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Britannia Home   >   Monarchs
James II (1685-88 AD)
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James II was born in 1633, the third son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria. Like his brother, Charles II, he was involved in the Civil War and fled to France in exile with the Cromwell's creation of the Commonwealth. He married twice: Anne Hyde bore him four sons and four daughters (Charles, Mary, James, Anne, another Charles, Edgar, Henrietta, and Catherine) before her death in 1671; Mary of Modena bore him two sons and five daughters (Catherine, Isabella, Charles, Charlotte, Elizabeth, James Francis Edward, and Louisa). James was deposed in 1688, and died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1701.

James stood in dark contrast to his predecessor, Charles: James, although valiant in battle until his later years, lacked his brother's good nature, and remained a staunch adherent to the Roman Catholic faith. His accession was greeted with enthusiasm; Charles had left James a strong executive office and a loyal Tory-dominated Parliament. James, however, acted recklessly attempting to restore royal prerogative and turn England back to the Catholic faith, costing him the crown.

Religion and politics were intertwined throughout James' public life. He openly opposed the Test Act of 1673, which barred all Catholics and Dissenters from holding administrative positions; James relinquished the post of Lord High Admiral and went abroad. The Whig Parliament of 1679 strove to exclude James from the succession, and failed only because Charles II dissolved Parliament. Within months of his accession, James had to crush a rebellion of Protestants who rallied around his nephew James, Duke of Monmouth and son of Charles II. The Protestants were easily defeated, and James exhibited little toleration: Monmouth was captured and beheaded. James appointed Judge Jeffries to preside over the "Bloody Assizes" which executed, tortured, or sent into slavery the Protestant rebels. James ambitiously appointed Catholics to high positions although loyal Tory councilors advised against it. As a result, both Tories and Whigs turned against him.

Within three years, both the old nobility and emerging commercial class had been totally alienated by James. Mary of Modena gave birth to a male heir, James Francis Edward, which interfered with Parliament's wish that James' Protestant daughter, Mary, would succeed to the throne upon the death of her father. Protestant members of Parliament, thoroughly disgusted with James, invited Mary and her husband, William of Orange, to take the throne. James, haunted by recollections of Richard II and Henry IV, chose to flee London rather than be captured. James was captured, but William ensured a successful flight to France for James. James garnered Irish forces (which were supported by French troops provided by Louis IX), but was defeated by William's forces. James lived the remainder of his life in France.

James' attempts to force Catholicism on England and regain prerogative doomed his reign. Parliament emerged supreme: royal lineage was still a major consideration, but Protestantism became the main factor in choosing a monarch - a decision now left to Parliament. Bishop Burnet offered a glimpse of James II's character in History of his Own Time: "He was naturally candid and sincere, and a firm friend, till affairs and his religion wore out all his first principles and inclinations."


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