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The Death of James II of England: The Last English and Scottish Catholic Monarch

Updated on September 16, 2013
James II of England and VII of Scotland
James II of England and VII of Scotland

On September 16, 1701, King James I of England died. He was also King James VII of Scotland and part of the Stuart dynasty. However, his reign had actually come to an end in 1688 when England refused to be ruled by a Catholic monarch, especially after the birth of his Catholic son, James. He was succeeded by his elder daughter and her husband, Mary II of England and William III of Orange.

The Start of James II of England’s Reign

James was the brother of Charles II of England. Charles converted to Catholicism while on his death bed and had a difficult reign, temporarily being deposed by his parliament. At first, James’ succession was not opposed. He was crowned with his wife on April 23, 1685 and had a very loyal parliament.

Most of Charles II’s officers remained in power with a few exceptions. The first was the demotion of the Earl of Halifax. The second was the promotion of the Earls of Rochester and Clarendon, who were his wife’s brothers. James made it clear from the beginning that he was going to be a stricter and harder working king than his brother had ever been. He started out great; something the English and Scottish people needed at the time.

His reign was not without rebellions, though. It was a difficult time for the two countries. This was just a century after the successful move from a Catholic to a Protestant religion for England—Scotland had been a Protestant country for a little longer. There were many rebellions against James’ Catholic beliefs, despite a man doing the things best for his country.

Learn the History of the Accession from James II of England

People Fear James II Is a Catholic

James had been raised as a Protestant. This was the way all monarchs were raised during the Stuart dynasty and something that the English and Scottish people preferred—they just didn’t want the return to the troubles that were experienced during the Tudor dynasty. Even though nobody would remember it, there were still the stories and fear of Mary I’s burning of almost 300 Protestants at the stake.

There was no need to worry at first. James had married an English commoner, despite the majority of people being against it, and she was a Protestant woman. They had two living children together: Mary and Anne.

James and his wife, Anne, spent some time in France; a country that was still Catholic. This exposed them to the Catholic beliefs and they were drawn to that faith. However, he continued to attend Anglican services to hide his change in religion. He also promoted Protestant members of the Court as a way to seem a Protestant king. Yet there were fears that the Court would become a Catholic one, leading to a change for the country.

James II married English commoner, Anne Hyde, first.
James II married English commoner, Anne Hyde, first.

The Introduction of the Test Act

The Test Act was created by the English Parliament in 1673. This meant all military and civil officials would need to take an oath that denounced some Catholic practises and the doctrine of transubstantiation. They would need to follow the Church of England’s belief of the Eucharist. James could not swear the oath. At the time he was not king and only had to relinquish his position as Lord High Admiral. It was clear that he was a Catholic.

Charles II was against his brother’s conversion. Mary and Anne would have to be raised as Protestants so they could remain in the line of succession. Mary was also betrothed to William of Orange, nephew of Charles and James through their sister Mary, Princess Royal.

However, in 1671, Anne had died and James needed to remarry. He wanted to marry Mary of Modena—a Catholic princess from Italy. Charles allowed it to happen and allowed a Catholic ceremony. The English people were not happy and viewed this new princess as the Pope’s agent.

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The Glorious Revolution and End of James II

The English and Scottish people temporarily dealt with a Catholic monarch. At first, he did the best for the people but then started to move the countries back to their Catholic heritages. The Declaration of Indulgence was re-issued in 1688 and all Anglican clergymen were ordered to use it during their services. The Archbishop of Canterbury and six other bishops petitioned against the move and they were arrested for seditious libel.

Around the same time, James Francis Edward was born. He was the son of James and Mary and would be raised as Catholic. It led to the possibility that the countries would turn back to their Catholic ways. His birth meant that a Catholic dynasty would continue. After all, he would become king over his two Protestant older sisters.

