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Maria Beatrice of Modena (October 5, 1658 – May 7 1718) was queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland as the second wife of James II-VII (1633–1701). Maria Beatrice d’Este, the second but eldest surviving child of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena, and his wife, Laura Martinozzi. A devout Roman Catholic, Maria Beatrice married the widower James, who was then the younger brother and heir presumptive of Charles II (1630–1685). She was uninterested in politics and devoted to James and their children, two of whom survived to adulthood: the Jacobite claimant to the thrones, James Francis Edward, and Louisa Maria.

The Duchess of York’s Catholic secretary, Edward Colman, was, in 1678, falsely implicated in a fictitious plot against the King by Titus Oates. The plot, known as the Popish Plot, led to the Exclusionist movement, which was headed by Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. The Exclusionists sought to debar the Catholic Duke of York from the throne.

Their reputation in tatters, the Yorks were reluctantly exiled to Brussels, a domain of the King Felipe IV of Spain, ostensibly to visit Lady Mary—since 1677 the wife of Prince Willem III of Orange. Accompanied by her not yet three-year-old daughter Isabella and Lady Anne, the Duchess of York was saddened by James’s extra-marital affair with Catherine Sedley. Maria Beatrice’s spirits were briefly revived by a visit from her mother, who was living in Rome.

Despite all the furore over Exclusionism, James ascended to his brother’s thrones easily upon the latter’s death, which occurred on February 6, 1685 possibly because the said alternative could provoke another civil war. Maria Beatrice sincerely mourned Charles, recalling in later life, “He was always kind to me.” Maria Beatrice and James’s £119,000 coronation, occurring on April 23, OS, Saint George’s day, was meticulously planned. Precedents were sought for Mary because a full-length joint coronation had not occurred since the ceremony performed for Henry VIII of England and Catherine of Aragon.

Maria Beatrice is primarily remembered for the controversial birth of James Francis Edward, her only surviving son. It was widely rumoured that he was a “changeling”, smuggled into the birth chamber in a warming pan, in order to perpetuate her husband’s Catholic Stuart dynasty. Although the accusation was almost certainly false, and the subsequent Privy Council investigation affirmed this, James Francis Edward’s birth was a contributing factor to the “Glorious Revolution”, the revolution which deposed James II and VII, and replaced him with Mary II, James II’s eldest protestant daughter from his first marriage to Anne Hyde (1637–1671). Mary II and her husband, Willem III of Orange, would reign jointly as “William III and Mary II”.

Exiled to France, the “Queen over the water”—as she was known among Jacobites call—Maria Beatrice lived with her husband and children at Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, provided by Louis XIV of France. Maria Beatrice was popular among Louis XIV’s courtiers; James, however, was considered a bore. In widowhood, Maria Beatrice spent time with the nuns at the Convent of Chaillot, frequently during summers with her daughter, Louisa Maria Teresa.

In 1701, when James II died, young James Francis Edward became king at age 13 in the eyes of the Jacobites. As he was too young to assume the nominal reins of government, Maria Beatrice represented him until he reached the age of 16. When young James Francis Edward was asked to leave France as part of the settlement from the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), Maria Beatrice of Modena stayed, despite having no family there, her daughter Louisa Maria Teresa having died of smallpox. Fondly remembered by her French contemporaries, Maria Beatrice died of breast cancer in 1718.