Saturday 28 December 2019

Death of a Queen

On this day in 1694, Queen Mary II of England died at Kensington Palace of hemorrhagic smallpox. She was just 32 years old, and the death of this popular Queen unleashed a torrent of public grief unequalled by any royal death until the 21-year-old Princess Charlotte died in childbirth (with her newborn son) in 1817 (see chapter 'The Saddest Stories' in my book) – and, in our own time, by the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
  Mary's husband, William III, who had hurried back to England from the Dutch Republic to be with her, was overcome with grief. This habitually austere and distant man dissolved into tears, and was inconsolable for days on end; some thought he would die. 'From being the happiest of men I shall now be the miserablest creature on earth,' he declared. 'The marble weeps,' wrote Matthew Prior, observing this broken man.
 Mary's embalmed body lay in state in Whitehall banqueting house through one of those cold winters that were frequent in that mini ice age, with the Thames frozen from bank to bank. On March 5th, 1695, she was buried in Westminster Abbey, her funeral the first to be attended by all the members of both houses of parliament. And, for the occasion, Henry Purcell wrote his moving and eloquent Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, some of his greatest work –

Before the end of the year, Purcell was himself dead.
  But enough of these mournful numbers: during her reign Queen Mary was also the dedicatee of Purcell's joyful Birthday Odes, including this glorious masterpiece from the year of the Queen's death – Come, Come, Ye Sons of Art

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