Royal and Almost-Royal Families: ‘How England Came to be Ruled by an Orange’

There was an event I barely mentioned in my opening account of the Dutch invasion which, to anyone familiar with traditional accounts of the unfolding of England’s ‘Glorious Revolution’, might have been expected to have figured more centrally. In summer 1688, Maria of Modena, Catholic wife of the Catholic English King, James II, gave birth to a healthy male heir. The arrival of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart upset long-established Europe-wide expectations for the English succession, and contributed its own momentum to the unfolding events which culminated in the arrival of William III of Orange in London.

Until summer 1688, James’s eldest daughter by his first wife Anne Hyde, Princess Mary Stuart, was heir to the English throne. In 1677 Mary married the Dutch Stadholder William of Orange, and went to reside at The Hague. So in the second half of the 1680s it was confidently expected across Europe that the English monarchy would pass after James’s death to a Protestant Englishwoman, married to a Protestant Dutchman. The Protestant succession seemed to have been secured, and after the brief, unfortunate interlude of James II’s Catholic monarchy, England appeared once again about to be safely in Protestant hands. And although the Princesses in the Protestant line were proving remarkably unsuccessful at producing healthy heirs, it was devoutly hoped that competing Catholic claimants – notably the Italian house of Savoy – could be consigned to the margins of English history.1

James’s second wife, Maria of Modena, had been pregnant a number of times since their marriage in 1673, and several of these had been brought to term. All her living children, however, had died in infancy. Rumours of another pregnancy began to circulate in January 1688, but they occasioned only a little serious speculation that the English dynastic situation might be altered – another miscarriage or stillbirth was confidently predicted. As the pregnancy advanced, however, and the Queen remained in good health, the possibility of a Catholic Stuart heir once more became a real possibility, and on 10 June (old style) Maria was delivered of a healthy boy, James Francis Edward Stuart.

It was this event that forced the hands of the Dutch Stadholder and his wife, eventually compelling them to lay claim to the English throne by force. So, before we go any further, we need to interrupt this exploration of the patterns of influence and exchange between England and the Dutch Republic to look more closely at royalty, dynasties and the accidents of succession, as these are woven into the social and political fabric of seventeenth-century Anglo–Dutch affairs. Close family connections between the English royal family and their faction, and the Dutch Orange Stadholders and theirs, meant that an unexpectedly close eye was kept by both parties on political developments in the territory presided over by their cousins. As we shall discover, Anglo–Dutch marriages provide many of the clues in this period to the often unexpectedly intimate liaisons between things British and things Dutch.

With the arrival of the Stuart line at the beginning of the seventeenth century, after the death of the husbandless and childless ‘Virgin Queen’, Elizabeth I, the English succession once again looked secure. To the relief of the English public and Parliament, the Protestant King James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots, was married with children, and the Anglo-Scottish house of Stuart looked set to provide a lasting dynastic line for the English throne. Yet by the 1680s the direct Stuart line had already effectively petered out. Charles II, though married for over twenty years to Catherine of Braganza, and with a palace full of illegitimate sons and daughters by his many mistresses, had no legitimate heirs. His brother James had two adult daughters by his first marriage to Anne Hyde (commoner daughter of Edward Hyde, later created Earl of Clarendon), both of whom were married but childless, and he had no surviving children by his second wife.

The sense of dynastic disarray is probably best captured by a phenomenon which tends to be ignored by traditional historians – the extraordinarily high number of known miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths among the increasingly desperate Stuart royals. Dynastic succession is both the boon and the bane of monarchy. All the royal wives and Princesses in the direct line of succession to the English throne were in some state of pregnancy for most of their adult lives, yet none succeeded in producing a healthy heir, whether male or female, who lived to adulthood.

With no direct line of Stuart inheritance, the country once again held its breath in anticipation of a likely descent into disorder and political chaos, of the kind that had been widely feared towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth I. The future political direction of the nation depended on the outcome of the next dynastic roll of the dice. Since Charles II’s brother James had declared himself a practising Catholic, the whole of Europe waited expectantly, too. If James’s line should successfully take control of the English throne long-term, the alliance of European Protestant nations against the might of Spanish and French Catholicism would be dangerously weakened.

Across the water, the Dutch Stadholder was equally concerned at the prospect of a line of Catholic monarchs on the English throne. The proximity of the two nations, and their apparently closely compatible social structure and religious convictions, had led to attempts at close political union on several occasions in the course of the seventeenth century. Catholic rule in England would leave the United Provinces acutely vulnerable to being engulfed and overrun, as a result of the French King Louis XIV’s expansionist ambitions. Dutch and English dynastic ambitions were thus separately concentrated on the immediate future of the English crown, the Stuarts and the Oranges both directly implicated because of their dynastic history.

