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The Forgotten Monarchs- Part 3

This third post on the forgotten monarchs focuses on the fourth King of the House of Stuart, King James II.

James was born on 14th October 1633 to King Charles I and Henrietta Maria, his brother was also the future King Charles II. He was baptised (like his brother) by the Anglican William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. At the age of three he was appointed Lord High Admiral, which was at first an honorary title but later on in life become a more serious role.

Throughout the 1640’s as King Charles I’s disputes with parliament erupted into civil war, James was invested with the order of the garter and created Duke of York. When his father was executed in 1649, like his brother, James fled to France where he served in the French army. James quarrelled with Charles II when Charles allied himself with Spain thus ensuring James was expelled from France. James was very doubtful that his brother would ever regain the English throne and so considered joining the Spanish navy as an admiral, although when the post was offered he declined it. Readers will know what happens next, the British Monarchy was restored and James’s brother was proclaimed King Charles II.

Britain’s Monarchy had been restored, Britain had a King. What could go wrong? Upon James’s return to England he announced his engagement to Anne Hyde, the daughter of the Kings chief minister Edward Hyde. Nobody at court ever expected James to marry Anne, but he did, firstly in secret and then again officially on 3rd September 1660. Their first child, a boy named Charles, died in infancy, however their two surviving daughters Mary and Anne would both go on to be Queens of England. Anne Hyde died on 31st March 1671, her body was entombed in the vault of Mary Queen of Scots at Westminster Abbey.

James’s time in France exposed him to Catholicism, its beliefs and its ceremonies. James’s conversion to Roman Catholicism was (for some time) kept quiet and he continued to attend Anglican services. The growing fears at court of having a Catholic Monarch led to parliament introducing the Test Act 1673 whereby all civil and military officials were required to take an oath which denounced Roman Catholic practices, and to receive the Eucharist under the Church of England. James refused to do either and thus his conversion was made public.

James married his second wife Mary of Modena on 20th September 1673. Mary was a fifteen year old Italian Princess and they were married by proxy in a Catholic ceremony. A brief Anglican service was also performed but only in recognition of the marriage.

When Charles II died, leaving no legitimate children, he was succeeded by his Brother who became King James II. James was crowned, as was customary, at Westminster Abbey on 23rd April 1685. A new parliament was assembled called “The Loyal Parliament”, who were initially very favourable towards the King.


Not long after the Coronation James faced a rebellion in Southern England led by the Duke of Monmouth and a rebellion in Scotland led by the Earl of Argyll. Argyll’s rebellion never posed much of a threat towards James, however, Monmouth’s rebellion posed a more dangerous threat to the King. Monmouth had proclaimed himself King at Lyme Regis on 11th June 1685 and his troops attacked the Kings forces at night in an attempt to surprise the King’s Army. The surprise was not enough and Monmouth was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor, Monmouth was captured and executed at the Tower of London. Although both rebellions were easily won they hardened James’s resolve against his enemies.

James’s reign continued as smoothly as it could have with nothing more than religious liberty and power dispensing at the forefront. In 1688 though this all changed, public fear was raised when Queen Mary gave birth to a Catholic son and heir, James Francis Edward. When the Prince’s birth opened up the possibility of a permanent Catholic dynasty many Anglicans had to reconsider their position. While the Queen was pregnant, negotiations with William, Prince of Orange had begun and the birth of a son further enhanced these negotiations. By September 1688 it became clear that William sought to invade England, when this happened on 5th November many Protestants defected to William including the Kings own daughter, Princess Anne. James declined to attack and tried to flee to France although he was later captured in Kent. William, having no desire to make James a Martyr, let him escape to France where he was received by Louis XIV. William convened the Convention Parliament, and while they refused to depose King James they could not deny his fleeing to France and dropping the Great Seal of the Realm in to the Thames was effectively an abdication and that the Throne was therefore vacant. James’s daughter Mary was proclaimed Queen and she would co-rule with her husband William of Orange. A bill of rights was passed denouncing James for abusing his power and stated that no Roman Catholic was permitted to ascend the throne of England nor could any Monarch marry a Roman Catholic. This whole saga became known as the Glorious Revolution.

In France James lived in the Royal Chateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Some of James’s supporters tried their best to assassinate King William III in order to restore James to the throne, but their attempts were unsuccessful. James died of a brain haemorrhage on 16th September 1701, his body was laid to rest in a coffin at the Church of English Benedictines in Paris. James was not buried instead he was put in a side chapel until the French Revolution, when his tomb was raided.

It does seem King James II had all the makings of a great King, it was only down to religious preference was he forced to effectively abdicate his throne. Was this the fault of the King or were these just the signs of the times?  After all, it was forbidden to have a Roman Catholic Monarch.

photo credit: lisby1 via photopin cc

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