Why Were William and Mary Co-Monarchs?

When James II was deposed in 1689, why was not his daughter Mary II made the sole monarch? It seems to me that her claim to the throne was greater than that of her husband and cousin, William III. Looking at the Stuarts family tree , the succession after James II should have been Mary II, Anne, Henry (though I’m not sure if he was still around in 1689), then William III.

In any event, there is always a line of succession and there aren’t any ties. So how did William III get to be co-monarch?

Parliament, although victorious in unseating James, was faced with a dilemma. They wanted the throne to be the sole possession of Mary, with William serving as Prince Consort, but Mary refused due to her self-imposed subservience to her husband. William was reluctant to accept the throne by means of conquest, preferring to be named king by Parliament through birthright. Parliament succumbed to the wishes of William and Mary, and the pair acceded as co-rulers.

From here.

Thanks! That was quick! I marvel at Mary for choosing obedience to her husband over sole power of the throne, especially considering the unusual nature of her marriage.

The short answer is that William told the Convention that he would go home if they did not make him king. The fact that he had a Dutch army in and around London also helped. Whether he would actually have gone home is impossible to say, but the Convention could not take the risk that he was just bluffing. Incidentally, it is simply untrue that Parliament ‘wanted the throne to be the sole possession of Mary, with William serving as Prince Consort’. From the outset, there was a solid majority in the Commons for William as king, although they had to reach agreement with the Lords, who were split several ways on the issue.

Moreover, Mary was only too willing to allow William to become king. She had no political experience and it would be only with the greatest reluctance that she acted as regent when William was abroad. Indeed, there is even some evidence that it was only after her father became king in 1685 that she had realised that she was next in line to become queen regnant – she had simply assumed that she would be queen, but as a queen consort with her husband as king.

Other factors also helped. Those who were keenest on removing James II tended to be those least attached to the principle of strict hereditary succession. Conversely, those most in favour of hereditary succession were those least willing to see James removed at all. Appointing Mary as joint-monarch was intended as a sop to gain the support of those in the middle who thought that there should be some attempt to pretend that the succession was being followed. They were more willing to accept William because he was third-in-line anyway (if you ignored the Prince of Wales). Many also calculated (correctly) that Mary would not have any children so the succession would eventually pass to Anne’s children (not that she had any in early 1689), whatever order Mary, Anne and William succeeded in.

It must also be said that many, including Mary herself, made the sexist assumption that it would be better to have a man (William) in charge than either his wife or sister-in-law. This was another reason why William was given precedence over Anne. It was not as if Anne’s succession would solve the ‘problem’ of having a queen regnant, especially as no one rated her husband and everyone already assumed that she would just do what those upstarts, the Churchills, told her. It took the experience of William’s reign to restore Anne to her popularity as the thoroughly English alternative.