Thursday, November 10, 2005

An important marriage

Feeling his position threatened by the hostility of Parliament to the government's pro-French policies, Danby arranged a marriage between William and the duke of York's elder daughter, the Lady Mary. This was done over James’s head, but, following his public announcement of his conversion, his daughters had been made wards of state and he had no say in their upbringing.

When Charles agreed to the betrothal in October 1677, the country celebrated with bonfires, though Mary is alleged to have wept for a day and a half. Yet the marriage seemed to be counter-balanced by the birth of a son to the duchess of York a few days later, even though this child lived only five days (he died of smallpox). His mother was under thirty and in good health - there was every likelihood that a son would replace Mary and Anne in the succession. But it seemed for a while as if the marriage of William and Mary had locked England into an alliance with the Netherlands. An Anglo-Dutch treaty was concluded in December.

In January 1678, fearing French designs on the United Provinces, Parliament voted to raise an army of 30,000 troops and in principle to grant a war supply of £1million for six months. In May Charles concluded another secret agreement with Louis by which he received further subsidies in return for disbanding his army and again proroguing Parliament. But in July 1678 France and the United Provinces signed an armistice, the Peace of Nijmegen, by which time both countries had come to distrust England. Charles refused to disband his army, and with the king now in possession of a standing army, many MPs feared the imminent establishment of popery and absolutism. Inevitably perhaps, Danby was blamed.

And Mary, Princess of Orange? When she entered The Hague in December 1677 in a golden coach drawn by six piebald horses, she won over the spectators with her beauty and affability. At the place of Honselaersdijk she discovered a passion for gardening that stayed with her for the rest of her life and another passion for collecting porcelain. Very soon she fell in love with her solemn husband, and, though he was brusque and undemonstrative, he too came to love her. See Maureen Waller, Ungrateful Daughters (Sceptre, 2002).

Mary's love for her husband was to have important political consequences.