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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. He was the last 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 absolutism and divine right of kings, and his deposition ended a century of political and civil strife by confirming the primacy of Parliament over the Crown.

James, the second surviving son of King Charles I and his wife, Henrietta Maria de Bourbon of France, the youngest daughter of Henri IV of France (Henri III of Navarre) and his second wife, Marie de’ Medici, and named after her parents was born at St James’s Palace in London on October 14, 1633. Later that same year, he was baptised by William Laud, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury.

James was educated by private tutors, along with his older brother, the future King Charles II, and the two sons of the Duke of Buckingham, George and Francis Villiers. At the age of three, James was appointed Lord High Admiral; the position was initially honorary, but became a substantive office after the Restoration, when James was an adult. He was designated Duke of York at birth, invested with the Order of the Garter in 1642, and formally created Duke of York in January 1644.

Civil War

King Charles I’s disputes with the English Parliament grew into the English Civil War. James accompanied his father at the Battle of Edgehill, where he narrowly escaped capture by the Parliamentary army. He subsequently stayed in Oxford, the chief Royalist stronghold, where he was made a Master of Arts by the University on November 1, 1642 and served as colonel of a volunteer regiment of foot.

When the city surrendered after the siege of Oxford in 1646, Parliamentary leaders ordered the Duke of York to be confined in St James’s Palace. Disguised as a woman, the 14-year old escaped from the Palace in 1648 with the help of Joseph Bampfield, and crossed the North Sea to The Hague.

When Charles I was executed by the rebels in 1649, monarchists proclaimed James’s older brother king. Charles II was recognised as king by the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of Ireland, and was crowned at Scone in 1651. Although he was proclaimed king in Jersey, Charles was unable to secure the crown of England and consequently fled to France and exile.

Like his brother, James sought refuge in France, serving in the French army under Turenne against the Fronde, and later against their Spanish allies. In the French army James had his first true experience of battle where, according to one observer, he “ventures himself and chargeth gallantly where anything is to be done”. Turenne’s favour led to James being given command of a captured Irish regiment in December 1652, and being appointed Lieutenant-General in 1654.

After the collapse of the Commonwealth in 1660, Charles II was restored to the English throne. Although James was the heir presumptive, it seemed unlikely that he would inherit the Crown, as Charles was still a young man capable of fathering children. On December 31, 1660, following his brother’s restoration, James was created Duke of Albany in the Peerage of Scotland, to go along with his English title, Duke of York. Upon his return to England, James prompted an immediate controversy by announcing his engagement to Anne Hyde, the daughter of Charles’s chief minister, Edward Hyde.

In 1659, while trying to seduce her, James promised he would marry Anne. Anne became pregnant in 1660, but following the Restoration and James’s return to power, no one at the royal court expected a prince to marry a commoner, no matter what he had pledged beforehand. Although nearly everyone, including Anne’s father, urged the two not to marry, the couple married secretly, then went through an official marriage ceremony on September 3, 1660 in London.

Their first child, Charles, was born less than two months later, but died in infancy, as did five further sons and daughters. Only two daughters survived: Mary (born April 30, 1662) and Anne (born February 6, 1665). Samuel Pepys wrote that James was fond of his children and his role as a father, and played with them “like an ordinary private father of a child”, a contrast to the distant parenting common with royalty at the time.

James’s wife was devoted to him and influenced many of his decisions. Even so, he kept mistresses, including Arabella Churchill and Catherine Sedley, and was reputed to be “the most unguarded ogler of his time”. Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary that James “did eye my wife mightily”. James’s taste in women was often maligned, with Gilbert Burnet famously remarking that James’s mistresses must have been “given him by his priests as a penance.” Anne Hyde died in 1671.

James’s time in France had exposed him to the beliefs and ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church; he and his wife, Anne, became drawn to that faith. James took Catholic Eucharist in 1668 or 1669, although his conversion was kept secret for almost a decade as he continued to attend Anglican services until 1676.

