Mary was the daughter of King Charles I and Henrietta Maria of France, and she was also the first bearer of the title, ‘Princess Royal’. The title was created by Henrietta Maria who wished to imitate the French ‘Madame Royale’ style. Mary was born on 4 November 1631 at St. James’s Palace as the eldest of nine children.
By 1640, Mary was already the subject of negotiations for a possible marriage between her and William, the only son of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange and Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. Mary’s father agreed to the marriage on the condition that the Dutch Republic enter into a political alliance with England. However, this alliance never happened, and Charles finally agreed to the marriage without this alliance as a condition. As Mary was still quite young, it was decided that she would stay in England until the end of 1643. In April 1641, William arrived in London with a grand entourage, and he and Mary were married in person at the Chapel Royal in Whitehall Palace. The nine-year-old bride wore a traditional silver gown with a train that was carried by 16 ladies while the 14-year-old groom wore a red velvet suit. Perhaps to evade the dangers of the looming troubles, Mary left England in March 1642. Mary never learned to speak Dutch, and she did not enjoy living in the Dutch Republic.
Mary became Princess of Orange in March 1647 when William’s father died. Mary’s relationship with her mother-in-law Amalia was not very good while the relationship with the rival court of Elizabeth Stuart – who was also her aunt – was very good. Amalia also did not appreciate how much money went to the English exiles who had come to The Hague. William was the leading supporter of the future King Charles II and the future James II in exile. Now that William had succeeded as Prince of Orange, Mary felt additional pressure to have a child. She had suffered a miscarriage in the autumn of 1647, and it was feared that she had become infertile. She squashed those rumours when she fell pregnant again in 1650. On 14 November 1650, she gave birth to a healthy son. He was to be fatherless. Mary’s husband William had died of smallpox one week before – he was still only 24 years old.
Mary had become a widow at the age of 19. The tensions between her and her mother-in-law were again at a high. Mary had wanted to name her son Charles after her father and brother, but Amalia insisted on the name William. Mary withdrew from the court life in The Hague and lived at a hunting lodge called Honselaarsdijk. Between January 1656 and February 1657, she lived with her mother Henrietta Maria in France, after which she returned to live in The Hague.
In May 1660, Charles had signed the Treaty of Breda in which he accepted the crown of England, Scotland and Ireland as its rightful King. Mary attended the ceremonies in Breda and The Hague, and her son was now fifth in line to the English throne, Mary took her son around the Dutch Republic for an official tour, which was a success. Mary’s brother Prince Henry died suddenly of smallpox in September 1660 just as Mary was about to leave The Netherlands. She went to England anyway, and only two months later she also became seriously ill. Mary soon realised that she was dying. On Christmas Eve 1660, Mary wrote her will, and she named her brother King Charles as her son’s guardian, which was not accepted by the regents of the Dutch Republic. Instead, they appointed her mother-in-law Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. Mary died later that same day, lamenting that her greatest pain was to be separated from her son. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Her greatest triumph came after her death when her son William became King William III of England, Scotland (II) and Ireland.