I don’t know how many of you saw the recent film, “The Favourite,” but I did, and while I liked it, I also think it’s worth digging into what truth the story captured, and where they took some poetic license. The story follows a theoretical love triangle between Queen Anne and two members of her household, the Duchess of Marlborough and Lady Masham. All three women, of course, existed, and while we can never know for certain what happened behind closed doors, there is a long paper trail that follows this trio, so let’s dig in.
In March 1688, Queen Mary Beatrice was six months pregnant, raising the possibility that she would produce a Catholic son and heir for her husband, James II. By then, James had sat on the throne for a little over three years, his Catholicism barely tolerated by the majority of his government and the English people on the grounds that his heir was his Protestant daughter, Mary, who was married to the equally Protestant Prince William of Orange.
Worried about what the birth of a prince would mean politically, three Englishmen – Arthur Herbert and William and Edward Russell – traveled to The Hague and proposed to William of Orange that he “invade” England and “rescue” the country from the threat of papacy. On June 10, the Queen delivered a healthy son and on June 30, Herbert again arrived in Holland, this time with the Earls of Devonshire, Danby and Shrewsbury, Richard Lumley, Edward Russell, Henry Sidney and Dr Compton, Bishop of London, to request that William “save” them.
Mary Beatrice of Modena was only queen for a brief and volatile three years, but she bears the notable moniker of being the last Catholic to wear the crown, her husband, James II, serving as the last Catholic monarch. Born in Italy, her career in England was marred by growing religious paranoia and hysteria, accusations of her son being a “changeling” and exile. She would live through the reigns of her two stepdaughters – Mary II and Queen Anne – and in fact outlive them both, surviving to see the first four years of the German House of Hanover in England despite her son biding his time in exile. Today we’re going to take a look at her time as Duchess of York and queen.
The Stuarts’ relationship with Catholicism is fascinating, but not wholly surprising. The founder of the royal House in England was James I, who succeeded the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, in 1603. He originated in Scotland, the great-great-grandson of Henry VII and son of Elizabeth’s bested rival, Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary’s Catholicism – alongside her poor marital choices, gender and foreignness – lost her her crown and James’s Protestantism, even if sincere, was hardly a choice.
His faith ensured his place in the English succession, a point he reinforced by marrying the Protestant princess, Anne of Denmark, thus ensuring a Protestant heir. It spoke to anti-Catholic feeling in England – and Scotland, for that matter – but it’s worth noting the larger power balance in Europe. France and Spain, England’s true peers on the continental stage, remained Catholic. England was continually in and out of war with Spain, wounds which were very much wrapped up in the Reformation, from Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon, to the earnest desire of their daughter, Mary I, to marry King Philip II and deliver England back to Rome. Elizabeth I began her reign with tolerance, but as the decades wore on, she moved further and further away from appeasement, religion the source of nearly every plot and rebellion against her.
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.