James with his first wife and their daughters,
Mary and Anne, in happier times
Such was the case when James Duke of York, heir to his brother, King Charles II, married Mary Beatrice of Modena in 1673. Just 15 years old, the Italian princess had been chosen specifically to help the Duke father legitimate, Catholic sons to inherit the English throne. Although the 40-year-old bridegroom wrote his 11-year-old daughter Mary, that he had provided a “playfellow for her,” Mary and her eight-year-old sister Anne could hardly have been enthusiastic about this new member of the family.
Having been restored to the throne following a bloody Civil War (in which Charles’ and James’ father had been beheaded), the royal family’s role in England was hardly stable—rocked as it still was by the religious turmoil between Protestants and Catholics initiated by Henry VIII more than a century earlier. The family was outwardly and officially Protestant, but well-founded rumors abounded that both the king and his brother were secret Catholics. The English were clear, however, that they did not want a Catholic king. So, the royal family presented a Protestant front. Having no legitimate heirs of his own (although much of today’s British aristocracy is descended from his many illegitimate children), Charles II wisely decided to have his brother’s daughters raised as Protestants, diligently tutored by the Bishop of London.
For the next couple of years, the second wife had no more pregnancies and it seemed that the childless Princess Mary would be queen, followed by the very fertile Princess Anne, who was conceiving at least one child a year, although only two, Princess Marie and Princess Anne Sophia, had been born alive.
George recovered slowly and the couple once again found that they were expecting. Then, after years of waiting, Anne’s stepmother announced that she also was pregnant—the hoped-for male heir would supplant Anne and her sister in the line of succession. Anne gave birth prematurely to a dead son in late October. Distraught as she was over the deep, personal losses she had suffered in such a short period, she was highly mistrustful of her stepmother.
|Mary of Modena and young James|
She wasn’t the only one who found an excuse to stay away. Even though they were entitled to attend the queen’s delivery, scarcely any Protestant nobles and officials came. The large attendance of Catholics only helped spur the wild rumor that the new prince was actually an impostor, brought into the room in a warming pan and foisted on the nation as a threat to Protestantism.
|Anne and William|