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James II - 1685-1688

Key Facts about James II

Charles II's brother James was a committed Catholic who resigned his post as Lord High Admiral, during the wars against the Dutch because of his beliefs. Prejudice against a Catholic monarch continued once he became King. An attempt by the Duke of Monmouth, Charles IFs illegitimate son, to take his crown, failed when James defeated Monmouth at Sedgemoor, Somersetshire.

The difficult start to James's reign did not deter him from his ambition to restore Catholicism in England. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, allowing religious tolerance in France, inspired James to start a campaign to limit Protestant power in England and to reinstall Catholicism. As he did not receive strong support from Parliament he gathered an army of 13,000 troops, which he placed on the outskirts of London in order to intimidate his opponents.

This only served to drive his Protestant opponents to plan for the removal of the King. His marriage to Mary of Modena, a Catholic, exacerbated the situation. Making matters worse James now tried to persecute seven bishops who contested the Declaration of Indulgence by which James had intended to suppress all laws against Catholic freedom of worship.

Believing that James would continue his campaign to re-establish Catholicism in England, and concerned about a Protestant succession, a group of ministers in Parliament drew up a Declaration of Rights. This Declaration accused James of unconstitutional behaviour, and made an approach to William of Orange.

Williams mother was Mary, eldest daughter of Charles I, and she was married to James Us elder daughter, Mary, a Protestant and James' heir. William responded favourably to the approach and arrived with a mixed Dutch and English army at Torbay on 5 November, 1688, thus bringing about what came to be known as the Glorious Revolution.

The Jacobites

'Jacobus' is the Latin word for 'James', so when King James II was forced to leave England at the time of the 'Glorious Revolution' in 1688, those who still supported him, even in exile, came to be known as 'Jacobites'. Most these supporters belonged to the Catholic faith.

Jacobite sympathizers would drink a toast 'to the King over the water' and if they wished to conceal their allegiance, their secret sign was to hold their drinking-glasses over finger-bowls, thus toasting 'over water'. Needless to say, when this secret sign was discovered, finger-bowls were banished from English royal tables. It wasn't until 1936 that the monarch, Edward VII by this time, felt it safe enough to re-introduce finger-bowls for his guests.

In the eighteenth century, when it was a treasonable offence to owe allegiance to the Jacobite cause, sympathizers had many secret devices. One of the most extraordinary is to be found in the West Highland Museum, Fort William, Scotland. It is a tray painted in apparently aimless scrawls, but when a glass is placed in the centre, the reflection bears a remarkable similarity to Bonnie Prince Charlie himself.

Key Events during the Reign of James II

1685 - James succeeds his brother Charles II. Rebellion of the Earl of Argyll in Scotland. This was designed to place Charles 1's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, on the throne, but it is crushed and Argyll is executed. Duke of Monmouth rebels against James but is defeated at Sedgemoor. Monmouth is captured, tried and executed. Edict of Nantes which resulted in thousands of Huguenot craftworkers and traders settling in England.

1686 - James takes first measures to restore Catholicism in England.

1687 - Nell Gwynne dies in London at the age of 37.

1688 - Declaration of Indulgence suspends all laws against Catholics and non-Conformists. Mary of Modena gives birth to James Edward, a Catholic heir for James. Seven leading statesmen invite William of Orange, son-in-law of James, to England to restore English liberties. William lands at Torbay (5 November) and advances on London. James abdicates and after one failed attempt to escape (11 December) flees into exile in France (22 December).

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