King William III and Queen Mary II

King William III and Queen Mary II (William born 4 November 1650, Mary born 30 April 1662; joint sovereigns of England from 13 February 1689 until Mary died 28 December 1694, William died 8 March 1702)

England feared further Catholic sovereigns, not so much a fear of Catholicism as a religion, but a fear of the Catholic countries which might take advantage of the English sovereign and come to dominate the country – Spain had tried it, and at the time Louis XIV of France was trying to take over Europe.

The alternative was James Second’s Protestant daughter, Mary, who was married to William whose maternal grandfather was Charles First of England. Fatherless from birth, raised as a Calvinist, William had spent his life fighting Catholic kings, and would continue to do that on the continent on behalf of the Netherlands, despite being King of England. They served as joint sovereigns, though it is accepted Mary deferred to her husband when he was in England then served effectively as sovereign when he was out of the country pursuing the interests of his country of birth, which to a large extent coincided with England’s interests.

The marriage was of course political, Mary was 15 and reported to have cried for two days when told her fate, but ultimately they seem to have been happy, and William was devastated when Mary died of smallpox. From England’s point of view this reign signalled the beginning of democracy, rule by Parliament with sovereigns who no longer believed their will was God’s will. Democracy was limited, it did not extend to giving civil rights to Catholics.

 

Hampton Court Palace is approximately 50% the product of William and Mary. Why William was so enamoured with it is not clear. Some reports say he was asthmatic, Churchill wrote he was tubercular. Asthma seems possible, tuberculosis does not, considering his reasonable length of life and interest in physical activities. The atmosphere in crowded London would not have been good for an asthmatic and he might well have wished to breathe pure air. He visited the Palace within a couple of weeks of being offered the crown in Whitehall Palace, decided it would be his principle home but later recognizing the inconvenience that imposed on officials working in Westminster or London, also developed a palace in Kensington.

No time was wasted in getting started on turning Hampton Court into a rival for Versailles. This seems to have been a specific intention and William’s war on Louis XIV may have motivated him to show that his English palace was just as splendid as Louis’ French one. Christopher Wren had after the Great Fire of 1666 planned the rebuilding of the City of London, notably Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and held the official position of Surveyor of the Royal Works; he was called to give his opinion on how to achieve William’s intention, and by May had suggestions and cost estimates drawn up and ready for approval. The initial plan was to destroy all of the previous palace with the exception of the Great Hall with its magnificent ceiling – fortunately this was abandoned, perhaps because of cost, almost certainly not because of any romantic attachment to the past.

The next suggestion regarding the buildings was based on the East wing of the Louvre designed for Louis XIV by Claude Perrault (his brother Charles collected the fairy stories), and considered a perfect model to emulate. Once again they had to admit their eyes were bigger than their pocket books and a scaled down version was eventually decided on, noticeably the apartments for King and Queen would be of equal size for now they were equal sovereigns. The interior also had features suggestive of Versailles, wider corridors, bigger rooms than those of Wolsey and Henry.

The first completed buildings, in 1689, were the more modest barracks for the King’s soldiers. A new quadrangle was created around Fountain Court, substantially larger than Clock Court, the building material had more stone than in Henry’s, brought from Oxfordshire, not too far up river. It has given the South, riverside, aspect of the palace a quite different appearance, creamy-white in contrast to the warm red brick of Henry and Wolsey.

During the building process at Hampton Court and Kensington Palace there were two incidents of structural collapse and death of workmen; an enquiry in January 1690 put Wren’s reputation to the test, evidence given by rivals and competitors did not help, but Wren was exonerated.

Queen Mary made extensive use of the popular “blue and white” theme, in which she was assisted by the Huguenot refugee, Daniel Marot, in both interior decorations and garden planning. At the time of her death in 1694 the workmen had not been paid for more than a year, William was busy with his wars on the continent, and it was time to reconsider their plans.

After peace was signed between William’s other country (now called Holland) and France in 1697, his interests returned to finishing the interior of Hampton Court. In competitive bidding, Christopher Wren lost out to William Talman, a former pupil whom he had taught so well he became his rival. The Royal apartments, the Great Staircase and the furnishings were created with a tinge of French flavour; the King’s private ground floor apartments were connected with the Orangery.

William died following a fall from his horse in which he sustained a fractured collar bone. He had no immediate heirs and the throne passed to his wife’s younger sister.

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