Queens of England + Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen (1792-1849)

Adelaide was born in 1792, the daughter of George I, Duke of Saxe-Meinigen, and Princess Luise Eleonore of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. Her father died when she was 11 years old and she, along with her younger siblings, was carefully raised by her mother and received an excellent education.

Adelaide’s marriage to Prince William, Duke of Clarence, was precipitated by the death of Princess Charlotte in 1817. She was the daughter of the Prince Regent and only legitimate grandchild of the ailing George III. This event led the other sons of the king to seek quick marriages in the hope of producing children who could inherit the throne. Parliament offered considerable allowances to any Royal Duke who married. This is what led the Duke of Clarence to marry Adelaide, the princess of an unimportant German state and twenty-seven years his junior in July 1818, a week after their first meeting. It was a double wedding with his brother Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and his bride Princess Victoria of Saxe-Cogburg-Saafeld.

By all accounts, the two became devoted to each other despite the circumstances of their marriage. Adelaide accepted William’s illegitimate children by the actress Dorothea Jordan as part of the family and had a positive effect on William’s behavior; he drank and swore less and became more tactful. Observers thought them parsimonious and their lifestyle simple. Adelaide and William had no surviving children. Between 1819 and 1822, Adelaide gave birth to two short-lived daughters, Charlotte and Elizabeth, and stillborn twin boys. Princess Victoria of Kent came to be acknowledged as William’s heir presumptive, as Adelaide had no more pregnancies after 1822.

Adelaide became queen in 1830 when George IV died and her husband succeeded the throne as William IV. They were crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1831 and while William despised the ceremony and behaved in mockery of it, Adelaide took it very seriously. She received praise for her “dignity, repose and characteristic grace.” She became beloved by the people for her piety, modesty, charity, and tragic childbirth history.

It is unknown how much Adelaide was able to politically to influence her husband and she never spoke about politics in public. She did give a large portion of her household income to charity and treated the heir presumptive, Princess Victoria, with kindness. She and William were both fond of the Princess but were frustrated in their attempts to have her closer to them by her mother, the Dowager Duchess of Kent. The Duchess refused to acknowledge Adelaide’s precedence and William, aggrieved at this disrespect to his wife, publicly called out the Duchess for her behavior.

When William became fatally ill in 1837, Adelaide stayed by his deathbed and didn’t sleep for ten days. She became the first queen dowager in over a century when he died and survived him by twelve years. She died of natural causes in the reign of her niece, Queen Victoria, in 1849. She is well-remembered today for her namesake city in Australia. Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, was named after her at its founding in 1836. The Queen Adelaide Club for women for is still active there and a statue of her stands in the foyer of the Town Hall. (x)


Queens of England + Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737)

Caroline was born in March 1683, the daughter of John Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, and Princess Eleonore Erdmuthe of Saxe-Eisenach. By 1696, she and her younger brother William Frederick were orphans. Caroline eventually entered into the care of Frederick, Elector of Brandenburg, and his wife, Sophia Charlotte, who had been a friend to her mother.

Frederick and Sophia Charlotte came king and queen of Prussia in 1701 and their household was a lively intellectual environment for Caroline. Before this time, she had received little formal education but she soon developed into a scholar of considerable ability. She and the queen had a close relationship in which Caroline was treated as a surrogate daughter.

In 1705, Sophia Charlotte died and Caroline was devastated. That same year, her nephew, George Augustus, the electoral prince of Hanover, visited the Ansbach court. As well as being his father’s heir apparent to the Electorate of Hanover, he was also third-in-line to the British throne. He supposedly visited incognito to inspect Caroline although she was not fooled. He immediately took a liking to her and she found him attractive in return. They were married in 1705 in Hanover and their first child, Frederick, was born in 1707. Including Frederick, they eventually had seven children who survived into adulthood.

Caroline’s father-in-law ascended the British throne in 1714 as George I. She became Princess of Wales when her husband was invested as Prince of Wales, the first woman to receive the title at the same time as her husband. She was also the first Princess of Wales in over two hundred years, the last one being Catherine of Aragon. Since George I had no consort, Caroline was the highest-ranking woman in the kingdom. She and her husband made an effort to learn England’s culture which made their court more popular with the English people than the king’s which contained German courtiers and government ministers.

