Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Marital Adventures of James II

Marriage with Anne Hyde

James Stuart, Duke of York, was the third child of Charles I &, for all of his brother Charles II’s reign, heir to the thrones of England & Scotland. From the age of 15 James had spent his live in exile, having escaped the country dressed as a girl. He did not return to England until May 1660, when Charles was restored to the throne, over 18 months after the death of the Protector, Oliver Cromwell. James was now 27. Much of his time in exile had been spent in France and fighting with Turenne’s armies.

James Duke of York and Anne Hyde
Like his brother James was a womaniser. In 1656 James met Anne Hyde, a maid of honour to his sister, the dowager Princess of Orange. Anne was the daughter of Sir Edward Hyde, an adviser to the king in exile. Their meeting occurred during a visit by Princess Mary, to her mother’s court in exile, Queen Henrietta Maria.

During the following three years James courted Anne during his frequent visits to his sister’s court in Breda. His brother Charles too visited his sister, who was funding his exile, from her son’s inheritance. Princess Mary was attracted to one of Charles’ courtiers, but Charles ended the relationship between his sister and Harry Jermyn, after a blazing row with Mary. He ignored James relationship with Anne, if indeed he even knew about it.

James later claimed that he was trapped into marriage by Anne, who fended off his attentions until he had agreed to marry her. Anne, for her part, claimed that for over a year James promised to marry her and that they contracted to marry at Breda on 24th November 1659. James was happy enough with his new bed-fellow and Anne became pregnant by late January, early February 1660.

But in the spring of 1660 Charles was offered his father’s throne, making James the heir to the kingdoms of England and Scotland; an alternative future where Anne would not be welcome. By the time James and Charles returned to England in May, Anne was noticeably pregnant and her father was furious, as were James’ mother and sister. Sir Edward, who was to be made Earl of Clarendon the following year, demanded that Charles throw his pregnant daughter into the Tower, telling his daughter he wished she were dead.

James was now encouraged to throw Anne off. Some of James’ friends claimed that they too had slept with the young woman, in a bid to relieve James of responsibility for the child’s paternity. Some sources say that James himself insisted on the marriage, but others claim that it was Charles who demanded that James fulfil his promises.   

On 3rd September 1660 the heir to the throne married Mistress Anne Hyde in a hole-in-the-wall ceremony at the Hyde family home, Worcester House. James’ chaplain conducted the ceremony, which was attended by Lord Ossory, who gave the bride away and the bride’s maid. Anne’s baby was born on 22nd October, but died on 5th May the following year.

‘I hear tonight that the Duke of Yorkes son is this day dead, which I believe will please everybody; and I hear that the Duke and his Lady themselves are not much troubled at it.’[i]

Anne was recognised by the Privy Council as Duchess of York on 18th February 1661, over six weeks after her son Charles, Duke of Cambridge, was christened, with his uncle Charles and parental grandmother as Godparents. Charles was the first of numerous pregnancies and it was not until April 1662 that the Lady Mary Stuart was born. In 1663 James, Duke of Cambridge was born, their sister Anne followed two years later in February 1665 and Charles, Duke of Kendal was born in July 1666. In 1667 the York family lost both their sons, but in September of that year Edgar, Duke of Cambridge was born.

James’ desire for his wife soon faded and Anne took comfort in food and elaborate dresses; while her husband dallied with a series of mistresses. Despite a roving eye, James was a loving father to his brood, particularly to his eldest daughter.

‘With the Duke. And saw him with great pleasure play with his little girle – like an ordinary private father of a child.’[ii] 

Anne died on 10th April 1671, possibly from breast cancer. She was followed to the grave shortly afterward by Edgar, who died in June. Sometime before her death Anne had secretly converted to Catholicism and in 1672 James too converted, although he continued to attend the services of the Church of England. Mary and Anne had been brought up as staunch Protestants, ensuring the Protestant Succession. James’ leanings towards Catholicism had been noted by Samuel Pepys as early as 1661;

‘He being a professed friend to the Catholiques.’[iii]

Marriage with Mary of Modena
It took two years for James to find a second bride. He was desperate to produce a male heir, to inherit the kingdom after himself. Charles was obviously not going to have children with his wife Catherine of Braganza, despite his fourteen bastards, and he refused to divorce her. James originally desired to marry the Protestant Lady Bellasyse, but Charles forbad the marriage as the lady was not Royal.

James entrusted the Earl of Peterborough with the task of searching out a bride from the available Catholic princesses of Europe. The beautiful and rich Princess Claudia of Innsbruck was the first favourite, but James’ prospects paled before those of another suitor – the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I. The two other main favourites were the 15 year old Princess Mary Beatrice, daughter of the Duke of Modena and her 20 year old aunt Leonora. Both of the princesses wished to take the veil, but Peterborough was entranced by Mary Beatrice’s fragile beauty and recommended her. The prospective bride spent the next two days in hysterics. She was possibly consoled by a letter from the Pope:

‘The orthodox faith reinstated by you in a place of honour might recover the splendour and security of former days.’[iv]

That is to say the 15 year old Mary was to be a pawn in the battle between the Protestant and Catholic religions. The marriage by proxy took place in September 1673, with Peterborough standing proxy for James. On her first night in England crowds marched through the streets with an effigy of the Pope, which was then burnt on a bonfire.  The bride burst into tears on the first meeting with her husband to be – James was forty, had a cruel expression and stammered when nervous. The wedding itself took place in Dover on 21st November.

