James was the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II and his mistress Lucy Walter. He was born in 1649, in Rotterdam in the Netherlands after both Charles and Lucy had fled there following the execution of Charles I. He was not part of the succession to either the English or Scottish thrones as his parents were unmarried, though in later life he claimed his parents had married. However, this was denied by Charles II who said he had only ever been married to Catherine of Braganza.
He spent the early part of his life in the Netherlands though he did attend school for a while in Familly in North-Western France. James came to England when he was 14, some three years after his father had been restored to the English throne following the death of Cromwell. Both King Charles and young James had adopted the Protestant faith, and one of Charles’ early Parliaments established the Clarendon Code which sought to reinforce the Church of England.
Shortly after arriving in England, James was created Duke of Monmouth and was appointed a Garter Knight. He then married Anne Scott, 4th Countess of Buccleuch, and following the marriage they were granted titles including Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch in the Scottish peerage. It was the fashion of the Stuart monarchs for people to hold titles in both English and Scottish peerages, we can see that to this day, in the Prince Charles is Duke of Cornwall, and Duke of Rothesay.
When he was sixteen, James was to begin what became an illustrious career as a soldier. His first action was to serve in the English fleet under his uncle, the Duke of York in the Second Anglo-Dutch War. On his return to England, he was made Captain of a troop of cavalry, then in 1668 he became Colonel of His Majesty’s Own Troop of Horse Guards. King Charles was then approached by the French for assistance fighting the Dutch, and following a payment to Charles, James led a troop of 6,000 English and Scottish troops who fought as part of the French Army in the Third Anglo-Dutch War.
Back in England, he received a number of other appointments including Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire’s East Riding and Chancellor of Cambridge University. He was now a renowned soldier, and Charles had decided all military decisions should go through him. He further improved his renown, by fighting for the United Provinces against the French in the Franco-Dutch war in 1678. He returned briefly to England and took troops up to Scotland to quell problems, however, his popularity became a perceived threat to the throne and he fled to the United Provinces in 1679.
Protestant v Catholic
From his base in the Netherlands, James Scott was implicated as being part of the Rye House Plot. This plot was to kill the King and his brother James as they went to the Newmarket Races in 1683. In the view of many, they had become too Catholic in their tastes. The plot was betrayed, and also thwarted when racing was cancelled due to a major fire in Newmarket.
However, when his father King Charles died in 1685, James, Duke of Monmouth saw his chance and landed with men in three ships at Lyme Regis. He declared himself King at a number of locations such as Axminster and Chard, before he and his band of troops met King James’ troops at Sedgemoor and were roundly beaten. The Duke of Monmouth fled but was captured at Ringwood and taken to the Tower of London. He was executed on Tower Hill on 15th July, 1685 after a number of blows. Despite requests he refused to convert to the Catholic faith.