It was time for the English nobles to do something and then entered talks with William of Orange. By this time, William and Mary had married and Mary was pregnant. It was perfect to ensure a Protestant dynasty would continue. Louis XIV of France offered assistance for James when a battle was imminent but James refused. He thought his English army would be enough. Unfortunately for him, many of his officers changed sides when William of Orange arrived in England on November 5, 1688.

James’ reign was over and he tried to flee to France. Despite being captured, William allows him to escape. He did not want to make the former king a Catholic martyr. James gained a pension and palace from Louis in France. On his first attempt to France, James had dropped the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames. His parliament declared that this was a sign that he had abdicated his throne—they chose against deposing him. Mary became Queen of England, with her husband, William, ruling jointly with her as king. It was in April 1689 that Scotland declared James had forfeited his Scottish throne.

James II with his father, Charles I of England
James II with his father, Charles I of England

James II Will Be the Last Catholic English Monarch

To prevent Catholics ever taking the throne again, the English parliament created a Bill of Rights. It stated that not just that an English monarch could not be Catholic but also that he/she could not marry a Catholic.

It also made it clear that James had been denounced after abusing his power. A few charges were against him, including not agreeing to the Test Acts and prosecuting the seven bishops simply for petitioning against James’ religious decisions.

The Bill of Rights is interesting. The current Prince of Wales, Charles Windsor, married Camilla Parker-Bowles, who, at least at the time of the marriage, was a Roman Catholic. It caused some controversy at the time of the marriage and was one that the Queen Mother, his grandmother, refused to allow to happen when she was alive.

King James II--His Story

How Much Do You Know About the Stuart Dynasty?

James II Attempts to Keep the Irish Throne

Unlike the English and the Scottish, the Irish never denounced James. They kept him as King and created a bill of attainder so people could not rebel against him. James wanted them to go further by creating an Act for Liberty of Conscience. James wanted religious freedom for Protestants and Catholics in the country.

However, William was not about to let his father-in-law win. He arrived to defeat James and gain control over the country. William defeated James on July 1, 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne. The two kingdoms were joined back together after James fled to France again. The Irish never forgave James and named him Seamus an Chaca.

James spent the rest of his life in France with his second wife. There was an attempt to place James back on the throne in 1696 with an assassination attempt on William III; however, it failed and James was even less popular with the majority of the English people. Louis XIV did offer James assistance until 1697 when Louis and William found peace.

The former king decided to create a memorandum for his older son, James, specifying ways of governing England. On the list was that the Secretary of State, Secretary at War, one Commissioner of the Treasure and most army officers should be Catholics.

His death in 1701 was from a brain haemorrhage. He was placed in Paris, at the Chapel of Saint Edmund in the Church of the English Benedictines. He was kept in his coffin with lights burning around it in the side chapels until the French Revolution when his tomb was raided.

There have been attempts to place James’ line back on the throne but nothing has been successful. While the current queen, Queen Elizabeth II, is descended from the Stuart line, it is through James II’s father, James I of England and James VI of Scotland.


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    • aingham86 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexandria Ingham 

      5 years ago from UK

      It does take a lot of research but it's all worth it. I love history and love learning about new things. I often find myself starting in one place and then delving deeper through various links and stories.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      5 years ago from sunny Florida

      The history of that time takes careful research, does it not, to produce an article such as this. I will need to reread it to get all of the facts straight because it is very interesting indeed. 'Angels are on the way ps

    • aingham86 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexandria Ingham 

      5 years ago from UK

      Thanks. I'm not sure I feel that sorry for him. He made some bad decisions and it led to his people preferring his daughter. He knew the trouble that England had been through a century earlier; he must have known they didn't want it again. He couldn't stay in charge of the navy though if he didn't agree to the oath set out in the Test Act.

    • Cleio profile image


      5 years ago from Ireland

      Great article. I've always felt a bit sorry for James. It seems he really meant well but found himself caught up in a complicated international political situation. He probably would have been better off staying in charge of the navy rather than becoming king.


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