A woman of great intellect, Caroline read avidly and established an extensive library at St. James’s Palace. She facilitated the Leibniz-Clark correspondence, arguably the most important philosophy of physics discussion of the 18th century. She also helped to popularize variolation, an early type of immunization and had three of her own children inoculated against smallpox. She was praised by Voltaire for this as someone who “has never lost an opportunity to learn or to manifest her generosity.”

Her husband ascended the throne in 1727 as George II and she was crowned alongside him in Westminster Abbey. As queen, Caroline had great influence with her husband and held liberal opinions. She supported clemency for the Jacobites, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech in Parliament. Caroline served as regent four times over the course of her husband’s reign.

After suffering from gout in her final years, Caroline died in 1737 due to complications from an umbilical hernia she had developed after the birth of her last child. She was buried in Westminster Abbey and widely mourned by Protestants and Jacobites alike for her moral example and compassion. (x)


Queens of England + Catherine Howard (1523-1542)

Catherine was born in 1523, the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper. She was first cousins with Anne Boleyn through her aunt Elizabeth Howard. While she had an aristocratic pedigree, Catherine’s family was not wealthy. Her mother died in 1531 so Catherine spent her early childhood in the household of her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Little attention was paid to her by the Dowager Duchess and as a result Catherine was poorly educated.

In 1536, at the age of 13, Catherine was molested by her music teacher, Henry Mannox. He would later give evidence against her. In 1538 Catherine was pursued by a secretary in the Dowager Duchess’s household, Francis Dereham. They became lovers and referred to each other as “husband” and “wife.” It was ended in 1539 when the Dowager Duchess caught wind of their relationship. Catherine and Francis may have parted with intentions to marry.

Catherine’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, found her a place at court in the household of Anne of Cleves. She quickly caught the eye of Henry VIII who was clearly uninterested in Anne. The Howards took advantage of the situation and sought to gain the influence they once had during the reign of Anne Boleyn. They succeeded in this and soon Henry was bestowing gifts of land and expensive cloth upon Catherine.

Catherine married Henry soon after his divorce from Anne in July 1540. In her new position, Catherine was called upon for favors in return for silence by people who had witnessed her earlier indiscretions. She made a fatal mistake when she appointed Francis Dereham as her personal secretary. It’s alleged that in early 1541, she began an affair with one of Henry’s courtiers, Thomas Culpeper.

By November 1541, Henry was made aware of her earlier relationships. Not wanting to believe that his “rose without a thorn” had such a scandalous past, Henry ordered an investigation to find out who was slandering Catherine while she herself was kept locked up. Unfortunately for Catherine, the evidence was against her and the king could not deny her past. Catherine refused to admit to a marriage contract between herself and Dereham and instead claimed that he raped her. She did this in spite of the fact that if she had admitted to a precontract, Henry would have been able to save face and easily annul the marriage. She was stripped of her title and imprisoned in Middlesex.

Catherine remained in limbo until February 1542 when Parliament made it an act of treason for a queen consort to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within twenty days of their marriage, or to incite someone to commit adultery with her. Catherine was then found unequivocally guilty of treason and sentenced to death. She was executed on February 13 and buried in an unmarked grave in the same chapel as her cousin Anne. (x)


Queens of England + Mary of Modena (1658-1718)

Mary was born in 1658, the elder child of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena, and Laura Martinozzi. She had an excellent education; she spoke French and Italian fluently, had a good knowledge of Latin, and would later master English.

Mary was sought as a bride for James, Duke of York, the younger brother and heir of Charles II of England. James was 25 years her senior, scarred by smallpox, and afflicted with a stutter. While initially reluctant, Duchess Laura eventually accepted the proposal on her daughter’s behalf and Mary and James were married by proxy in 1673. She received a cold welcome in England where the entirely Protestant Parliament disliked the news of a “Catholic marriage.” Both Mary and her husband were avowed Roman Catholics. She gave birth to their first child, Catherine Laura, in 1675 but she was only the first in a string of children that would die in infancy.

In 1678, Mary’s Catholic secretary was implicated in the Popish Plot which led to the Exclusionist movement that sought to bar the Catholic Duke of York from the throne. Their damaged reputation forced the Yorks into exile in Brussels. They returned to England when Charles II became ill and they feared that his illegitimate son would usurp the throne. Charles thought they returned too soon so Mary and James were then sent to Edinburgh where they stayed for the next few years. It was during this time that Mary was separated from her young daughter, Isabella, the only child of hers so far to survive infancy. When Isabella died in 1681 it sent Mary into a religious mania that worried her physician. She gave birth to another daughter in 1682, Charlotte Mary, who died only three weeks later.

