(This post originally appeared at The Freelance History Writer, but is written by yours truly!
On April 30th, 1662, a girl is born to James, Duke of York and his wife, Anne Hyde. She would be christened Mary, and would resemble her Stuart relatives. She grew tall, with dark curly hair, and was intelligent and kind. At age three, she was joined by a sister, Anne, and the sisters would make history.
While Mary was still quite young, her parents converted to Roman Catholicism, but Mary and Anne were to be raised in the Anglican faith, per their uncle King Charles II’s command. Tragedy struck in 1671, when Mary’s mother, Anne, died at age 34, probably from cancer. Two years later, she would have a stepmother in the Catholic Italian princess Mary of Modena, who was only four years Mary’s senior.
Mary’s own marriage came into play in 1677, when at age 15, she was betrothed and wed to her first cousin, William, Prince of Orange and Stadtholder of the Netherlands. She cried when she was told, and cried during the wedding. However, she resigned herself to her situation and became devoted to William, and was popular with the Dutch people.
Things began to change, though, when in 1685, Charles II died, and her father became King James VII and II. Unless her father had a son with his young wife, Mary was to be Queen after his death. James’ unpopularity grew, due to his perceived Pro-catholic policies and in 1688, a boy was born in England to the King and Queen. The rumors flew that it was not the child of the King and the nobles were aghast with the thought of another Catholic monarch. A group of nobles convened to secretly invite William to invade on behalf of the Protestant cause, as William had a claim to the throne, behind Mary and Anne, as their cousin. Mary stayed behind while her husband landed in her homeland, and her father fled for France. Parliament declared that James had abandoned the throne, and it was offered to William and Mary together.
Under the joint rule of the couple, Parliament enacted a Bill of Rights, which outlined some clear boundaries of royal power and the rights of the people, in late 1689. Mary usually deferred to William in matters of state, since she saw him as the ruler. But while William was gone on military campaigns, Mary stepped up to the plate, and proved herself as an effective ruler, and was immensely popular with most people.
In the meantime, though, her relationship with her sister, Anne, had soured. The sisters would never speak again after April 1692, when Mary visited Anne after a difficult labor and the death of her child. They clashed over Anne’s friendship with Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. Churchill’s husband was suspected of conspiring with the Jacobites, to restore Mary and Anne’s father to the crown. Mary had suffered two miscarriages throughout her marriage, and her continued childlessness was an source of deep sadness for her.
Sadly in 1694, tragedy struck, when Mary contracted smallpox. She sent away any attendants of hers who had never previously had the disease, but her sister, offered to attend her, in an attempt to repair the rift between them. Anne’s offer was refused, and on December 28th, Mary died, at age 32. William was crushed and she was profoundly mourned in London. The Jacobites saw her death as retribution for the overthrow of her father.
Regardless if you sympathize with Mary, or side with her father, it’s hard to deny Mary’s charm and fascinating life. She was a remarkable woman, from a unique family, who had a front row seat throughout unprecedented change in European politics. I encourage you to read up on Mary, and I’ll be back soon with the story of her equally exceptional sister, Anne.