by Susan Flantzer
Born on October 14, 1633 at St. James’ Palace in London, King James II of England, was the third, but second surviving son of King Charles I of England and Henrietta Maria of France, daughter of King Henri IV of France. He was designated Duke of York from birth, the traditional title of the monarch’s second son, but was not formally created until 1643.
James had seven siblings:
- Charles James, Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay, born and died May 13, 1629
- King Charles II (1630 – 1685), married Catherine of Braganza, no issue, had at least 14 illegitimate children
- Mary, Princess Royal (1631 – 1660), married William II, Prince of Orange, had one child: William III, Prince of Orange, later King William III of England
- Princess Elizabeth, unmarried, died from pneumonia
- Princess Anne, died young from tuberculosis
- Princess Catherine, born and died June 29, 1639
- Henry, Duke of Gloucester, unmarried, died from smallpox
- Princess Henrietta (1644 – 1670), married Philippe, Duke of Orléans, had issue
During the English Civil War, James remained in Oxford, the royalist stronghold, while his father fought against the forces of the Parliamentarians and the Puritans. When the city of Oxford surrendered in 1646, Parliament placed James under arrest in St. James’ Palace. In 1648, he managed to escape and fled to The Hague where his sister Mary, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange lived. On January 30, 1649, James’ father King Charles I was executed.
Eventually, James sought refuge in France where his mother and sister Henriette were already living in exile, and where his young first cousin King Louis XIV sat upon the throne of France. James served in the French army under Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne. In 1656, when his brother Charles entered into an alliance with Spain, an enemy of France, James was forced to leave the French army. He then joined the Spanish army and served under Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé.
While he was still in exile in The Hague, James fell in love with Lady Anne Hyde, one of his sister’s ladies-in-waiting and the daughter of one of his brother’s strongest supporters, Edward Hyde, later 1st Earl of Clarendon. James and Anne made a pledge to each other in what might have been a marriage ceremony on November 24, 1659. Anne became pregnant in 1660, the same year the monarchy was restored in England and James’ brother became King Charles II. When Anne became visibly pregnant, the King was consulted resulting in James and Anne being officially married at Worcester House in London on September 3, 1660, just seven weeks before the birth of their first child.
James and Anne had eight children, but only two survived childhood and both were Queen Regnants:
- Charles, Duke of Cambridge (1660 – 1661), died of smallpox at seven months
- Queen Mary II of England (1662 – 1694), married her first cousin William III, Prince of Orange in 1677, ascended to the throne in 1689 as co-ruler with her husband after the deposition of her father, no surviving issue
- James, Duke of Cambridge (1663 – 1667), died of the bubonic plague or smallpox at age 3
- Queen Anne of Great Britain (1665 – 1714), married Prince George of Denmark, no surviving issue
- Charles, Duke of Kendal (1666 – 1667), died in infancy
- Edgar, Duke of Cambridge (1667 – 1671), died at age 3
- Henrietta (born and died 1669), died in infancy
- Catherine (born and died 1671), died in infancy
After the Restoration, James was appointed Lord High Admiral and was commander of the Royal Navy during the Second (1665-1667) and the Third Anglo-Dutch Wars (1672-1674). In 1664, after the British had conquered the Dutch territory New Netherlands in North America, the city of New Amsterdam was renamed as the city of New York in honor of James, Duke of York. 150 miles upstream on the Hudson River, the former Dutch Fort Orange was renamed Albany (now the capital of New York State) after Charles’ second title, Duke of Albany.
Both Anne and James had been exposed to Roman Catholicism while they were abroad, and Anne converted secretly in 1670. She was instrumental in James’ conversion to Roman Catholicism shortly afterward, although he continued to attend Church of England services until 1676. On March 3, 1671, Anne died of breast cancer at the age of 34, about six weeks after the birth of her last child (who lived only 10 months) and was buried in the vault of Mary, Queen of Scots in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey.
After James’ conversion to Roman Catholicism, his Protestant opponents in Parliament were able to pass the Test Act requiring all civilian and military government employees to take an oath, which was incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church. They also had to receive Holy Communion according to the rites of the Church of England. James refused to take the oath and to receive Holy Communion according to the rites of the Church of England and resigned his post as Lord High Admiral. King Charles II insisted that James’ surviving daughters Mary and Anne be raised in the Church of England. Despite all this, King Charles II allowed his brother James to make a second marriage with the fifteen-year-old Catholic Mary Beatrice of Modena on September 20, 1673. Many British people distrusted the new Duchess of York and looked upon her as an agent of the Pope.
Mary Beatrice had several miscarriages and stillbirths and had seven live births, but only two of these children survived childhood.
