James Francis Edward Stuart lived from 10 June 1688 to 1 January 1766. He was the son of James VII/II and Mary of Modena, and in the Jacobite peerage was referred to as "Prince James" until he became James VIII/III of Great Britain on the death of his father on 16 September 1701. However, his father had been deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1689 in favour of William and Mary, and James Francis Edward was never to rule, being known to many in Britain as "The Pretender" or, after the birth of his son, Charles Edward Stuart, "The Old Pretender" to distinguish between the two. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
It was the very fact of Prince James' birth in 1688 that helped bring about the crisis in the reign of James VII/II. James had two grown-up daughters from his first marriage, Mary and Anne, who had been brought up as Protestants. James VII/II's Catholicism caused deep disquiet in a nation that was virulently anti-Catholic, but people would probably have lived with it so long as they knew that next in line to the throne was a Protestant. The birth of Prince James suddenly raised the spectre of a Catholic dynasty and was one of the key factors leading to the "Glorious Revolution" that placed William and Mary on the throne and James VII/II's exile to France.
Prince James was brought up in France, and on the death of his father was recognised by the France, Spain, the Papal States and Modena as James VIII/III. Louis XIV of France had been unable to prevent the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707, but saw James Francis Edward as his best chance of weakening the Union. On 23 March 1708 a French fleet tried to land James on the Fife shore of the Firth of Forth at the head of a 5,000-strong French army. They were prevented from doing so by a squadron of English warships under Admiral Byng. The French admiral in charge of the fleet called off the attempt, refusing James' please to be put ashore, alone if necessary. James returned to France.
By 1711, sympathy for the Jacobites was growing in Britain, and a new Tory administration made contact with James in France, to offer him the throne in succession to his half-sister Queen Anne if he converted to Protestantism. James refused to accept the crown on this basis.
Queen Anne died in 1714 and was succeeded by King George I of Hanover: effectively the nearest non-Catholic successor available. John Erskine, 22nd Earl of Mar, who had held high government position under Anne was not liked by George, and responded on 1 September 1715 by raising a standard for James VIII at Braemar. He rapidly gathered an enthusiastic army of 10,000 men and started to gain considerable ground in northern Scotland. There were three main problems with all of this. The first was that Mar had neglected to tell James in advance of his planned uprising; the second was that he had failed to coordinate his actions with Jacobite uprisings that by coincidence occurred in England; and the third was that Mar was a very poor general.
James had another problem. Under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Louis XIV had agreed to expel James from France and to offer him no further support. James appealed for French help for the 1715 uprising, but was rejected by Louis. In the event, it was as much as James could do to get to Scotland at all, where he finally landed in Peterhead on 22 December. But it was too late. The key Battle of Sheriffmuir had taken place on 13 November. Mar's forces probably just about won on the day, but he failed to take advantage of the open road that lay to the south, and withdrew. By the times James met Mar in Perth on 9 January 1716, the uprising was effectively already over, and on 4 February 1716 James sailed out of Montrose, bound for France, where he remained unwelcome. James subsequently settled in Rome.
There were two further attempts to win the crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland for The Old Pretender. In March 1719, the Spanish launched what amounted to a second armada, 29 ships and 5,000 troops, plus arms for 30,000 English Jacobites, all bound for southern England. The fleet ran into violent weather before it had left Spanish waters and the expedition evaporated. Well, most of it did: 2 frigates carrying 327 crack Spanish troops were able to launch what was intended to be a diversionary attack in western Scotland, landing in Glen Shiel and, alongside Scottish Jacobites, capturing Eilean Donan Castle. In the absence of the main attack on England, it was only a matter of time until the Spanish and their Jacobite supporters in Scotland were overcome by government forces, which they were at the Battle of Glen Shiel on 10 June 1719.
And then, in 1744, the French planned a major invasion of England to replace the newly crowned George II with James VIII/III. The invasion was to be combined, as the Spanish had planned in 1719, with a diversionary attack on Scotland. Again the weather proved decisive, and the French attack did not take place. In frustration, James Francis Edward Stuart's son, Charles Edward Stuart, who had been due to take part in the French invasion, sailed to Scotland himself, and raised the standard that started the 1745 uprising on 19 August of that year. "Bonnie Prince Charlie" led the Jacobites as far south as Derby, but in one of history's great "might have beens" turned back, only to be defeated by Government forces led by the Duke of Cumberland at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746. After five months on the run, Charles finally made it back to France in late 1746.
James Francis Edward Stuart, "The Old Pretender", died in Rome on 1 January 1766. The Jacobite claim to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland passed to Charles Edward Stuart, known to Jacobites as Charles III, and to many in Great Britain as "The Young Pretender". When Charles died in Rome on 31 January 1788, his claim to the thrones passed in turn to his brother, Henry Benedict Stuart.