The Old Pretender

On March 23, 1708, James, the only son of the deposed James II, attempted to invade Scotland in his first try at taking back the British throne. He was unsuccessful—the fleet of Admiral Sir George Byng drove him back at the Firth of Forth.

James, who became known as “the Old Pretender” was a controversial figure from birth. Soon after he was born on June 10 1688, rumors began to circulate that he wasn’t King James’s child at all, but a baby smuggled into the royal apartments in an elaborate ruse to provide a Catholic heir for the English throne. James II was eventually forced off the throne during the Glorious Revolution, and replaced by his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange. James II fled to France with his wife and infant son; he died there in 1701.

After his father’s death, young James declared himself King James III and VIII and was recognized as such by France, Spain, Modena, and the Papal States. His unsuccessful invasion of Scotland was followed by another blow in 1713: France made peace with Great Britain following the War of the Spanish Succession, and as part of the peace treaty James was expelled from France. He went to Rome, where the pope gave him the Palazzo Muti as a home. The following year, Jacobites in Scotland attempted an uprising, and they were joined by James himself in 1715. Although the rebels were initially successful and captured most of the northern part of Scotland, the uprising was all but over by the time James got there. He was forced to retreat back to France.

He returned to Rome, where he married a granddaughter of the Polish king. They had two sons, the elder of whom was nicknamed Bonnie Prince Charlie. Charlie joined another Jacobite rising in 1745 that was more successful than James’s, but it too was put down, and the Stuart hopes of regaining the throne were destroyed. James died on New Year’s Day, 1766 and was buried at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. If he’d actually taken the throne upon the death of his father, he’d have reigned for longer than any other British monarch to date (64 years, 3 months, 16 days).


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