A Destructive Fire
It is the "fiddling worck outside," explains the harried Mary to her spouse, " which takes up more time than one can imagine, and while the 'schafolds ' are up the windows must be boarded up." Fortunately, the King is detained longer in Ireland than he anticipated, and before he arrives Mary is able to announce "Kinsington is ready."
Not only has the Queen been superintending the preparation of the new home, but she has been fulfilling the arduous duties of governing the kingdom in the King's absence, and it is with pardonable pride that she records, "My husband was satisfied, and told me he was very much pleased with my behaviour."
State apartments of this London palace Queen Victoria played as a child
Alas, the trials of the first Royal mistress of Kensington Palace are not yet over. Scarcely a year has elapsed before a fire breaks out, and in sadness of heart Mary writes with chastened spirit. "But of how little continuance are all wordly contentments ! I confess I had to much in the convenience of my house and neatness of my furniture, and I was taught a second time the vanity of all such things by a fire on the 9th of November, which burnt one side of the house at 'kinsington.' The whole had not escaped but by the good providence of God, which kept everybody from hurt, so that there was not the least accident that I could hear of. This has truly, I hope, weaned me from the vanities I was most fond of - that is, ease and good lodgings."
The Court of William and Mary, when at length they are settled in the completed Palace at Kensington, is not a gay one. The King has made a fine new road to connect Kensington with St. James's and Whitehall, but my lord and lady shudder at the thought of venturing on dark nights out into the wilds beyond Hyde Park, and their servants decline to conduct their chariots ; so few courtiers come to disturb the seclusion of the King and Queen when they are in residence at their new abode. A fine wing of State apartments is added, but mirth and fashion have little place therein.
The "Great Man in a Little Body"
William, the " great man in a little body," is intent on his task of governing a critical and ungrateful people, and trusts none of the English nobility. He dislikes social life, and passes much of his time in the Green Closet at Kensington in conference with the faithful friends who accompanied him from Holland - Bentinck, now my Lord Portland ; Zulestein ; Auverquerque, and the young page, Keppel, who becomes my Lord Albemarle.
Master Matthew Prior, too, whose verses have pleased my Lord Portland, is in the King's confidence, and has been appointed a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, but the King has been careful to tell him that he must not be expected to read his writings. Presently, however, Lord Portland goes as Ambassador to the Court of France, and the witty Prior gladly accompanies him as secretary, thankful to escape the tedium of Kensington.
When not in the Green Closet, William paces the new King's Gallery, with its nine windows overlooking the gardens. This affords him exercise when the weather is inclement. We see, in imagination, his careworn face, surrounded by the long, flowing wig, his bent and puny form, and dark, piercing eyes, and hear the hack of his cough as he pauses to take breath. At each turn he gazes at the dial over the mantelpiece connected with the vane on the roof by which he can gauge the winds which will affect his fleet in Holland. The heart of the great Stadtholder is in his native land.
Mary passes much of her time in the Patchwork Closet, working covers for her furniture or knotting lace. Bishop Burnet counted it amongst her excellencies that " she never had a female friend." It is certain that devotion to her husband kept the gifted and sprightly Queen from a gay Court life. She finds pleasure in having the gardens of the palace planted and trimmed in the Dutch style and she fills her rooms with blue Delft china.
The childless King and Queen are enlivened by visits from their nephew, the little Duke of Gloucester, for the coolness which exists between the Royal sisters makes no difference in Mary's kindness to Anne's heir.
The infant Gloucester exercises his regiment of Kensington boys in paper caps and wooden swords in the garden of the palace. He is greatly interested in the campaign in the Low Countries, and says to his uncle one day, "My dear King, you shall have both of my companies at Flanders." Thinking to amuse him, the Queen takes him to see the carpenters at work in the Long Gallery. "What are they doing ? " he queries. " Mending the gallery, or else it will fall down," replied his aunt. " Let it fall, let it fall," said he, " and then you will scamper away to London."
Five years later, and the gracious, kindly figure of Mary passes away from the palace which she has loved and laboured to beautify. She is seized with an attack of smallpox, and comes to Kensington to die. With extraordinary fortitude she keeps her fears from the King, and before repairing to what she feels will be her death-bed, spends a night of lonely vigil in the Patchwork Closet, arranging her private papers and writing a letter to the King, to be opened after her death, in which she tells him of the suffering she endured in their early married life by reason of Elizabeth Villiers. Hot tears fell, surely, on the writing as the death-stricken Queen penned those words in the dread stillness of that awful night.