On the 23rd March 1708 King James III of England landed at the Firth of Forth. History knows the king rather better as James Edward Stuart, the so-called Old-Pretender or the ‘baby in the bedpan.’
Charles II had balanced the political and religious beliefs of his subjects with all the acumen of an accomplished juggler. Yes he’d relied heavily on the financial largesse of his cousin the French king. Yes, he’d promised to convert to Catholicism at some point in the future (he was actually received into the Catholic church on his deathbed) and yes his queen Catherine of Braganza was Catholic but he didn’t alienate his people. By contrast brother James managed to irritate most of the population irrelevant of their religious beliefs mainly because he failed to learn from his father’s errors and tried to turn the clock back to a time when people did what the king told them to do. The final straw came in 1688 when James’s young bride Mary of Modena gave birth to a baby boy.
Rumours swiftly spread that Mary had given birth to a stillborn child and that a healthy baby had been smuggled into the palace in a bedpan. Now – I don’t know about you but it would have to have been one heck of a bedpan or a very small baby for no one to spot the deception. In any event the arrival of baby James prompted the new arrival’s more mature brother-in-law, William of Orange, to kick James Senior off the throne. It’s always nice to encounter a close and loving family.
Little James grew up in France at the chateau of St-Germain-en-Laye. He was declared King James III of England and VIII of Scotland on his father’s death in 1701. His title was acclaimed by the Pope as well as Catholic Spain and France. Unfortunately Protestant England refused to play ball and even when King William died the country preferred James’ big sister Anne who was safely protestant though undesirably female – as we all know kings are better than queens except when they’re catholic or when they’re called Elizabeth Tudor.
In 1708 James attempted to claim his kingdom. He decided the best bet was to invade Scotland where he would have been King James VIII (just in case you weren’t already confused enough). It was not a rip roaring success.
James returned to Scotland for a second time following the Jacobite uprising in 1715 – a rebellion against the new king (George I) who was German, a little on the podgy side and who didn’t speak a word of English. His main qualification – you’ve got it- was the the fact that he was protestant. James had actually turned down the opportunity of getting the crown by invitation when he’d refused overtures which came with the proviso of converting to C of E.
By February 1716 James had left the country once again never to return. Sentimental types took to toasting the ‘king over the water’ – which sounds vaguely like some kind of Tolkienesque elf but that’s because my reading habits are far too eclectic.