Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Last Years of the Last Catholic Queen Consort of England

Queen Mary Beatrice of Modena died on May 7, 1718--after living in exile since the "Glorious" Revolution of 1688. She had known great trouble throughout her life after marrying James, the Duke of York. Exiled during the Popish Plot and the Exclusionist Crisis in 1678, she had endured her husband's affairs, including one with Catherine Sedley even as they were in exile. She, like Catherine of Aragon before her, had also experienced several pregnancies that ended in miscarriages, stillbirths, or infant death. Finally, she bore her son James Francis Edward Stuart, and her success led their final exile and fall--or at least, was a contributing cause because the English feared a Catholic heir--so off she and her infant son went to exile in France. Then James II joined her, with his Court in exile, at St. Germain-en-Laye.

She served briefly as her son's regent when James II died in 1701 and would not accede to Scottish demands that her son, James III, renounce Catholicism for the throne of Scotland--but compromised on restrictions of the number of Catholic priests in England and leaving the Church of England intact when he should succeed William of Orange. Perhaps Mary of Modena erred in not allowing the young king to go Scotland in 1702 and she ended her regency when he turned 16.

Mary of Modena remained at St. Germain-en-Laye but also spent time at the Convent of the Visitation nuns at Chaillot in Paris (destroyed, of course). She had wanted to be a nun before her marriage in 1673 and thus her attraction to the convent, where she met the former mistress of Louis XIV, Louise de la Valliere. Her daughter Louisa Maria had been born in France in 1692, but died in 1711 of smallpox--and the loss her daughter, along with the departure of her son after the Treaty of Utrecht removed French support of his claim to the throne, devastated her. She was buried in the Convent of the Visitation and thus her grave has been lost.

The Tablet, perhaps in less bitter days, published this review of Carola Oman's The Saintly Queen Mary of Modena in 1962:

The Queen Consorts of England were for the most part nonentities but two were, and are still, candidates for at least beatification, and for the same reason—the source of their holiness was the Sacrament of Marriage, Catherine of Aragon in defence of the bond, Mary of Modena in devotion to it. To the shame of the nation, each was discarded for opposite reasons, Catherine for failing to provide a male heir (she lost two in infancy) and Mary for, at long last, succeeding—she had four miscarriages and lost three girls and a boy in infancy before the birth of James Francis Edward, on Trinity Sunday, 1688. His survival, against all odds, secured the Catholic Succession and that tipped the scales, already heavily weighted by his father's indiscreet zeal for the Faith. James II had to go. It had been said of his grandfather, Henri IV, that Paris was worth a Mass. History has taken no note of the remark of the Bishop of Rheims, as he watched the exiled James come out of Notre Dame: "There is a good man, he has renounced three Kingdoms for a Mass."

No comments:

Post a Comment