Scandalous rumours began circulating in England even before the official announcement in January 1688 that after a gap of six years, James II’s wife was once again pregnant.2 They reached King James’s eldest daughter Mary in The Hague in December 1687.3On 15 January Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, wrote that ‘the Queen’s great belly is everywhere ridiculed, as if scarce anybody believed it to be true’. To those associated with James II’s first Protestant wife, Anne Hyde, and her family (Henry Hyde was her brother), it simply seemed too politically convenient that the Catholic King and his Catholic Queen Consort should at this moment produce a Catholic heir (already anticipated to be a boy), just as it seemed settled that the succession was bound to pass eventually to one of James’s adult, Protestant daughters.

Following the announcement, those closest to the Protestant line of succession naturally reacted most readily to the suggestion that the Queen’s condition might be feigned – a ruse to secure an enduring Catholic succession. On 13 March, William Cavendish, Earl of Devonshire, writing to Prince William of Orange, husband of Princess Mary Stuart, at their court in the Low Countries, reported that ‘the Roman Catholics incline absolutely that it should be a son’. The next day, Mary’s sister, Princess Anne, wrote to her with even greater candour:

I can’t help thinking [the King’s] wife’s great belly is a little suspicious. It is true indeed she is very big, but she looks better than ever she did, which is not usual: for people when they are so far gone, for the most part look very ill. Besides, it is very odd that [her visit to] Bath, that all the best doctors thought would do her a great deal of harm, should have had so very good effect so soon, as that she should prove with child from the first minute she and [the King] met, after her coming from thence. Her being so positive it will be a son, and the principles of that religion being such that they will stick at nothing, be it never so wicked, if it will promote their interest, give some cause to fear there may be foul play intended.4

A week later Anne returned to the subject. There was ‘much reason to believe it is a false belly’:

For, methinks, if it were not, there having been so many stories and jests made about it, she should, to convince the world, make either me or some of my friends feel her belly; but quite contrary, whenever one talks of her being with child, she looks as if she were afraid one should touch her. And whenever I happen to be in the room as she has been undressing, she has always gone into the next room to put on her smock.5

Anne’s suspicions were echoed by Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby. He reported to the Prince of Orange that ‘many of our ladies say that the Queen’s great belly seems to grow faster than they had observed their own to do’.6

On 10 June, the Queen gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward Stuart, Prince of Wales, who was immediately declared first in line to the throne, ahead of his grown-up half-sisters. Officially, the joyous event was greeted with delight and enthusiasm nationwide. After nearly thirty years of dynastic uncertainty, ever since Charles II’s Restoration in 1660, at last the country had a healthy male heir. Bonfires were lit, gazettes and newsletters were ‘stuffed with nothing but rejoicings from Towns for the birth of the Prince’, and the government spent £12,000 on fireworks with which to celebrate.

At The Hague, however, the news was greeted less enthusiastically. Prince William banned all public celebrations of the Prince’s birth. Firm statements were issued, insisting on the irrelevance of the new Prince of Wales to the English succession.

The tide of speculation continued unabated. ‘People give themselves a great liberty in discoursing about the young Prince, with strange reflections on him, not fit to insert here,’ one contemporary commentator wrote. Matters were not helped by the fact that the deeply sceptical Princess Anne had been away at Bath Spa taking the waters at the moment when the Queen went into labour, and was thus unable to testify to the authenticity or otherwise of the birth itself. Writing to her sister on 18 June, Anne expressed her ‘concern and vexation’ that ‘I should be so unfortunate to be out of town when the Queen was brought to bed, for I shall never now be satisfied whether the child be true or false’. Reiterating her suspicions to her absent sister, Anne expressed surprise that the Queen had so miscalculated the date at which the baby was due, and had thereby ‘chosen’ to give birth during her sister-in-law’s absence. Had Anne perhaps, as more than one contemporary pamphlet proposed, been persuaded to leave London for fear that she would be a too ‘vigilant observer’ at the lying in?

