Friday 13 February 2009

The Glorious Revolution and Mary Stuart

On this day (February 13 in the modern calendar) in 1689 the 'Glorious Revolution' (aka the coup d'état that overthrew King James II) neared its conclusion with the accession of William of Orange and Mary Stuart to the throne of England as joint monarchs (they acceded to the throne of Scotland a few months later). Mary Stuart – James's daughter and heir until his son (the 'old pretender') was born in 1788 – was a Protestant while James was a Catholic.

The Orange Order claims the 'Glorious Revolution', and the supposed religious freedom it brought, as one of the key reasons why it wants Northern Ireland to remain in the UK, and practically deifies King William. Every other Protestant male over a certain age is called William (or Billy), and his image adorns banners, murals and Carrickfergus.

But where is Mary? Why is she absent from the deification, the banners, the murals, and the names of most Protestant women? Where is her statue? If the 'Glorious revolution' was the key event that Orangemen celebrate, Mary was as much responsible as her husband (and cousin) William. They were, after all, joint monarchs – she was not just called the queen because she married the king. Yet she is largely invisible in Orange hagiography. In fact, in Northern Ireland if a woman is called Mary, there is almost complete certainty that she is a Catholic, whereas if a man is called William, he is almost always a Protestant.

It is true that Mary Stuart deferred to her husband, but she was far from a submissive wife, and played a very active role in religious affairs. Is her absence from the modern Orange consciousness a reflection of misogyny, or is it simply because William actually came over to Ireland while Mary consolidated the regime in England?

It is surely time for the Orange Order to rediscover their feminine side.


Catholic Observer said...
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Catholic Observer said...

"Is her absence from the modern Orange consciousness a reflection of misogyny, or is it simply because William actually came over to Ireland while Mary consolidated the regime in England?"

Probably a bit of both. An inscription on Trafalgar Square reads: "Sacred to the memory of King William the Third, who on 1st July 1690, crossed the Boyne near this place to attack James the Second at the head of a popish army advantageously posted to the south of it, and did on that day, by a successful battle, secure us and our posterity our liberty, laws and religion." Had Queen Mary personally taken part in the fighting at the Boyne, doubtless she would also be so commemerated.

Ironically his first commemerators were the Protestants of Bandon, who began the tradition of ritualised ceremonies to commemorate the Boyne victory. There also used to be a big statue of King William beside Trinity College, but it was blown up shortly after independence. Some streets still commemerate him though (Nassau Street for example).

The name 'Mary' for most Protestants is poisonous. Firstly it hints at Catholic mariology, and secondly unionists have still never gotten over 'Bloody Mary'. This title is slightly unwarranted given that Queen Elizabeth killed more people in a single month than Mary did throughout her entire reign, but of course such facts are conveniently ignored.

It's also interesting that many British monarchs have been averse to orangeism. William IV for example:

"I will be pleased to take such measures as may seen to be advisable for the effectual discouragement of Orange lodges and generally of all political societies, excluding people of a different religious faith, using secret signs and symbols and acting by means of associated branches. It is my firm intention to discourage all such societies in my dominions, and I rely with confidence on the fidelity of my loyal subjects to support me in this deterination."

And of course King William himself was known to be quite an enlightened and tolerant man. He certainly had no appetite for discrimination against Catholics, and the Treaty of Limerick was quite honourable and judicious. If only the Irish Parliament had stuck to it! The Presbyterians who had fought with the Anglican Ascendancy were regarded as useful idiots and treated only slightly better than Catholics.

If William were alive today, I personally doubt he would have much time for his Ulster followers. The Orange Order in Ireland may trumpet 'civil and religious liberties' but their raison d'etre is, and always been, the maintenance of Protestant ascendancy. Unionism or indeed loyalty to the Crown has always been subordinate to that cause. For example in 1959 Sir Clarence Graham, a member of the Unionist Party's standing committee suggested that Catholics should be put forward as prospective parliamentary candidates in elections. The Orange Order shot the proposal down. Sir George Clark, the Grand Master for Ireland, said: "I will draw your attention to the words 'civil and religious liberty'. This liberty, as we know it, is the liberty of the Protestant religion". The Orange Order is being disingenuous when it seeks to protray itself as a misunderstand fraternal organization committed to the defence of religious liberties. It is essentially a supremacist cult, only slightly less odious than the KKK.