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The Old Pretender – The Life of James Stuart

James Francis Edward Stuart was born on 10th June 1688 to James II/VII and Mary of Modena. His birth, which was not widely expected, caused considerable controversy amongst the Protestant political nation, as his birth would cement a much-feared Catholic succession as he would, inevitably, be brought up in the Roman Catholic faith.

His birth was one of the principal reasons for the invasion of England by William III, Prince of Orange, his brother-in-law, and the expulsion of James II from the country. Prior to his birth, Mary, his sister, was heir presumptive to the throne and, as a Protestant, would ensure a Protestant succession and ensure that England would not be reincorporated into the Catholic sphere. Upon his birth, he became the heir to the throne.

A rumour quickly spread, which some claim was started by the future Queen Anne, which suggested that the young prince was an illegitimate child – which would have disqualified him from the line of succession and that he was smuggled into the Queen’s bedchamber in a bed warming pan. The probability of this being true is in serious doubt.

James was sent to France, with his mother, where King Louis XIV granted them residence at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. He remained here for the next twenty-four years. His father left England on 23rd December 1688 upon the Williamite invasion and never returned. Upon his death in 1701, James was proclaimed as King James III of England and Ireland and VIII of Scotland in exile; he was recognised as the legitimate monarch of the three British kingdoms by Catholic powers of France and Spain as well as the Pope.

As the claimant King of the exiled Stuart dynasty, he attempted to invade Scotland and recapture the throne in 1708; although his forces were prevented from landing by fleets loyal to the incumbent monarchs – William III and Mary II.

Following his attempt at reclaiming the lost Stuart crown, he served, as his father did during the Commonwealth-period of 1649-1660, in the French army. It was at this time that he began secret communications with the Tory government in England about his claim to the defunct Stuart throne. The Tories said they would support his return after the death of Queen Anne if he converted to the Church of England, which he refused to do.

In 1713 he was expelled from France as part of the conditions of the Treaty of Utrecht. A year later, following the death of Queen Anne, the Hanoverian elector Georg Ludwig succeeded to the British throne as George I. James subsequently plotted with his Jacobite supporters to invade Scotland once again. However, the French government refused to aid his attempt following the death of Louis XIV.

The Jacobite standard was raised in the highlands in August 1715, and James landed at Peterhead in Aberdeenshire. The Scots rallied around the pretender King, but the rebellion soon collapsed, with the Scots defeated at Sherrifmuir and an English Jacobite rising defeated at Preston before James even landed. In February of the following year, James secretly escaped back to mainland Europe. His abandonment of his Jacobite allies left a feeling of ill-will towards him in Scotland.

James was offered refuge in Rome by the Pope in 1717 and remained there for the rest of his life. He was involved in an attempt by Spain to invade Scotland in 1719, which came to nothing, and the final Jacobite uprising, lead by his son, in 1745 also failed to restore the Stuarts to the throne.

James died on 1st January 1766 at the Palazzo Muti in Rome and was buried in the basilica of Saint Peter’s, never reclaiming the Crown which his father lost, and for which he had always longed.

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