William and Mary ruled jointly after the Glorious Revolution of 1688
Crowned jointly in 1689, Protestant monarchs William and Mary oversaw important moves towards parliamentary democracy. They also transformed Hampton Court and Kensington Palaces.
Mary was unable to bear children after an early miscarriage caused long term health problems
Mary, daughter of James II, was sent away aged 15 to the Netherlands to marry William, Prince of Orange. She was a tall, striking brunette, William a short, asthmatic man. However, although theirs was a political match, genuine affection grew between them. When Mary was invited to rule in 1688 she refused to do so without William by her side. They were the first and only couple to rule jointly, although Mary deferred to her husband except when he was abroad fighting. Mary was the more popular of the two, light-hearted and gentle. William was seen as cold and unapproachable. He had little time for court life, and was happier on the battle field
Image: National Portrait Gallery
William and Mary’s decision to re-locate to Hampton Court from Whitehall didn’t please members of the government, who felt they were inaccessible and official business would be difficult to get done. So they also acquired the Earl of Nottingham’s house in Kensington, then west of London, to transform it from a mansion into a palace.
Within weeks the architect Sir Christopher Wren was set to transform the house into a suitable royal residence. The new palace was furnished with a chapel, accommodation for courtiers, kitchens, stables, barracks, but above all, a series of grand rooms or State Apartments where the King and Queen could hold audiences and ceremonies of state.
At the end of 1694, Queen Mary died of smallpox in her bedchamber at the palace and William was inconsolable.
In Feb 1702, while riding his favourite horse Sorrell from Hampton Court, the animal stumbled and William fell badly, breaking his collar bone. Against advice, the King travelled to Kensington Palace. After a few days of deteriorating health, he died.
But the palace was built, and the Protestant kingdom secured, the twin legacies of William and Mary. Perhaps the finest moment of their reign was right at the beginning, when they signed the Bill of Rights after their Coronation in 1689. This gave proper power to Parliament and began the process of creating parliamentary democracy that we know today in Britain. Never would a monarch be able to rule with power unchecked.
Want to take a peek into the wardrobes of the kings and queens of the past?
With exclusive access to the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, this free online course from Historic Royal Palaces & the University of Glasgow explores clothing from the Tudors to the Windsors.