If the timing of the pregnancy had been judged suspicious, the arrival of a hale and hearty male heir now prompted a flurry of publications voicing the opinion that somehow or other a surrogate baby had been substituted for Mary’s sickly or stillborn one – perhaps smuggled into the delivery room in a warming pan by a midwife. Talk of a ‘warming-pan plot’ became so loud and persistent that four months after the birth, on 22 October 1688, the King called a special meeting of the Privy Council, at which forty-two men and women who had attended the delivery, or had access to the Queen immediately prior to it, presented their testimony, giving the reasons and evidence for their sincere belief that the Prince of Wales was the King’s bona fide son. These depositions were lodged in the official records of the Court of Chancery (thereby giving them quasi-legal status), printed and widely circulated – ostensibly the conclusive rebuttal of the malicious rumours.7

By the autumn, however, reactions to events in England had moved from the domestic setting to an international one, and a fresh wave of rumours from abroad seemed destined to drown out those at home concerning the legitimacy or otherwise of the newborn Prince. Prince William of Orange was reported to be engaged in large-scale preparations for an invasion of England, to defend his wife’s claim to the English throne. It had been suspected for several years that the Dutch Stadholder might eventually use military might to strengthen the dynastic bond between his wife’s country and his own. Whether or not Prince James Francis Edward could be proved beyond a shadow of doubt to be the King’s flesh and blood (and before DNA testing, what mother could ever provide such conclusive proof?), official recognition of the baby as his by James II had put paid to William’s expectations that his marriage to James’s daughter would bring royal status for the house of Orange.

On 18 September, two months before the actual invasion, John Evelyn went to Whitehall Palace in London from his home in Deptford and ‘found the Court in the utmost consternation on report of the Prince of Orange’s landing; which put Whitehall into so panic a fear, that I could hardly believe it possible to find such a change’.8

Since his marriage to James I’s eldest daughter Mary in 1677, Prince William of Orange had more or less confidently assumed that his wife would one day sit on the throne of England, and that the country would become, to all intents and purposes, his to govern. William’s own mother, Mary Stuart, was Charles II’s eldest sister (she had died of smallpox when William was only ten). Thus William was his wife Princess Mary’s first cousin, and the reigning English King’s nephew as well as his son-in-law. William and Mary’s joint claim had seemed irrefutable, and the fact that both were staunch and committed Protestants was a major point in their favour in the eyes of the English. By 1686 Mary herself was expressing the hope that William would one day become King of England.9 The marriage in 1677 between the Dutch Stadholder and Princess Mary had been understood at the time by the people of the Dutch Republic as intended primarily to serve a political rather than a dynastic purpose. After the traumatic events of 1672 – when the French had almost overrun the United Provinces, and the Dutch had abandoned the republican rule of the De Witt brothers for the reassuringly militaristic régime of the young Stadholder William of Orange – the northern Netherlands had believed themselves to be under permanent threat of invasion by the French forces of Louis XIV. It had indeed been the actual arrival of French troops on Dutch soil that had driven the States General to reinstate William as Stadholder, as well as head of the Dutch military forces, after twenty years during which the house of Orange had been expressly barred from holding the position. Acclaimed by the Dutch Republic then, after he had successfully driven back the French, Prince William was determined to avoid any future expansionist moves northwards on the part of the French King by creating a counter-balancing alliance with the English and the Spanish. Having tried unsuccessfully to persuade Charles II and his government to become involved in defending the Low Countries from the French predator by diplomacy, the United Provinces (which had definitively won independence from Spanish rule in 1648, after eighty years of bitter struggle) hoped that as Charles’s son-in-law William would have better success in turning English foreign policy in their favour.10

In this, William and the Dutch were largely mistaken. Charles II remained cautiously neutral as an expansionist France continued to encroach on its anxious European neighbours. In 1678, the Treaty of Aachen extended the French border northwards to include Tournai and Charleroi. In 1681, Louis XIV attacked from his eastern border and took the strategic town of Strasbourg. In 1682, in a move designed specifically to antagonise the Dutch Stadholder, Louis seized Orange in southern France – an independent principality of which William was titular head, and whence the family claim to royal status derived. In 1684, France annexed Luxembourg. Faced with Charles’s continued reluctance to be drawn into the conflict, William was driven practically to despair by England’s strategic isolationism. ‘The insufferable behaviour of England,’ he expostulated in 1681, ‘is the principal cause of our present dangers because of which the situation at the end of this year will perhaps be even worse than in 1672.’11

The accession to the English throne of the Catholic James II in 1685 removed any further hopes of strengthening the Anglo–Dutch accord by family-based strategic alliance between England and the Protestant Low Countries. Instead, there were now real fears in the Dutch Republic that James would enter into a formal treaty with Louis XIV, significantly strengthening the French King’s power base, thereby allowing France to pursue its dream of universal rule in Europe by taking control of the Netherlands.

