Mary of Modena

Mary of Modena
Mary of Modena

Mary of Modena (October 5, 1658May 7, 1718) was the queen consort of King James II of England and VII of Scotland.

Daughter of Alfonso IV d'Este, Duke of Modena and Laura Martinozzi (niece of Jules Cardinal Mazarin), she was born in Modena and christened Maria Beatrice Eleanor Anne Margaret Isabella d'Este. She had a strict Roman Catholic upbringing, and thought briefly of becoming an abbess in an order of nuns founded by her mother. She was the candidate favored by Louis XIV to provide a suitable Roman Catholic bride for James, Duke of York and heir presumptive to the thrones of England and Scotland, who had converted to Roman Catholicism. The marriage was celebrated by proxy on September 30, 1673.

The marriage had urgent dynastic and political aspects. James had two Protestant daughters, Mary and Anne, from his first marriage to Anne Hyde. A son by James' second marriage would be king one day, a Roman Catholic king. Though Mary was beautiful and charming — Charles II quickly came round to her — the people of England detested her for her Roman Catholicism. Scurvy wits lampooned her in broadsheets under the name "Madame East." Rumors spread that she was an agent of the pope, Clement X, who had pressed her case as a suitable bride. During the so-called "Popish Plot" (1678), to which her secretary Coleman was a victim, she and James discreetly went abroad.

The dynastic considerations demanded a son. Their first child was stillborn (1674), and numerous others died in infancy. Following James's accession to the throne in 1685, the question of whether Mary would ever bear a son became more significant, because such a child would be brought up in the Roman Catholic faith and would be heir to the throne.

In 1688, Mary finally gave birth to a living son, James. The event caused much speculation. It was suggested that the child had been born dead and a changeling smuggled into the room in a warming pan in order to conceal the death. For political reasons, a royal birth was a very public event, however: many people would have had to be privy to this unlikely conspiracy. Nevertheless the rumors were disquieting enough that James called two extraordinary sessions of his Privy Council to hear testimony proving that the Prince of Wales was his son by the Queen.

Mary's influence with James, whose attention was diverted by a series of mistresses, favored the Jesuits and absolutism on the French model.

Within a few months of the heir's birth, the coup of Whig aristocrats called the Glorious Revolution erupted. Mary consented to escape to France (December 10, 1688) with her son. James's elder daughter, Mary, with her husband, William of Orange, had been invited by the Whig magnates to take the throne.

In exile, as guests and dependents of Louis XIV at the Chateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Mary of Modena gave birth to one more child, Princess Louisa Maria, June 28, 1692. (She died of smallpox at the age of nineteen.)

When James died on September 6, 1701, Mary succeeded in inducing Louis to recognize her son as king of England and Scotland, an act that accelerated English participation in the War of the Spanish Succession. She supported Jacobite exiles to the best of her ability.

Mary of Modena died in Paris of breast cancer. Her tomb, in the abbey of Chaillot, was destroyed during the French Revolution.

Preceded by:
Catherine of Braganza
Queen Consort of England
Succeeded by:
Prince George of Denmark
Queen Consort of Scotland

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