Mary II

Mary II (1662-1694) was queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1689 to 1694. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 deposed her father and made Mary and her husband, William III, the only joint rulers in English history.

Of a gentle and retiring nature, Mary always deferred to her husband's wishes in politics. Her independent reputation rests on her solicitude for the Anglican Church and her charitable and educational works. She encouraged Latitudinarian appointments among the bishops—Henry Compton, John Tillotson, and Gilbert Burnet being among the liberal theologians she favored. Among her missionary acts, she supported the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, endowed the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and founded Greenwich Hospital for disabled seamen.

Their Catholic father, James II, reluctantly allowed Mary and Anne to be reared as Anglicans for "fear of their being taken away from him altogether." At 15 Mary was betrothed to William of Orange. Initially both James and her uncle, Charles II, disapproved since there was some indication that the Dauphin of France might become her suitor, but they yielded since a Dutch alliance was largely favored. The marriage was solemnized in November 1677. Mary's lonely residence in Holland was heightened by the loss of two children in childbirth and by William's preoccupation with politics. He was not only inattentive but publicly established Elizabeth Villiers as his mistress. The relationship was further impaired by William's jealousy of Mary's position as heiress presumptive to the English throne. Yet, prior to his invasion of England, when William spoke to her of remarriage should he fall in battle, Mary replied that if she lost him she should not care for an angel.

Relations between Mary and her father were increasingly strained by his pro-Catholic religious policies after James attained the throne. She interceded in behalf of Bishop Compton, who had been arraigned before the Court of High Commission, and continued a closeness with her cousin, the insurrectionary Duke of Monmouth. Her rejection of her father's plea that she convert to Catholicism, and her refusal to recognize James's son, born in 1688, precipitated a permanent breach. On William's successful invasion of England in 1688, overtures were made to enthrone her as sole ruler, which, in loyalty to her husband, she refused. On Feb. 13, 1689, William accepted the crown in both their names. The coronation was held on April 11.

In 1690 Mary was empowered by Parliament to exercise rule during William's many absences abroad. This uncomfortable role demanded such unpleasant duties as signing the arrest for her uncle (Clarendon). Yet her policies generally earned the thanks of her husband and both houses of parliament.

On Dec. 28, 1694, Mary died of smallpox at the age of 32. William, deeply mourning her loss, converted to Anglicanism. Still his regime lost much of its popularity.


Further Reading on Mary II

Mary's letters are unusually revealing of the times and of her own views: Memoirs, 1689-1693, edited by R. P. Doebner (1886), and Letters of Two Queens, edited by Benjamin Bathurst (1924). The most complete biography of Mary II is Hester W. Chapman, Mary II: Queen of England (1953). Elizabeth Hamilton, William's Mary: A Biography of Mary II (1971), emphasizes Mary's family relationships and devotion to Protestantism.

Additional Biography Sources

Chapman, Hester W., Mary II, Queen of England, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976.

Miller, John, The life and times of William and Mary, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1974.