The Stuarts. The most unlucky dynasty in Europe?

The Stuarts, who ruled Scotland from 1371 and England from 1603, were an extremely unlucky dynasty. Most of their rulers met a miserable end. Fate was particularly unkind to monarchs bearing the name of James.

Even the first king of that name, who ruled Scotland from 1406 to 1437, was taken into English captivity, where he spent most of his life, before being murdered by his own subjects, and in rather shocking circumstances.

Victims of assassins and his own stupidity

The assassins lurked in the monastery where he was staying, but the monarch, hearing the stealthy assassins creeping towards his chamber, levered the floor with a poker in order to escape through a drainpipe, which he probably would have done had he been a bit thinner. Unfortunately, he got stuck in the pipe, from which the assassins dragged him out and stabbed him with swords.

For his son and namesake, James II, fate was not kind either. In 1460, during the siege of Roxburgh Castle, the thirty-year-old sovereign was killed by an exploding cannon. Ironically, moments earlier he had had it fired in honor of his wife, who had just arrived. Frankly, he had himself to blame if he looked down the barrel. And because the big gun was called the Lion, his soldiers later said that the Lion had bitten his master.

The son of this “Lion-bitten” king, James III, in a way followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and was killed [in 1488] by rebellious magnates. The assassin was brought to him by the owner of the mill, convinced that he was leading a priest, as the conspirator disguised himself as a priest. James III was less than thirty-seven years old at the time of his death.

Death on the battlefield

Another Scottish Stuart ruler, James IV, married to Margaret Tudor, an English princess and daughter of Henry VII, failed to heed his wife’s advice and became entangled in a war with England. He was killed on September 9, 1513 at the Battle of Flodden Field, considered the greatest military defeat in Scottish history, and his body, thrown over the back of a horse, was later ridden through the streets of London to the delight of cheering crowds.

His son, James V, was also unlucky, having been kidnapped as a child (he took the throne at just over a year old) by his mother’s enemies, and when he became king himself he was known as the King of the Poor because of his dealings with the townsfolk and peasants.

Like his father, James’s misguided policy led to a war in which Scotland was on the losing end, and the king’s subjects, mindful of his father’s defeat at Flodden Field, were reluctant to fight the English. When in November 1542 the Scottish army was defeated on the river Esk, James fled the battlefield and, weakened and exhausted, arrived at Falkland Palace where he died on 14 December that year.

Queen of Scots cut off by the head

It is said that the nail in the coffin was to be the news of the birth of a daughter, which James’s wife, the Frenchwoman Marie de Guise, gave birth to on 8 December 1542 at Linlithgow Palace, located in West Lothian. All of the king’s sons had died as infants, so the newly born daughter, who was given the name Mary, became heir to the throne. The future was to show that ill fortune also haunted her, and even more than all the Jacobites in the family combined.

Mary Stuart’s first husband died young, and because of this she lost her title as Queen of France. Her second marriage to Lord Darnley was a disaster, and she may have had a hand in an attempt on his life. Bothwell was the love of her life, but she was unhappy with him as well, being forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son James by a revolt of the Lords.

The latter virtually imprisoned her, and when the Queen of Scots became involved in a plot against Elizabeth, she sentenced her to death by beheading. Bad luck pursued Mary until her death [in 1587] – the executioner carrying out the sentence proved to be an exceptional bungler and struck her neck three times before he managed to deprive her of life. The fate of the unfortunate Mary of Stuart was sung by poets, even by our own Juliusz Słowacki, and she is also the heroine of many novels and films.

Overthrown and beheaded

Maria’s son seemed to have broken the fate weighing down on his family. And this despite the fact that his name was James. On July twenty-fifth 1603 he was crowned King of England, uniting England and Scotland under his scepter, ruling in England as James I and in Scotland as James VI. Surprisingly, he lived quite a long life, especially for a Stuart, living to the age of fifty-nine and dying in his own bed.

However, he could hardly be considered a happy man, as he struggled with a lifetime of depression, probably caused by his sexual orientation, which he tried to hide. Although he fathered several children with his wife, women never interested him, and as a teenager he fell in love with his cousin.

Fate was also not kind to James’s son, Charles I Stuart, who, although he did not bear the unlucky name, was nevertheless overthrown by the Revolution and ended up [in 1649] at the gallows. After several years in exile, the throne was assumed by Charles I’s son, Charles II, during whose reign London was struck by a plague that killed as many as seventy thousand people, followed by a capital fire that burned nearly two-thirds of the city.

The last representative of the dynasty on the throne of England, Ireland and Scotland, Queen Anne, who managed to bury all of her children, and she gave birth to seventeen of them, could also talk about great bad luck.

Initially, the local authorities signed an agreement on the mutual management of Cieszyn Silesia and, without outside interference, set the border themselves, which ran along ethnic lines. Local politicians, however, decided that the final decision would rest with the central authorities of both countries. The consensus did not last very long.

Source: public domain

This could not end well

James II Stuart (reigned in Scotland as James VII) was also very unlucky, although he himself helped bad luck, even a lot. Before he became king he converted to Catholicism, but this fact he kept secret. But when he came to the throne and showed his true papist face, his stock plummeted.

Protestant Englishmen feared that he would not only introduce Catholicism as the state religion but even order the nobility to return to the Church the estates confiscated while Henry VIII was still in power. Meanwhile James, believing that he had the right to unlimited power because it was exercised by the will of God, ignored the will of his subjects and filled the most important positions in the state with Catholics.