James introduced the new Duchess of York to Anne and Mary as a playfellow and the three girls did play together. But Mary was barely out of the schoolroom herself and was unhappy:

‘I cannot yet accustom myself to this state of life .... therefore I cry a great deal and am much afflicted, not being able to rid myself of my melancholy.’[v]

She was also in a cold, foreign country and far from her family. It took time for Mary to fall in love with her husband. Her first child was born on 10th January 1675; Catherine Laura lived until October, dying of convulsions. A second child, Isabella was born in August 1676. Mary’s next child was Charles, Duke of Cambridge, born in November 1677, but the baby was less than a month old when he died of smallpox, caught from his half-sister Anne who was visiting his mother; unfortunately Anne was still infectious. Then came Elizabeth in 1678, dying the same year. Isabella died in March 1681. Charlotte was born in August 1682, but died of convulsions in October.

Mary did not give birth to any more children for several years. It was not until late September, early October in 1687 when she fell pregnant again. By then James had succeeded to his brother’s throne and was introducing pro-Catholic legislation. The Protestant Succession had seemed secure since the death of the Duke of Cambridge in 1677. Now Queen Mary could give birth to a Prince of Wales, introducing the possibility that the king might be encouraged to overturn the supremacy of the Church of England. Memories of Mary Tudor’s counter-Reformation activities were still strong in Protestant England and fears of a return to Catholicism were paramount. A paranoid population waited until June the next year to discover that Mary’s baby was a boy. The scene was set for a revolution.


The Later Stuarts 1660-1744 – Sir George Clark, Oxford University Press 1985

Queen Anne – Edward Gregg, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980

William and Mary – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 2003

The Shorter Pepys – ed. Robert Latham, Penguin 1987

William and Mary – John Miller, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1974

The Life & Times of Charles II – Christopher Falkus, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1972

William and Mary - Henri & Barbara van der Zee, History Book Club 1973

[i] Samuel Pepys – 5th May 1661
[ii] Samuel Pepys -11th September 1664
[iii] Samuel Pepys – 18th February 1661
[iv] William and Mary - Henri & Barbara van der Zee
[v] Queen Anne – Edward Gregg

Friday, 20 April 2012

William 111 - Waiting for a Glorious Revolution

Trouble at Home

By the spring of 1679 it was clear that Mary was not pregnant and the work done on William’s hunting lodge at Dieren to create a family home, and the nursery Mary set up was in vain. Only sixteen now, Mary was to long for a child all her life. Her stepmother, the Duchess of York, told everyone that the pregnancy was imaginary.  

In England the Popish Plot conspiracy[i], ‘revealed’ by Titus Oates, had inflamed public opinion against the Duke of York sufficiently that Charles, to protect his brother, sent James to Brussels. When Charles fell ill James returned for a quick visit. While in England he complained to Charles of Monmouth’s presence in England, while he – the heir – was forced into exile. Monmouth was sent to Holland on a visit to his cousins. William informed Monmouth, in a private conversation; that while he was prepared to give the Duke his friendship, he was not prepared to support his claims to the throne of England. Mary met with her father and step-mother for the last time in October 1679. James was suspicious of William’s ambitions, believing that his son-in-law coveted the throne of England for himself.

In March 1680 Mary was seriously ill & William was concerned that he would lose his wife. Mary took a long time to recover from her illness and suffered a period of depression, which William, tired and harassed by the lack of progress in events in Europe, was ill-suited to assuage. Mary’s new chaplain convinced himself that William was ill-treating Mary[ii]; and it was now that Mary was made aware, by her entourage, that her husband was having an affair with one of her maids of honour. Betty Villiers, an intelligent lady whose countenance was marred by a squint, had been brought up with Mary and Anne[iii].

William too was suffering ill-health; partly a result of worrying about Mary’s health. He was also in the invidious position of being the servant of the Dutch republic, having responsibility without the power. The States General were too inwardly focussed to properly appreciate Louis XIV’s designs to place the whole of central Europe under a French hegemony (very much as Napoleon was to do over 100 years later). Additionally Louis XIV refused to pay William the revenues from his estates in France and French troops took & looted Orange, which was placed under the jurisdiction of the French Crown. The Protestants there were persecuted. This maltreatment of his subjects turned William’s dislike of Louis into hatred.