In spite of the Exclusionist movement, James easily succeeded the throne as James II when Charles died in 1685. They had a join coronation ceremony and precedents were sought for Mary because a full-length joint coronation had not occurred since the ceremony performed for Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Mary’s health had still not fully recovered and people conjectured on who James would marry after she died.

Mary became pregnant again in 1687 and Protestants who only tolerated James because he had no Catholic heirs were unhappy with the news. When a son, James Francis Edward, was born, many Protestants chose to believe the child was illegitimate. It was purported that the child was snuck into the birth chamber as a replacement for Mary’s real but stillborn child despite the fact that the chamber was packed full of 200 witnesses, both Protestant and Catholic. James’ daughter from his first marriage, Mary, Princess of Orange, was one of the people that believed this. Several leading Whig nobles then issued an invitation for William of Orange, the Princess of Orange’s husband, to invade England. This signaled the beginning of the Glorious Revolution which culminated in James’ deposition. James and Mary went into exile in France and stayed at the expense of Louis XIV who supported the Jacobite cause.

Mary became a popular fixture at the French court and as there was no French queen or dauphine, she took precedence over all female members of the French court and royal house. She gave birth to her last child, Louise Mary, in 1692. When James died in 1701, Mary acted as nominal regent for her son until he was 16. Before her death from cancer in 1718, she saw her son forced from France and her daughter killed by smallpox. She died in poverty at the Convent of Visitations, Chaillot where her remains were interred. (x)


Queens of England + Anne of Cleves (1515-1557)

Anne was born in 1515, the daughter of John III, Duke of Cleves and Maria of Julich-Berg. As a child she received no formal education and could read and write in only German. At the age of 11 she was betrothed to Francis, the heir to the Duke of Lorraine. The engagement fell through when Anne’s brother became Duke of Cleves and refused to cede certain territory to the Duke of Lorraine.

Marriage negotiations began in 1539 for Henry VIII to marry Anne or her sister Amalia. Henry’s advisor, Thomas Cromwell, was keen to build connections with an alliance of Lutheran Princes that was established by Anne’s brother-in-law. Henry also looked to Germany for support when Francis I of France and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor became friendly. Hans Holbein was dispatched to portraits of Anne and her sister Amalia, and Henry required the portraits to be as accurate as possible and not to flatter the women.

A marriage treaty was signed in October that year for Anne to marry Henry. They met privately on New Year’s Day in 1540. Henry followed the chivalric tradition of meeting his bride in disguise but it turned out to be a failure. Disguised as a servant, he tried to kiss her but Anne was shocked at such behavior from a servant and did not respond. Humiliated, Henry did not want marry her but the marriage could not be called off without offending Anne’s brother, the Duke of Cleves, and damaging the German alliance so it went forward. 

Anne married Henry on January 6, 1540 at Greenwich. She was never crowned and the marriage was never consummated. By June she was commanded to leave court and later informed that her marriage was invalid due to her pre-contract from 1527 and the fact that the marriage was unconsummated. Anne agreed to the annulment and was rewarded with lands and the title “The King’s Beloved Sister.” She also took precedence over all other women apart from Henry’s wife and daughters. 

After Catherine Howard was beheaded, Anne and her brother pressed the king to remarry her. He refused and married Catherine Parr, whom Anne disliked. She reportedly remarked on the marriage, “Madam Parr is taking a great burden on herself.” 

In 1553, Anne made her last public appearance when she participated in Mary I’s coronation procession. A year later, she lost royal favor following Wyatt’s rebellion and was not invited back to court after 1554. She spent the rest of life living quietly on her estate, never having returned to Germany. Anne died in 1557, the last of Henry’s wives still living, and was also the only wife to be buried in Westminster Abbey. (x)


Queens of England + Anne, Queen of Great Britain (1665-1714)

Anne was born in 1665, the second daughter of James, Duke of York, and his first wife, Anne Hyde. Along with her older sister Mary, she was brought up in a separate establishment from her parents. On the instructions of their uncle Charles II, they were both raised as Protestants. Her mother died in 1671 and her father married Mary of Modena in 1673 after his conversion to Catholicism. Anne was third in the line of succession for many years after Mary and James.

