James II & the Jacobites

When Charles II died in 1685 his brother James II inherited the throne. James II was a Catholic and because of this fact just a few years earlier the Whigs had made concerted efforts to exclude him from the succession. This attempt is known as the Exclusion Crisis. Despite this James II inherited the throne without any problems. It was only later in his brief reign when he tried to force through policies improving the situation of Catholics (but not harming Protestants in any way) that opposition seriously built up.

The Declaration of Indulgence was a major turning point in the reign. In 1687 and 1688 the declaration was released proclaiming freedom of worship for Catholics and Protestant dissenters. James II ordered that the Declaration be read in all churches but in 1688 seven Anglican bishops (the Church of England was the country’s official church) submitted a petition against the order. James ordered them to be imprisoned for seditious libel but they were found innocent at their trial. The seven bishops received a great deal of support from the general population and were seen as symbols of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.

James II was tolerated because his two daughters (later Mary II and Queen Anne) were Protestants. This meant that the throne would revert to a Protestant heir after James’ death. The situation changed in 1688 when James II’s second wife Mary of Modena gave birth to a Catholic son. As a boy he became first in line to the throne and neither Mary or Anne would inherit unless he died without children. James II’s opponents believed in a rumour that the boy was not James II’s son and that he had been sneaked into the royal bedchamber in a warming pan. This opposition print shows Mary with her baby. The lascivious looking man behind her is one of James II’s Jesuit priests (I forget his name, possibly Father Peter). Of course this is anti-Catholic propaganda that tries to slur the heir’s legitimacy by suggesting that his mother had improper relations with a Catholic priest.

The end of James II’s reign came when seven of his opponents sent an invitation to William of Orange. William of Orange was the husband of Mary, the second in line to the throne, and as her cousin he also had some claim in his own right. James’ opponents were not asking William to depose James II. Instead they wanted William to assume control of the country and persuade the Catholic king to reverse his less popular policies.

It is not known exactly when William of Orange decided to take the crown for himself. James II made matters remarkably easy for him by fleeing to France. It is likely that he did this because he wished to avoid his father’s fate. Charles I had been imprisoned and then executed during the civil war. William and Mary became joint monarchs and were succeeded in 1702 by Mary’s sister Anne. When Anne died she did not have any children so the crown went to distant Protestant relatives in the German Electorate of Hanover.

James II lived in exile in France until his death in 1701. He had tried to regain the throne by invading Ireland with the aid of French troops but they were defeated at the Battle of the Boyne. When Anne died in 1714 James’ son, now James III, attempted to take the crown in the unsuccessful uprising of 1715. Finally in 1745-46 James II’s grandson Charles Edward Stuart made one last unsuccessful attempt to seize the throne by invading Scotland. This In Our Time programme examines the final attempt and asks whether Bonnie Prince Charlie really stood a chance.

The supporters of James II, James Francis Edward Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart are known as Jacobites. They could be found both inside the British Isles and in exile with the Stuart court on mainland Europe. They promoted their cause with propanda texts and images including portrait prints. Further details of the circulation of Stuart portrait prints can be found in Richard Sharp’s The Engraved Record of the Jacobite Movement (1996).


One Response to “James II & the Jacobites”

  1. Sampson Says:


    Neck or nothing…

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