James II’s first two daughters are rightfully famous and they grew up to be queen regnants of Great Britain who collectively reigned from 1688 to 1714 as the last Stuart monarchs. They are perhaps best known, however, for benefiting from their father’s dethronement during the Glorious Revolution which saw him forced into exile while his daughter, Mary, and son-in-law, William of Orange, were asked to rule instead. His problem was one of faith, for James had converted to Catholicism as an adult. Had his second marriage to yet another Catholic remained infertile it’s possible he could have kept his crown, but the 1688 birth of a son made his rule intolerable to the Protestant English.
He and his wife, Mary of Modena, ended up in France at Louis XIV’s court at Versailles. The French king gave his royal guests use of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, not too far outside of Paris. It was there, on the 28th of June 1692 that Mary gave birth to a daughter, Louisa Maria Stuart.
The birth of a healthy child, after the birth and survival of her elder brother, James Francis Edward Stuart, was slightly ironic. James II and Mary had been married since 1673 and struggled for years to produce healthy children. At the time that she produced a male heir, Mary had suffered two miscarriage, three stillbirths and had lost five children in infancy. Yet, the couple was clearly capable of procreating and as they settled into exiled life, they at least had the comfort of their two youngest children.
At the time of James Francis Edward’s birth, there was such disbelief that the Queen had given birth to a healthy son that a rumor had spread that he was a changeling – that the Queen’s dead infant had been swapped for a healthy servant’s baby and was meant to be passed off as a prince to secure a Catholic succession. So strong were the roots of this story that as Mary prepared to welcome Louisa Maria, James sent a letter to his eldest daughter, now Mary II, and a number of other Protestant women to witness the birth and vouch for the baby’s legitimacy.
No one came, least of all the British queen. The bizarreness of the situation, and the questionable legitimacy of a daughter replacing her living father on the throne, was very much appreciated by the whole of Europe. Frankly, the only thing that would have made it weirder would have been for Mary II to decamp to France to witness the birth of a half-sister, implying that her brother was also legitimate and thus had a better blood claim to the throne (which he did).
Nevertheless, the infant was duly christened, during which her father declared she was a consolation to her parents following their harrowing experience in the Glorious Revolution. The comment stuck: for years, Louisa Maria was known as “La Consolatric.”
For the first nine years of her life she resided with her parents in their chateau, however in September 1701 James II passed away. To his youngest daughter, he said:
Adieu, my dear child. Serve your creator in the days of your youth. Consider virtue as the greatest ornament of your sex. Follow close the great pattern of it, your mother, who has been, no less than myself, over-clouded with calumny. But time, the mother of truth, will, I hope, at last make her virtues shine as bright as the sun.
Her brother was duly acknowledged to be the King of England, Scotland and Ireland by the Catholic heads of state, however it did little to alter the reality of their situation. In England, Mary II had died in 1694 and her husband, William III, ruled solo until his own death in 1702. Queen Anne ascended the throne and, while married to a Protestant, her marriage had also been plagued by infertility and infant mortality. The succession was mapped out so that the throne passed to the next Protestant, which meant that Anne’s older German cousin, Sophia of Palatine, became her heir. There was little possibility of bringing back the Catholic Stuarts in France.
As Louisa Maria grew into adolescence she was a popular figure at Versailles, where she was honored as the daughter and sister of a king. She attended the opera, balls and was doted on by Louis XIV. Two possible matches emerged during this time, one to the French Duke of Berry and another to King Charles XII of Sweden. The latter fell through since Charles was a staunch Protestant.
Followers of James II and his son were known as Jacobites and many had left England following the events of 1688 in protest. Most were Catholics, but some were Protestants who disagreed with the way the revolution had taken place, arguing against its legality. The Stuarts were acutely aware of the sacrifice their followers had made and Louisa Maria, in particular, is known to have paid for the education of the daughters from these families.
In 1711 the family’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when the Treaty of Utrecht reached with France dictated the removal of James Francis Edward from France. Mary of Modena found out at the Convent of the Visitations, situated just outside of Paris, where she often sought religious comfort with her daughter.
However, before the young man could be expelled, both Stuart siblings fell ill with smallpox and only James Francis Edward survived. Louisa Maria passed away on April 28th at the age of 19 and was buried on the grounds of the family’s chateau. At the time of her death one French nobleman wrote:
“My Lord, I send to you by these the sad and deplorable news of the much lamented death of the Princess Royal of England who died of the smallpox the 18th of this month at St Germains who as she was one of the greatest ornaments of that afflicted court, so she was the admiration of all Europe; never Princess was so universally regretted. Her death has filled all France with sighs, groans and tears. She was a Princess of a majestical mien and port; every motion spoke grandeur, every action was easy and without any affectation or meanness, and proclaim’d her a heroine descended from the long race of so many paternal and maternal heroes…”
After recovering from his illness, James Francis Edward left France for Italy and Mary of Modena was left alone. She lived out another six years in the convent before passing away. She is buried near her daughter.
In 1714, Queen Anne, would also die. She was succeeded by the eldest son of Sophia of Palatine, George of Hanover, who became George I. James Francis Edward, however, not only continued to live, but married and had two sons of his own, continuing the alternate royal line. He finally died in 1766 in Rome, well into the reign of George III. It wouldn’t be until the passing of his last descendant that the Jacobite shadow fully lifted off the British Royal Family – one of George III’s daughters even stated that until that point she had always felt guilty over her family’s holding of the crown.
For more, see From Normandy to Windsor.