The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






James II of England

James II of England and VII of Scotland (14 October 163316 September 1701) became King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 6 February 1685. He would prove to be the last Catholic monarch to reign over England, Scotland, or Ireland. His subjects distrusted his religious policies and alleged despotism, leading a group of them to depose him in the Glorious Revolution. He was replaced not by his Roman Catholic son, James Francis Edward, but by his Protestant daughter and son-in-law, Mary II and William III, who became joint Sovereigns. The belief that James—not William III or Mary II—was the legitimate ruler became known as Jacobitism (from Jacobus or Iacobus, Latin for "James").

James lived the rest of his life under the protection of the King of France, Louis XIV. He, and all of England, was caught between the intrigues of Louis and William III. His son, James Francis Edward Stuart, and afterwards his grandson, Charles Edward Stuart, attempted to restore the Jacobite line after James's death, but failed.

James is also known by his earlier title, Duke of York. His brother, Charles II, named the North American colony of New York (now a part of the United States) in his honour.


Early life

James, the second surviving son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, was born at St James's Palace in 1633 and created Duke of York in 1644. During the English Civil War—in which his father fought parliamentary and Puritan forces—he stayed in Oxford, a Royalist stronghold. When the city surrendered in 1646, the Duke of York was confined in St James's Palace by parliamentary command. In 1648, he escaped from the Palace, whence he went to The Hague in disguise. When Charles I was executed by the rebels in 1649, monarchists proclaimed the Duke of York's elder brother, Charles, as King Charles II. Charles, however, could not restore the monarchy; he fled after being defeated by Oliver Cromwell.

The Duke of York sought refuge in France, serving 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—he joined the Spanish army under Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé. Both Turenne and Condé praised the Duke of York's abilities.

In 1660, with Oliver Cromwell dead, Charles II was restored to the Throne, the Duke of York returning to England with him. Though he was the heir-presumptive, it seemed unlikely that the Duke of York would actually inherit the Crown, for Charles was still a young man capable of fathering children. In September 1660, the Duke of York (who was also created Duke of Albany in Scotland) married the Lady Anne Hyde, the daughter of Charles's chief minister, Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon.

The Duke of York was appointed Lord High Admiral and commanded the Royal Navy during the Second (16651667) and Third Anglo-Dutch War (16721674). Following its capture by the English in 1664, the Dutch territory of New Amsterdam was named New York in his honour. The Duke of York also headed the Royal African Company, which participated in the slave trade.


The Duke of York was admitted to the Roman Catholic Church in 1668 or 1669. His Protestant enemies in Parliament, led by Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, ensured the passage of the Test Act; under the Act, all civil and military officials were required to take an oath (in which they were required not only to disavow the doctrine of transubstantiation, but also denounce certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church as "superstitious and idolatrous") and receive communion under the auspices of the Church of England. The Duke of York refused to perform both actions, instead choosing to relinquish the post of Lord High Admiral.

Charles II opposed the conversion, ordering that the Duke of York's children be raised as Protestants. Nevertheless, in 1673, he allowed York (whose first wife died in 1671) to marry the Catholic Mary of Modena. The English people distrusted Catholicism and regarded the new Duchess of York as an agent of the Pope.

In 1677, the Duke of York attempted to appease Protestants by allowing his daughter, Mary, to marry the Protestant Prince of Orange, William III (who was also his nephew). Despite the concession, fears of a Catholic monarch persisted, intensified by the failed pregnancies of Charles II's wife, Catherine of Braganza. A defrocked Anglican clergyman, Titus Oates, falsely spoke of a "Popish Plot" to kill Charles and put the Duke of York on the Throne. The fabricated plot caused a wave of anti-Catholic hysteria to sweep across the nation. The Duke of York wisely decided to leave England for Brussels. In 1680, the Duke of York was appointed Lord High Commissioner of Scotland and took up his residence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

In England, attempts were made by Lord Shaftesbury and others to exclude the Duke of York from the line of succession. Some even proposed that the Crown go to Charles II's illegitimate son, James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth. When, in 1679, the Exclusion Bill was in danger of passing, Charles II dissolved Parliament. (The Exclusion Bill crisis contributed to the development of the English two-party system; the Whigs were those who supported the Bill, whilst the Tories were those who opposed it.) Two further Parliaments were elected in 1680 and 1681, but were dissolved for the same reason.

After the dissolution of the Parliament of 1681, no further Parliaments were called. Charles, whose popularity was very high at the time, allowed the Duke of York to return to England in 1682. The Rye House Plot of 1683, a Protestant conspiracy to assassinate both Charles and the Duke of York, failed utterly; it increased popular sympathy for the King and his brother. York once again found himself influential in government, becoming the leader of the Tory Party; his brother restored him to the office of Lord High Admiral in 1684.


