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James II-VII (October 14, 1633 – September 16, 1701) was King of England and Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from February 6, 1685 until he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The last Roman Catholic monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland, his reign is now remembered primarily for struggles over religious tolerance.

However, it also involved the principles of absolutismand divine right of kings and his deposition ended a century of political and civil strife by confirming the primacy of Parliament over the Crown.

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King James II-VII of England, Scotland and Ireland.

James inherited the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland from his elder brother Charles II with widespread support in all three countries, largely based on the principle of divine right or birth. Tolerance for his personal Catholicism did not apply to it in general and when the English and Scottish Parliaments refused to pass his measures, James attempted to impose them by decree; it was a political principle, rather than a religious one, that ultimately led to his removal.

In June 1688, two events turned dissent into a crisis; the first on June 10 was the birth of James’s son and heir James Francis Edward, threatening to create a Catholic dynasty and excluding his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William III of Orange. The second was the prosecution of the Seven Bishops for seditious libel; this was viewed as an assault on the Church of England and their acquittal on June 30, destroyed his political authority in England. Anti-Catholic riots in England and Scotland now made it seem only his removal as monarch could prevent a civil war.

Representatives of the English political elite invited Willem III of Orange to assume the English throne; after he landed in Brixham on November 5, 1688, James’s army deserted and he went into exile in France on December 23. In February 1689, Parliament held James II-VII had ‘vacated’ the English throne and installed Willem III of Orange and Princess Mary as joint monarchs, establishing the principle that sovereignty derived from Parliament, not birth.

James landed in Ireland on March 14, 1689 in an attempt to recover his kingdoms but despite a simultaneous rising in Scotland, in April a Scottish Convention followed their English colleagues by ruling James had ‘forfeited’ the throne and offered it to William III and Mary II. After defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, James returned to France where he spent the rest of his life in exile at Saint-Germain, protected by Louis XIV of France and Navarre (who was also his first cousin).

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In France, James was allowed to live in the royal château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. James’s wife, Maria of Modena, and some of his supporters fled with him, including the Earl of Melfort; most, but not all, were Roman Catholic. In 1692, James’s last child, Louisa Maria Teresa, was born. Some supporters in England attempted to assassinate William III to restore James to the throne in 1696, but the plot failed and the backlash made James’s cause less popular. Louis XIV’s offer to have James elected King of Poland in the same year was rejected, for James feared that acceptance of the Polish crown might (in the minds of the English people) render him incapable of being King of England. After Louis concluded peace with William III in 1697, he ceased to offer much in the way of assistance to James.

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The Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, James’s home during his final exile

During his last years, James lived as an austere penitent. He wrote a memorandum for his son advising him on how to govern England, specifying that Catholics should possess one Secretary of State, one Commissioner of the Treasury, the Secretary at War, with the majority of the officers in the army.

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He died aged 67 of a brain haemorrhage on 16 September 1701 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Had James remained king this entire time he would have reigned in all three kingdoms for 16 years, 7 months, 10 days. James’s heart was placed in a silver-gilt locket and given to the convent at Chaillot, and his brain was placed in a lead casket and given to the Scots College in Paris. His entrails were placed in two gilt urns and sent to the parish church of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the English Jesuit college at Saint-Omer, while the flesh from his right arm was given to the English Augustinian nuns of Paris.

The rest of James’s body was laid to rest in a triple sarcophagus (consisting of two wooden coffins and one of lead) at the Chapel of Saint Edmund in the Church of the English Benedictines in the Rue St. Jacques in Paris, with a funeral oration by Henri-Emmanuel de Roquette. James was not buried, but put in one of the side chapels. Lights were kept burning round his coffin until the French Revolution. In 1734, the Archbishop of Paris heard evidence to support James’s canonisation, but nothing came of it. During the French Revolution, James’s tomb was raided.

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