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April Digital Seminar

18 April 2023

Seminar:  The  Sexualities  of  King  William  III  and  Queen  Mary  II

Jack Beesley and Holly Marsden (University of Winchester/Historic Royal Palaces)























The first section will discuss the sexuality of William III. William was the subject of private suspicions and public accusations of having same-sex relationships, yet the notion of a homosexual Protestant warrior has appeared to be an insupportable contradiction amongst his biographers, who have dismissed the topic as rumour invented by anti-Williamite polemicists. This section will analyse William III’s sexuality through the lens of Gilbert Burnet’s History of His Own Time (1724). It will answer key questions, such as ‘when did rumours of William’s homosexuality begin?’ and ‘how did people from the 17th-century view homosexuality?’, considering other literary sources from the period. This section aims to challenge common arguments made by historians such as Stephen Baxter and Nesca Robb in opposition to the subject of William III’s homosexuality. This offers a fresh interpretation of William’s sexuality and provides an understanding of how same-sex relationships were navigated in the 17th century.


The second section will explore the sexuality of William’s wife and co-ruler, Queen Mary II. This will partly be through analysis of her letters to Lady Frances Apsley when princess, building on the work of Molly McLain. It will also review relationships between other women in the late Stuart courts through gossip, letters, and other literary and visual sources, aiming to reveal social networks between them. As such, the relationships of Mary’s sister, Princess Anne, will be addressed. Few scholars have looked at this facet of Mary II’s life. Although it is not imperatively known whether Mary was in a romantic relationship with Apsley or other women in the court, the discussion will adopt Judith M. Bennet’s ‘lesbian-like’ which considers the diverse spectrum of relationships between women in the past. The section aims to uncover potentially hidden narratives to challenge assumptions of queenship and desire in the early modern period.



Ellie Woodacre


Seminar Timetable

17:00 – 17:10: Introduction (Chair)

17:10 – 17:55: Presentations

17:55 – 18:15: Q&A


Presenter bio

Holly Marsden

Holly is currently completing her PhD through the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme at the University of Winchester and Historic Royal Palaces, in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery and Royal Museums Greenwich. Her thesis examines the multiple identities of Mary II in the context of queenship, culture and politics in the seventeenth century. She undertook her MA in Queer History at Goldsmiths, University of London and completed her undergraduate MA (hons) in History of Art at the University of Edinburgh. Holly’s wider research interests include global queenship, histories of sexuality and gender, art history and pop culture. She is currently working on Historic Royal Palace's 'Crown to Couture' exhibition and previous projects include working on their ‘Queer Lives’ immersive theatre tours.

Jack Beesley

Jack Beesley is a second year PhD candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University. His project examines the ideological shift and growth of public awareness to homosexuality between c.1670 and c.1720 and the development of homosexual identity. His particular focus is on King William III and the significance of Williamite satire in contributing to changing perceptions of male same-sex relationships and sexuality.


Jack completed his BA degree at the University of Winchester, where he was awarded the King Alfred Prize for best performance in history 2019. He went on to complete his MA degree at Queen Mary University of London in collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces. Jack now works for the National Trust in conserving historic collections and buildings. His research has been featured on popular podcasts, such as Talking Tudors and the Royal Studies Network podcast.

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