Mary & William shared an enthusiasm for the furnishing of their various homes and garden design. Apart from her card-playing & visits to the playhouse, there was little for even the most censorious Dutchman to object to in Mary, who spent her days receiving visitors, walking and taking barge trips, doing needlework, painting & playing music. Mary and the Dutch discovered a mutual respect for each other. Mary found that she preferred the cleanliness of Dutch homes and towns and villages; the backbiting, sycophancy & hypocrisy, so prevalent at Whitehall, were mostly absent in Holland.

Questions about the Succession 

In 1680, as anti-Catholic animosity still prevailed in England, James was sent to Scotland as Lord High Commissioner. Many in Parliament and the populace wanted James excluded from the succession. And there were calls for Charles to divorce his wife or for the Duke of Monmouth to be legitimised, or even for the Princess of Orange to be declared Queen regnant if her father’s popularity declined further. When the ramifications of the Popish Plot finally dispersed James & his wife were welcomed back to court. James was in any event pro-French and Charles was content to receive his French pension, making him independent of parliament. Neither were interested in stopping Louis’ machinations in mainland Europe.

In May that year a group of Whigs attempted for the first time to stop James from inheriting the throne. They introduced an Exclusion Bill into parliament. The Whig plan was to have the Duke of Monmouth made king. Until now William had been working with the opposition. Charles however was not prepared to accept the bill & eventually prorogued parliament in June. At the same time rebellion broke out in Scotland and Charles’ ‘Charming Jemmy’ was sent to quell it. Monmouth acquitted himself well and came home to receive the adulation of the English people. A second exclusion bill in November was defeated, when Charles indicated that he wished the bill to be rejected.

The following July William visited England in an attempt to persuade Charles to act on the continent, failing to understand that Charles’ pro-French position was influenced by his secret pension from France. The court regarded William as strange, not least as the hair on his head was his own and not the wig worn by all fashion conscious males.. The visit was a failure and the last time uncle & nephew met.

Prince George of Denmark
In March 1683 a marriage between Anne and Prince George of Denmark[iv] was proposed and during the negotiations the Danes tried to have William excluded from the succession. This proposal, although discarded, had the unfortunate long-term result of making William distrust George. Anne and George were married on 29th July. The previous month a plot to kill the king and his brother had been foiled. The Whig ringleaders were executed while a third was sent to the tower.

James was convinced that Monmouth had been aware of and condoned the plot and in May 1684 Monmouth was asked to leave the country again for a while. Charles asked William and Mary not to receive his son, but the couple allowed ‘Jemmy’ to join them in Holland. William did not regard Monmouth as a threat, aware that most of the Whigs considered Mary and himself as next in line to the throne. Monmouth acted as a tonic on the court and enjoyed himself enormously, encouraging even the reserved William to learn English country dances. Apart from a short visit to England at the end of December, Jemmy stayed in the Netherlands until the death of his father, from a stroke, in February.

Monmouth’s Rebellion

James succeeded his brother, ascending to the throne despite the antagonism to his Catholicism. The worries of his Protestant subjects were partially allayed by the belief that the Protestant succession was assured by his daughter Mary and her husband, now next in line for the throne. At his coronation James’ speech was moderate and soothed the fears of the majority. James now demanded that William arrest Monmouth and send the prisoner home, which William refused to do.

Duke of Monmouth
Monmouth ignored William’s advice to return home and avoid involvement in any conspiracies. Instead Monmouth’s mistress and his rabid supporters persuaded him to invade England and raise a rebellion against the king. The fleet sailed from Amsterdam, over which William had little control. William immediately sent Bentinck to James, informing him that the rebels were en route. Much as William and Mary liked Monmouth, they had no sympathy with Monmouth’s ambitions, as they were now James’ heirs. It was generally seen as unlikely that the 51 year old James would have any further children. Queen Mary had undergone ten pregnancies and there was now only the sickly young Isabella alive, over whom Mary and Anne took precedence.

In July Monmouth’s poorly armed rebels were heavily defeated at Sedgemoor. Monmouth was found hiding in a ditch, was taken to the Tower and then executed. James had the Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys take reprisals against such of Monmouth’s supporters who had escaped the battle, at the ‘Bloody Assizes’, shocking the nation with the brutality of his actions.

Anne was now her father’s favourite – he had hopes of converting her & Prince George to Catholicism. Mary & William were worried that James would act to exclude her and William from the succession. She was also badly hurt when her father gave Anne a generous allowance, but failed to do the same for her. James claimed that he believed that any monies paid to Mary might be used against himself. James informed William that he expected his son-in-law to take a more friendly attitude towards the French, something that William was never likely to do, in view of French continental ambitions.

Betty Villiers
There were rumours in Holland that James was going to kidnap Mary, force her to divorce William and marry her to Louis XIV, whose wife had died in July 1683. It is possible that James encouraged Mary’s household to try and cause problems between Mary and her husband, by persuading her to watch outside Betty Villiers’ room one night. William was outraged that his wife should stoop to spying on him. For a while the couple were estranged. The incident was followed by a purge of the troublemakers in Mary’s household. Betty Villiers was sent home to England, but her father sent her back to Holland and begged for her re-instatement. She made her home with her married sister and William continued to visit her occasionally, although Mary and Bentinck, her brother-in-law, refused to see her again.

