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James Francis Edward Stuart

(1688—1766) Jacobite claimant to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland


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B. 10 June 1688, s. of James II and Mary of Modena; m. Maria Clementina, da. of James Sobiewski, 28 May 1719; issue: Charles Edward, Henry; d. 1 Jan. 1766, bur. St Peter's, Rome.

James Stuart, ‘the Old Pretender’, is one of the submerged characters of British history. He was ‘the warming-pan baby’ of 1688, whose birth precipitated James II's downfall, and was taken by his mother to France in December. He remained all his life a devoted catholic, refusing to change his religion for political advantage. On the death of his father in September 1701, he was declared king as James III and VIII, and recognized by Louis XIV. His main attempt to recapture the throne came in the winter of 1715 when he spent six weeks in Scotland. Cold and disconsolate, the impression he created was not heartening; ‘our men asked if he could speak’, wrote one Jacobite. His marriage to a granddaughter of John Sobiewski was not successful and his wife left him after five years. He was a spectator of the gallant effort by his son Charles in 1745–6, and fell subsequently into a pious melancholy. The poet Thomas Gray saw him in Rome in 1740 and was disparaging: ‘a thin, ill-made man, extremely tall and awkward, of a most unpromising countenance, a good deal resembling King James the Second, and has extremely the air and look of an idiot, particularly when he laughs or prays. The first he does not often, the latter continually.’

James Francis Edward Stuart. The ‘Old Pretender’ spent all his life in exile, save for six unpleasant weeks in Scotland in the winter of 1715–16, when he caught a heavy cold. Source: © Antonio David/ The Bridgeman Art Library/ Getty Images

Subjects: British History.


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