King James II


James II (October 14, 1633–September 16, 1701) became King of England, Scotland, and Ireland on February 6, 1685, upon the death of his brother, King Charles II.

He was 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 did not himself attempt to return to the throne, instead living the rest of his life under the protection of King Louis XIV of France. His son James Francis Edward Stuart and his grandson Charles Edward Stuart attempted to restore the Jacobite line after James's death, but failed.

King Charles II 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 of 1685, seemed favorable 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 June 20, 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.

King James II 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.

James granted three Londoners and Virginia Catholic George Brent rights of religious freedom for the settlement of French Huguenots on the 30,000 acre Brenttown (Brenton) tract in old Prince William County, Virginia in 1687. Richard Foote, nephew of Nicholas Hayward (one of the founding partners), settled at Chotank in King George County, Virginia to manage the project. Nicholas Hayward marketed Brenttown to English Catholics after the Glorious Revolution eliminated most political reasons for French Protestants to leave England.

In April of 1688, James reissued 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 June 30, 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 November 5, 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 December 11, 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 December 23rd. James was received by Louis XIV, who offered him a palace and a generous pension.

When James II 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 February 12, 1689, that James's attempt to flee on December 11 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 April 11th of the same year.

With a French army on his side, James II landed in Ireland in March of 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 July 1, 1690. He fled again 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 II 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 formalized by the Treaty of Ryswick (an agreement with William III) in 1697. During his last years, James lived as an austere penitent. He died of a brain haemorrhage in 1701 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he was buried.

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