James II (king of England, Scotland, and Ireland)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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James II (king of England, Scotland, and Ireland)

James II, 1633–1701, king of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1685–88); second son of Charles I, brother and successor of Charles II.

Early Life

As the young duke of York James was surrendered (1646) to the parliamentary forces at the end of the first civil war, but he escaped (1648) to the Continent and served in the French (1652–55) and Spanish (1658) armies. At the Restoration (1660) he returned to England, married Anne Hyde, daughter of the 1st earl of Clarendon, and was made lord high admiral, in which capacity he served (1665, 1672) in the Dutch Wars. Charles II granted him sweeping proprietary rights in America, and the captured Dutch settlement New Amsterdam was renamed (1664) New York in his honor.

Effect of James's Catholicism

James was converted to Roman Catholicism probably in 1668—a step that was to have grave consequences. After his resignation (1673) as admiral because of the Test Act and his marriage (1673) to the staunchly Catholic Mary of Modena (his first wife having died in 1671), he became increasingly unpopular in England. James consented to the marriage (1677) of his daughter Mary (later Mary II) to the Protestant prince of Orange (later William III), and the couple became the heirs presumptive, after James, to the English throne. In the anti-Catholic hysteria that accompanied the false accusations of Titus Oates about the Popish Plot (1678), efforts were made by the so-called Whigs to exclude James from the succession. Charles stood by his brother, preventing passage of the Exclusion Bill, but sent him out of the country. After a period as commissioner (1680–82) in Scotland, James returned to England, and particularly after the Rye House Plot (1683) his fortunes rose.

Reign

When Charles died in 1685, James succeeded peacefully to the throne. An uprising led by the duke of Monmouth was crushed (1685), but the severe reprisals of the Bloody Assizes under Baron Jeffreys of Wem added to the animosity toward James. The king favored autocratic methods, proroguing the hostile Parliament (1685), reviving the old ecclesiastical court of high commission, and interfering with the courts and with local town and county government. His principal object was to fill positions of authority and influence with Roman Catholics, and to this end he issued two declarations of indulgence (1687, 1688), suspending the laws against Catholics and dissenters.

Defiance and dislike of him grew, fed by the trial (1688) of seven bishops who had refused to read his second declaration. The birth of a son, who would have succeeded instead of the Protestant William and Mary, helped to bring the opposition to a head. William of Orange was invited to England by Whig and Tory leaders. The unpopular, autocratic, and Catholic king had few loyal followers and was unable to defend himself. He fled, was captured, and was allowed to escape to France, and William and Mary took the throne. The so-called Glorious Revolution had succeeded.

Attempts at Restoration

James made an effort to restore himself by landing in Ireland in 1689 and leading his many Catholic followers there, but the effort failed at the battle of the Boyne (1690). Other projects for restoration failed, and James's supporter, Louis XIV, recognized William III in the Treaty of Ryswick (1697). The cause of James's son and grandson was upheld later by the Jacobites long after James had died in inglorious exile.

Bibliography

See his early memoirs (tr. 1962); biographies by H. Belloc (1928, repr. 1971), F. G. Turner (1948), and V. Buranelli (1962); D. Ogg, England in the Reigns of James II and William III (1955, repr. 1969); J. P. Kenyon, The Stuarts (1958, repr. 1966); J. Childs, The Army, James II and the Glorious Revolution (1981).

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