- Catherine Laura (1675 – 1676)
- Isabel (1676 – 1681)
- Charles, Duke of Cambridge (born and died 1677), died of smallpox
- Elizabeth (born and died 1678)
- Charlotte Maria (born and died 1682)
- James Francis Edward, Prince of Wales “the Old Pretender” (1688 – 1766), married Mary Sobieski, had issue
- Louisa Maria Teresa (1692 – 1712), died of smallpox
Although the James’ brother King Charles II is well known for his illegitimate children, James also had his share of children born from the wrong side of the sheets.
- Henrietta FitzJames (1667 – 1730), married (1) Henry Waldegrave, 1st Baron Waldegrave, had issue (2) Piers Butler, 3rd Viscount Galmoye , no issue
- James FitzJames, 1st Duke of Berwick (1670 – 1734), married (1) Lady Honora Burke, had issue (2) Anne Bulkeley, had issue
- Henry FitzJames, 1st Duke of Albemarle (1673 – 1702), married Marie Gabrielle d’Audibert de Lussan, had issue
- Arabella FitzJames (1674 – 1704), became a nun
- Catherine Darnley (c. 1681 – 1743), married (1) James Annesley, 3rd Earl of Anglesey, had issue, (2) John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, had issue
- James Darnley (1684 – 1685)
- Charles Darnley, died young
In 1677, James, Duke of York attempted to appease Protestants by allowing his daughter Mary to marry the Protestant William III, Prince of Orange, who was the son of his sister Mary, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange. Despite this concession, the fear of a future Catholic monarch remained and was exacerbated by the failure of the marriage of King Charles II to produce any children. Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury and others undertook attempts to exclude the Catholic James from the line of succession. Some even suggested that the eldest illegitimate son of King Charles II, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth should be the heir to the throne.
King Charles II died in 1685 after converting to Catholicism on his deathbed. Having no legitimate children, Charles was succeeded by his brother James, who reigned in England and Ireland as King James II, and in Scotland as King James VII. James and Mary Beatrice were crowned on April 23, 1685 following the Church of England rite but omitting Holy Communion. The previous day, they had been privately crowned and anointed in a Catholic rite in their private chapel at the Palace of Whitehall.
On June 11, 1685, James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, the eldest of the illegitimate children of King Charles II, claimed the throne as the Protestant champion. Monmouth’s forces were defeated by his uncle’s forces at the Battle of Sedgemoor. The Duke of Monmouth was beheaded for treason on July 15, 1685.
King James II was now set on a course of restoring Catholicism to England. He issued a Declaration of Indulgence removing restrictions that had been imposed on those that did not conform to the Church of England. England might very well have tolerated King James II knowing that his heirs were the Protestant daughters of his first wife Anne Hyde, Mary and Anne. However, on June 10, 1688, Queen Mary Beatrice, who had no surviving children, gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward. Immediately, false rumors swirled that the infant had been smuggled into the queen’s chambers in a warming pan.
On November 5, 1688, William III, Prince of Orange, the nephew and son-in-law of King James II, landed in England vowing to safeguard the Protestant interest. He marched to London, gathering many supporters. James panicked and sent his wife and infant son to France. He tried to flee to France about a month later, but was captured. William III, Prince of Orange had no desire to make his uncle a martyr, so he allowed him to escape. James was received in France by his cousin King Louis XIV, who offered him a palace and a pension.
Back in England, Parliament refused to depose James, but declared that having fled to France, James had effectively abdicated the throne and that therefore the throne had become vacant. James’s elder daughter Mary was declared Queen Mary II and she was to rule jointly with her husband and first cousin William, who would be King William III. At that time, William, the only child of King James II’s elder sister Mary, was third in the line of succession after his wife and first cousin Mary and her sister Anne. This overthrow of King James II is known as the Glorious Revolution.
James, his wife, and his son settled at the Palace of St. Germain-en-Laye near Paris, where a court in exile was established. James was determined to regain the throne and landed in Ireland with a French force in 1689. He was defeated by his nephew William at the Battle of the Boyne on July 1, 1690 and was forced to withdraw once again to France.
James spent the rest of his life in France, planning invasions that never happened. In 1692, Mary Beatrice gave birth to a daughter Louisa Maria Teresa. His little daughter gave him great comfort as did letters from his daughter Anne who could never quite reconcile her betrayal of her father.
James died from a stroke on September 16, 1701 at St. Germain. His remains were buried at the at the Chapel of Saint Edmund in the Church of the English Benedictines in the Rue St. Jacques in Paris and his viscera were buried at the Parish Church of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In October of 1793, the Chapel of Saint Edmund and all the English Benedictines buildings were destroyed by a mob along with the remains of King James II. His viscera were rediscovered and reburied in 1824 at the Parish Church of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In 1855, Queen Victoria paid for a memorial to James at the Parish Church of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.