restricted access Creating Queen Mary: Textual Representations of Queen Mary II
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Creating Queen Mary:
Textual Representations of Queen Mary II

Mary II has suffered short shrift from historians and literary scholars of the long eighteenth-century for several reasons. While she was a queen regnant, it was not in her own right; not only did she have a co-ruler, he was a formidable and significant figure in British and European history—William III. Unlike Elizabeth I, Victoria, or even her sister Anne, Mary is not seen as a major cultural figure, beyond bringing some new fashions in gardening and interior decoration to England, as well as acting as a legitimizing presence for her husband's invasion / deposition of James II. Part of this erasure from cultural consciousness is Mary's own fault; unlike any other British queen regnant, she was apparently eager to avoid an active role in government. Her journal, her conversations with Gilbert Burnet, and her surviving correspondence with William all indicate a woman who was temperamentally reluctant to seize the reins of government. Mary's apparent passivity and willing subordination to her husband puts her in direct contrast to Elizabeth I, who, perhaps not coincidentally, has drawn extensive commentary in studies of cultural history and representation studies. But even though she was eager to downplay her role in the Glorious Revolution, and to turn over power to William when he returned from military campaigns abroad, her contemporaries and even Mary herself did not see herself as a cipher, but rather an important figure in the propaganda for the Revolution of 1688-89. This article will examine the textual representations of Mary II that appeared during her reign and immediately after her death in order to show how she and her contemporaries created an image of her as a legitimate, pious ruler sent by Providence to redeem and reform the nation.

Susan Frye stresses Elizabeth's "agency" in her conscious and unconscious participation in the practice of signification: "Although Elizabeth was fashioned by her culture's complex expressions of gender roles and distinctions, those expressions were unstable [End Page 61] enough to be inverted, extended, and contested in the public performance of herself as the ruler of England. To a large degree, the extent of her power was determined by her willingness to engage and restructure the discourses current in her culture that naturalized gender identity" (7). Mary, in contrast, acquiesced to cultural values about women's timidity and passivity to a much greater degree, and especially a wife's obedience to her husband. She offered fewer public speeches, fewer royal progresses, and fewer proclamations in her own name than Elizabeth, and so created a less specific image of herself. Yet recent studies of the 1688 Revolution reveal that Mary was acutely aware of the significance of self-representation; we have the attempt at cheerfulness that she put on, at William's orders, when she came over to England in order to dispel any doubts about the Revolution. She quickly realized her excessive gaiety backfired and reshaped her behavior to be more decorous.1 Furthermore, she was more active in constructing the Revolution's mythology of a providential deliverance from tyranny than previously thought. Mary II's agency in self-fashioning occurs in the creation of a policy and an image of a reformed court that would eventually serve as the model for reforming the church and the nation.

The Revolution of 1688 has long been framed in competing narratives.. The dominant Whig interpretation stated that it was a "glorious" revolution because it was so quickly and rationally done, without the prolonged bloodshed of the English Civil Wars. But as Steven Pincus argues, the Revolution was, in reality, a more radical event, one that pitched the nation between two different modern and novel forms of government: the absolutism of Louis XIV's France versus the broader representative government of the Dutch Republic (7). Both sides involved in the Revolution needed to create a narrative to make sense of what happened. Both Jacobites and Williamites believed in a Providence that intervened in human affairs, and so the competing sides needed to see God's hand at work in the fortunes of their parties. The eventual winners...