On This Day: Birth of James II

James_II_(1685)James II and VII was born on 14th October 1633. He was King of England and Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII from February 1685 until he was deposed by his daughter Mary and his nephew and son-in-law William of Orange in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

James ascended the throne upon the death of his brother, Charles II. Though there was little opposition at the time, James’ accession was a major problem for the Protestant political elite, as James was a Roman Catholic and pro-French. Some had even sought to grant sovereignty to Charles II’s eldest illegitimate son, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. James’ faith would continue to be a source of trouble for him in the years to come.

Monmouth believed himself to be the rightful heir to the throne due to his uncle’s Catholicism. This led to the Monmouth Rebellion in May of 1685, in an attempt to overthrow James. Another rebellion led by the Duke of Argyll in Scotland was easily crushed by James’ army, as with fewer than 300 men Argyll never posed any real threat. As with Argyll, Monmouth’s forces were no match for the regular army. He and his men attempted to raise recruits a number of times and the rebellion ended after Monmouth’s defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 6th July 1685.

Both men were captured and executed for their failed rebellions, with Argyll executed in Edinburgh and Monmouth at the Tower of London on the 15th July.

The rebellions prompted James to seriously consider his safety, and he swiftly made plans to enlarge his armies. On 11th June 1685, James commissioned George Legge, Lord Dartmouth, and Constable of the Tower, as Colonel of ‘Our Royall Regiment of Fuzileers’.

Queen-Mary-II-King-William-IIIUnfortunately, this did little to save James from his inevitable fate. The birth of James’ Catholic heir in June of 1688 opened the possibility of another Catholic Monarch, which led a group of seven eminent Protestant nobles to invite William of Orange and his wife Mary to invade with an army.

James fled to France and was received by his cousin, Louis XIV, and was given a Palace and pension. Due to this, Parliament and William decided that James had effectively abdicated and left the throne vacant, allowing for William and Mary to fill this vacancy as joint rulers in 1689. The English Parliament subsequently passed a Bill of Rights which declared that henceforth no Roman Catholic was to ascend the throne.

During his last years in France, James lived a life of penitential austerity with his wife, Maria of Modena, and died aged 67 of a brain haemorrhage on 16th September 1701.

Click here to see one of our oldest items in the collection, a Royal Warrant arranging payment for the mustering of the Regiment, signed by James II himself!