In 1687 in Scotland, and the following year in England, he issued the Declaration of Indulgence, which included, among other things, undoing the effects of criminal laws against Catholics and laws restricting their access to civil and military office and university study.

Today, the Declaration appears to be a progressive document, but it was unacceptable to English Protestants. Anglican clergymen boycotted the king’s order to read the declaration to the faithful in churches, and the angered monarch in retaliation had them imprisoned in the Tower.

Rumors of a faked pregnancy

Not surprisingly, the monarch was not loved by his subjects, the vast majority of whom were Anglicans. They did not despair when the monarch’s children from his second marriage with a Catholic, Mary Beatrice of Modena, died shortly after being born. On the tenth of June 1688 the queen gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward Stuart, who grew up unexpectedly healthy.

However, rumors circulated in the country that the boy was not the child of the royal couple, Beatrice only simulated a different condition, and on the day of the alleged birth of the heir to the throne a healthy infant from an unknown plebeian family was dropped off at the palace. The baby was said to have been smuggled into the queen’s chamber in a bedding warmer.

All this ridiculous story invented by the opponents of the Catholic ruler was to enable the succession of the monarch’s daughters from his first marriage to Anne Hyde. According to the order of the previous king, Charles II, James’ older brother, they were raised as Protestants. The decision to raise the heir to the throne in the Catholic faith added fuel to the fire.

(. ) On the day of the alleged birth of the heir to the throne a healthy infant from an unknown plebeian family was dropped off at the palace. The child was said to have been smuggled into the queen’s chamber in. a bedding warmer.

Glorious revolution

Meanwhile, Maria, the now adult daughter of the sovereign and half-sister of the heir to the throne, wrote to her younger sister Anna:

“Thank God that we were not brought up in connection with the Catholic Church, but in that Church which is pious and sincere, obedient in all precepts according to the Scriptures. The Church of England is without all doubt the only true Church.”

By expressing such opinions, the royal daughter was gaining favor with her father’s Protestant subjects and, according to many, it was she who should sit on the throne of England. In 1688, representatives of the opposition turned to her husband William of Orange through Mary to defend their faith, heritage, and freedom. The king’s son-in-law was only a stadtholder, that is, governor of the Netherlands, but also the grandson of Charles I, and his wife, as the eldest daughter of the reigning monarch, had rights to the throne.

William answered the call and landed with his army on the coast of England, which led to a coup, this time bloodless, as almost everyone, including the commander of the royal army and the monarch’s second daughter, Anne, went over to William III’s side, and James II fled to France with his wife and son in 1688.

In the aftermath of these events, which came to be known as the Glorious Revolution, Mary and her husband William succeeded to the throne, pledging not to impose new taxes, not to enlist without parliamentary approval, and not to suspend enacted laws. However, the Protestant queen contracted smallpox just six years after her coronation and died, and her spouse passed away eight years later.

Kings in exile

The couple did not live to see any offspring, so it was thought that Mary’s younger half-brother James would take the throne, provided of course that he converted to Anglicanism. Since the proposal was rejected by James II, who was in exile, the crown went to Anne, Queen Mary’s younger sister.

She went down in history as the first Queen of Great Britain, for during her reign England and Scotland were united into one Kingdom of Great Britain by the Act of Union of May 1, 1707.

After the heirless death of Anne Stuart, the crown was again given to her half-brother James Francis, who was then in France with his father and enjoying the hospitality of Louis XIV. As James Francis Stuart refused to convert to Anglicanism, the crown went to the representative of the German Wittelsbach dynasty, George I of Hannover, related to the Stuarts through his mother.

Although the first representatives of the new dynasty appointed to the throne of Great Britain did not even speak the language of their subjects, it was more important for Protestants that they were not papists.

Meanwhile, neither James II nor his son gave up their claim to the crown, and when the former died on 16 September 1701 at the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where the family was in exile, James Francis declared himself “King James III of England and James VIII of Scotland.” His claim was supported by Spain, France and Modena, as well as by Pope Innocent XII.

Failed attempts to regain the throne

In Britain, too, he had no shortage of supporters who persisted in their efforts to restore the Stuarts to the throne, launching a movement called Jacobitism after the deposed king.

Both James II and his son tried to regain power by force of arms. The former, with French support, landed in Ireland in 1689, leading to a konflikt in Irish historiography called the War of the Two Kings, and in British historiography called the Irish War, in which Catholics crowded to support James II and Protestants to support William III.

In 1690 James’s army suffered defeat at the Battle of the River Boyne, and the unlucky Stuart fled the battlefield, and without waiting for the outcome of the struggle. This shameful act undermined the king’s authority in the eyes of the Irish, on whose country brutal repression fell, and they gave the monarch the contemptuous name of James G. ego.

Another attempt to regain the crown was made by the son of James II, and it was made twice: in 1708 and 1715. After the second attempt, his luck turned completely against him, as the hitherto favored King Louis XIV terminated his hospitality. The unfortunate Stuart found refuge with the papal legate in Avignon.

As he was still thinking about regaining his fatherland, he started to look for a candidate for a wife, who would bring him a dowry large enough to finance his army. His choice fell on the daughter of Jakub Sobieski, beautiful Maria Klementyna, but by choosing a representative of this noble family, the pretender inadvertently tempted fate. The Sobieskis were also very unlucky.

Iwona Kienzler – Writer, author of over eighty books, lexicons and dictionaries, mostly on historical subjects.

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