So when news of Maria of Modena’s pregnancy reached William of Orange, it gave concrete form to his growing alarm over England’s intentions regarding, and influence over, the wider political scene. It strengthened his resolve to put into action his ‘Grand Design’ – to invade England, settle the uncertainties over the succession, and assert his and his wife’s joint claim in person. Long before the English Queen’s condition was public knowledge, William’s agents and intelligence-gatherers in England had let him know that his and Mary’s position in the English inheritance stakes might be at risk. Whether plausible or not, the clamour of accusation and counter-accusation concerning the ‘warming-pan plot’ provided William with an excellent excuse for launching his invasion. Indeed, in the ‘invitation’ extended to William by a group of influential Englishmen on the eve of his fleet’s sailing for England, the ‘immortal seven’ who put their names to it reproached the Dutch Stadholder for having sent official congratulations to James following the birth:

We must presume to inform your highness that your compliment upon the birth of the child (which not one in an thousand believes to be the Queen’s) hath done you some injury. The false imposing of that upon the Princess and the nation, being not only an infinite exasperation of the people’s minds here, but being certainly one of the chief causes upon which the declaration of your entering the kingdom in a hostile manner must be founded on your part. Although many other reasons are to be given on ours.12

William’s Declaration of Reasons, published on the eve of the Dutch invasion to justify his unprecedented intervention by force in the affairs of a neighbouring nation state, did indeed cite as one of the grounds for what looked, on the face of it, like a piece of unwarranted international aggression, ‘the just and visible grounds of suspicion’ that ‘the Pretended Prince of Wales was not born by the Queen’. Should the invasion succeed, he promised to refer to Parliament ‘the enquiry into the birth of the pretended Prince of Wales, and of all things relating to it and the right of succession’. In the minds of the Dutch Stadholder and the Protestant faction in England, dynastic and political strategic planning thus became closely enmeshed. The claim that the birth of James II’s son was ‘suppositious’, however far-fetched, symbolised the acute concern on both sides of the Narrow Sea at this unexpected disruption of the anticipated train of events.

By 1688, the Dutch house of Orange had been actively manoeuvring to increase its control in the Low Countries and its wider European influence for three generations (since the turbulent times of William III’s greatgrandfather, William the Silent).13 In the climate of uncertainty that surrounded the birth of James II’s son, one thing is beyond a shadow of doubt: William of Orange acted with characteristic personal decisiveness in seizing the opportunity to intervene in English dynastic affairs while the country was internally in considerable political disarray. William had always taken a keen interest in English dynastic affairs. Third in line to the English throne after James II’s daughters, he himself was known to consider that his claim was technically stronger than theirs. Orphaned at the age of ten, he had been brought up carefully to understand the importance of his English heritage. His mother (James II’s older sister) had been quite clear that her royal line was superior to that of James’s children, since James’s first wife Anne Hyde had been a mere commoner (married hastily, and against his family’s wishes, indeed when pregnant with their first child, who was stillborn).

Constantijn Huygens junior records in his diary that on a wet and windy day in October 1673, when he and the future King William III were in the field, engaged in military action against the French, the Stadholder talked, at table during the midday meal, about ‘the death of his grandfather the King [Charles I] and affairs in England’. His own line, he insisted, surely took priority over that of James: ‘He said that if the Duke of York [James] died before the King [Charles II], the right of [James’s] daughters to take precedence over himself with regard to the Crown would be disputed.’14

The opportunity for William to marry James II’s elder daughter in 1677 significantly strengthened his claim to the English throne, since in the dynastic chess-game it united the second and third in line. The claim became a real prospect at another moment when the inheritance rankings of the various possible claimants on the English throne were apparently in the process of reorganisation. Four years into James’s marriage to his second wife (his first, Anne, died in 1671), Maria of Modena had given birth to one daughter who had lived only months, while a second daughter, Isabel, was a year old. Now, in spring 1677, the Queen was again pregnant, and the clear expectation was that she would finally give birth to a boy, who would take precedence over James’s daughters by his first marriage as claimant to the English throne.

