James II, King of England

views updated


B. London, Oct. 14, 1633; d. St. Germain, France, Sept. 6, 1701. James, second son of Charles I and the French princess Henrietta Maria, was baptized a Protestant; he spent most of the Civil War in Oxford as duke of york. The fall of Oxford in 1646 placed him in the hands of the parliamentary forces, from which he escaped to France in April 1648. He served with distinction and bravery in the French army under Turenne and later in the Spanish army. When the Restoration placed his brother Charles II on the English throne, James returned to England with him.

Two daughters, Mary and Anne, were born of his marriage to Anne Hyde; both were brought up Protestants. Despite valuable service as lord admiral, James's popularity declined rapidly because of his Catholic leanings. His unannounced but rumored conversion to Catholicism sometime after 1668, followed by his marriage to a Catholic, Mary of Modena, in 1672, offended the religious sensibilities of the English people. Charles's attempt to ameliorate the position of Catholics in 1672 was successfully opposed by Parliament, which followed up its advantage with passage of the Test Act of 1673, barring Catholics from positions of trust and specifically forcing James to retire from all his offices. In the aftermath of the fictional Popish Plot of Titus Oates, anti-Catholicism flared up, and resulted in serious attempts to exclude James from the line of succession by law. These attempts were thwarted only by Charles's skillful maneuvering. The last years of his reign were marked by a vigorous royal counterattack that assured James's peaceful accession at Charles's death (Feb. 6, 1685).

The primary issue of the reign of James II was religion, but with pronounced constitutional overtones. James's attempts to obtain equality for his fellow Catholics and ultimately to effect the conversion of England led Protestants to fear for their religious liberty. Through his dispensing power he permitted Catholics to serve in offices forbidden them by law. Through his supremacy in the Church he attempted to soften Anglican hostility toward Catholicism and to intrude those with Catholic sympathies into ecclesiastical offices. He attempted also to arrange the election to Parliament of those who would vote with him on the religious issue. Anglicans soon began to realize that the privileged position of their Church was in danger. In addition, many Dissenters, to whom freedom of public worship was offered in 1687, were suspicious of James's motives and ultimate intentions. His policies were opposed also by moderate Catholics who feared that anything more than mere toleration was foredoomed and would only make their position worse.

Rejecting the counsel of moderation, he surrounded himself with extremists like the Jesuit Edward Petre and time-servers like the Earl of Sunderland. Thus deprived of realistic advice, he maneuvered himself into a position where opponents of his religious, political, and foreign policies were able to join forces to overthrow him.

The early summer of 1688 brought three events that, taken together, meant the end for James. He completed the alienation of the traditionally royalist Church of England by ordering the reading in all parishes of the second Declaration of Indulgence, which suspended the penal laws and the Test Acts. Seven bishops who petitioned the crown on the point were tried and acquitted. At the same time, the queen gave birth to a son, who superseded James's Protestant daughter Mary as next in line to the throne, thereby making likely the establishment of a Catholic dynasty. Many who had been willing to accept the Catholic James pending the succession of the Protestant Mary had now to reassess their position. Finally, seven leaders of the opposition wrote to Mary's husband, William of Orange (who himself was vitally concerned with English affairs), inviting his intervention. The upshot of the letter was the "Glorious Revolution" and James's subsequent flight to France on Dec. 23, 1688.

The rest of his life was anticlimactic. An attempt to conquer Ireland led to his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, July 11, 1690. Henceforth he lived peacefully and, although earlier a man of loose morals, he won for himself a reputation for holiness.

Bibliography: f. c. turner, James II (London 1950). j. miller, James II: A Study in Kingship (London 1978). m. ashley, James II (London 1978). j. p. kenyon, Stuart England (London 1978). t. harris, Politics under the Later Stuarts: Party Conflict in a Divided Society 16601715 (London 1993). m. mullet, James II and English Politics, 16781688 (London 1994). j. miller, James II (New Haven, Conn. 2000).

[e. f. wall]

About this article

James II, King of England

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article