Charles died sine prole legitima (without legitimate offspring) in 1685, converting to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed. He was succeeded by his brother, who reigned in England and Ireland as James II, and in Scotland as James VII. James was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1685. At first, there was little overt opposition to the new Sovereign; many conservative Anglicans even supported him. The new Parliament which assembled in May 1685 seemed favourable to James, agreeing to grant him a large income.

James, however, faced the Monmouth Rebellion (led by Charles II's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth). James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth declared himself King on 20 June 1685, but was afterwards defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor. Monmouth was executed at the Tower of London soon afterwards. Despite the lack of popular support for Monmouth, James began to distrust his subjects. His judges—most notably, George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys (the "Hanging Judge")—punished the rebels brutally. Judge Jeffreys' Bloody Assizes led the public to see their King as a cruel and barbarous ruler. To protect himself from further rebellions, James sought to establish a large standing army. By putting Roman Catholics in charge of several regiments, the King was drawn into a conflict with Parliament. Parliament was prorogued in November 1685, never to meet again during James's reign.

Religious tension intensified in 1686. In the collusive case of Godden v. Hales , a panel of judges of the Court of King's Bench were coerced by the King into declaring that the King could dispense with the religious restrictions imposed by the Test Acts. Taking advantage of the dispensing power, James controversially allowed Roman Catholics to occupy the highest offices of the Kingdom. He received at his court the papal nuncio, Ferdinando d'Adda, the first representative from Rome to London since the reign of Mary I. James's Jesuit confessor, Edward Petre, was a particular object of Protestant ire. These policies caused the King to lose the support of his former allies, the Tories.

James then ordered the suspension of Henry Compton, the anti-Catholic Bishop of London; several other Anglicans in political office were dismissed. In the Declaration of Indulgence (1687), he suspended laws punishing Roman Catholics and other religious dissenters. (It is unclear if James issued the Declaration to gain the political support of the dissenters, or if he was truly committed to the principle of freedom of religion). James also dissolved Parliament in 1687, afterwards reforming the government so as to reduce the power of the nobility.

The King also provoked opposition by his policies relating to the University of Oxford. He offended Anglicans by allowing Catholics to hold important positions in Christ Church and University College, two of Oxford's largest colleges. Even more unpopularly, he dismissed the Protestant Fellows of Magdalen College, appointing a wholly Roman Catholic board in their place. Controversially, James accredited the Papal Nuncio and granted public offices to four Catholic bishops.

Glorious Revolution

In April 1688, James re-issued the Declaration of Indulgence, subsequently ordering Anglican clergymen to read it in their churches. When the Archbishop of Canterbury William Sancroft and six other bishops (known as the Seven Bishops) submitted a petition requesting the reconsideration of the King's religious policies, they were arrested and tried for seditious libel , but were acquitted. Public alarm increased with the birth of a Catholic son and heir, James Francis Edward, to Queen Mary in November 1687. (Some charged that the son was "suppositious", having been substituted for a stillborn child. There is, however, no reliable evidence to support such an allegation.) Threatened by a Catholic dynasty, several influential Protestants entered into negotiations with William III, Prince of Orange, who was James's son-in-law. William had been hailed as a Protestant champion, having fought with the powerful Roman Catholic King of France, Louis XIV.

On 30 June 1688—the same day the bishops were acquitted—a group of Protestant nobles, known as the Immortal Seven, requested the Prince of Orange to come to England with an army. By September, it had become clear that William sought to invade; yet, James refused the assistance of Louis XIV, fearing that the English would oppose French intervention. James, furthermore, believed that his own army would be adequate, but proved too complacent; for when the Prince of Orange arrived on 5 November 1688, all of the King's Protestant officers defected. His own daughter, Anne, joined the invading forces, leading to considerable anguish on the part of the King. On 11 December, James attempted to flee to France, first throwing Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames. He was, however, caught in Kent. Having no desire to make James a martyr, the Prince of Orange let him escape on 23 December. James was received by Louis XIV, who offered him a palace and a generous pension.

When James left the Realm, no Parliament was in session. Although a Parliament could normally be called by the reigning monarch, the Prince of Orange convened an irregular Convention Parliament. (The procedure of calling a Convention Parliament had been previously used when succession to the Throne was unclear; it was a Convention Parliament which restored Charles II to the Throne following the English Civil War.) The Convention declared, on 12 February 1689, that James's attempt to flee on 11 December constituted an abdication of the government, and that the Throne had then become vacant (instead of passing to James II's son, James Francis Edward). James's daughter Mary was declared Queen; she was to rule jointly with her husband William III. The Scottish Estates followed suit on 11 April of the same year.

