James II of England

British Royalty
House of Stuart

James VI/I
Children include
   Henry, Prince of Wales
   Elizabeth Stuart
   Charles I
   Robert Stuart, Duke of Kintyre
Charles I
   Charles II
   James II/VII
   Henry, Duke of Gloucester
   Mary, Princess Royal
   Henrietta Anne Stuart
Charles II
James II/VII
   Mary II
   James Francis Edward Stuart
Charles Edward Stuart
Henry Benedict Stuart
Mary II
William III
William, Duke of Gloucester

James VII of Scotland and James II of England (14 October 163316 September 1701) became King of Scots, King of England, and King of Ireland on 6 February 1685. He was the last Roman Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdom of Scotland, Kingdom of England, and Kingdom of Ireland. Some of 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 rulers in 1689.

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 made one serious attempt to recover his throne, when he landed in Ireland in 1689. After his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in the summer of 1690, he returned to France, living out the rest of his life under the protection of King Louis XIV. His son James Francis Edward Stuart and his grandson Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) attempted to restore the Jacobite line after James's death, but failed.

Early life

James, the second surviving son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria of France, 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 English 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, from where 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 II was recognised by the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of Ireland, and was crowned King of Scots at Scone, in Scotland, in 1651. He was, however, unable to secure the Crown of England, and consequently fled to France.

Like his brother, the Duke of York sought refuge in France, serving in the French army under Turenne. In 1656, when his brother, Charles, entered into an alliance with Spain—an enemy of France—he joined the Spanish army under Louis, Prince of Condé. Both Turenne and Condé praised the Duke of York's abilities.

In 1660, with Oliver Cromwell dead, Charles II was restored to the English 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) wed 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 (1665–1667) and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars (1672–1674). Following its capture by the English in 1664, the Dutch territory of New Netherland was named New York in his honour, as was the town of New Amsterdam. Fort Orange, 150 miles up the River Hudson, was renamed Albany in his honour as well. 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 about 1668 or 1669, although this was kept secret for some time. However, suspicion of James, and growing fears of Catholic influence at court, led to the introduction by Parliament of a new Test Act in 1673. Under this 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. His conversion to Catholicism was now openly known.

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 had died in 1671) to marry the Catholic Mary of Modena. Some 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. On the orders of the King, the Duke of York left England for Brussels. In 1680, he 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 Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, a former government minister, and now the leading enemy of James and a Catholic succession, to have him excluded 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 the English 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, and his brother restored him to the office of Lord High Admiral in 1684.


Monarchical Styles of
King James II of England
Reference style: His Majesty
Spoken style: Your Majesty
Alternative style: Sir
Monarchical Styles of
King James VII of Scotland
Reference style: His Grace
Spoken style: Your Grace
Alternative style: Sir
Statue of James II in Trafalgar Square, London. This dates from 1686 and is attributed to the studio of Grinling Gibbons. It is one of only two known public statues of the monarch - the other resides at University College, Oxford. (January 2006)
Statue of James II in Trafalgar Square, London. This dates from 1686 and is attributed to the studio of Grinling Gibbons. It is one of only two known public statues of the monarch - the other resides at University College, Oxford. (January 2006)

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. 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.

The king's judges—most notably, George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys (the "Hanging Judge")—punished the rebels brutally. Judge Jeffreys' Bloody Assizes led some historians to portray the king as a cruel ruler, but the assizes provoked little comment at the time, and were seen by many as an appropriate response to an armed rebellion. 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. Paul Barillon, the French ambassador to England, was perhaps right when he claimed that the king, "resolved not to rule precariously." In the collusive case of Godden v. Hales, a panel of judges of the Court of King's Bench declared 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 many 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), also known as the Declaration for Liberty of Conscience, he suspended laws punishing Roman Catholics and Protestant 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 Roman Catholics including Bishop Parker 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 (121 km²) 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.

