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I have recently been reading about the 1688 English Revolution, which put William and Mary on the throne, more specifically about William and Mary's roles in deposing her father.

At least one book states that William, Mary, and her sister Anne were declared "Children of State". This is not a term I have met before. I can understand it somewhat in William's case: his father was dead, his mother a foreign princess who could not possibly be trusted with his upbringing. But - Mary and Anne were Charles II's nieces, both presumptive heiresses in line. As such, their futures - marriages particularly - would naturally have been at the will of the king. So what difference did being "Children of State" make?

Note: Wikipedia has nothing, merely redirecting to Ward of Court, quite a different status.

Edited to quote sources

"...the Dowager Princess Amalia von Solms-Braunfels, widow of Prince Frederick Henry of Orange... tried to obtain custody of her grandson, partly as a family duty towards the state, and partly as she sensed her daughter-in-law had little maternal love for the boy. The anti-Orangists, led by Johan de Witt, considered him as a Child of the State, and maintained he should be brought up as a Calvinist and a servant of the Republic." William and Mary" by John van der Kiste 2011

"Each (William and Mary ) was what was then known as ‘a child of state’, whose family life and domestic contentment depended exclusively on plans made by others as to whom they should marry." (and passim) William III and Mary II Jonathan Keates 2015

emphases mine

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    There's a French concept with a similar name that applies to children who lost their parents due to war. It came much much later (1917) but might be similar. – Denis de Bernardy Oct 11 '17 at 15:19
  • Can you please give the exact reference? – Felix Goldberg Oct 11 '17 at 15:32
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    My guess would be that this has something to do with the gyrations required to legitimize their rule (rather than the cowering James, or the next in line, his infant son). Instead a new succession order was established by Parliament which included William and Mary as rulers for life, and then Anne. – T.E.D. Oct 11 '17 at 15:33
  • @FelixGoldsberg Done. :) – TheHonRose Oct 11 '17 at 17:41
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I believe it was a manner of speech to refer to children, born to royalty, with pre-destined roles.

As your Penguin Monarchs series on Wiliam III and Mary II (2015) has it -- this quote is from Chapter 1, aptly titled "Children of State". The quote provided (in question) is from mid-paragraph. Here's the full paragraph (for viewers here who might not have the book and to flesh out the full context):

In their different ways, William, Prince of Orange, and, Mary, Princess of York, were victims of their birth, hostages, like every other prince and princess in an age of dynastic calculations, to the fate prescribed to them by their parents or by other manipulative politicians. "Each (William and Mary ) was what was then known as ‘a child of state’, whose family life and domestic contentment depended exclusively on plans made by others as to whom they should marry. Such decisions were based on national advantage rather than on anything so trifling as personal inclination or prospective happiness.


Where did this manner of speech come from? It is very likely from everyone's favourite playwright, Shakespeare.

Sonnet 124 in the 1609 Quarto:

If my dear love were but the child of state,

It might for Fortune's bastard be unfathered,

As subject to Time's love or to Time's hate,

Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gathered.

No, it was builded far from accident;

It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls

Under the blow of thralled discontent,

Whereto th' inviting time our fashion calls:

It fears not policy, that heretic,

Which works on leases of short-number'd hours,

But all alone stands hugely politic,

That it nor grows with heat, nor drowns with showers.

To this I witness call the fools of time,

Which die for goodness, who have lived for crime

From Oxquarry Books Ltd, their site has this analysis of Sonnet 124, emphasis mine:

This sonnet continues with the theme of the superiority of a love which is independent of all normal human conventions, and does not seek the favour or approval of kings, princes, states, politicians, times or fashions. It stands above them all and is secure in the knowledge that it is out of reach of any of them, however malicious, erratic, irrational or unpredictable they might be. The contrast is drawn between this love and the love which is perjured, partial, and dependent on court favours, or on the politics of the time. Such debased loves, or those who indulge in them, are time's fools and are the sport of every wind that blows and every rain that falls. But not so for this true love, which remains constant and steadfast, and will outlive the pyramids and time itself.