The possibility of Charles II’s brother producing a male heir by his second wife meant that at that moment Princess Mary looked temporarily a less attractive figure dynastically, less of a ‘catch’ on the international royal marriage market, and hence suitable as a bride to a member of the comparatively minor house of Orange. Maria of Modena did indeed give birth to a son, Charles, Duke of Cambridge, just three days after William and Mary’s wedding on 4 November 1677. Princess Mary’s new husband was one of the little Prince’s godfathers. Baby Charles died, however, just a month later, on 12 December.15

William’s dynastic interests were not merely aspirational in European royal terms. They were inseparably entwined with his political and military aspirations, in particular with a strategy of pressuring England into an anti-French coalition. The ambitious dual purpose of the match with Princess Mary Stuart was simultaneously to advance his chances of inheriting the English crown, and to exploit the favour of the English government, whose expressed desire in 1677 was to assist the Dutch in their struggle to retain their independence in the face of a ruthlessly expansionist France.16

William of Orange’s marriage was the second occasion within forty years on which the minor royal house of Orange successfully exploited a situation in which a Stuart bride’s currency on the international dynastic market was temporarily reduced by circumstances, in order to move themselves strategically up the European royal rankings, increasing their power inside and outside the United Provinces. The first of these occasions had been William’s own English mother Princess Mary Stuart’s marriage to his Dutch father, the future William II of Orange, in May 1641.

In the 1630s, a dynastic alliance with the ruling line of the neighbouring Protestant power was an obvious, if ambitious, aim for William III’s grandfather, Frederik Hendrik, and his wife Amalia van Solms. In addition to the obvious strategic advantages of consolidating Protestant influence in the region, an Orange–Stuart marriage was particularly attractive to the Stadholder’s ambitious wife, who had met and married her husband while serving as lady-in-waiting to Charles I’s sister Elizabeth of Bohemia, resident in The Hague with her court since the early 1620s. By marrying her son to the former Queen of Bohemia’s niece, Amalia could reasonably consider herself to have risen to comparable royal status with her former royal mistress.

The immediate incentive for an Anglo–Dutch match, however, was a pressing political one. In 1639, Charles I, who during the period of his ‘personal rule’ (rule without recourse to Parliament) had drawn increasingly close to Catholic Spain, allowed the Hapsburg Spanish ruler Philip IV to send a large fleet towards Flanders via English waters and harbours, and there was talk of a marriage between Charles’s eldest daughter and the Spanish Crown Prince.17

In late 1639, the senior Dutch ambassador François van Aerssen, Heer van Sommelsdijck, was sent to England to negotiate closer relations with the United Provinces, including the re-ratification of an existing peace treaty between the two countries. Charles proved reluctant to jeopardise his relations with Spain by throwing in his lot with the Dutch, but in the course of their discussions, van Aerssen learned that the King was interested in a marriage between the Stadholder’s son William and one of his daughters. At the end of 1640, after protracted negotiations between representatives of the Stadholder and the English King, it was agreed that Frederik Hendrik and Amalia’s only son, the future William II of Orange, would marry Charles I’s five-year-old second daughter, Elizabeth.

The Stadholder and his wife would naturally have preferred their son to marry Charles’s eldest daughter, but this was perhaps too much to expect. Indeed, Frederik Hendrik’s ambassadors – first Jan van der Kerckhoven, Lord of Heenvliet, and then van Aerssen – had been trying unsuccessfully to pursue this even more attractive marriage proposition since the previous year. As van Aerssen pointed out to the English King, a marriage between his eldest daughter and the Dutch Stadholder’s son would bring family benefits beyond those of mere strategic political alliance with Spain:

By this marriage you will gain for yourself a first claim on the affections and interests of His Highness and the United Provinces, while if you seek kinship with a house of greater power than your own [like Spain], you can expect nothing from their ambitions, but will only lose your daughter, whom you will force into wedding interests opposed to your own.18

When van Aerssen advanced this argument in late 1639, he was roundly rebuffed. The match, he was told, was out of the question. Princess Mary was to become the bride of a member of the ruling house of Spain, thereby securing the ‘Spanish Match’ Charles had failed to secure for himself a decade and a half earlier. The eldest daughter of so elevated a royal line as the Stuarts could, in any case, hardly become the bride of a mere minor princely house like that of Orange.

In England, however, the political situation was steadily worsening for Charles I, and it looked increasingly unlikely that Parliamentary consent would be forthcoming for a Spanish, Catholic match for his daughter, or indeed that the Spanish Hapsburgs would any longer be interested, as Charles’s political power waned. A significant Protestant match, on the other hand, might go some way to allaying the fears of an increasingly nervous and suspicious Parliament.

In spite of the growing sense of foreboding at the English court, the political situation there probably looked less discouraging to Frederik Hendrik in the Low Countries than it did to the Spanish. Unlike most other European headships of state, the position of Dutch Stadholder was technically not a dynastic one, and the power of successive Princes of Orange who had occupied the position depended on the agreement and support of the States General – the elected administration of the northern Netherlands.19 The growing power of the English Parliament may therefore have been perceived by the Orange negotiators as merely a shift in the balance of power between ruler and state.

