The Stuarts & the Churchills: Part Two

Sarah

Ok, let’s pick up where we left off yesterday with the relationship between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 removed the Catholic James II in favor of his Protestant daughter, Mary II, and son-in-law, William III. A co-rule was established in the early days of 1689 that required a slight alteration to the succession since Mary and Princess Anne both had better claims to the throne than William.

Mary, however, refused to consider ruling as queen regnant with her husband as consort, and so not only was he made co-monarch, but Anne agreed to delay her succession until after William’s death if Mary pre-deceased him.

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Co-Monarchs: William III & Mary II

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William III and Mary II, or William and Mary of Orange, mark Britain’s only pair of co-monarchs, but the five years in which they jointly reigned were hardly smooth-sailing after the quiet drama of the Glorious Revolution. For starters, the idea that they were in any way equal was a farce, though how that unfolded publicly versus privately looked quite different. Mary, the daughter of the deposed James II, was widely accepted as the true Protestant monarch, if you assumed that Catholics should not sit on the throne and that James II’s infant son was either a changeling or Catholic, or both. William, on the other hand, was a foreigner, a thing trusted less by the English than a woman ruler in the 17th century.

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The Glorious Revolution

(c) Palace of Westminster; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In March 1688, Queen Mary Beatrice was six months pregnant, raising the possibility that she would produce a Catholic son and heir for her husband, James II. By then, James had sat on the throne for a little over three years, his Catholicism barely tolerated by the majority of his government and the English people on the grounds that his heir was his Protestant daughter, Mary, who was married to the equally Protestant Prince William of Orange.

Worried about what the birth of a prince would mean politically, three Englishmen – Arthur Herbert and William and Edward Russell – traveled to The Hague and proposed to William of Orange that he “invade” England and “rescue” the country from the threat of papacy. On June 10, the Queen delivered a healthy son and on June 30, Herbert again arrived in Holland, this time with the Earls of Devonshire, Danby and Shrewsbury, Richard Lumley, Edward Russell, Henry Sidney and Dr Compton, Bishop of London, to request that William “save” them.

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William & Mary in The Hague

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The House of Stuarts brought about a lot of firsts, though they’re rarely given credit for it. Indeed, stuck between the Tudors and the forebears of today’s Royal Family, they’re an in-between group of monarchs that have always failed to inspire quite as much interest as their peers. And that’s a shame, because they were certainly as dysfunctional and dramatic as those that came before and after. Even more, they were just as politically significant to the evolution of Great Britain.

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The First English Princess of Orange

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We know that the Glorious Revolution concluded with the accession of William III and Mary II, and we know that the Dutch couple was called upon because Mary was the deposed king’s Protestant daughter. But a lesser-known truth is that William was half-English himself, his mother having been Mary Stuart, the Princess Royal and daughter of Charles I. Because of that, William was closely tied to the royal House of Stuart as a grandson of one of Britain’s kings.

Of the two Mary Stuarts who became Princesses of Orange, certainly the second would become the more famous, ruling Britain for six years as queen regnant, but her aunt and mother-in-law was an interesting character, too. The eldest daughter of Charles I and Henrietta Maria of France, she was old enough to comprehend the significance of the civil war that broke out in England in the 1640s, and yet was long-married and removed from the conflict as the war came to a close and her father was executed. She, in many ways, had a birds-eye view of the monarchy’s temporary abolishment, but was protected from its effects in a way her younger siblings were not.

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The Accession of Queen Anne

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Queen Anne is Britain’s forgotten queen regnant, her reign and influence dwarfed by the influence and gains of her predecessor, Elizabeth I, and her successor, Queen Victoria. But it was her queenship that was most closely used as a model when Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, not necessarily as a template to follow, but certainly in terms of precedents laid out for how a female monarch could rule. Unlike the Virgin Queen or the morbid tenure of Mary I, Anne was the first queen regnant to rule with a husband who was not given equal footing to his wife. She also marked the end of the Stuart line, her 18 pregnancies failing to provide a single child that lived until adulthood.

She followed closely on the heels of her sister, Mary II, who ruled jointly with her husband, the Dutch William III, after the deposition of their father, James II, in the Glorious Revolution. Her rule, and the succession that followed her of the German George I, solidified Britain as a Protestant nation, one that still held a deep suspicion of Catholics, particularly in the ranks of its government. Indeed, for the entirety of her reign, her stepmother and half-siblings lived in exile in France, still claiming that by bloodline Britain was theirs. And in that they were technically correct, but Britain’s aversion to papacy had deep-seated roots stemming back to the Tudors and suspicion of foreign involvement, from Rome to France to Spain, and it was through Queen Anne and her sister before her that Britain declared its religion unchangeable.

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