Religion and Conflict at Home and Abroad

In 1685 the Edict of Nantes, which had allowed freedom of religious observance, was revoked, resulting in the flight of Huguenots from France into the Dutch Republic. Mary and William were particularly concerned by the plight of the persecuted peoples of Orange; William’s principality was now swallowed up by the French state. And by the summer of 1686 James was making clear indication of his intention to restore the Catholic religion in England and undermining the state church. Much to her relief, Anne and George informed Mary that they had no intention of switching their beliefs.

James II
In November 1686 James sent an envoy to Holland, in an attempt to persuade William and Mary to support him in his attempts to overthrow the Test Acts, wherein anyone wishing to take up a public post must abjure the Catholic faith. His efforts were rejected, but James continued to send Mary religious tracts in a futile attempt to sway her from her support for the Church of England. When Mary informed her father that his attempts were merely strengthening her own beliefs, he sent her a Catholic priest to harangue her.

In the spring of 1687 William was contacted by John Churchill, to assure him that Anne had no intention of changing her faith. Anne had just lost her two infant daughters to smallpox and had a miscarriage. George also fell ill and Catholics at court were looking around for a Catholic prince for Anne to marry. In April James issued the Declaration of Indulgence, which he was able to use to overcome some of the anti-Catholic legislation. Rumours abounded in the country that James was attempting to have his daughters barred from the succession.

Queen Mary
In August Queen Mary’s mother died and William sent his uncle Zuylenstein with his formal condolences. Zuylenstein was also charged to find out first hand about James’ relationships with Parliament and it has been suggested he was to also try and win leading Englishmen over to his cause.

By the end of the year the news that Queen Mary was pregnant again became common knowledge, her first pregnancy in four years. Protestants worried again about the succession. The chances of James being succeeded by a Protestant suddenly looked to be in danger. Rumours swirled around the country to the effect that even if the queen gave birth to a girl, who would be third in line to the throne, that Catholic priests would replace the child with a boy; thus ensuring that any religious changes effected by James would be continued in the next reign. The stage was set for conflict whatever happened at the birth, which promised to be a momentous occasion.   


The Later Stuarts 1660-1744 – Sir George Clark, Oxford University Press 1985

Queen Anne – Edward Gregg, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980

William and Mary – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 2003

William and Mary – John Miller, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1974

The Life & Times of Charles II – Christopher Falkus, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1972


[i] The plot whereby Charles was to be killed and James placed on the throne seems to have been the figment of excited imaginations
[ii] Possibly based on information from the French Ambassador, who was trying to foment ill-feeling between William & James. He was spreading rumours of William’s maltreatment of Mary.
[iii] It is believed that it was Betty Villiers’ intelligence that attracted William and some sources dispute that they were ever lovers, Betty may have been no more than a sympathetic adult listener.
[iv] Although Protestant Denmark was an ally of France

Thursday, 12 April 2012

William 111 - The Prince of Orange takes to the European Stage

War with the French

Finally at the age of twenty-one William III, Prince of Orange, was invested with the titles that were considered his heritage by his supporters - Captain General of the Dutch Army for life and Stadtholder. But William and his tiny army of nine thousand were facing the might, not of the Spanish, but of the French, whose enormous armies could be easily supplied from home. William’s ascension to his new position had been assisted by the tumult caused by the French army’s remorseless march across Dutch lands. The Dutch responded by blaming those who had led them to date – Orangist propaganda informed them that the regents were responsible for the setbacks in the war, by stubbornly refusing to allow William to inherit his father’s offices. It was popularly felt that if William was made Stadtholder the English would retire from the fray. Indeed William attempted to do a deal with his uncle Charles II.

William did nothing to hold back the Orange pamphleteers, who roused the anger of the crowds against his political enemies. He refused to publicly clear Johan de Witt & his brother Cornelius of the crimes of which they were accused. On the 21st June an attempt was made on the life of Johan, in which he was injured. Johan resigned his post as Grand Pensionary, replaced by one of William’s supporters Gaspar Fagel. Cornelius was imprisoned on a charge of treason. On 7th August a letter from Charles II to William was published, blaming the de Witts & their supporters for the war; Charles said he was trying to help William gain his rightful inheritance. Given the letter by William, Fagel had it read in the States General & the State of Holland, thereby whipping up public animosity against the de Witt’s party even further.  

Death of the de Witt brothers
On the 20th August 1672 Johan de Witt was lured to the prison at den Haag, where Cornelius was being held, by a letter purportedly written by his brother. The prison guards had been removed from their posts, allegedly to deal with some farmers who were pilfering goods. Johan & Cornelius de Witt were dragged from the prison, by an organised lynch mob. The two brothers were killed and bits were cut off the bodies; the hearts of both brothers being displayed by one of the ring leaders for many years. There is nothing to prove that William was involved in organising the crime, but he took no action against the known ringleaders, even rewarding some with money or high office. Following these murders a third of the regents were replaced with William’s own men.

