Jean Plaidy

The Queen's Devotion: The Story of Queen Mary II

The Lady Mary


There have been two people in my life whom I have loved beyond all others, and it has always weighed heavily upon me that I was called upon to decide between them and, in choosing one, I betrayed the other. I did what my heart, my faith, my sense of duty dictated and ever since I have suffered from the torment of knowing of the pain I inflicted and from which I myself will suffer to the end of my days.

I want to go right back to the beginning, to project myself into the past, to see it more clearly than I could when it was happening. I want to ask myself: what should I have done?

I was born in St. James’s Palace at a time when my birth was of little interest to any except my parents, for a most significant event was taking place. My uncle, King Charles, recently restored to his throne after more than ten years’ exile, was about to marry the Infanta of Portugal — an event which generated great excitement and expectation throughout the country. In any case, I was only a girl, and fifteen months after my birth, a boy was born to my parents, a fact which robbed my birth of any importance it might have had.

In the beginning the world was a wonderful place; the days were full of sunshine; I was surrounded by people who loved me and, being cherished by all, I was led to believe that the world had been created for my pleasure.

The best times of all were when my parents visited us. Everyone was so respectful to them that I quickly realized how important they were. My mother would take me up into her arms. She was like a big soft cushion into which I could sink with a feeling of cozy security. She would caress me, murmur words of love to me and pop a sweetmeat into my mouth and show me in a hundred ways how much she loved me. But the most important of all was my father. When he came into the nursery crying: “Where is my little daughter? Where is the Lady Mary?” I would stagger or toddle and later run to him, and he would pick me up and set me on his shoulder so that I could look down on everything from my lofty perch. I loved all those around me but no one so much as I loved my father.

Once I heard someone say: “The Duke loves the little Mary beyond all others.”

I never forgot that and I used to say it to myself when I was in my bed alone. I would listen for his coming; and often in later years, when I was haunted by memories of the fate which had overtaken him, I would recall those days and, sickened with doubts and self-reproaches, I would contemplate the part I had played in his tragedy.

How often then did I sigh for those days of my youthful innocence, when I thought the world a beautiful place in which I should be happy forever.

When he visited us he would not let me out of his sight. I remember an occasion when he even received some of his officers to discuss some naval matter and he kept me there with him. He was Lord High Admiral of England then and I remember his seating me on the table while he talked to them; and, to please him, I know now, the men commented on the extraordinary intelligence, vitality and charm of his daughter — and how delighted he was.

Sometimes it is difficult to know whether I really remember certain incidents from those days or whether they were talked of so frequently that I convince myself I do.

There is a miniature of me painted by Nechscher, a Flemish artist of whom my father thought highly. I am holding a black rabbit. They told me how my father used to join us at the sittings and watch me fondly while the artist was working. In my mind’s eye I can see him clearly, but was I really aware of him at the time?

There are some days which I do remember and I can be certain of this. I was nearly three years old. It was cold, for it was the month of February. I knew something important was taking place. Snatches of overheard conversations came to me.

“I hope the Duke and Duchess will get what they want this time.”

“Well, I don’t know. The boys are sickly and I reckon he wouldn’t change the Lady Mary for all the boys in Christendom.”

When my father came to see me, after the usual rapturous greeting, he said: “You will be happy to hear, my daughter, that you have a little sister.”

I remember my bewilderment. A little sister? I already had a little brother. There were always nurses around him and he did not mean a great deal to me.

“She will join you here,” went on my father, “and you will love her dearly.”

“You love her?” I asked.

I must have shown my father that I feared she might supplant me in his affections, for he gave me a smile of immediate understanding.

“I love her,” he said. “But whoever came, it would always be the Lady Mary who had first place in my heart.”

Excitement followed. Young as I was, I was to stand as sponsor for my sister; and Anne Scot, the Duchess of Buccleugh, was to be the other. Later I learned that this honor had been bestowed on her because she had recently married my cousin Jemmy, who had become the Duke of Monmouth.

I certainly remember that occasion well. It was presided over by Gilbert Sheldon, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, a very stern and formidable man of whom I should have been very much in awe but for the presence of my powerful father who would never be stern with me, or allow anyone else to be.

The new baby was christened Anne, after our mother, and in due course she joined the nursery at Twickenham.

* * *

THE HOUSE IN TWICKENHAM belonged to my grandfather — my mother’s father, the Earl of Clarendon. He was a very important man, I realized, though I saw him rarely. There was another grandfather, whose name was always spoken in hushed whispers, because he was dead, and when I was very young indeed, I knew there had been something very shocking about his death.

Some people called him The Martyr. Later I learned that he had been king and that wicked men had cut off his head. I shivered every time I rode past that spot in Whitehall where they had performed this dreadful deed.

I was growing very fond of the new baby. My sister Anne was a placid child. She rarely cried and smiled readily. She was always eager for her food and everyone was delighted because of this. I was with her a great deal, and thought of her as my baby. She seemed to like me to sit near her cradle. She gripped my finger in her dimpled hand so tightly when I held it out to her and I found that endearing.

And then suddenly the peace of Twickenham was shattered. There was commotion everywhere; people were running back and forth, all talking at once. I had to find out what was wrong.

Then I heard that one of the maids had been found dead in her bed. There was no mystery as to how this had happened. It seemed they had thought we were safe at Twickenham, but the dreaded plague which had been sweeping through London had reached us here.

“The Plague!” Those words were on everybody’s lips.

My parents arrived. I was caught up in my father’s arms. Anne and my brother were examined by our mother. My father did the same to me.

“Praise be to God!” he cried. “Mary is well. And Anne and the boy?”

“All is well,” said my mother.

“There is no time to be lost. We must leave at once.”

The next thing I remember is riding away from Twickenham and on to York.

* * *

I WAS HAPPY IN YORK. The time sped by. We saw our parents more often there, although my father was absent now and then for long spells which seemed intolerable. The Fleet was at that time stationed on the East Coast and he was often with it.

There was war as well as plague. We knew little of that in York until we heard of the glorious victories not only off the coast of Lowestoft but also at Solebay.

These names sent a glow of pride in me for years after because my father was always mentioned in connection with them. He had been in charge of the Fleet which had beaten our wicked enemies, the Dutch. I loved to hear of his successes. I only regretted that he had to go so far away from us to do these wonderful deeds.

I heard one of the attendants say: “These victories will bring a little comfort, and the Lord knows, we need it in these terrible times.”

I had heard only a little of the scourge which was sweeping through the country and devastating the capital. All it meant to me was that we had had to leave in a hurry for York, where I saw more of my parents than I had in Twickenham. It was only after that I heard accounts of the red crosses on the doors with the words “God have Mercy on us,” which meant that there was plague in the house. I did not hear until much later of the macabre death carts which roamed the streets, and the dismal cry of “Bring out your dead,” and how the bodies which were piled into those carts were taken to pits outside the city walls where they were hastily buried.

It was much later when I heard of the terrible tragedy which had followed the plague year, when London faced another monumental catastrophe and was almost completely destroyed by fire.

And when I did hear in lurid detail of the horrors of those burning buildings, of weeping, homeless people, of the crafts on the river into which they crowded with as many of their belongings as they could hope to save, my thoughts were dominated by two men, the brothers who had gone out unceremoniously into the streets, wigless, short sleeves rolled up, sweat streaming from their faces while they gave instructions and supervised the blowing up of buildings to make gaps and so stop the fire spreading further. For those two men were the King and my father, his brother, the Duke of York.