Charles II chose Prince George of Denmark to be Anne’s husband and a marriage treaty was negotiated. James consented to the match and the two were married in 1683. Anne and George kept residence in England and though it was an arranged marriage they were faithful and devoted to each other. Anne’s first pregnancy ended with a stillborn but she later had two daughters, Mary and Anne Sophia.

Anne’s father ascended the throne in 1685 as James II & VII. She shared the concern of the English people when he moved to weaken the Church of England’s power by giving Catholics military and administrative offices. Anne and her family were the only members of the royal family attending Protestant services in England. When her father tried to get Anne to baptize her youngest daughter into the Catholic faith, she burst into tears.

Early 1687 was a difficult time for Anne. Within a matter of days, she miscarried, her husband caught smallpox, and their two daughters died from the same infection. While she and George were deep in grief, public alarm at James’ Catholicism increased with Mary of Modena’s pregnancy. In letters to Mary, Anne shared her suspicions that the queen was faking her pregnancy to introduce a false heir. The queen gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward, in June 1688. Anne was notably absent from the birth and despite witnesses, she and Mary continued to believe that the child was not their natural brother.

In November 1688, Anne’s brother-in-law William of Orange invaded England and deposed James. She had been forbidden to visit her sister but was aware of plans for the invasion through correspondence. Anne and George both wrote to William to approve his action. She showed no concern at her father’s plight. Mary and William ascended the throne as Mary II and William III and as they had no children, Anne and her descendants were next in the line of succession. In 1689, after a series of miscarriages and stillbirths, Anne gave birth to a son, William, Duke of Gloucester.

Tensions grew between the sisters when Anne requested a residence and an allowance, both of which Mary refused. Anne’s resentment became worse when William would not allow George to serve in the military in an active capacity. Mary and William feared that Anne’s independence would weaken their influence over her and allow her to set up a rival faction. Anne’s continued friendship with people that Mary did not approve of led to the complete dissolution of their relationship. When Anne gave birth to another son that shortly died, Mary visited her and they had an argument that led the sisters to never see each other again. Mary died of smallpox in 1694 and Anne became William’s heir apparent. They publicly reconciled and he restored her previous honors that Mary had taken away.

Anne’s son William died in 1700 at the age of eleven. Overwhelmed with grief, she ordered her household to observe a day of mourning every year on the anniversary of his death. To address the issue of succession that was now put in question, it was decided that the crown would pass to Protestant descendants of James VI & I. Other claimants who were closer to the throne were excluded for being Catholic.

Anne became queen when William died in March 1702 and was immediately popular. She was crowned in April at Westminster Abbey and had to be carried there in a sedan chair due to her gout. At the time of Anne’s ascension, Scotland was still an independent sovereign state where there remained a strong minority who wished to preserve the Stuart dynasty. After a series of disagreements, the Scottish and English parliaments both approved articles of union that united Scotland and England into the single kingdom of Great Britain.

Though preoccupied by health problems, Anne attended more cabinet sessions than any of her predecessors. Her reign provided stability and prosperity that allowed for the advancement of economics, politics, and the arts. The absence of constitutional conflict between monarch and parliament during her reign shows that she wisely chose ministers and exercised her prerogatives.

Anne died in 1714 from a stroke after a year of serious health calamities. She was buried beside her husband and her children in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey. (x)


Queens of England + Mary I of England (1516-1558)

Mary was born in February 1516, the only surviving child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. As a princess, she was well educated and by the age of nine could read and write Latin. Throughout her childhood, her father negotiated potential marriages with the Dauphin of France, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and Francis I. They were all broken off for various reasons.

Mary’s status was thrown into jeopardy when her father sought to divorce Catherine. By 1531, Catherine had been banished from court and Mary was forbidden to see her. In 1533 her parents’ marriage was declared legally void and Henry married Anne Boleyn. Mary was then deemed illegitimate and was styled “The Lady Mary” rather than Princess. Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth, took Mary’s place in the line of succession. Her household was dissolved and she was sent to join the household of her infant sister.

Mary refused to acknowledge Anne that was the queen or that Elizabeth was a princess, enraging her father. He kept her movements restricted and she was frequently ill, which the royal physician attributed to “poor treatment.” The relationship between Mary and Henry disintegrated to the point that they did not speak to each for three years. Despite both of them being ill, Henry still would not allow Mary to see her mother and she was inconsolable when Catherine died in 1536.

