James 7

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James VII / Kings and Queens

  • Name  : James VII
  • Born  : 1633
  • Died  : 1701
  • Category  : Kings and Queens
  • Finest Moment : Renaming New Amsterdam, New York (1664)

James VII (James II of England), was born on 14 October 1633, in London. He was the Duke of York, second son surviving of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, and the last Stuart monarch in the direct male line. During the English Civil Wars he lived in Oxford for four years, from 1642-6, then was made a prisoner of Parliament in St James's Palace before escaping to the Netherlands in 1648. The following year he joined his mother in France.

In 1652 he joined the French Army, serving with distinction in four campaigns under the Viscount de Turenne. On the restoration of his brother Charles II he was placed in command of the English fleet in1660. Four years later, on his initiative New Amsterdam was seized from the Dutch, and renamed New York, in his honour. At this point a Protestant, he introduced religious tolerance to North America.

In 1668 however, he became a zealous Catholic, becoming party to a secret treaty in 1670 at which Charles II undertook to restore Catholicism in exchange for French gold. His reputation as a womaniser, meanwhile, was rapidly overtaking that of his brother, no mean feat. He had four children by one mistress that we know of.

In 1673, still heir presumptive, he married again, to Mary of Modena, a devout Catholic. There had been no son by his first marriage, to the commoner Anne Hyde. Over the next few years, public fears of a Catholic plot to kill Charles and put James on the throne grew to near hysterical levels. His brother Charles sent him to Edinburgh, where he ruled Scotland creditably for some time before returning to England in 1682. He succeeded his brother to the throne in 1685, at the age of 51. So far, so good.

James was known to be a man of his word, and on taking the throne he promised to defend and support the Church of England. Parliament voted him a generous income, and the Anglicans were behind him. Until the summer of 1685, that is, when Charles II's illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth became a Protestant champion, aided by the Earl of Argyll in Scotland. Monmouth was defeated and executed, the rebellions were put down with great ferocity, and James's distrust of his subjects was heightened. He granted new regiments to Roman Catholic officers. This was the last straw for Parliament, which was prorogued in November of that year.

James continued to increase his Catholic policies. In November 1687 it was announced (to everybody's surprise) that the queen was pregnant. The following June she gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward Stewart. This was after six pregnancies which had produced no living heir. Public worries concerning the rise of Catholicism rose again. Later that month, seven bishops who had refuse to read his Declaration of Indulgence from their pulpits were acquitted at a trial. This was a major slap in the face for James. Even worse was the invite to the Protestant William of Orange to come over with an army. This he did, landing in England in the autumn of 1688.

James was by now exhibiting some behaviour which sometimes verged on the insane, and there is some basis to the story that this may have been caused by syphilis. Certainly, his judgment was very poor, particularly when compared with his former deeds in the French army and later. His Protestant generals deserted to the opposition in large numbers. His nerve eventually cracked and he attempted to flee to France but was caught. He was allowed to escape in December; in February 1689 Parliament announced that James had abdicated, and the next day, 13 February, they offered the throne to William and Mary. The Scots Parliament did likewise in May.

James landed in Ireland in March 1689, but he was effectively finished, and was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690. He died on 17 September, 1701, in Saint-Germain, France. William, who succeeded him, preferred choirboys, thus neatly protecting him from a nasty disease, and the country from a Dutch heir.

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