Frederik Hendrik’s pursuit of an advantageous Anglo–Dutch marriage for his son was in due course rewarded. By 1641 the personal circumstances of the English royal family had deteriorated dramatically, the prospect of a Spanish match had collapsed, and it was agreed that Princess Mary would after all become William’s bride, in exchange for Low Countries support for the King’s party in England, when such became necessary. Frederik Hendrik’s negotiators assured the English King that the Dutch Stadholder would ‘acknowledge [the bond of family alliance] by his services whenever it might please His Majesty to let him know his commands’. They omitted to point out to Charles that the Stadholder actually had no authority to dictate to the States-General – the administrative arm of the Dutch Republic, and the Dutch equivalent of the English Parliament – in matters of foreign policy. The marriage contract was signed in London on 12 February 1641.20

The fourteen-year-old Prince William of Orange arrived in England for his marriage to nine-year-old Mary in early May 1641.21 At the court in Whitehall it was made absolutely clear that the Stuart King and Queen were on this occasion consenting to a dynastically inappropriate marriage for their eldest daughter solely through force of circumstances. The Orange delegation were repeatedly reminded of their inferior position in relation to the family of the bride. William was ostentatiously taken in hand by his bride’s family: his wardrobe was considered insufficiently gorgeous, and he was taken off to be decked out in a more suitable outfit. This is the orange silk suit in which he is shown in van Dyck’s glorious wedding portrait – it probably cost several times more than the painting that commemorates the event. By rights the double portrait should have been paid for by the bride’s family, but Frederik Hendrik probably footed the bill, as he did that for the wedding suit, and for all other expenses relating to the union.22

The wedding ceremony was conducted by the King’s former personal chaplain and favourite Anglican prelate, Matthew Wren, Bishop of Ely, in the chapel of the Palace of Whitehall.23 Charles and Henrietta Maria, father and mother of the bride, were seated together prominently on a raised dais, to distinguish them in rank from the Orange party.

So uncharacteristically low-key were the ceremonies to celebrate the marriage that there was some suspicion on the Dutch side that the Stuarts might default on the contract should their political circumstances improve and a more prestigious royal bridegroom become available. Charles refused point blank to allow his daughter to travel back to The Hague with her new husband, while at the obligatory ‘bedding of the bride’ which took place before the bridegroom’s departure for home, elaborate precautions were taken to make it clear that the marriage had not been consummated. It was not a good sign, one member of William’s entourage wrote, that such care had been taken to demonstrate to the world that the bride’s virginity had been left intact: ‘In the presence of the King, Queen, ambassadors and some bishops, the Princess being put to bed in a double shirt, sewn fast below and above, between two sheets, over which two more were spread in which the Prince was lying.’24

Matters were, however, soon taken out of the English King’s hands. In early 1642, Charles’s flight from London and his subsequent declaration of war against his Parliament at York marked the beginning of civil war in England – an internal conflict which lasted seven years, devastated the country, and culminated in the execution of the King on 30 January 1649. On 7 February 1642, Charles escorted his wife and eldest daughter from Windsor Castle to Dover, from where it had been decided that Princess Mary and Queen Henrietta Maria should embark for the safety of the Netherlands, and the protection of the royal couple’s new son-in-law. Two weeks later, after lingering farewells, the Queen and the Princess sailed out of Dover on a modest ship, the Lion, with an escorting flotilla. King Charles galloped along the white cliffs, waving to his wife and daughter until they were long out of sight. Queen Henrietta Maria had prudently taken with her most of the Crown Jewels, with the intention of pawning them in The Hague to raise much-needed funds for an army to support her husband’s cause.

The Queen and her daughter were received at The Hague with enormous pomp and ceremony, as befitted their elevated royal status. Frederik Hendrik resigned himself to bearing most of the costs of this extravagant display of prestige and status – particularly since it had the desired effect of greatly impressing the Dutch people.