Anne Boleyn fell from favor in the same year of Catherine’s death and she was executed. Mary’s sister Elizabeth joined her in the downgraded status of “Lady” and was also removed from the line of succession. Henry soon married Jane Seymour who urged him to make peace with Mary. She was eventually bullied by her father into signing a document that would acknowledge him as head of the Church of England, acknowledge that her parents’ marriage was unlawful, and accept her illegitimacy. Reconciled on Henry’s terms, Mary was allowed to resume her place at court and was granted a household. In 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Edward, and Mary was made godmother. When Jane died soon after the birth, Mary was the chief mourner at her funeral.

In 1539, Mary was courted by Duke Philip of Bavaria, but he was Lutheran and Mary a strict Catholic so the suit was unsuccessful. Her father married again in 1540 to Anne of Cleves but the marriage was annulled only months later. As a Catholic, she watched her father execute her old governess and godmother, the Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, on the pretext of a Catholic plot in 1541. After Henry’s fifth marriage to Catherine Howard failed and she was executed, Mary was invited to attend the royal Christmas festivities and serve as hostess since Henry was without a consort. It was her father’s last wife, Catherine Parr, that succeeded in convincing him to return both of his daughters to the line of succession after their brother with the Act of Succession 1544. However, Mary and her sister were both still legally illegitimate.

Henry died in 1547 and rule passed to Edward VI. His regency council attempted to establish Protestantism throughout the country but Mary remained faithful to Catholicism and defiantly celebrated traditional mass in her own chapel. She stayed on her estates for most of Edward’s demands and a reunion with both of her siblings at Christmas in 1550 ended in tears when he embarrassed her by publicly reproving her for ignoring his laws. Neither of them ever gave concessions to the other.

Edward died in 1533, and because he did not want Mary to succeed him and undo his religious reforms, he planned to exclude her from the line of succession. He ended up excluding both of his sisters from his will and instead named Lady Jane Grey as his successor. Knowing of his plans, Mary fled to her estates to find support from Catholic adherents and wrote to the Privy Council with orders for her proclamation as Edward’s successor. Mary and her supporters assembled a military force and the faction that supported Jane Grey collapsed. After nine days of being queen, Jane was deposed and eventually executed. Mary rode triumphantly into London in August 1553, accompanied by Elizabeth and a procession of over 800 nobles and gentlemen. She was crowned at Westminster Abbey in October, and became England’s first undisputed queen regnant.

In her first Parliament, Mary abolished her brother’s religious laws and had the marriage of her parents declared valid. Parliament later repealed the Protestant religious laws and returned the English church to Roman jurisdiction. This led to the revival of the Heresy Acts, and numerous Protestants were executed under it, a total of less than 300 people. These actions eventually led to her being called “Bloody Mary,” despite the fact that her father himself had executed tens of thousands of people during his reign.

In 1554, Mary wed Prince Philip of Spain, the only son of her cousin Charles V, and it was unpopular marriage with the English people. She desperately wanted an heir to keep the Protestant Elizabeth from succeeding her but she would only have two false pregnancies and no children. She was forced to accept that Elizabeth would be her lawful successor.

In January 1558, Mary’s reputation suffered a blow when she lost Calais, England’s last remaining possession on the European mainland after several months of conflict between Spain and France. Despite an ultimately ineffectual rule, Mary did begin policies of fiscal reform, naval expansion, and colonial expansion that would later be lauded as Elizabethan accomplishments.

She died in May 1558 during an influenza epidemic and her will stated that she wished to be buried next to her mother but she was interred in Westminster Abbey. Her sister would later be buried next to her. (x)


Queens of England + Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)

Elizabeth was born in 1533, the only child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She was a princess for the first two and half years of her life until her mother was executed and she herself was declared illegitimate. When Henry remarried Jane Seymour and she had a son, Edward, Elizabeth was placed into the household of her brother who was now the undisputed heir to the throne. Despite her illegitimate status, Elizabeth received one of the best educations for a woman of her generation. She could speak, read, and write in several languages, including French, Flemish, Italian, and Spanish.   

Henry VIII died in 1547, leaving Elizabeth’s brother Edward to become king at age 9. Elizabeth went to live with her father’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, and her husband, Thomas Seymour. Seymour engaged in inappropriate activities with Elizabeth and when he was caught in an embrace with her, Elizabeth was sent away. Seymour then plotted to marry Elizabeth after Catherine died but he was eventually arrested for this plot and for plotting to overthrow his brother who was the Lord Protector of Edward VI.