William III and Mary II subsequently granted their assent to an Act commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights. The Act confirmed the earlier Declaration of Right, in which the Convention Parliament had declared that James's flight constituted an abdication, and that William III and Mary II were to be King. The Bill of Rights also charged James II with abusing his power; amongst other things, it criticised the suspension of the Test Acts, the prosecution of the Seven Bishops for merely petitioning the Crown, the establishment of a standing army and the imposition of cruel punishments. The Act, furthermore, settled the question of succession to the Crown. First in the line of succession were the children of William and Mary (if any), to be followed by the Princess Anne and her children, and finally by the children of William by any subsequent marriage.

Later years

With a French army on his side, James landed in Ireland in March 1689. The Irish Parliament did not follow the example of the English Parliament; it declared that James remained King. He was, however, defeated at the Battle of the Boyne on 1 July 1690. He fled to France after the defeat departing from Kinsale, his cowardice leading to the dissolution of much of his support and earning him the nickname Séamus á Chaca ("James the Shit") in Ireland.

In France, James was allowed to live in the royal château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. An attempt was made to restore him to the Throne by assassinating William III in 1696, but the plot failed. Louis XIV's offer to have James elected King of Poland in the same year was rejected, for James feared that acceptance of the Polish Crown might (in the minds of the English People) render him incapable of being King of England. Thereafter, Louis ceased to offer assistance to James; his decision was formalised by the Treaty of Ryswick (an agreement with William III) in 1697. During his last years, James lived as an austere penitent. He died in 1701 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he was buried.


James's younger daughter Anne succeeded to the Throne when William III died in 1702. (Mary II had previously died in 1694.) The Act of Settlement 1701 provided that, if the line of succession established in the Bill of Rights were to be extinguished, then the Crown would go to a distant German cousin, Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and to her Protestant heirs. Thus, when Anne died in 1714 (shortly after Sophia), the Crown was inherited by George I, Sophia's son.

The son of James II, James Francis Edward Stuart, the "Old Pretender" (known to his supporters as "James VIII and III"), took up the Jacobite cause. He led a rebellion in Scotland shortly after George I's accession, but was crushed. Further rebellions were also defeated; since the rebellion of 1745, no serious attempt to restore the Stuart heir has been made, although some individuals still adhere to the philosophy of Jacobitism. The Old Pretender died in 1766, to be succeeded by his eldest son, Charles Edward Stuart, the "Young Pretender," and afterwards by his second son, Henry Benedict Cardinal Stuart. Cardinal Stuart, being a clergyman of the Roman Catholic Church, did not marry; thus, he died in 1807 as the last of James II's descendants. The Jacobite claim was taken up by another distant branch of the family, starting with Charles Emmanuel IV of Savoy. Presently, James II's heir is Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria, Duke of Bavaria. Although the Duke of Bavaria has not claimed the Throne, he is recognised by Jacobites as "Francis II."

Style and arms

The official style of James II was "James the Second, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." (The claim to France was only nominal, and was asserted by every English King from Edward III to George III, regardless of the amount of French territory actually controlled.) His arms as King were: Quarterly, I and IV Grandquarterly, Azure three fleurs-de-lis Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland).


Name Birth Death Notes
By Anne Hyde
Charles, Duke of Cambridge 22 October 1660 5 May 1661  
HM Queen Mary II 30 April 1662 28 December 1694 married 1677, William III, Prince of Orange; no issue
James, Duke of Cambridge 12 July 1663 22 May 1667  
HM Queen Anne 6 February 1665 1 August 1714 married 1683, Prince George of Denmark; no surviving issue
Charles, Duke of Kendal 4 July 1666 20 June 1667  
Edgar, Duke of Cambridge 14 September 1667 15 November 1669  
Henrietta 13 January 1669 15 November 1669  
Catherine 9 February 1671 5 December 1671  
By Mary of Modena
Catherine 10 January 1675 3 October 1765  
Isabel 28 August 1676 2 March 1681  
Charles 7 November 1677 12 December 1677  
Elizabeth 1678 c. 1678  
Charlotte 16 August 1682 16 October 1682  
James, Prince of Wales 10 June 1688 1 January 1766 married 1719, Mary Sobieski; had issue
Louise 28 June 1692 20 April 1712  


James was responsible for the last major redevelopments at the Palace of Whitehall prior to its destruction by fire.


  • Clarke, James S. (Editor). (1816). The Life of James II. London.
  • "James II." (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press.
  • McFerran, Noel S. (2003). "James II and VII."
  • Turner, Francis C. (1948). James II. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.

Preceded by:
Lord High Admiral
Succeeded by:
King Charles II
Preceded by:
The Earl of Winchilsea
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by:
John Beaumont

Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12