Growing fears of Roman Catholic influence at court led the English Parliament to introduce a new Test Act in 1673. Under this Act, all civil and military officials were required to take an oath (in which they were required to disavow the doctrine of transubstantiation and denounce certain practices of the Roman Church as superstitious and idolatrous) and to receive the Eucharist under the auspices of the Church of England.

James refused to perform either action, instead choosing to relinquish the post of Lord High Admiral. His conversion to Roman Catholicism was thereby made public. King Charles II opposed James’s conversion, ordering that James’s daughters, Mary and Anne, be raised in the Church of England.

Nevertheless, he allowed James to marry Maria Beatrice d’Este of Modena, a fifteen-year-old Italian princess and the second but eldest surviving child of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena, and his wife, Laura Martinozzi, was born on October 5, 1658 in Modena, Duchy of Modena, Italy.

James and Maria were married by proxy in a Roman Catholic ceremony on September 20, 1673. On November 21, Maria arrived in England and Nathaniel Crew, Bishop of Oxford, performed a brief Anglican service that did little more than recognise the marriage by proxy. Many British people, distrustful of Catholicism, regarded the new Duchess of York as an agent of the Papacy. James was noted for his devotion. He once said, “If occasion were, I hope God would give me his grace to suffer death for the true Catholic religion as well as banishment.”

Exclusion Crisis

In 1677, King Charles II arranged for James’s daughter Mary to marry the Protestant Prince Willem III of Orange, son of Charles and James’s sister Mary and her husband Prince Willem II of Orange. James reluctantly acquiesced after his brother and nephew had agreed to the marriage. Despite the Protestant marriage, fears of a potential Catholic monarch persisted, intensified by the failure of Charles II and his wife, Catherine of Braganza, to produce any children.

A defrocked Anglican clergyman, Titus Oates, spoke of a “Popish Plot” to kill Charles and to put the Duke of York on the throne. The fabricated plot caused a wave of anti-Catholic hysteria to sweep across the nation.

James inherited the thrones of England, Ireland, and Scotland from his elder brother Charles II after he died on February 6, 1685 with widespread support in all three countries, largely based on the principles 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 II-VII 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 Prince James Francis Edward, threatening to create a Roman Catholic dynasty and excluding his Anglican daughter Mary and her Protestant husband Willem 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 that only his removal from the throne could prevent a civil war.

Leading members of the English political class 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, a special Convention Parliament held that the king had “vacated” the English throne and installed Willem and Mary as joint monarchs, who thereafter ruled jointly as William III and Mary II. This Act established the principle that sovereignty derived from Parliament, not birth.

James landed in Ireland on March 14, 1689 in an attempt to recover his kingdoms. Although the English Parliament had decided to give the throne to William & Mary jointly, the Scottish Parliament was undecided as to would be the next King of Scotland. However, in April a Scottish Convention followed that of England by finding that James had “forfeited” the throne and offered it to William III and Mary II. Incidentally, in Scotland William was known as King William II of Scotland.

After his 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 his first cousin,, King Louis XIV of France and Navarre.

In March 1701, James II suffered a stroke while hearing mass at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, leaving him partially paralysed. Fagon, Louis XIV’s personal physician, recommend the waters of Bourbon-l’Archambault, to cure the King’s paralysis. The waters, however, had little effect, and James II died of a seizure on 16 September 1701.

Louis XIV, contravening the Peace of Ryswick and irritating King William III, declared James Francis Edward, King of England, Ireland and Scotland as James III-VIII. Maria acted as nominal regent for her minor son. She presided over his regency council, too, although she was uninterested in politics. Before his death, James II expressed his wish that Maria’s regency would last no longer than their son’s 18th birthday.

Often portrayed by his opponents as an absolutist tyrant, since the 20th century some historians have praised him for advocating religious tolerance, while more recent scholarship has attempted to find a middle ground between those views.