Edward VI died in July 1553 and his will swept aside the Succession to the Crown Act 1543 that had restored Elizabeth and her older sister Mary to the royal succession. This was mostly due to Mary’s Catholicism and the inability for Edward to only exclude one sister from his will. Lady Jane Grey was declared as his heir but Mary deposed her after nine days and Elizabeth rode with her triumphant sister into London.

There was little solidarity between Elizabeth and Mary during the latter’s reign. Mary wanted to stamp out the Protestant faith in which Elizabeth was educated and Elizabeth was forced to outwardly conform. When Mary’s initial popularity ebbed away, people looked to Elizabeth as a focus for their opposition. After Wyatt’s rebellion in 1554, Elizabeth was imprisoned for her participation though she protested innocence. But by October 1558 when Mary had fallen ill, Elizabeth was already making plans for her government and in November Mary officially recognized Elizabeth as her heir. Mary died in November 1558, and Elizabeth became queen at age 25. Her coronation took place in January 1559 at Westminster Abbey and she was received wholeheartedly by her citizens.

Elizabeth reinstated Protestantism in the beginning of her reign. However, the heresy laws were repealed and penalties for failure to conform were not extreme which allowed Catholics to privately practice their faith. Also from the beginning of her reign, it was expected that Elizabeth would marry but she never did. She insisted she was married to her kingdom and subjects, under divine protection.

In 1560, Elizabeth removed the French presence from Scotland which resulted in the Treaty of Edinburgh. When Mary, Queen of Scots returned to take power, the country had an established Protestantism and she refused to ratify the treaty. She would make a number of errors that forced to her abdicate the throne and eventually be imprisoned by Elizabeth in England for nineteen years. She was executed in 1587 for being a pretender to the crown.

Elizabeth won a great propaganda victory in 1588 when the English fleet defeated the Spanish Armada in one the greatest military victories in English history. Although Spain retained advantage in the war, this victory was viewed as a symbol of God’s favour and the nation’s inviolability under a “virgin queen.”

As she was unmarried and had no heirs, concern rose in the later years of Elizabeth’s reign as to who would succeed her. A negotiation was entered into with James VI of Scotland and he was recognised as her heir. She died in March 1603 and was interred in Westminster Abbey with her sister Mary. The Latin inscription on their tomb reads, “Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters in hope of resurrection.”

Her reign became known as The Golden Age and her 44 years on the throne provided stability and forged a national identity for England. (x)


Queens of England + Mary II of England (1662-1694)

Mary was born in April 1662, the eldest daughter of James, Duke of York, and his first wife, Anne Hyde. Though her father later converted to Catholicism, she and her sister Anne were still raised as Anglicans at the command of their uncle Charles II. The sisters had their own establishment and were largely raised by their governess with only occasional visits to their parents. Her mother died in 1671 and her father remarried a few years later to a woman only four years older than she, Mary of Modena. As her father was Charles’ heir, Mary was second in the line to the throne for most of her childhood.

At the age of fifteen, Mary was betrothed to her cousin, the Protestant Stadtholder of Holland, William of Orange. Charles thought the match would improve James’ popularity among Protestants and pressured him to agree to it. Mary wept when she was told who she was to marry. She married William in St. James’ Palace in November 1677 and with him made a formal entry into The Hague in December.

Mary’s outgoing nature made her popular with the Dutch and her marriage to a Protestant was popular in England. William was often out on campaign but Mary became devoted to him. Within months of the marriage she was pregnant but suffered a miscarriage that may have permanently affected her ability to have children. She would suffer illnesses over the next few years that may also have been miscarriages. Her childlessness was the greatest source of unhappiness in her life.

Mary became heir presumptive when her father succeeded the throne as James II & VII. She and William were dismayed when James enacted a controversial religious policy that attempted to grant freedom of religion to non-Anglicans; Mary considered this action illegal. She was more disappointed when the Catholic King of France, Louis XIV, invaded Orange and her father refused to help. James also attempted to damage his daughter’s marriage by encouraging her staff to inform her that William was having an affair. Mary acted on the information but William denied it and she believed him. She dismissed her staff and sent them back to England.

When Mary of Modena gave birth to a son, James, in June 1688, rumors flew that it was not truly hers. Mary questioned Anne on the circumstances of the birth and her sister’s reply confirmed her suspicions that the child was not her brother. She believed it was a conspiracy by her father to secure a Catholic succession. In the same month, William received an invitation from the “Immortal Seven” to come to England with an army and depose James. He was reluctant at first because of Mary’s position but she convinced him that she didn’t care for political power and that she would do all that she could to make him king. William and his army invaded in November and the defeated James fled to France to live the rest of his life in exile.