Glorious Revolution

Half-Crown coin of James II, 1686. The inscription reads IACOBUS II DEI GRATIA (James II by the Grace of God)
Half-Crown coin of James II, 1686. The inscription reads IACOBUS II DEI GRATIA (James II by the Grace of God)

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 June, 1688. (Some charged that the son was "suppositious", having been substituted for a stillborn child.) Threatened by a Catholic dynasty, several influential Protestants entered into negotiations with William, 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, many of the King's Protestant officers defected. His own daughter, Anne, left the court, leading to considerable anguish on the part of the King. On 11 December, James attempted to flee to France, first throwing the 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 and Mary 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 and Queen. 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 Bill also stipulated that no Catholic would henceforth be permitted to ascend to the English throne, nor could any English monarch marry a Catholic. 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. At James' urging, the Irish Parliament passed an Act for Liberty of Conscience which granted religious freedom to all Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. The king was, however, defeated at the Battle of the Boyne by William III on 1 July 1690. He fled to France after the defeat departing from Kinsale, his alleged 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 of a brain haemorrhage 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 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 German cousin, Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and to her Protestant heirs. Thus, when Anne died in 1714 (less than two months after the death of Sophia), the Crown was inherited by George I, Sophia's son, the Elector of Hanover and Anne's second cousin.

The son of James II, James Francis Edward Stuart (known to his supporters as "James III and VIII" and to his opponents as the "Old Pretender"), took up the Jacobite cause. He led a rising in Scotland in 1715 shortly after George I's accession, but was defeated. Further risings were also defeated; since the rising of 1745 led by Charles Edward Stuart, no serious attempt to restore the Stuart heir has been made, although some individuals still adhere to the philosophy of Jacobitism.

James Francis Edward died in 1766, when he was succeeded by his eldest son, Charles Edward Stuart (known to his supporters as "Charles III" and to his opponents as the "Young Pretender"). Charles in turn was succeeded by his younger brother Henry Benedict Stuart, a cardinal of the Catholic Church. Henry was the last of James II's legitimate descendants. At his death in 1807 the Jacobite claim devolved upon the senior descendant of King Charles I, King Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia. Presently, James II's heir is Franz, 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). James was created "Duke of Normandy" by King Louis XIV of France, December 31, 1660. This was a few months after the restoration of his brother Charles II to the English and Irish thrones (Charles II had been crowned King of Scotland in 1651), and was probably done as a political gesture of support for the James - since his brother also would have claimed the title "Duke of Normandy."


Name Birth Death Notes
By Anne Hyde
Charles, Duke of Cambridge 22 October 1660 5 May 1661  
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  
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 1675  
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  
By Arabella Churchill
Henrietta FitzJames 1667 3 April 1730 Married first Henry Waldegrave; had issue. Married secondly Piers Butler, 3rd Viscount Galmoye; no issue.
James FitzJames, 1st Duke of Berwick 21 August 1670 12 June 1734
Henry FitzJames, 1st Duke of Albemarle August, 1673 December, 1702
Arabella FitzJames 1674 7 November 1704 Became a nun; no issue.
By Catherine Sedley
Catherine Darnley c. 1681 13 March 1743 married firstly, James Annesley, 3rd Earl of Anglesey and had issue,
married secondly, John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby and had issue.


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.
  • Davis, Richard B. (Editor). (1963). William Fitzhugh and His Chesapeake World, 1676-1701. Chapel Hill: The Virginia Historical Society by University of North Carolina Press.
  • "James II." (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press.
  • Miller, John (2000). James II, 3d. ed. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300087284
  • McFerran, Noel S. (2003). "James II and VII."
  • Turner, Francis C. (1948). James II. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.

Born: 14 October 1633; Died: 16 September 1701
Preceded by:
Charles II
King of England
6 February 1685 –1688
Succeeded by:
William III/II and Mary II
King of Scots
6 February 1685 –1688
King of Ireland
6 February 1685 –1688( or 1690 )
New Title
Glorious Revolution
replaces government
with William III and Mary II
Jacobite King of England and Scotland
* Reason for Succession Failure: *
Succession overruled by the Parliament of England 
Succeeded by:
James III
Jacobite King of Ireland
Preceded by:
Lord High Admiral
Succeeded by:
Charles II
Preceded by:
The Earl of Winchilsea
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by:
John Beamont
Preceded by:
The Duke of Richmond and Lennox
Lord High Admiral of Scotland
Succeeded by:
The Duke of Richmond and Lennox
Preceded by:
The Duke of Lauderdale
Lord High Commissioner to the Parliament of Scotland
Succeeded by:
The Duke of Queensberry
Preceded by:
Charles II
Lord High Admiral
Succeeded by:
William III
Preceded by:
New Creation
Duke of York
Succeeded by:
Merged in Crown
Preceded by:
New Creation
Duke of Albany

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