February 13 – Anniversary of William and Mary's Co-Reign

Posted on February 13, 2016

This is called the "dual cipher" of King William III
and Queen Mary II of England.

I just wrote about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of England. Well, today I'm going to talk about another, much earlier pair of royal rulers of England.

But here's the unusual thing about William and Mary, King and Queen of England: they were co-rulers.

Generally, England was ruled by a king – such as King Henry VIII or King Edward III. If the king was married (and he almost always was, sometimes many times – I'm looking at you, Henry VIII!), his wife was called the Queen of England but was not politically powerful. Sometimes, however, the nation was ruled by a queen. Of course, Queen Elizabeth I is an example of a queen who ruled the nation. If the queen was married (Elizabeth I was not), her husband was not called the king; instead, he was called “Prince” or "Prince Consort.”

But in the case of William and Mary, this husband-and-wife team were considered co-regents. William III was king; Mary II was queen; they ruled together.

Parliament offered William and Mary the throne on this date in 1689. That seems so nice and peaceful – but in actual fact, this followed decades of tension between the monarchy (the royal rulers) and Parliament (the elected representatives of the people) and the people themselves – and it also followed years of tension between Protestants and Catholics in England.

You see, William III was the Dutch Prince of Orange, but his mother was the daughter of King Charles I of England. (Did you know that many of the monarchs of Europe married off their children to one another?) William married his first cousin, Mary, the daughter of James, the Duke of York.

In 1685, James (the Duke of York) became King James II of England. So William was grandson of a former King of England, married to the daughter of the current King of England, and a Dutch prince. Royal through-and-through, and a bit English, as well, despite his birth in what is now the Netherlands!

When cousins marry cousins, family trees become a bit...


It turned out, King James was not popular with the people of England, especially not with the political and religious leaders. He was Catholic, and he seemed to be a bit too pro-France for British tastes. Some people seemed to fear that he was going to rule “absolutely” rather than work with Parliament. The majority of English people were Protestant, and apparently many of them were worried that James was going to bring Catholic power back to England. Their one comfort was that Mary was next in line for the throne – and apparently she was Protestant like her husband (rather than Catholic like her father?). When King James had a baby boy who – because he was a MALE – would inherit the throne instead of Mary, the powerful Protestants took action!

They urged William to invade England. With a large Dutch fleet and army, William landed at Torbay. There were only two minor clashes of armies, and then James lost his power – because, remember, many powerful people within his own nation were behind William – and James and his wife fled the country and went to France.

This revolution is sometimes called the Bloodless Revolution, because there was so little fighting. It is more often called the Glorious Revolution.

When William and Mary assumed the throne, they also signed a Bill of Rights, which became one of the most important documents in Britain's political history. Some historians say that James's overthrow and the signing of the Bill of Rights began the modern parliamentary democracy that Britain has had ever since.

Williamsburg, Virginia, was named for William III.
And the college in that city was named for the two monarchs:
The College of William & Mary.

Also on this date:

Artist Grant Wood's birthday

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  1. Mary II and her younger sister Anne were both raised as members of the Church of England (Protestant). Their uncle and William's, Charles II, insisted on that and their father had to go along with his brother's command. William was also a Protestant but a member of the Dutch Reformed Church and thus more like a puritan.