Mary of Modena (1658–1718)

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Mary of Modena (1658–1718)

Queen of England . Name variations: Mary Beatrice; Mary Beatrice d'Este; Mary Beatrice Eleanora d'Este. Born Mary Beatrice Eleanor on October 5 (some sources cite September 25), 1658, at the Ducal Palace, Modena, Italy; died of cancer on May 7 or 8, 1718, at Château St. Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, France; interred at the Abbey of Visitation of St. Mary, Chaillot, France; daughter of Alphonso IV or Alfonso IV, duke of Modena, and Laura Martinozzi ; became secondwife of James (1633–1701), duke of York, later James II, king of England (r. 1685–1688, deposed), on November 21, 1673; children: Catherine (1675–1675); James Francis Edward Stuart (1688–1766), duke of Cornwall, known as the Old Pretender; Isabel (1676–1681); Elizabeth (1678–1678); Charlotte (1682–1682); Louise (1692–1712); six others died at birth or in infancy of smallpox.

Two years after the death of his first wife Anne Hyde in 1671, James, duke of York (later James II), was betrothed to a 15-year-old Italian Catholic, Mary from the duchy of Modena. Mary was said to be beautiful and well educated, though she had never heard of England, and when told that her betrothed was 40 years old, "burst into tears and said she would sooner be a nun," writes Norah Lofts in Queens of England.

The marriage caused an uproar in Parliament. Most of the country was resigned to James' eventual succession, convinced that he would soon be followed by his Anglican daughters, Anne (1665–1714) and Mary (II , 1662–1694), the children of Anne Hyde. The possibility of a new Catholic heir set off a wave of anti-Catholic hysteria. By 1678, rumors of a fiendish "Popish Plot" warned that English Catholics, under orders from the pope, were planning to murder Charles II and replace him with James. The scandal was perpetuated by a roguish liar, Titus Oates, who testified in Parliament about leaders of the plot. Charles himself was skeptical about its existence, but before Oates was finally discredited, several prominent Catholics were sent to their deaths.

In the aftermath of the Plot, a political movement aimed at excluding James from the throne arose, under the direction of a group of men who were derisively referred to as Whigs, a name given to Scottish outlaws. They in turn called their opponents Tories, or Irish rebels. The party labels lasted beyond the unsuccessful Exclusion Crisis, and bickering between the two political parties blighted later reigns.

James, who became king in 1685, was highly unpopular, and his brief reign was predominantly concerned with furthering the cause of Catholicism. Though three children died in infancy during the first 15 years of their marriage and many assumed that Mary of Modena's childbearing years were over, the royal line seemed secure. Protestants of England looked forward to the ascendancy of Mary II and her Protestant husband William III of Orange on the death of King James II.

Louise (1692–1712)

English princess . Name variations: Louise Stuart. Born Louise Mary Theresa on June 18, 1692, in St. Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, France; died of smallpox on April 18, 1712, in St. Germain-en-Laye; daughter of Mary of Modena (1658–1718) and James II (1633–1701), king of England (r. 1685–1688, deposed).

When Mary of Modena gave birth to a boy, James Francis Edward Stuart, in June 1688, he was destined to be known throughout his years as the Old Pretender. Enemies of the royal family invented and popularized the story that the queen had only pretended to be pregnant that the boy was smuggled into the royal bed in a warming pan by Jesuits. In reality, it would have been all but impossible for Mary of Modena to have pulled off such a ruse, as the birth was almost a public event, attended by members of the royal family as well as by important figures of state. It did not matter that Catherine of Braganza was in attendance and swore of the child's validity. Stepdaughter Anne, who had been

brought up in the Church of England, bore some of the blame, as she wrote in a letter, "I can't help but think Mansell's wife's great belly is a little suspicious."

The panic wrought by the birth of James Edward, the new prince of Wales, prompted many prominent Anglicans to begin negotiating with William of Orange to install Mary II on the throne. Now, with the possibility of a continued Catholic monarchy, Mary II and her husband William arrived on the coast of England to claim the throne by force. Mary of Modena and her baby son preceded her husband James II on his flight to France.


Lofts, Norah. Queens of England. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977.

suggested reading:

Fraser, Antonia. Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979.

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Mary of Modena (1658–1718)

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