In the months that followed, Frederik Hendrik and Amalia toured the northern Netherlands with their new daughter-in-law, dazzling the Dutch citizens with the scale and splendour of their entourage. In May there was a lavish reception in Amsterdam, at which allegorical scenes depicted historical marriages made between Counts of Holland and English Princesses, thereby implying that the house of Orange too had now achieved sovereign status. The massive costs of such entertainments fell to the Stadholder and the States General. Frederik Hendrik, for whom the expenditure formed part of a conscious strategy of dynastic aggrandisement, absorbed his share without demur. Only occasionally did the Dutch administration complain, protesting that the English Queen ‘for her amusement’ travelled with great ostentation ‘at the country’s expense, with a retinue of 600 persons’ (the number of followers given here probably included the Stadholder’s retinue as well as those of Henrietta Maria and Princess Mary).25

Queen Henrietta Maria’s purpose in remaining in the Low Countries, though, was primarily to raise a substantial cash sum to purchase men and munitions for her husband’s Royalist cause, secured against the jewels she had carried out of England. These were valued at 1,265,300 Dutch guilders; bankers in Amsterdam, however, were reluctant to deal with them. The stones were too large, and besides, the English Parliament had lodged a formal complaint with the ambassador for the Low Countries in London, protesting that the Crown Jewels were state property and that the Queen had no authority to dispose of them. It became clear that unless Frederik Hendrik was willing to add his own personal security, no bank would be prepared to lend against the pieces of jewellery. This is precisely what the Prince proceeded to do, thereby effectively providing concrete support for the Royalists at the outbreak of the English Civil War in August 1642, in spite of the clearly expressed resolve of the States General to remain neutral.

Royal mother and daughter together exerted considerable emotional pressure on their new relations for financial assistance, men and ships to assist Charles I, thereby driving a wedge between the Stadholder and his government. Charles I was quick to take advantage of his daughter’s new access to the material and military resources of the house of Orange, and pressed her to seek assistance from them. ‘Dearest daughter’, he wrote to her, ‘I desire you to assist me to procure from your Father in Law the loane of a good ship to be sent hither to attend my commands. It is that I may safely send and receive Expresses to and from your Mother.’26

In February 1643 Queen Henrietta Maria left the Dutch Republic for France, taking with her large quantities of munitions for her husband’s cause. Frederik Hendrik persuaded the Dutch government to turn a blind eye to these, ‘because without [the armaments] there is no appearance at all that the Queen will depart, but only that she continues to stay with us to the great detriment of the country’.27 Left alone with her new family, Princess Mary celebrated her twelfth birthday at The Hague in November, on which occasion it was considered that she had formally consented to the marriage as binding, as required under English law.

In June 1644, Henrietta Maria dispatched an emissary from her residence in Paris to The Hague, proposing a marriage between her eldest son, the Prince of Wales – the future Charles II – and Frederik Hendrik and Amalia van Solms’s eldest daughter, Louise Henriette. These first negotiations failed, but the English Queen sent her representative back in early 1645. She did not want a large dowry, but rather intensive assistance from the Dutch Republic at sea, against the English Parliamentary forces. Frederik Hendrik rejected any such combination of political and dynastic arrangements, though he declared himself entirely ready to countenance the marriage, and offered a generous dowry. Negotiations continued until April 1645, when Henrietta Maria learned that Frederik Hendrik had secured a more reliable (and ultimately more advantageous) match for his daughter with the Elector of Brandenburg. Their marriage took place in December 1646.28

Shortly after negotiations had been broken off concerning a second Orange–Stuart marriage, in October 1645, the complete correspondence between Henrietta Maria’s envoy and Frederik Hendrik was captured by Parliamentary forces in a skirmish near Sherborn in Yorkshire. It was published for propaganda purposes, to reveal to the English public the extent of the royal family’s negotiations with foreign powers in its attempt to secure victory on behalf of the Crown over the people. The following spring the contents of the ‘King’s cabinet’ relating to the proposed Orange–Stuart match were translated into Dutch and circulated in the United Provinces, in an attempt to arouse republican indignation at the Stadholder’s high-handed use of the Dutch Republic as a marital bargaining counter in the international power play for territory between ruling royal dynasties. Among the Dutch, however, the exchanges were read rather as confirmation that Frederik Hendrik had eventually fended off any such politically dangerous English suggestions.29

In 1658 one final attempt was made by the house of Orange to contract a marriage between Prince Charles – now the exiled Charles II – and Louise Henriette’s younger sister. Negotiations continued for a year before they eventually broke down. Once again this was due to the elderly Dowager, widow of Stadholder Frederik Hendrik and mother of William II, Amalia van Solms, who decided that, after eight years of the English Commonwealth, there was no serious prospect of Charles regaining the English throne. Or perhaps she was put off the match by Charles’s indiscreet and sexually predatory conduct, philandering with the ladies-in-waiting at her court in The Hague: in 1649 his mistress Lucy Walter had given birth to the future Duke of Monmouth in Rotterdam. Charles subsequently fathered illegitimate children by Elizabeth Killigrew, Viscountess Shannon, and Catherine Pegge.

