Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Happy Birthday to the Last Catholic Queen of England

Mary Beatrice of Modena was born on October 5, 1658. She was the second wife of James, the Duke of York; they married in 1673. He was 25 years older than she and indeed presented her to his children as their new playmate! Charles II allowed his brother and heir to marry an Italian Catholic princess, but demanded that the children of James' first wife, Anne Hyde (who herself had become Catholic) continue to be raised an Anglicans. The succession was already under stress because of James's conversion to Catholicism and word of further Catholic heirs would encourage greater opposition in Parliament.

And that, of course, is ultimately what happened! During the course of the Exclusionist Crisis and the Popish Plot, the Catholic Duke and Duchess of York endured exile in Brussels and Edinburgh. When Charles II died, James came to the throne as James II/VII, King of England, Ireland and Scotland, although he had to defend the succession against a rebellion by the Duke of Monmouth, Charles's favorite illegitimate son.
After several pregnancies ended in miscarriage or death in infancy, Mary Beatrice finally bore James II a son and heir in 1688. As the Catholic Prince of Wales, James Francis Edward would displace his Anglican half-sisters.

After the Glorious Revolution, James II and Mary Beatrice lived in the Chateau at St. Germain-en-Laye, guests of King Louis XIV. Their daughter Louise Mary was born there in 1692 and she also died there in 1712.

Queen Mary Beatrice was popular at Versailles, noted for her wit and charm. When James II died in 1701, she became the regent for James III/VIII, proclaimed by some as the rightful King of England, Ireland, and Scotland.

Like her late husband, Mary Beatrice turned to more spiritual matters later in life, often visiting the Convent of the Visitations in Chaillot where one of King Louis XIV's former mistresses, the repentant Louise de la Valliere had sought refuge. She died of cancer on May 7, 1718, alone in France as James Francis Edward was exiled after France recongized the Hanoverian succession in the Treaty of Utrecht.
Some in France called her a saint; she had certainly endured many vissicitudes: exile, the unfaithfulness of her husband, little babies dying, widowhood, the loss of her daughter, and separation from her son--and by all reports, Queen Mary Beatrice responded to these sorrows by relying on prayer and her Catholic faith.


  1. How different things might have gone if Anne Hyde's daughters, Mary and Anne had been reared Roman Catholic. Instead they betrayed their own father King James II. Sad.

  2. Well, he did call them his "Ungrateful Daughters!"

  3. Maybe, but Queen Anne turned out to be a bit of a strange one, so it still may not have turned out well, even if she were Catholic.

    Her father's only redeeming feature seems to be that he was Catholic but not a very good one, certainly not politic like his brother Charles. He fuelled Protestant & Puritan fears, hence the infamous legislation forbidding Catholics from inheriting the throne.

  4. aelred patrick, I think James II had more redeeming features than that! he was offering true freedom of religious conscience to all his subjects, not just Catholics. It was the birth of a Catholic heir that really fueled Anglican fears.