When William and Mary walked down Westminster Abbey to be crowned, a hush fell as people turned to gawk at their new king and queen. To most watching, Mary seemed to glide, as if on ice, as she walked gracefully beside her a considerably smaller husband who had always suffered from chronic ill health. He had always been a small sickly child who suffered continuously from asthma and his entire life had been spent wearing a body brace to support his hunched back due to scoliosis. But on this day, both seemed confident as they made their way towards the altar.
Mary's father James was not present at the ceremony. He was busy in France planning the best way to get his throne back from his daughter and son-in-law. And there was no time to waste. If worst came to worst and they actually pulled it off, James was determined that it would be the shortest reign in history, daughter or no daughter.
Only months before, James had fled to Europe and Parliament had declared that his flight meant he had abdicated and the throne was vacant. It was good news for William since he had been the one asked to invade andf remove James in the first place.
It was while William was taking stock of his new kingdom that his newfound confidence began to slowly dissipate. Parliament was beginning to make it increasingly obvious that it was Mary who was to be regarded as the Queen, ranked first in the line of succession to the throne. She was James’ eldest daughter and as such, it was she who was the next in line for the throne, not him. It was only then that it finally dawned on him that after everything he’d done, he was only going to be her consort. With that realisation, all of his dreams flew out the window.
William was a smart man. He knew that the only precedent for a joint monarchy in England dated back to the sixteenth century when Queen Mary I had married Philip of Spain. Philip had only remained king while Mary I lived and even then, restrictions were in place. William was also a proud man and he was not about to be pushed aside after all he had achieved so far. His dream was right there within his grasp and he was going to reach out and grab it. So when the majority of the Tory Lords proposed that Mary should be sole ruler, William threw a wobbler.
William hadn’t ousted James from the throne simply to lose it to his own wife. For him, that was unimaginable. After all, Charles I was his grandfather as well and he wasn’t about to let Parliament forget that little piece of information. He threatened to leave the country immediately and for a while it looked like he was truly intending to do just that. It was at that very moment that Mary intervened.
Mary was in a difficult situation. On one hand, there was her husband. Sure, he was a cold reserved man, but who could blame him? He had been deserted by his mother almost at birth and raised by old men. For most of his life, he’d had no idea of what it was like to feel a woman’s gentle touch and love. And after a rather shaky start, all right downright terrible start, to their marriage, (and what young girl wasn’t scared of the unknown), she had grown to love him. On the other hand, there was her father whom she dearly loved but who was repeatedly sending her angry letters, berating and scolding her for the loyalty she showed to her husband instead of the father who had loved and raised her. She was torn between loyalty and concern for her husband and unbearable distress of the circumstances surrounding the deposition of her father. No matter what she did, someone would be hurt. And when it came down to the crunch, she didn’t even want the throne. She’d never wanted it.
Then, like a lightning bolt, everything seemed clear to her. She didn’t want the throne just for herself. It was William’s just as surely as it was hers. He was the one who could make a difference and he was the one who had put everything aside for her. The least she could do was to repay him for his reliability and dependability. She would only rule if William was by her side as an equal.
The statement certainly had the desired effect on Parliament and they were more than a little stunned. William on the other hand was mollified and once Parliament realised that Mary would not change her mind, they reluctantly agreed to the joint rule. But it had been touch and go for William for two uncertain months.
This was the Golden Age of Parliament where debates were alive and passionate. On one side were the Whigs, standing enemies of the Stuart kings. The word ‘Whigs’ was a term applied to those who wanted to exclude James from the throne because of his religion and originally came from the Scots, meaning ‘cattle driver’. On the other side were the Tories who believed in tradition and they were fiercely loyal to the British monarchy and gentry. Their name itself derived from the Irish word meaning ‘outlaw’. And the two parties butted heads endlessly. But they agreed on one thing: putting William and Mary in their place.
The ‘Bill of Rights’ Parliament handed William and Mary was specific and well thought out. After being dissolved time and time again during Charles I, Charles II and James II reigns, they weren't about to let history repeat itself. This was their chance to stand their ground. It stated that no sovereign was allowed to interfere with elections or freedom of speech and Parliament was to be summoned frequently and not to be questioned outside of Parliament itself. No sovereign could suspend or dispense with laws passed by Parliament or impose taxes without Parliamentary consent and no sovereign could maintain a standing army in time of peace without Parliament’s consent. Parliament could, however, declare war if everyone agreed. Parliament would control expenditure and the financial settlement given to William and Mary, deliberately making them dependent upon Parliament. Monarchs were forbidden to establish their own court or act as judges and they were forbidden to impose cruel and unusual punishments. More importantly, Catholics were absolutely excluded from becoming monarchs. This last, but very important item, effectively excluded James and his Catholic heirs from ever succeeding to the throne. As a final point, an oath was required to be sworn to maintain the Protestant religion before any coronation took place.
Parliament had thought of everything. No crises, as in the past, were going to recur, that was for sure. In no uncertain terms, Parliament was letting the couple know that they hadn’t assumed the throne. They had been given the right to reign by Parliament and as such, they were to be held accountable for their actions by the people. They would be judged like never before.
They handed the document to William and Mary, if a little tremulously, then stood back and waited to see their reaction. To their utter astonishment, the Bill was signed without hesitation and history was made.
As they took their vows, James was confidently landing in Ireland, ready to use it as a launch pad to take back his throne. It was not a complicated plan. All James hoped for was for the support of Catholics in Ireland. He also hoped that if he could hold out, he could use Ireland as a launch pad to take back Scotland and England. Then he would march on to London and seize his throne. What he would find out in the near future was that the fly in the ointment would be the Ulster Protestants.