Hardly more than a year later, and very much against the odds, in 1660 King Charles I’s wayward son was reinstated as the reigning English monarch. In May 1662 a highly advantageous marriage was contracted between Charles II and the Portuguese Catholic Princess Catherine of Braganza. She brought with her an exceptionally large dowry in both goods and territory (which included the ports of Tangier and Bombay). There must have been many in the Protestant Low Countries – not least Amalia herself – who now regretted the failure of the attempt to ally him by marriage with the reliably Protestant house of Orange. Nor did marriage put an end to Charles’s wandering eye. In stark contrast to his official childlessness, he acknowledged nine illegitimate children before his death in 1685, six of them boys.

The on-off negotiations between the princely house of Orange and the royal house of Stuart throughout the middle years of the seventeenth century are a strong reminder of the deep dynastic ties that bound together the English and the Dutch. In the protracted diplomatic relations between France and England during the seventeenth century, historians have been quick to point out how the interventions of Queen Henrietta Maria (daughter of Henri IV of France) and, a generation later, Charles II’s younger sister Henriette (married to Philippe, Duke of Orléans), influenced events within the British Isles.

The double bond, in the period 1641–88, between the ruling houses of England and the Dutch Republic has received far less attention. Yet throughout these years, first Princess Mary (wife of William II) and then her niece, also Princess Mary (wife of William III), exercised significant influence over decision-making on both sides of the Narrow Sea.

We shall never know whether Mary of Modena’s son had been substituted in the lying-in chamber in a warming pan, or was actually of Stuart royal blood. But like many potent myths, the story of the ‘warming-pan plot’, circulating right across Europe, was as powerful as an instrument of history as if it were established fact. Though the story of plots and substitutions is largely discounted by historians today, it was equally widely believed in England and abroad during the fraught summer of 1688, and persisted for a generation afterwards. Since the Queen went on to bear James a daughter in exile in France, the claim that she was incapable of bearing healthy children was plainly false. At the same time, by spiriting away the pretended heir to the throne, James and his wife removed the possibility of any kind of ‘trial’ of whether the supposed Prince of Wales was indeed genuine. An inquiry was started early in 1689, but was dropped on the grounds that it was by now impossible to establish the truth. As a sympathiser with James’s cause wrote in early February 1689:

There is no room for the examination of the little gents title which perhaps will be hearafter the best proof he has of his title that after ‘twas in their power to examine his birth they durst not refer it to a free parliament as was pretended.30

As late as 1712 Queen Anne remained convinced that the baby who had almost ousted her from succession to the throne had been substituted in the delivery room. When her physician David Hamilton told her that he believed ‘that the Pretender was not the real son of King James, with my arguments against it’, the Queen ‘received this with chearfulness, and by asking me several questions about the thing’.31 But by the time of William and Mary’s coronation on 11 April 1689, the legitimacy or otherwise of the baby was immaterial to the arguments mustered to affirm the legal legitimacy of their claim to the throne.

Neither will we ever know whether William of Orange had intended to seize the English throne when he launched his invasion in November 1688. In a later Mémoire, Mary implied that William invaded England with the intention of dethroning James. This may, however, have been her retrospective view of events, since for some years before the invasion she had hoped that William would one day be King. King James himself said on 27 November 1688 that he thought William had come to England to seize the Crown. This remark clearly tells us about the King’s state of mind at the time, but it does not help us decide what were William’s actual intentions. Whatever the case, the public actions of English officials underlined the finality of what William had done. By 18 December, when they knew James was in William’s custody, they began greeting the Prince symbolically and ceremonially as if he were King.32

We do know that as early as 1670, when William paid his visit to England to reclaim the large sums owed to him by the English royal family, he was delighted by the evident enthusiasm of the Protestant party, and their clear approval of the fact that he stood close to the throne in the line of inheritance. On that occasion, the seventy-two-year-old Sir Constantijn Huygens (Constantijn junior’s father) certainly encouraged him to believe that his ultimate royal destiny (he was not yet Stadholder) might lie in England.

Devoted lifelong servant of the house of Orange (both in and out of power), and unashamed anglophile, Sir Constantijn could think of no more glorious future for his young Orange protégé, on the threshold of regaining his royal standing in the Low Countries, than to consolidate still further the bonds between his family and the similarly restored Stuarts. In spite of his age and infirmity, Huygens senior worked unstintingly during his London visit to develop a strong and durable relationship between Charles II and the young nephew who would, though neither of them could know it, one day ascend the English throne as King William III.

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