Bonny Queen Billy
Does anyone remember that Martyn Turner cartoon? The caption goes something like, “January, February, March, March, March, March…”
Yes, that’s right! Marching season has nearly arrived for all those men who are old enough to know better than dressing up like Winston Churchill, tying a burnt ochre ribbon around them, and going for a turn about the town before returning to their treehouse club for the evening.
That is what happens in the Orange Order, isn’t it?
Anyway, this article’s not about the Order. It’s about the Orange. William of, to be precise. Let’s take a journey back to 17th century Europe: Since the early 1670s, a young Protestant prince has been governing the region around what today is known as BeNeLux, and beyond. He’s also involved in a flurry of conflicts with the Catholic king of France. To improve his position politically, he arranges a marriage to Mary Stuart, daughter of King James II of England and Ireland. They marry in 1677.
King James is a Catholic monarch, and many of the king’s Protestant subjects are concerned about his Catholic motives. In 1688, the combined forces of English rebels and William’s army overthrew James’s rule in what is known as the Glorious Revolution. You may also know James and William from such minor skirmishes as the Battle of the Boyne.
Anyway, all that is history. What we’re really interested in, of course, is the gossip surrounding William and Mary. As a result of the Glorious Revolution, William ascended the throne as King William III of England and Ireland, and his wife Mary Stuart became Queen Mary II. The husband and wife were first cousins (lovely), and not exactly close: he was said to have been distinctly indifferent towards Mary, although it is recorded that he grieved deeply upon her death. Unusually, too, during their reign, William and Mary were co-regents, ruling jointly. Their rule was the only period in British history in which “joint sovereigns” with equal powers were allowed to reign. Notably, the couple were childless; however, it should be made clear that Queen Mary did become pregnant at least once, but that the pregnancy was miscarried.
Depending on sources, William had either no mistresses or had one, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting Elizabeth Villiers (from 1680). This is also unusual for the time, as men had mistresses here, there and everywhere. William’s uncles are an example. We should be very careful not to apply anachronistic terms or identities to historical figures: what is understood as “homosexual” today may be very different to homosexual behaviour then. At the time, however, rumours circulated about William’s, er, tastes.
A pamphlet from the time, quoted by Brian Lacey, states:
But since nor Wife nor Daughter ever felt
WILL’s many Parts, but rather thought him gelt,
JAMES was but ill deposed, whose fruitful Cods,
Scattered a generous Race of Demi-Gods,
While t’other unperforming puny Prig,
Could only with his Page retire and fr[ig].
Oo-er, matron! But who is this Page with whom William of Orange was frigging? Well, there are many possibilities, if the rumours are true. William was quite prone to promoting low-ranked servants, including to the point of creating earldoms for them and granting them substantial lands in England and Ireland. The common feature of these fortunate serfs? Why, they were all young, tall and strikingly handsome. Three such notable men are Hans Willem Bentinck, Henry Sidney, and Arnold Joost van Keppel.
Speculation also surrounds William’s wife, Mary Stuart (and their successor, Mary’s sister, Anne Stuart), as a result of passionate letters exchanged with one Frances Apsley. However again, apart from the importance of not applying our own identities to 17th century monarchs, it is notable that there was quite a fashion at the time for writing such letters.
Whatever about his wife, it’s pretty clear that William of Orange had an eye for the laddies.
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