Mary passed the hours in prayer, both in public and in private. She only relaxed a little when she heard of William’s landing at Torbay, but the days passed slowly for her. Then the news came of William’s success and how James had sent his wife and child to safety before William had allowed him to escape as well. Mary learned of this at the end of December, and William asked her to prepare for her journey to England. Once Mary had tearfully said goodbye to England, now she would tearfully say goodbye to the Netherlands. She wrote, “I could not think without chagrin of leaving this dear country, where I had had such happiness, both spiritual and temporal.”1
In the end, it was agreed that Mary and William would reign jointly, but William (who was technically behind both his wife and his sister-in-law Anne in the line of succession) would also reign for life – meaning he would remain King if Mary predeceased him. He did concede to having any of Anne’s children take precedence over any heirs he might produce with a second wife. Mary was troubled to find herself taking her father’s place, but there was no going back. As she returned to England, she wrote, “It would be hard for me to express the different motions I felt in my heart at the sight of my own native country. I looked behind and saw vast seas between me and Holland that had been my country for more than eleven years. I saw with regret that I had left it and I believed it was for ever; that was a hard thought, and I had need of much more constancy than I can brag of, to bear it with patience.”2
William and Anne were waiting for her at Greenwich, and together they travelled to Whitehall. In the Banqueting Hall, the two Houses of Parliament arrived to offer William and Mary the Crown. Mary found no pleasure in being Queen. She wrote, “My heart is not made for a Kingdom, and my inclination leads me to a retired life, so that I have need of the resignation and self denial in the world, to bear with such condition as I am now in. Indeed the Prince’s being made King has lessened the pain, but none of the trouble of what I am like to endure.”3 William was unhappy as well, as his health suffered from life in London. At the end of February 1689, they moved to Hampton Court to prepare for their coronation.
On 11 April 1689, they were crowned together, though by then William had developed such a bad cough that it was feared he would die before then. It was an overall unpleasant day, and Mary later wrote, “The Coronation came on; that was to be all vanity.”4 Mary joined her pregnant sister Anne at Hampton Court and was present at the birth of her son – named William for the King – finally gave the pair some hope that God had approved of their mission. Mary prayed for the sickly boy all the time. Looking back on her first year as Queen, she would write, “It has pleased God to make this a year of trial in every way.”5
The following year, William left for Ireland to fight against Jacobites (those who supported King James II) and left Mary in charge. She was only to deal with matters that needed immediate attention and Mary was all too happy to submit herself. She did not enjoy being the centre of attention, and when William left, she wrote to him nearly every day. Her council of nine men were soon bickering amongst each other, forcing Mary to rely more on her own judgement. She found it difficult and wrote to William, “I ever fear not doing well and trust to what nobody says but you.”6 Over the next few years, William was away for several months of the year, facing Jacobite opposition, leaving Mary in charge but she was most happy living a domestic life. She liked to rise early, went to prayers, walked in the gardens and if she had the time, she would embroider.
In the autumn of 1694, Mary had a cold twice, and after she lost a ruby from a ring William had given her, she saw it as a bad omen. By December, she was rather unwell, but she told no one and went to Kensington Palace where she probably burned letters and her diary from that year. She even wrote out instructions for her funeral. Only after she did this, did Mary tell William of her illness. She assumed that had smallpox and doctors agreed with her diagnosis. William’s mother had died of the same disease in 1660, and he immediately feared the worst. Everyone who had not already had smallpox was sent away, and Mary treated herself with the remedies she usually used for a cold. On 23 December, she developed a rash.
William tried to go on with government, but he was in such a state that he burst out in tears, saying that “from being the happiest, he was now going to be the miserablest creature upon earth.”7 Two days later, the rash subsided, and Mary seemed a little better. Doctors still bled and purged her, and also applied leeches to her neck. William had a bed moved into Mary’s room so he could be closer to her. Then hope began to fade as Mary gradually became more breathless. She was by now spitting blood, and there was also blood in her urine. On 27 December, she received the sacrament as William wept openly. He was led away to the ante-room where he fainted from exhaustion. Her sister Anne – pregnant once more – offered to come at once but she was politely told to stay where she was. Later that day, Mary became unconscious, and she died at a quarter to one in the morning of 28 December. She was still only 32 years old.
William was devastated by her death and never married again. On 5 March, Mary’s funeral took place at Westminster Abbey, and it was a grand affair, despite her own wishes. She, and William too eventually, was buried in a vault beneath the South Aisle.