Upon hearing the famous pairing of William and Mary, one might initially think of the university located in Williamsburg, Virginia—an institute older than any other in the nation outside of Harvard. Alternatively, one might think of that university’s namesakes, the William and Mary who reigned in England at the time of the institute’s 1693 founding. Following the expulsion of the Catholic James II from the English throne in 1688, James’s daughter Mary—raised as Anglican despite her father’s sentiments—and her Dutch husband Willem (William) were installed as England’s next sovereigns and co-regents. This ‘Glorious Revolution’ eliminated once and for all any chance for a Catholic reign. What one may not realize, however, is that there was a different William and Mary of Anglo-Dutch significance before this particular pairing.
The daughter of Charles I of England and his wife, Henrietta Maria of France, Princess Mary became the first to hold the title of Princess Royal in 1642, mimicking the practice of French kings to bestow such an honor upon their eldest daughter. This title served as a way of recognizing the senior female sibling who could not be heir apparent on account of male primogeniture. Proposed marriages to her first cousins the Prince of Asturias and the Elector of the Palatinate respectively fell through, after which she was betrothed to Willem (William) II, heir to the Principality of Orange. This marriage took place in May 1641 when Mary was barely 9-½ years old, with Willem himself not yet 15. Domestically in England, the conflict between the crown and parliament grew, with Charles beheaded and the monarchy replaced with a republic by decade’s end. Meanwhile, the young bride relocated to The Hague in the Dutch Republic along with her mother—to continue Princess Mary’s upbringing and to flee the incandescent toxicity that her Catholic faith was causing unto her husband’s image. In 1647, Willem’s father passed away, raising Willem to the throne in Orange along with the office of stadtholder of the Dutch Republic. Mary, still just 15 years old, became the Princess of Orange and the First Lady to a young nation.
Sadly, their reign as a couple was short-lived, as Willem contracted smallpox and died in November 1650, just two days after the birth of their son, also named Willem. Complicating this already troublesome period was the status of the now widowed former First Lady; her sympathy toward her exiled English family (personae non gratae during the Cromwellian period) made her unpopular and increased tension between the two nations. However, when the English Republic ceased and the monarchy was reestablished in 1660, Mary’s elder brother found himself on the throne as Charles II, with Mary’s own status in the Dutch Republic uplifted. This respite was quickly cut short for Mary, as she, like her husband a decade before, contracted and succumbed to smallpox just after returning to England on Christmas Eve in 1660; she was just 29 years old.
Her young son Willem received the attention of his uncle Charles II, who saw to his education during his early years. Later in Charles’s reign, Willem sought the hand of Mary, his first cousin, in marriage, with the couple wedded on his 27th birthday in 1677. Not to be confused with the Mary Stuart who was his mother, this Mary Stuart was in fact the daughter of his uncle James (the Duke of York), who was the younger brother of Charles II and Willem’s mother, Mary. Though not thrilled with the match, Charles persuaded James to support it, just as he urged the Anglican upbringing of Mary and younger sister, Anne, in opposition to the Catholic leanings of James. This religious choice would prove pivotal the following decade, as the Duke of York, having succeeded Charles upon the latter’s death in 1685 (as James II), met increased hostility over his Catholic faith—so much so that his reign was toppled just three years later. Ushered in to restore Anglican rule were Willem and Mary, becoming William III and Mary II, settling a chaotic period through which Willem’s parents—the first William and Mary—had played a role despite their shortened lives.
Our upcoming February Collectors Choice Online sale will feature a silver medal (graded PCGS SPECIMEN-62) commemorating the marriage of this ‘first’ William and Mary, displaying the young couple clasping their right hands before an idyllic landscape, while an allusion to their future rule is presented at a distance in the form of a palace. Meanwhile, the divine blessing of the nuptials is conveyed through a radiant dove flying above and two cherubim presenting the couple with laurel wreaths. On the medal’s reverse, the iconography of peace and tranquility is clearly demonstrated, with an allegory for Peace herself presenting Pallas with an olive branch, implements of war and conflict having been cast aside in the background. Clearly, the alliances sought by Charles I can be seen in the hopeful vision engraved by the medalist. Unfortunately, we now know how fleeting this union would be for the couple. Nevertheless, what it lacked temporally was recovered in the calming reign of the ensuing William and Mary. Look for this extremely interesting medal—a piece that serves as a powerful and important prelude to the events leading up to and surrounding the Glorious Revolution—appearing in the Stack’s Bowers Galleries February CCO auction.
To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit StacksBowers.com where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.
We are always seeking coins, medals, and pieces of paper money for our future sales, and are currently accepting submissions (until January 21st) for our next Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auction will be in February 2020. Following that, our next catalog-format auction will be our Official Auction of the Hong Kong Show in March 2020—a monumental event that will mark our tenth anniversary of auctions in Asia! If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.