Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Marital Adventures of James II

Marriage with Anne Hyde

James Stuart, Duke of York, was the third child of Charles I &, for all of his brother Charles II’s reign, heir to the thrones of England & Scotland. From the age of 15 James had spent his live in exile, having escaped the country dressed as a girl. He did not return to England until May 1660, when Charles was restored to the throne, over 18 months after the death of the Protector, Oliver Cromwell. James was now 27. Much of his time in exile had been spent in France and fighting with Turenne’s armies.

James Duke of York and Anne Hyde
Like his brother James was a womaniser. In 1656 James met Anne Hyde, a maid of honour to his sister, the dowager Princess of Orange. Anne was the daughter of Sir Edward Hyde, an adviser to the king in exile. Their meeting occurred during a visit by Princess Mary, to her mother’s court in exile, Queen Henrietta Maria.

During the following three years James courted Anne during his frequent visits to his sister’s court in Breda. His brother Charles too visited his sister, who was funding his exile, from her son’s inheritance. Princess Mary was attracted to one of Charles’ courtiers, but Charles ended the relationship between his sister and Harry Jermyn, after a blazing row with Mary. He ignored James relationship with Anne, if indeed he even knew about it.

James later claimed that he was trapped into marriage by Anne, who fended off his attentions until he had agreed to marry her. Anne, for her part, claimed that for over a year James promised to marry her and that they contracted to marry at Breda on 24th November 1659. James was happy enough with his new bed-fellow and Anne became pregnant by late January, early February 1660.

But in the spring of 1660 Charles was offered his father’s throne, making James the heir to the kingdoms of England and Scotland; an alternative future where Anne would not be welcome. By the time James and Charles returned to England in May, Anne was noticeably pregnant and her father was furious, as were James’ mother and sister. Sir Edward, who was to be made Earl of Clarendon the following year, demanded that Charles throw his pregnant daughter into the Tower, telling his daughter he wished she were dead.

James was now encouraged to throw Anne off. Some of James’ friends claimed that they too had slept with the young woman, in a bid to relieve James of responsibility for the child’s paternity. Some sources say that James himself insisted on the marriage, but others claim that it was Charles who demanded that James fulfil his promises.   

On 3rd September 1660 the heir to the throne married Mistress Anne Hyde in a hole-in-the-wall ceremony at the Hyde family home, Worcester House. James’ chaplain conducted the ceremony, which was attended by Lord Ossory, who gave the bride away and the bride’s maid. Anne’s baby was born on 22nd October, but died on 5th May the following year.

‘I hear tonight that the Duke of Yorkes son is this day dead, which I believe will please everybody; and I hear that the Duke and his Lady themselves are not much troubled at it.’[i]

Anne was recognised by the Privy Council as Duchess of York on 18th February 1661, over six weeks after her son Charles, Duke of Cambridge, was christened, with his uncle Charles and parental grandmother as Godparents. Charles was the first of numerous pregnancies and it was not until April 1662 that the Lady Mary Stuart was born. In 1663 James, Duke of Cambridge was born, their sister Anne followed two years later in February 1665 and Charles, Duke of Kendal was born in July 1666. In 1667 the York family lost both their sons, but in September of that year Edgar, Duke of Cambridge was born.

James’ desire for his wife soon faded and Anne took comfort in food and elaborate dresses; while her husband dallied with a series of mistresses. Despite a roving eye, James was a loving father to his brood, particularly to his eldest daughter.

‘With the Duke. And saw him with great pleasure play with his little girle – like an ordinary private father of a child.’[ii] 

Anne died on 10th April 1671, possibly from breast cancer. She was followed to the grave shortly afterward by Edgar, who died in June. Sometime before her death Anne had secretly converted to Catholicism and in 1672 James too converted, although he continued to attend the services of the Church of England. Mary and Anne had been brought up as staunch Protestants, ensuring the Protestant Succession. James’ leanings towards Catholicism had been noted by Samuel Pepys as early as 1661;

‘He being a professed friend to the Catholiques.’[iii]

Marriage with Mary of Modena
It took two years for James to find a second bride. He was desperate to produce a male heir, to inherit the kingdom after himself. Charles was obviously not going to have children with his wife Catherine of Braganza, despite his fourteen bastards, and he refused to divorce her. James originally desired to marry the Protestant Lady Bellasyse, but Charles forbad the marriage as the lady was not Royal.

James entrusted the Earl of Peterborough with the task of searching out a bride from the available Catholic princesses of Europe. The beautiful and rich Princess Claudia of Innsbruck was the first favourite, but James’ prospects paled before those of another suitor – the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I. The two other main favourites were the 15 year old Princess Mary Beatrice, daughter of the Duke of Modena and her 20 year old aunt Leonora. Both of the princesses wished to take the veil, but Peterborough was entranced by Mary Beatrice’s fragile beauty and recommended her. The prospective bride spent the next two days in hysterics. She was possibly consoled by a letter from the Pope:

‘The orthodox faith reinstated by you in a place of honour might recover the splendour and security of former days.’[iv]

That is to say the 15 year old Mary was to be a pawn in the battle between the Protestant and Catholic religions. The marriage by proxy took place in September 1673, with Peterborough standing proxy for James. On her first night in England crowds marched through the streets with an effigy of the Pope, which was then burnt on a bonfire.  The bride burst into tears on the first meeting with her husband to be – James was forty, had a cruel expression and stammered when nervous. The wedding itself took place in Dover on 21st November.

James introduced the new Duchess of York to Anne and Mary as a playfellow and the three girls did play together. But Mary was barely out of the schoolroom herself and was unhappy:

‘I cannot yet accustom myself to this state of life .... therefore I cry a great deal and am much afflicted, not being able to rid myself of my melancholy.’[v]

She was also in a cold, foreign country and far from her family. It took time for Mary to fall in love with her husband. Her first child was born on 10th January 1675; Catherine Laura lived until October, dying of convulsions. A second child, Isabella was born in August 1676. Mary’s next child was Charles, Duke of Cambridge, born in November 1677, but the baby was less than a month old when he died of smallpox, caught from his half-sister Anne who was visiting his mother; unfortunately Anne was still infectious. Then came Elizabeth in 1678, dying the same year. Isabella died in March 1681. Charlotte was born in August 1682, but died of convulsions in October.

Mary did not give birth to any more children for several years. It was not until late September, early October in 1687 when she fell pregnant again. By then James had succeeded to his brother’s throne and was introducing pro-Catholic legislation. The Protestant Succession had seemed secure since the death of the Duke of Cambridge in 1677. Now Queen Mary could give birth to a Prince of Wales, introducing the possibility that the king might be encouraged to overturn the supremacy of the Church of England. Memories of Mary Tudor’s counter-Reformation activities were still strong in Protestant England and fears of a return to Catholicism were paramount. A paranoid population waited until June the next year to discover that Mary’s baby was a boy. The scene was set for a revolution.


The Later Stuarts 1660-1744 – Sir George Clark, Oxford University Press 1985

Queen Anne – Edward Gregg, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980

William and Mary – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 2003

The Shorter Pepys – ed. Robert Latham, Penguin 1987

William and Mary – John Miller, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1974

The Life & Times of Charles II – Christopher Falkus, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1972

William and Mary - Henri & Barbara van der Zee, History Book Club 1973

[i] Samuel Pepys – 5th May 1661
[ii] Samuel Pepys -11th September 1664
[iii] Samuel Pepys – 18th February 1661
[iv] William and Mary - Henri & Barbara van der Zee
[v] Queen Anne – Edward Gregg

1 comment:

  1. The sort of marital adventures that remind one that marital is an anagram of martial...