Imagine your father – the king – being known as a tyrant who suspended acts of Parliament by royal decree, and persecuted protestant Christians.
Then imagine, the people of your home country asking for you to return with your husband to overthrow your father.
Where would your loyalties lie?
The year was 1688, and this was the life of Mary Stuart, who became Mary II of England. Her husband was William III of England, also known as Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau, in Holland.
Mary remained loyal to her husband, and together they promoted liberty.
As a differentiating value, Liberty means freedom of choice; autonomy, political independence.
While many people speak of liberty and promote it, how many in positions of power act to realize it?
William & Mary were a rare royal couple who valued liberty, and changed history.
Mary II of England
Mary Stuart was born in 1662, in London, England, during a period of religious and political upheaval. She was raised as a Protestant, even though her father – the Duke of York, who became King James II – ultimately converted to Catholicism.
Since the time of Henry VIII (150 years), both the monarchy and politicians had been promoting competing religious policies between Catholics and Protestants, like pawns in a chess game. In addition, the English Parliament was observing the growth of absolutism by kings in England and other European countries. The power of parliament was being threatened.
Mary lived in the midst of both religious and political mayhem. Those in power viewed her as a pawn.
King Charles II was Mary’s uncle and tried to marry her off to the son of the king of France, in an effort to ally his realms with Catholic France. But a combination of influencing English politicians, and William himself, persuaded both the King and Mary’s father to have her marry William.
While Mary was at first saddened by all of this, she vowed to remain faithful to William.
William III of England
Eleven years older than Mary, William of Orange experienced the effects of conflict first hand. Just before he was born, in Holland, his father died. And his mother showed little personal interest in him. The responsibilities for William’s education and upbringing were tossed about like a beach ball.
By age 21 William was prepared to lead a Dutch field army in a war with France. It was a disaster. Over the following 5 years he learned much about war, politics, and monarchies.
William’s initial interest in Mary was an attempt to improve his position with King Charles II, to draw England’s monarch away from their pro-French policies. However, when James II became king, relations between William and James quickly deteriorated.
Under the tyranny of King James II, William had a sympathetic ear to the English Protestants, as he was also Protestant. It didn’t take long for English politicians to begin negotiating with William for an armed invasion of England.
William at first opposed the prospect of an invasion. He knew that Mary was the actual heiress to the English Crown and, should the invasion succeed, he feared she would become more powerful than him.
However, Mary convinced William that she was not interested in political power. Mary stated that she “would do all that lay in her power to make him King for life” and assured him that she “would always obey her husband as she had promised to do in her marriage vows.”
In 1688, William agreed to invade England.
The Glorious Revolution
In one of the shortest revolutions, known as the Glorious Revolution, William conquered England and assumed power – with almost no bloodshed. Many of King James’ Protestant officers defected and joined William. Upon his arrival, William proclaimed, “the liberties of England and the Protestant religion I will maintain.”
James II escaped to France, where he remained until he died.
William and Mary were crowned as joint Sovereigns, the only royal couple in history. And they followed through on their promise for liberty.
Of great significance, William & Mary encouraged the passage of the Act of Toleration (1689), which guaranteed religious toleration to certain Christian groups (though William was upset it didn’t go further, specifically to protect Catholics).
Also, one of the most important constitutional documents in English history, the Bill of Rights (1689), was passed. This set the stage to establish restrictions on what the monarchy could and could not do (e.g. suspend laws passed by parliament), which remain to this day.
As a new governing model between the Crown of England and Parliament, the foundation for religious and political liberty was established. In addition to benefiting England, historians give credit to this new “balance of power”, with its checks and balances, as a model used for the Constitution of the United States, written 87 years later.
By embracing the value of liberty, this royal couple truly changed history.
What can couples learn today from William & Mary?
How can the value of liberty empower you to make a difference?
Today’s value was selected from the “Freedom-Prosperity” category, based on the e-book Developing Your Differentiating Value.