Mary II of England, Scotland, and Ireland

By Holly Marsden

Queen Mary II of England was born in 1662. She was the eldest daughter of the future King James II and Anne Hyde. Her uncle King Charles II controlled her education and marriage prospects, as well as those of her sister, Anne. Their mother died when Mary was 5.

In 1677 Princess Mary married Dutch stadholder William of Orange. William was older, supposedly grumpy, and shorter than Mary. In opposition, Mary was tall, beautiful, and charismatic. She was unhappy leaving her home city of London behind to join her husband in Holland.

In the Dutch court, Mary wore the latest fashions and courtiers admired her style and wit. As consort, she had little formal duties, but found her love for collecting and displaying East Asian porcelain and Delftware. In 1688, worried parliamentarians wrote to the royal couple.

They asked for King James II to be deposed after his conversion to Catholicism. As cousins, William and Mary both had a claim to the throne and Mary didn’t want to rule alone. She was torn at the thought of deposing her father but saw it as her religious duty.

William successfully took an army to England. They were coronated together in 1689. The bloodless ‘Glorious Revolution’ initiated the multi-party parliament we have today. The Bill of Rights aimed to devolve power from the monarchy and increase parliamentary power.

William III spent most of his time on the continent leading warfare. The Regency Act dictated that when this happened, Mary could make autonomous decisions. She was especially passionate about caring for the Navy and dealing with Church affairs.

The tumultuous way Mary II gained the throne meant that the country was divided. She received many propaganda attacks from followers of her father, the Jacobites. She too used visual culture to proliferate her power, sometimes in retaliation.

Mary honed her tastes in collecting and displaying ceramics during her reign. Her legacy stands in Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and Paleis Het Loo. She designed these with architects like Christopher Wren.

After only five years on the throne, Mary suddenly died from smallpox in December 1694. She left behind a devastated William, who reigned until his death in 1702. Mary’s funeral was the most expensive in British history, demonstrating the lasting effect she had on her people.

Recommended Reading

Joanna Marschner, “Queen Mary II as a Collector,” in Kensington Palace and the Porcelain of Queen Mary II, eds., Mark Hinton and Oliver Impey, 85-99 (London: Christie’s, 1998)

Joanna Marschner, “Mary II: Her Clothes and Textiles,” Costume 34 (2000): 44-50

Julie Farguson, Visualising Protestant Monarchy: Ceremony, Art and Politics after the Glorious Revolution (1689-1714) (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2021)

Lois G. Schwoerer, “Images of Queen Mary II, 1689-95,” Renaissance Quarterly 42.4 (1989): 717-748

Lois Schwoerer, The Revolution of 1688–89: Changing Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Molly McLain, “Love, Friendship, and Power: Queen Mary II’s Letters to Frances Apsley,” Journal of British Studies 47.3 (2008): 505-527

Richard Price, “An Incomparable Lady: Queen Mary II’s Share in the Government of England, 1689–94,” Huntington Library Quarterly 75.3 (2012): 307-326.

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