Although she believed her husband’s actions necessary, Mary was upset by the circumstances of father’s deposition. William ordered her to appear cheerful on their arrival in London and as a result was viewed as being uncaring to her father’s plight. She was hurt more when James wrote a diatribe against her that criticized her disloyalty. Parliament offered the Crown to William and Mary as joint sovereigns with William taking precedence. They were crowned at Westminster Abbey in April 1689 as William III and Mary II.

From 1690 onward, William was frequently absent from England on campaigns. In his absence, Mary administered the government of the realm but she was still not keen to assume power. She was a firm ruler and even ordered the arrest of her own uncle, Henry Hyde, for plotting to restore her father. She was also extremely devout and many of her proclamations focused on combatting vice. She participated in matters of the Church as well—all matters of ecclesiastical patronage went through her. She promoted learning by endowing the College of William and Mary in present day Williamsburg, Virginia in 1693.

When Mary contracted smallpox in 1694, she sent away everyone who had not previously had the disease. She died on December 28 of that year and William, who had increasingly come to rely on her, was devastated. Jacobites considered her death divine retribution for breaking the fifth commandment (“honor thy father”) but she was widely mourned in England. Her funeral service was the first of any royal to be attended by all members of both of Houses of Parliament and she was buried in Westminster Abbey. (x)


Queens of England + Anne Boleyn (1501-1536)

Anne was born in 1501, the younger daughter of Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, and Lady Elizabeth Howard. She was educated in the Netherlands and France, largely as a maid of honor to Claude of France. She returned to England in 1522 to marry her cousin James Butler, but the plans fell through and she secured a post as maid of honor to Catherine of Aragon.

At court, Anne quickly established herself as one of the most stylish and accomplished women and had a number of men competing for her. She sang, played several instruments, danced with ease, and spoke fluent French. She was also remarkably intelligent and quick-witted. Anne was at the center of any social gathering and she reveled in the attention. During this early time at court, Anne entered into a secret betrothal with Henry Percy. The engagement was broken off when Percy’s father refused to support it.

By March 1526, she was being pursued by Henry VIII. Anne resisted his attempts to seduce her and refused to become his mistress as her sister Mary had been. Within a year, Henry proposed marriage and she accepted. They both assumed an annulment would be easily obtained but Catherine’s defiance made it difficult. It became Henry’s greatest desire to marry her and when the Catholic Pope would not annul his marriage to Catherine, he began to split England away from the Catholic Church.

Even before their marriage, Henry gave Anne enormous influence in the English government. She was able to grant petitions, receive diplomats, and give patronage. It became essential for ambassadors to have her approval to have any influence with the king. In 1532, Anne was granted by Henry the Marquessate of Pembroke, an appropriate peerage for a future queen. She became a rich woman and now ranked above all other peeresses. Henry performed the investiture himself. 

Anne secretly married Henry in January 1533 and was likely pregnant at the time. In May, Henry’s marriage to Catherine was declared invalid and the marriage to Anne was made good. She had her coronation in June at Westminster Abbey and was the last queen consort to be crowned separately from her husband. Unlike any other queen consort, Anne was crowned with St. Edward’s Crown which had previously been used to crown only a monarch. The public’s response to her coronation and procession through London was lukewarm.

Before Anne gave birth, Parliament passed the First Succession Act. It made Anne’s unborn child the true successor to the crown by declaring Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, a bastard. The Act required all subjects to swear an oath to recognize it and any who refused were subject to being charged with treason. In September, Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. Three miscarriages would follow and by 1536, Henry was courting Jane Seymour.

In April 1536, Henry began to plot Anne’s downfall with the help of Thomas Cromwell. Men were arrested and accused of being her lovers, including her own brother, George Boleyn. Anne herself was investigated for high treason. In May, she was arrested and accused of adultery, incest, and witchcraft, and sent to the Tower of London. She was tried by a jury of peers which included Henry Percy and her uncle, Thomas Howard. She was found guilty of treason on May 15 and four days later she was beheaded. 

She was buried in an unmarked grave in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. Following the coronation of her daughter, Elizabeth I, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English reformation. Her remains were later identified during the reign of Queen Victoria and Anne’s resting place is now marked in the marble floor. (x)