Now William had to concentrate on removing the French from Dutch soil. In November William led his army in an attack on the French supply lines at Maastricht. In the meantime an alliance had been forged with Spain & the Holy Roman Empire, both concerned by the overweening ambitions of Louis XIV. Louis’ armies took Maastricht, while William failed to take Charleroi by siege (he was too impetuous a leader & lacked the patience for a successful siege), but the Dutch fleet under de Ruyter, defeated the English navy three times during 1673.

The English were brought to the negotiating table by the strength of anti-French & anti-Catholic public opinion, fomented by William’s English agents. The Treaty of Westminster was signed on 19th February 1674 bringing about England’s withdrawal from the war. By the end of the following year the French had left the Dutch republic, save for Maastricht. Louis now wished to rationalise his northern frontier. Containment of the French was to exercise William’s mind for the rest of life. It was his mission in Europe and he took a dim view of anyone trying to divert him from his life’s work.

Count George von Waldeck
In the early 1670s the Dutch army was riddled with cowardice, indiscipline & incompetence and William and his mentor Count George von Waldeck were faced with the challenge of creating a force able to fight the superior French armies. William’s difficulties as a general were often compounded by the need to command an composed of allied nations. The war placed an enormous strain on the Dutch economy & disrupted trade; with the additional disadvantage that the now neutral English were profiting from the Dutch problems

In March 1675 William had a fever which was quickly diagnosed as smallpox. William had no heir. He was the focus of intense loyalty from the Dutch people and there was no-one else of sufficient stature for the country to rally round, which could mean disaster for the nation. The number of people in contact with William was kept to a minimum; while his friend Bentinck, in accordance with current medical thinking, shared the bed of his friend, which was believed to draw off the illness from the patient. By the end of April both William and Bentinck had recovered from the dread disease.

Many Dutch republicans still feared that William’s ambition was to create a monarchy. So when he was offered the title of Duke of Guelderland in 1675 he regretfully had to turn the offer down as the states of Holland & Zeeland made their opposition clear.


In an (ultimately successful) attempt to bolster his claim to the English throne, William decided to ask for the hand of Lady Mary Stuart, second in line to the throne; the eldest daughter of the heir James, Duke of York. William hoped to persuade Charles to secede from his French alliance and withdraw from the war. It was for this reason that he overcame his reluctance – the marriage was likely to be unpopular with the Dutch, who had not cared for William’s mother, another Lady Mary Stuart and William was contemptuous of the low rank of Anne Hyde, Mary’s mother. Charles II was persuaded to consider the marriage between his niece and nephew, in an attempt to quieten the Protestant fears resulting from the 1672 Declaration of Indulgence and his heir’s Roman Catholicism[i].

With her sister Anne, Mary, who was born in 1662 (twelve years younger than her future husband) was a declared Child of the State and their education was the responsibility of the king and his advisers. Charles guaranteed that they would be brought up as members of the Church of England, assuring the Protestant succession. Mary’s spiritual mentor was the Bishop of London – Henry Compton, an outspoken anti-Papist. Lonely and bored Mary’ emotional output as a teenager was confined to a fourteen year correspondence with an older acquaintance, Frances Apsley.

In 1673 James, a widower since the death of Mary & Anne’s mother in 1671, married the fifteen year old Catholic Princess Mary Beatrice d’Este. The English people and Parliament objected vociferously to the marriage, but Mary and Anne found a new playmate. By April 1677 the Duchess of York had had two miscarriages, had one daughter die at ten months old and her daughter Isabella (who was to die in 1681) was a sickly child. It was also clear that Charles’ marriage was unlikely to produce an heir, and Charles refused to divorce his barren wife Queen Catherine. The need to ensure the Protestant succession was becoming imperative. Anti-Catholicism in England was becoming increasingly stronger.

Charles was inclined to the Dutch marriage for Mary, as a possible means of detaching his nephew from the Whig opposition to his government and detaching him from his allies Spain & the Holy Roman Empire. Charles offered terms to William & in October 1677 William arrived in England to discuss peace. His reserve alienated the court and Mary was distressed by the ‘old’ man her relations were planning to marry her to. William was accompanied by his friend William Bentinck, who was more adept than William at flattering those whose sense of importance required stroking. James, whose political sense was never strong, was opposed to the marriage as he hoped for a Catholic son-in-law – something Parliament would never concede. James’ only support in opposing the marriage came from the French Ambassador.

James reluctantly gave his permission for the wedding, which was solemnised on 4th November (William’s birthday) by Bishop Charlton, Mary’s spiritual adviser. The marriage was enormously popular with the English public, who were hostile to the Anglo-French alliance and looked forward to an Anglo-Dutch Protestant one. William had insisted that the marriage take place before peace terms could be discussed, to avoid his ambitions being taken hostage to his desire for peace. The wedding was a small private affair, at William’s insistence - he was concerned that a large ceremony would aggravate his asthma.

