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Mary of Modena: the slandered Stuart queen

Mary of Modena was Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland for less than four years but the Stuart consort found herself at the centre of multiple scandals.

Mary was born to the Duke of Modena and his wife in 1658. In 1673, the fifteen year old princess married the forty year old widowed James, Duke of York. James’ first wife, Anne Hyde, had died of breast cancer in 1671 after giving him two daughters. He remarried and as a Catholic, the Italian princess suited him.

While James was happy with his young bride, Mary was less impressed with her middle-aged husband. However, she came to appreciate her husband. She also got along well with James’ older daughter, Mary, but was never able to win over his younger daughter, Anne.

In 1678, Mary’s Catholic secretary, Edward Coleman, was implicated in a plot to put the Catholic James on the throne. However, a poet called Titus Oates had fabricated the plot. Nevertheless, the Yorks were then exiled to the Continent. They were only recalled when the King became ill.

The second scandal came during Mary’s short tenure as queen. When she became pregnant in late 1687, Catholics in England hoped for a Catholic male heir to take the throne after James (who was still the King’s heir.) While many people witnessed the birth of James Francis Edward on 10 June 1688, a rumour quickly spread that she had given birth to a stillborn child and that another newborn was snuck into the birthing chambers inside of a warming pan.

After James was deposed as King, they fled to the Continent. Mary spent the rest of her life in France and was known as the Queen Over the Water.

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