Contrasting King James II and His Remorseless Girls

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 16, 2003 | Go to article overview

Contrasting King James II and His Remorseless Girls


Byline: Stephanie Deutsch, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The young British historian Maureen Waller reveals a good deal about her latest book with its title. The subject is England's "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, when King James II, son of the beheaded Charles I, fled in the face of mounting opposition and threats of invasion from his nephew, Prince William of Orange, while his daughters, first Mary, then Anne, displaced him and their infant half-brother in the succession to the throne.

A significant step on the road from absolute monarchy to the largely ceremonial royalty of today, these events also marked the last major gasp of Britain's religious upheavals. But this book is not political analysis charting the evolution of the relationship between rulers and ruled, nor is it primarily focused on the bitter struggle between the Catholicism of James and his daughters' Protestant faith. No, this is a family drama reported with a keen ear for delicious, gossipy detail and a satisfying willingness to take sides.

Whatever role they may have played historically, the women who became Queen Mary II (of William and Mary) and Queen Anne (of the chairs) were, in Maureen Waller's view, "Ungrateful Daughters: the Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown."

For the reader whose memory of European history has grown dim, the initial pages of "Ungrateful Daughters" may be a bit daunting. A family tree showing the complex inter-connections among the royal families of England, France, Denmark, Spain and less familiar states is followed by a "Cast of Characters in the Royal Family" in which there are multiple Charleses, Jameses, Annes and Marys with Williams and Louis and even a Prince Rupert of the Rhine tossed in.

The reader would do well to pay attention rather to the table of contents that precedes these materials; the enormous body of information is well organized there. The first section, "The Family," profiles the major players in the drama from each one's childhood up to the critical moment in 1688 when the unexpected birth of a son to Catholic King James II precipitated a crisis.

Parts Two and Three, "The Revolution," and "Consequences," carry the story forward through the rumors that the queen's announced pregnancy was a ruse and that the child she bore was an imposter, smuggled into the royal bedchamber in a bed-warming pan, to James's flight to France, the coronation of William and Mary, the falling out between the two sisters, the deaths of first William, then Mary, and Anne's coronation, reign and death at age 49.

The family portrait begins with Queen Mary Beatrice who had married James when she was a well-educated Italian princess of 15 and he was the widowed 40-year-old heir apparent to the throne. A sweet, dignified woman, she bore James several children (most of whom died) and became fond, too, of his daughters by his first wife, Mary and Anne, who were just a few years younger than she.

Mary was tall and beautiful and said to resemble her great-great-grandmother, the tragic Mary, Queen of Scots; Anne was plagued with bad eyesight and a stubborn disposition.

When their parents, James and his first wife, a commoner, had injudiciously converted to Catholicism, Mary and Anne, who were then second and third in line for the throne after their father, were made wards of the state. They were brought up as Protestants and both were firmly devoted to that faith throughout their lives.

Their father had never recovered from the shock of the execution of his father, king Charles I, in 1649, when he was 15. James was "diligent but not very bright and had little imagination"; he was also "obstinate and opinionated" and terrified of opposition, traits which, later, contributed to his downfall.

When he finally became king in 1685 on the death of his brother, he unwisely flaunted his Catholicism and alienated the Anglican establishment. …

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