The Dutch were not impressed by William’s choice of bride and the birth of a son to the Duchess of York on the 7th November disappointed William, who was additionally irritated that he had to stand as Godfather to the child, who now stood between his wife and the crown. Charles, Duke of Cambridge[ii] lived only five weeks; he caught smallpox from his half-sister Anne, who’d visited her stepmother while still convalescent from the disease. William ordered his wife to stay away from the infected location of St James Palace and he and Mary quarrelled. William was required in Holland and wanted to return home.

On 29th November Mary arrived in the country that was to be her home for the next eleven years. On the 16th December William and Mary made their state entry into den Haag, before returning to the palace of Honselaardijk, where William had taken his bride on their arrival in the Dutch Republic. In private William’s reserve melted away and Mary was to learn to appreciate William’s good points and to contrast the vast difference between the Dutch & English courts.

William continued to have business lunches with colleagues and friends, to which Mary was not invited. He worked in the afternoons, while Mary received visitors. Mary and William had supper together in the evening. Mary soon realised that her role was to distract William from the cares of office with talk of gossip and trivia.

For William and Mary marriage came first. For them, unusual in a political marriage, love followed – according to some contemporary sources - relatively quickly after the wedding. In March 1678 William had to return to his campaigning against the French. Mary, already in love with William, wrote to Frances Apsley of her sadness at seeing William ride away and her worries that she might never see her husband again. In early April Mary miscarried, probably after a rough trip to Breda to see William.

Peace treaty with the French was finally signed at Nijmegen on 10th August; the French pushed to the negotiating table by William’s advance on Mons, with an army of 45,000. Mary by now believed she was pregnant again. She was delighted by the visit of her step-mother and sister, accompanied by the Duchess of Monmouth, in October. The visitors returned to find England in the grip of anti-Catholic hysteria, caused by Titus Oates’ revelation of the alleged Popish Plot.


The Later Stuarts 1660-1744 – Sir George Clark, Oxford University Press 1985

Queen Anne – Edward Gregg, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980

William and Mary – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 2003

William and Mary – John Miller, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1974

The Life & Times of Charles II – Christopher Falkus, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1972


[i] James had converted some time in 1668-9. The news was kept secret but had filtered out into the public consciousness.
[ii] William was also annoyed as his uncle had refused to make him a duke.

Friday, 6 April 2012

William 111 - The Lonely Childhood of Prince William of Orange


Princess Mary & Prince William II
William III, Prince of Orange, was the son of Charles I eldest daughter, Princess Mary. The nine year old Mary married William II Prince of Orange in 1641. In October 1650 William II died of a short illness, a month before his son & heir was born.

The head of the House of Orange was the ruler of the tiny principality of Orange in southern France, where many of the inhabitants were Protestant. The Princes of Orange also held the great offices of the Dutch republic, now in its second year of hard won independence from rule by the Spanish crown. The Dutch republic was made up of seven of the original provinces of the Spanish Netherlands. The remaining ten provinces were still ruled from Spain. The province of Holland, wherein lay the great towns of Amsterdam, Rotterdam & Leyden, was the most powerful & richest province, contributing 58% of the countries income from taxation. The offices of Stadtholder and Captain General were traditionally held by the Princes of Orange.

There were fears in the country that the Princes of Orange would attempt to turn the country into a monarchy. Such fears were not assuaged when in 1650 Prince William II attempted a military coup against the city of Amsterdam. The offices of Stadtholder & Captain General held by William II lapsed with his death in the October.

Prince William
William III did not have a happy childhood. His mother and paternal grandmother were frequently at odds. Princess Mary did not like the Netherlands and felt that, as royalty, she was superior to all around her. Mary refused to attend William’s christening in January 1651, because Princess Amalia, widow of Prince Frederick Henry, would not let Mary call her son Charles in honour of her father & brother. The baby prince was called William after his father, a traditional House of Orange name.

William spent more time with his mother than was normal for royal families at the time. Her main interests however were not focussed on her son’s future, but on her brother’s. Mary believed that once Charles was restored to the thrones of England & Scotland[i] he would then assist his nephew attain his rightful position in the Netherlands. To this end Mary ‘loaned’ Charles monies that the House of Orange could ill afford and which Charles was not expected to repay.

At the age of two William was given his own court and his mother arranged for an English lady, Lady Stanhope, to be governess of his household. At the age of four William started making public appearances. Although an unhealthy, small child, who was subject to asthma all his life, William was extremely popular with the Dutch people, who saw him as the direct descendant of their hero of the fight for independence, William the Silent. When William was three there had been suggestions that the infant be named Captain General. But in 1654 the Dutch republic signed a peace treaty with the English Commonwealth agreeing that neither William nor his descendants would ever be appointed chief commander of the Dutch armies & navies[ii].

