James II

On February 6, 1685, James II ascended the throne on the death of his elder brother, Charles II. James would be the last Catholic ruler off England; his religion, along with his pro-French politics and desire to be an absolute monarch resulted in him being kicked off the throne and replaced with his oldest daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange.

James’s religion and his marriage to the Catholic Mary of Modena (after the death of his first wife, Anne Hyde) caused problems even before he came to the throne. His future subjects regarded him with suspicion and thought his wife was an agent of the pope, and Parliament nearly passed a bill in 1679 that would have barred James from the throne. It didn’t pass because Charles dissolved Parliament, and then dissolved the next two Parliaments as well. Despite all this, there wasn’t any trouble when James actually did inherit. Not initially, at least.

Trouble started when James began favoring Catholics, putting them in high-ranking offices and receiving a Papal nuncio at court (the first time this had happened since the reign of “Bloody” Mary Tudor.) He also tried to pack Parliament with his supporters so he could pass the laws he wanted. Even this might have all been tolerated by a country that could look forward to a day when James would die and be replaced by his undoubtedly Protestant daughter, Mary. But then Mary of Modena gave birth to a son and heir, also named James, on June 10 1688. Now faced with the possibility of a Catholic Stuart dynasty, seven high-ranking nobles wrote to William of Orange, inviting him to invade England and take the throne. William obliged on November 5, and when several of James’s supporters defected, James threw up his hands and tried to escape to France on December 11. He was captured, but William allowed him to escape later that month.

James settled in France, taking up residence at the royal chateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he was joined by his family and Catholic supporters. He attempted to mount a rebellion in Ireland, but it failed and he returned to France, where he lived the rest of his life, dying in 1701. As a result of his reign, Parliament passed a Bill of Rights barring Catholics from sitting on the English throne and forbidding English monarchs from marrying Catholics.

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