James VII/II lived from 14 October 1633 to 16 September 1701. He became King James VII of Scots and King James II of England and Ireland on 6 February 1685. He (arguably) ceased to be King of England on 22 January 1689; of Scotland on 4 April 1689; and of Ireland when he fled the country after the Battle of the Boyne on 1 July 1690. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
James Stuart, Duke of York and Duke of Albany, was the younger son of Charles I and younger brother of Charles II. He escaped to Holland after the English Civil War and in the 1650s served with both the French and Spanish armies. After the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, James became Lord High Admiral and commanded the Royal Navy during the Second (1665–1667) and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars (1672–1674). After its capture by the English in 1664, the Dutch territory of New Netherland was renamed New York in his honour; and Fort Orange, 150 miles up the Hudson River, was renamed Albany in honour of his main Scottish title.
In 1660 James married his first wife, Lady Anne Hyde. They had a number of children, but only two daughters survived, Mary and Anne, both of whom were brought up as Protestants and both of whom would go on to become Queens of England, Scotland and Ireland.
James and Anne Hyde both converted to Roman Catholicism in 1667, though his conversion was not made public until James resigned from the post of Lord High Admiral in 1673 rather than swear an anti-Catholic oath under the terms of Parliament's new "Test Acts". Lady Anne Hyde died in 1671, and in 1673 James married the Catholic Mary of Modena: who many in England came to view as an agent of the Pope.
All of this mattered greatly to a virulently anti-Catholic nation because Charles II, although fathering many illegitimate children, had been unable to produce a legitimate heir: meaning that the Catholic James was next in line to the throne. Parliament responded by trying to pass the Exclusion Bill, which would have debarred James from the succession. Each time it came up for debate, Charles II dissolved Parliament, before finally ruling as an absolute monarch from 1681. Public support for Charles II grew (and the dislike of James eased) after the failed Rye House Plot of 1683, a Protestant plan to assassinate both of them on their way back to London from the races at Newmarket.
Charles II died, still without legitimate offspring, on 6 February 1685, to be succeeded by James VII/II. The succession was challenged by Charles II's eldest illegitimate son, the Protestant Duke of Monmouth in what became known as the Monmouth Rebellion. James defeated Monmouth at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 6 July 1685, and Monmouth was subsequently executed, along with many of his supporters. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Earl of Argyll landed at Campbeltown with 300 Dutch troops on 20 May 1685 in a separate attempted uprising against James. This also swiftly failed.
James quickly confirmed the worst fears of many of the Protestants in his Kingdoms, reversing strong anti-Catholic discrimination and placing Catholics in senior positions in government, the army and the academic world. On 4 April 1687 James codified his views in the Declaration of Indulgence or the Declaration for the Liberty of Conscience. The apparent aim was to establish freedom of religion in James' kingdoms, though it may equally have been calculated to appeal to Protestant dissenters: whatever its true aims, it was perceived by mainstream Protestants as an assault on their dominance.
Matters came to a head in 1688. In April, the Archbishop of Canterbury and six other Bishops petitioned James, requesting he review his religious policies. He responded by arresting them and putting them on trial for seditious libel. James' credibility took a severe knock when the Bishops were subsequently acquitted. And then on 10 June, Mary of Modena gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward Stuart, and Protestants found themselves looking at the prospect of a Catholic dynasty.
On 30 June 1688 a group of Protestant nobles asked William, Prince of Orange, by now married to James' elder daughter Mary, to come to England with an army to overthrow James. James was confident he would prevail, and turned down offers of military assistance from Louis XIV of France. But when William of Orange landed in Brixham in south-west England on 5 November 1688 at the start of the "Glorious Revolution", much of James' army switched allegiance to him; and even James' younger daughter Anne came out in support of William and Mary. On 11 December 1688, James VII/II tried to escape to France. He was caught in Kent, but William allowed him to leave on 23 December 1688. James was welcomed by Louis XIV, who offered him a palace and a large pension.
William called a Convention Parliament in England, which on 22 January 1689 declared that by attempting to flee his country, James had abdicated the throne, leaving it vacant. And instead of the crown passing to James' young Catholic son, James Francis Edward Stuart, they decided it should go to his Protestant daughter, Mary II, who would rule jointly with her husband, who would become William III of England. In March 1689, a Scottish Convention met in Edinburgh to decide the future of the Scottish Crown. Opinions were fairly evenly divided and for a while it was possible that James VII might be declared the rightful King of Scots. However, the well established Stuart trait of doing exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time came to the fore again, and when an arrogant and threatening letter he had written to the Scottish Convention was considered alongside a courteous and reasoned letter from William, it fatally undermined James' support. On 4 April 1689 William II of Scotland and Mary II were declared joint monarchs of Scotland.
This marked the birth of the Jacobite cause among those who claimed that James and his descendants were (indeed, still are) the rightful Kings of England, Scotland and Ireland. The movement took its name from the Latin form of James, Jacobus. Over the following century efforts by the Jacobites to regain power would lead to frequent unrest, especially in Scotland, and eventually to the suppression of the entire Highland way of life. The first Jacobite uprising in Scotland, under the leadership of Viscount Dundee, began almost immediately, on 27 July 1689.
Jacobitism also had repercussions in Ireland, where James landed with a French army in March 1690, taking advantage of the fact that the Irish Parliament still considered him to be King. On 1 July 1690, James was defeated by forces under the command of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne. Although his army remained reasonably intact after the battle, James fled to France, leaving his Jacobite supporters to fight on (and lose) without him.
Back in France, James lived in the royal chateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. A plot by James to assassinate William III/II in 1696 failed, and in the same year Louis XIV removed support for James, after his offer to make James King of Poland had been rejected. James died in 1701. The Jacobite claim to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland passed to his son James Francis Edward Stuart, known to Jacobites as James VIII/III, and to many in Britain as "The Pretender" or, later, "The Old Pretender" to distinguish him from his son Charles Edward Stuart, "The Young Pretender" or "Bonnie Prince Charlie": who in Jacobite eyes was rightfully Charles III.