<< Back to full list of biographies
James was the third son of Charles I (1600-1649) and his French queen Henrietta Maria (1609-1669). He was created Duke of York in his infancy and was known by this title until he inherited the throne. He was taken prisoner in 1646 when his father surrendered to the Parliamentarians, and escaped to Holland in 1648. A year later, Charles I was executed and Britain became a republic. The Duke of York remained in exile on the Continent until the monarchy was restored in 1660 under his elder brother Charles II (1630-1685).
In 1660 the Duke of York made a secret marriage with Anne Hyde (1637-1671), daughter of the royalist Sir Edward Hyde (1609-1674), who was created Earl of Clarendon in 1661. They had two surviving daughters: Mary (1662-1694), who married William, Prince of Orange (1650-1702) in 1677; and Anne (1665-1714), who married Prince George of Denmark (1653-1708) in 1683. Their four sons, Charles (1660-1661), James (1663-1667), another Charles (1666-1667), and Edgar (1667-1671), plus two further daughters, died in infancy.
The Duke of York served as Lord High Admiral from 1660 to 1673. He resigned in protest at the passing of the Test Act, which barred Catholics from positions of power. In the same year, he married his second wife, the Catholic Mary Beatrice of Modena (1658-1718). His own Roman Catholicism, and the extent to which he would promote his faith at the expense of Protestantism should he come to the throne, was regarded with suspicion by many politicians and members of the public. Two Exclusion Bills were introduced into Parliament in 1679-1680, which aimed at excluding the Duke of York from the succession in favour of Charles II's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth.
Charles died on 6 February 1685 and the Duke of York ascended to the throne as James II of England and Ireland, and James VIII of Scotland. A rebellion by the Duke of Monmouth was put down, and the conspirators executed. In 1687 James issued his Declaration of Indulgence, which allowed Catholics and dissenting Protestants full political and religious rights. It was re-issued in 1688, and James ordered it to be read in public in every church in the land. Seven bishops who petitioned James against the Declaration were brought to trial accused of seditious libel. In the midst of this atmosphere of suspicion, the queen gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward (1688-1766) who would be brought up a Catholic and succeed to the throne in due course.
The birth of an heir prompted final arrangements for an invasion by William, Prince of Orange, ruler of the Netherlands, and the husband of James’s elder daughter Mary. He had been invited by a group of Protestant politicians and nobles. William’s fleet set sail in October 1688, and landed at Torbay on 5 November. Losing the support of most of the nobility, and with much of his army having deserted, James fled to France on 23 December 1688. William and Mary were crowned as joint monarchs of England on 11 April 1689. The Bill of Rights, passed in December 1689, excluded James’s son James Francis Edward, or any other Catholics, from the throne.
In 1689 James and his supporters landed in Ireland. They were defeated at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and he spent the rest of his life in exile in France.