Mary spent her first days in her new country recovering from the journey. She also finally got to know the man she had so tearfully married. When he began to trust her, Mary could finally see the man he really was – funny, emotional and concerned. William soon took her to The Hague to show her the stately building where he had been born and had spent much of his childhood.
In early January, Mary performed her first solo duty – receiving the important ladies of The Hague in audience – but a question of etiquette left some ladies in tears. It was not a good start. William’s tightknit group of friends resented Mary’s presence at first, but they soon grow to like her as they got to know her better. Mary began to feel more at home, and she easily fell into a new routine. Her newfound happiness was complete when she learned that she was pregnant in early 1678. However, she would soon need to say goodbye to her new husband as he headed off to war with France. Mary wrote, “I suppose you know the prince is gone to the army, but I am sure you can guess at the trouble I am in, I am sure I could never have thought it half so much. I thought coming out of my own country, parting with my friends and relations the greatest that ever could, as long as they lived, happen to me, but I am mistaken that now till this time I never knew sorrow, for what can be more cruel in the world than parting with what one loves?”1
Mary was continually worried for William’s safety, writing, “I reckon him now never in safety, ever in danger, oh miserable life that I lead now.”2 At the end of March, she was finally able to see him in Antwerp and spent two weeks there. She returned to The Hague only to be summoned south to Breda again a few weeks later. She was by then around three months pregnant, and she had only just arrived there when she suffered a miscarriage. Her being in Breda was particularly unfortunate as the regular court physicians could not attend on her. Both William and Mary were very disappointed, and Mary’s father wrote to her, asking her to be more careful. William soon sent her back home, further from the front, and it appeared that she was recovering well from her miscarriage.
Mary’s first summer in the Netherlands was spent with her ladies travelling around the country. She loved to travel on the canals in beautiful boats with canopies. She spent her time watching the landscape slide by, playing cards, doing embroidery or talking with her ladies. She learned to speak and understand Dutch reasonably well. The happy days of summer were interrupted by yet more trouble with France and Mary was left alone again. She was by then no more than six or seven weeks into what she believed to be her second pregnancy. By the end of August, most of the court seemed to believe that Mary was pregnant again. In early September, Mary was unwell with a fever, and she initially did not join William in The Hague. She was treated with “asses’ milk and physic.”3 She felt very low and her stepmother Mary of Modena and her sister Anne came over to see her. They stayed at Noordeinde Palace, and Mary was carried in her chair to them. During this time, Mary received a new nickname from her young stepmother and sister, namely “Lemon” as her husband was the Prince of “Orange.” They returned home on 18 November.
Mary of Modena returned to the Netherlands in early March 1679 with her husband – to everyone’s great surprise. They stayed in The Hague for a few days before travelling to Brussels. By then, Mary had gone well over the nine-month mark for a pregnancy, and there was still no sign of a child. Did she suffer a phantom pregnancy? Was she perhaps left permanently infertile by the awful miscarriage at Breda? Mary herself was devastated, and by April she was struck down by a high fever and an agonising pain in her hip. She was bled several times and reportedly felt better. By the summer, she was well enough to travel to Dieren, where William loved to hunt and had a house built. At the end of the summer, she went to take the waters at Spa. In October, Mary saw her father, stepmother and little half-sister Isabella for the last time. Young Isabella would die in 1681, but her father and stepmother would become her enemies in just a few years.
In March 1680, Mary was again seriously ill with William writing to his father-in-law that she was in great pain. Rumours of a miscarriage circulated around the court, but we cannot be sure if that was the case. It wasn’t until April that Mary was well enough to go outside for some air. As Mary slowly recovered, William became ill, but he too eventually recovered – just in time to meddle with the negotiations for the marriage of Mary’s sister Anne. William preferred Prince George of Hanover – who would eventually become King George I of Great Britain – but Anne married Prince George of Denmark in 1683.
Mary remained popular with the Dutch people and was considered to be one of her husband’s most valuable assets. People reportedly kissed the wheels of her coach and tried to tear off pieces of clothing as she passed, as a souvenir. Over the coming years, William and his father-in-law would become political enemies, and Mary would have to choose between being loyal to her father or being loyal to her husband. Mary’s love for both her husband and her religion made her choose her husband, but it would be a difficult road ahead.