In case we need another confirmation that we are not imagining a link between Shakespeare's child of state and the political maneuvering of his time, Wikipedia's entry on this sonnet has this (2nd paragraph):

References to the political world of Shakespeare's time are littered throughout this Sonnet. As literary scholar Murray Krieger states "Shakespeare is not likely to overlook the possibilities of metaphorical extension" ...

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    Thanks for fleshing out the quote, my IT at the moment consists of a clunky laptop and a smartphone! The Shakespeare reference is fascinating, never picked that up before. Will probably accept this answer, many thanks. – TheHonRose Oct 11 '17 at 20:59
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    You're welcome. What gave me this thought was the work of Jonathan Keates (author of William and Mary) -- he is a well-known biographer of Shakespeare (and travel writer). – J Asia Oct 12 '17 at 5:18
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This actually had to do with their lives in Holland before they returned to England during the Glorious Revolution. The idea is explained in detail by Wouter Troost in his book William III the Stadholder-king: A Political Biography (pp47 - 52). As a "Child of State", it meant that they

"... came under the guardianship of the States of Holland"

and this in turn meant that

"a new educational committee chaired by De Witt took on the job of educating the Prince as a Hollander".

In context, rather than "Wards of Court", it might be better to think of them as being "Wards of the States of Holland".

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    My vote is with the old Bard of Avon!! :-) – J Asia Oct 11 '17 at 18:10
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    @JAsia He would normally get my vote too, but the mention of De Wit in the quote in the question suggests otherwise on this occasion. – sempaiscuba Oct 11 '17 at 18:14
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    The 2 different quotes are, imho, referring to 2 different points. In which case, could we both be correct?! – J Asia Oct 11 '17 at 18:19
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    @JAsia It's possible, I suppose, but in the case of William (the "Prins van Oranje") certainly, the term "Child of State" is a translation from the Dutch "kind van de staat". That was a particular set of legal restrictions imposed upon him, rather than a poetic manner of speech. – sempaiscuba Oct 11 '17 at 20:36
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I believe that this is a legal fiction for the deposing of King James II. Because he was deposed, his children Mary and Anne (and son in law William) could no longer inherit the throne from him. So if they were to inherit, how would they inherit? This was, of course, determined by the result of the Glorious Revolution (civil war, actually), of Protestant Dutch aiding Protestant Englishmen against English Catholics. Making them "children of state" was to created a "straw parent" from which they could inherit.

The proximate cause of using this formula appears to have been the fact that James II was Catholic, and that Mary, Anne, and William were all raised as Protestants by "stipulation" among the nobles controlling their upbringing, which made them "children of state," instead of their natural parents. (William's mother, the sister of England's Charles II, was deceased.) An anti-Catholic faction would not have accepted the "legitimacy" of James' parentage of his Protestant children (never mind his Catholic son as an heir), so they needed to make the state the "parent" of the three Protestants. Which would basically have been an "act of war" (against James II).

As pointed out by sempaiscuba, this "anti-Catholic faction" that set up the arrangement was actually the Parliament of the Netherlands, not of England. That may account for the syntax.

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    Yes, but they were declared Children of State long before James II was deposed, and while it was still possible he would have a male heir to take precedence over his daughters. – TheHonRose Oct 11 '17 at 17:39
  • @TheHonRose: Then I would imagine that whoever made this proposal/finding envisioned the overthrow of James II before it actually happened. For some people (e.g. Puritans), it was enough that James was Catholic, and that Mary, Anne, and William were all Protestants. That may have the basis. – Tom Au Oct 11 '17 at 18:04
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    William was made "kind van de staat" ("Child of State") in 1666. If that was really in anticipation of the overthrow of James II, then it demonstrated quite remarkable prescience, given that the Glorious Revolution was still 22 years in the future! ;-) – sempaiscuba Oct 11 '17 at 20:40
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – T.E.D. Oct 12 '17 at 13:56
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    @TomAu Why was it "convenient"? Once Parliament had determined that James II had "abdicated" by dropping the Great Seal into the Thames and fleeing to France, there was no legal barrier to his children inheriting the throne. No further legal fictions were necessary. – sempaiscuba Oct 13 '17 at 0:56

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