28. Mary II
Mary ruled with her husband, William III, from 1689 until her death in 1694. When her husband was in England she ceded most of her authority to him, but in his absence on military campaigns she proved herself a decisive and effective ruler.
The eldest daughter of James II and his first wife, Anne Hyde, Mary was brought up an Anglican. She married William of Orange in 1677 and became pregnant soon afterwards. Sadly, the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage which it seems may have permanently damaged her ability to have children. Her childlessness was a source of great grief to the Queen.
In 1694 she became ill with smallpox, dying just after Christmas. Her death left William heartbroken and she was widely mourned by her subjects.
29. William III
Born into his role as the Prince of Orange in 1650, William III ruled from 1689 until he died in 1702. Widely known as William of Orange he is also referred to by the somewhat less formal title of “King Billy” in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
William married his fifteen-year old first cousin, Mary, in 1677. Eleven years later, he invaded England to seize the throne from his Catholic father-in-law, James, in what became known as the “Glorious Revolution”. With James defeated, he and Mary ruled as joint sovereigns until her death in 1694.
Heralded by many as a champion of Protestantism, William joined coalitions of both Protestant and Catholic powers to fight France’s Catholic king, Louis XIV. His reign also saw the passing of one of the most significant documents in English history, the Bill of Rights. This imposed limits on the monarch’s power, including prohibiting him from suspending laws passed by Parliament or levying taxes without Parliament’s consent.
The Bill also set out who would inherit the throne on the death of William and Mary and barred any Roman Catholic, or anyone married to a Catholic, from becoming king or queen – a prohibition that continues to this day.
The younger sister of Mary II, Anne came to the throne in 1702 after the death of Mary’s husband, William III. It was during her reign that the Acts of Union united England and Scotland as a single sovereign realm. The era also saw the growth of two-party politics. The Whigs were broadly aligned with commercial interests and Protestants seeking to break away from the Church of England, while the Tories – whom Anne favoured – supported the Anglican Church and the landed gentry.
Anne had married George of Denmark in 1683. She suffered ill-health throughout her life, and despite becoming pregnant no less than seventeen times a series of miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths saw her die in 1714 without issue.
31. George I
After Queen Anne died childless the throne passed to her cousin, George I. The 1701 Act of Settlement had barred Catholics from the succession and George was the nearest Protestant relative. At 56 years old, he became the first monarch of the House of Hanover.
George’s reign saw the power of the monarchy diminish and a system of cabinet government begin to emerge. Shortly after his coronation the Whig party won an overwhelming victory in the general election of 1715 and the party grew in dominance through his reign. Real political power came to be exercised by Sir Robert Walpole, who became Britain’s first de facto Prime Minister.
George died of a stroke during a trip to his native Hanover. He was succeeded by his son, George Augustus.
32. George II
The last English monarch to be born outside Britain, George was born and brought up in Germany. He gained the throne in 1727 and ruled until his death in 1760.
With Parliament’s power growing, George exercised little control over domestic policy and spent much of his time in Hanover. He participated in the Battle of Dettingen, part of the War of Austrian Succession in 1743, making him the last British monarch to lead an army in battle.
An attempt to depose him in 1745 in favour of the Catholic James Francis Edward Stuart failed, and he remained King until his death at the age of 77. His legacy includes the donation of the royal library to the British Museum.