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.
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.
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.
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.
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