington Palace after contracting smallpox. William is quoted as saying he had gone “from being the happiest to the most miserablest creature on earth”. Mary was immensely mourned throughout Britain and was buried on the 5th March 1695, after a very harsh winter, at Westminster Abbey, the same place she had been crowned some five years previous.

As stated in the Bill of Rights, William continued to reign as King after Mary’s death. Williams reign continued with nothing significant happening, the Jacobites gave William no more trouble and the only war which he faced (which did carry on after his death) was the War of the Spanish Succession. As for the English succession, as readers know William and Mary bore no children and subsequently the only person left in the Line of Succession formed from the Bill of Rights was Mary’s sister Anne. Anne had borne numerous stillborn children and so the concerns were that she would also die childless therefore in 1701 the act of settlement was passed, stating that if Anne did die childless the throne would pass to their distant relative, Sophia Electress of Hanover and her Protestant heirs.

King William III died in 1702 of pneumonia and the Crown passed to his Sister-in-Law Anne, who became Queen Anne, ruling as a Queen in her own right. William was buried at Westminster Abbey alongside his Wife Mary. Williams death brought about the end of the Dutch House of Orange.

I believe that the joint Monarchs William and Mary were in a sense a great team, William proved his worth while fighting various campaigns abroad while Mary proved her worth by being a firm ruler at home and being a Queen that people loved – if all depictions of the mourning of her death are true. Though their reigns were quite short (Mary’s especially), their time on the throne saw the Monarchy change once again, the succession being the biggest change. However,  was the reign of William and Mary was also the start of the Monarchy that we see today, a Monarch is head of state but a Monarch does not have the powers that a government have, from what I have learnt about King William and Queen Mary, it does seem that their government was taking away the powers of a King and Queen and re-establishing the government as the rulers of the Country.

photo credit: Well Preserved via photopin cc