Princess Mary of Orange

In 1656 Princess Mary visited France. Her mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, had hopes of a marriage between Mary & her eighteen year old cousin, Louis XIV. The match did not come off, but Mary dallied in France until news reached her that William was seriously ill. When she arrived in Bruges Mary was told that William merely had measles and was making a good recovery, whereupon Mary stayed several further weeks in Bruges.[iii] There seems to be some difference of opinion as to whether Mary was fond of her child. Some sources claim that the two were estranged when William was relatively young, others that Mary was devoted to him and wanted to ensure that he inherited the position left vacant by his father.  


William’s education was somewhat neglected, with the significant exception of his religious studies, which commenced when he was six, under the tutelage of Pastor Cornelius Trigland, a follower of Voetius[iv]. Calvinism is a dour religion and may have contributed to William’s reserved & cold demeanour. William had to read the bible every day and learn a psalm by heart daily.

William’s studies in other subjects did not begin until he was nine, .when he was enrolled as a student at the University of Leyden. One of the prince’s governor was his uncle Frederick Nassau de Zuylenstein, an illegitimate son of his grandfather Prince Frederick Henry. Zuylenstein was not cultivated and was lazy into the bargain, but intelligent. William’s domestic governor was Constantine Huygens, who had been secretary to his grandfather & his father. William was constantly made aware that gluttony & drunkenness were inappropriate for a person of honour, in contrast to the court in England. Not that William was ever in danger of being a glutton; indeed his tutors had to sit with him at mealtimes to persuade him to eat.

William spoke English, French, German and Spanish, along with his native Dutch & Latin although his grammar and spelling were both poor. He was however well tutored in military theory. William’s hunchback, asthma & general poor health precluded him from enjoying much sport.  

When William was nine, in May 1660 his uncle Charles was restored to the throne of England. Charles embarked for England from den Haag, which thronged with English visitors come to greet their new king.

‘About 10 at night the prince comes home, and we found an easy admission. His attendance very inconsiderable as for a prince. But yet handsome, and his tutor a fine man and himself a very pretty boy.’[v]

Along with most other acts passed by the Commonwealth, the Act of Seclusion, agreed with the Dutch in 1654, was declared void, by the English parliament in the frenzy of support for the new regime. Princess Mary & Princess Amalia attempted to persuade some of the provinces to declare William Stadtholder, but all declined.
In September Princess Mary pawned her jewels and travelled to England to enjoy the restoration celebrations in September. Before leaving Mary asked the States General to provide Commissioners to supervise William’s education. In England Mary caught smallpox and died in the December, asking her brother to look out for the interests of her ten year old son, while begging the States General to take care of William

‘The being who is dearest to us in the world.’[vi]

Uncle Charles was the king of the Dutch republic’s greatest commercial rival and the young William was in an invidious position – the elevation of his uncle led to William being regarded as a valuable pawn by the Dutch States General. The supporters of the House of Orange and the advocates of a more republican Netherlands were at odds over the guardianship & education of the young prince. William’s French tutor, a close friend of his mother’s who had tried to comfort the orphan, was dismissed by his grandmother after his mother’s death. This may have been an act of spite against the dead woman, but hardly conducive to her grandson’s wellbeing.

Early in 1661 William was seriously ill; his asthma flared up badly combined with violent headaches & recurring fainting fits found the doctors fearing for his life. In April, as William was convalescent, Princess Amalia decided to take him to Cleves to visit their Brandenburg relations. For six weeks, with the Elector of Brandenburg and his wife and children, William enjoyed a family life he had never known, nor was to again. He played with his young cousins and learnt to ride and was introduced to the delights of hunting for the first time. In the future William was to find release from his troubles in hunting, wearing a special breastplate/cuirass as an adult, when on horseback. Being out in the open air relieved his asthma.

After this break William returned to his studies in Leyden, now in good health. The Elector’s physicians had decreed that William no longer needed the heavy the heavy corset he was forced to wear, as the risk of deformity was now low. Instead he wore a lighter corset. In the winter of 1661-2 William was ill again and his grandmother had him moved back to live in den Haag in June. By now William was finding pleasure not only in riding and hunting, but also in a flight of falcons, a present from the King of Denmark.

At the age of thirteen William found an interest in art and he appointed an agent to purchase the Italian paintings he coveted. Unfortunately William’s modest allowance was insufficient to buy the old masters he desired. He was soon in debt and his grandmother had to order his agent to cease his purchases. His court was a frugal one. In the winter months William was allowed two white wax candles a day and a night light, with a turf fire in the morning & evening. At the age of fourteen William was taking part in society, attending parties at the great houses of the republic. By the time he was fifteen William had a personal suite of thirty three, excluding servants. In 1666 William gave his first dinner party attended by 50 persons.

Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt
During the Second Anglo-Dutch War one of Charles’ demands was an improvement in William’s official position. In March 1666 Johan de Witt, the Grand Pensionary, made proposals to Princess Amalia about William’s future. Zeeland, the foremost supporter of the House of Orange among the states, was proposing that William be given command of Dutch troops under Turenne, the French general prosecuting the land war, which had been going badly for the Dutch and their allies. Eager to see her grandson receive the honours that had been his father’s, Princess Amalia agreed. In April the Dutch made William a ward of the state. All his pro-English courtiers, including his uncle de Zuylenstein were removed from his household, despite William’s pleas to de Witt asking for his uncle, one of the few remaining members of his family, to be allowed to stay.

De Witt took over the tutoring of the prince, who was always courteous to the elder man, despite the knowledge that de Witt was determined to block William’s attempts to inherit his father’s responsibilities & positions. In 1667 de Witt arranged for the States General to issue the Perpetual Edict declaring that Captain Generals or Admiral Generals could not act as Stadtholders. The province of Holland and four of the other provinces abolished the post of Stadtholder.

On the 17th September 1668 William made a triumphal entry into Middleberg, Zeeland, where the State had made him Premier Noble of the province some years previously. This trip had been arranged in secrecy by Huygens and others. The welcome he received was rapturous and William swore his oath as Premier Noble on the following day. The next month Princess Amalia declared William of age and gave him control of his own household.

By the age of nineteen William was self-possessed, with a maturity belied by his years; the French diplomat Pomponne viewed William thus:

‘He was naturally intelligent and his judgement seemed as great as his intelligence. He knew how to hide his feelings – dissimulation seemed to come naturally to him. His morals were extremely regular. His manner was virtuous, calm & polite. He had an application and a capacity for business remarkable in one so young. He knew where his interests lay and how to manage them skilfully.’[vii]

Louis XIV
In 1670 Louis XIV persuaded Charles II that it was in England’s interests to invade & partition the Dutch Republic. The two kings signed the secret Treaty of Dover, which was facilitated by Charles’ French mistress, the Duchess of Portsmouth - one of Louis’ agents. Charles planned to use William and his supporters to harass the States. He failed to recognise that, for William, Dutch interests were paramount and hoped to gain his support when William visited England in November. De Witt approved the visit, as William hoped for the return of some of the loans given to Charles by his mother. William travelled with his uncle de Zuylenstein, Huygens & his friend for life - Bentinck.

On this visit William was paid part of his mother’s dowry and he was acknowledged successor to the throne of England after James, Duke of York and his two girls Mary, now eight, & Anne. William was unimpressed by the debauchery of the Stuart court and in return was found to be priggish by his uncles, who got him badly drunk at one dinner. It took William several days to get over his hangover, for which he never seemed to forgive his uncle.

In 1672 the French preparations for war were fast becoming apparent. The supporters of the House of Orange renewed their demands for William to be made Captain General, to enable him to use his influence to keep England out of the war. De Witt and his party were determined to keep William out of power – they feared that he intended to make the Republic a monarchy and also felt he was his uncle’s pawn – a gross misreading of William’s character. William was unaware of the provisions of the Treaty of Dover and believed that he could persuade Protestant England to make common cause with the Protestant Dutch. In the spring William was made Captain General of the Dutch army.

The campaigning season began in April as Louis’s army marched against the tiny republic. Garrison after garrison fell before the colossus. In May de Witt ordered the breaching of the dikes and William’s tiny army of nine thousand withdrew behind this waterline. Peace negotiations were commenced, but Louis was convinced that the Dutch were in an impossible situation and kept raising the stakes. Eventually on 26th June the Dutch broke off the talks.

On the 4th July 1672, in view of the disasters staring the Dutch in the face, the States of Holland made William Stadtholder at last. At the age of twenty-one he had finally been given the honour that had been his father’s, with full voting powers, despite de Witt’s attempts to have William’s role limited to that of an adviser. On the 10th Charles’ envoys offered to make William sovereign prince of Holland if the Dutch capitulated. William told the English that he would defend Dutch soil to the last ditch. On the 17th Zeeland offered to make William their Stadtholder. William’s fight with his French and English enemies were now fully joined.

William was now a man in both age and temperament. The seeds of all his future successes and failings had been laid down during the sad childhood of this lonely man, who had few close confidants of his own age. The progression of this war, so vital to the future of the Netherlands, was now in William’s hands.


The Later Stuarts 1660-1744 – Sir George Clark, Oxford University Press 1985

William and Mary – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 2003

The Shorter Pepys – ed. Robert Latham, Penguin 1987

William and Mary – John Miller, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1974

The Life & Times of Charles II – Christopher Falkus, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1972


[i] Until the Act of Union in 1707 the Scots were, in theory, able to choose their own king. In practise they chose the new king or queen of England.
[ii] The English Act of Seclusion
[iii] Without modern immunisation measles can kill or leave serious complications, especially for children with ill-health or chest problems, as William suffered from & Mary must have known this.
[iv] A contra-Remonstrant theologian
[v] Samuel Pepys 14-15th May 1660
[vi] William and Mary – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 2003
[vii] William and Mary – John Miller, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1974