The Old Pretender was a pessimist living in exile whose attempt to claim the English, Scottish and Irish thrones failed in The Fifteen Jacobite rising.

 James Francis Edward Stuart, c 1720 by Antonio David (1648-1730?)
James Francis Edward Stuart, c 1720 by Antonio David (1648-1730?)

James Francis Edward was born 10 June 1688 amidst the warming-pan scandal. He fled with his mother, Mary Beatrice of Modena, to France when William of Orange’s invasion led to the Glorious Revolution.


James Francis Edward Stuart, c1703. Attributed to Alexis Simon Belle (1674-1734)
James Francis Edward Stuart, c 1703. Attributed to Alexis Simon Belle (1674-1734)

Louis XIV provided the château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye for the English royal family’s use. It was a gloomy castle located twelve miles west of Paris and within easy reach of Versailles.

He was a swarthy, dark-eyed child who grew into a solemn and melancholy youth who was cautious and lacked charm. No one, except the royal family or his Governors were allowed to speak to him, and any contact with the outside world were regular visits exchanged with the French court. His beloved little sister Louise Marie, born on 18 June 1692, was his only childhood companion. He was devastated when she died from smallpox on 8 April 1712, aged 20.

James was educated by several elderly Jacobite Governors who dwelt on past glories as his mother was surrounded by Jesuit priests. His father, James II, became an intolerable bore as he divided his time between private devotions, hunting and outward pretentiousness.

Act of Settlement 1701

The Act of Settlement was passed in 1701 to secure the Protestant succession to the throne and to ensure the parliamentary system of government remained secure. The throne would pass to Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover (James I’s granddaughter), and her heirs instead of James II’s children.

Princess Louisa Maria Stuart (1692-1712), c 1705 by François de Troy
Princess Louisa Maria Stuart (1692-1712), c 1705 by François de Troy

James II died from a stroke on 6 September 1701, aged 66, so his son was proclaimed James III and VIII by Louis XIV.

He used the title, Chevalier of St George, when setting out on his first expedition to the Firth of Forth in 1708 with a fleet of French ships. It was a humiliating disaster as James was unable to land due to bad weather, and a sudden outbreak of measles. Twenty-six warships, commanded by George Byng Viscount Torrington, blocked the entrance whilst the rebellion’s leader quickly disappeared into Lancashire at a crucial time.

James quickly enlisted in Louis XIV’s army and fought alongside the French at the Battles of Oudenarde (1708) and Malplaquet (1709). However, Louis XIV accepted peace with England and her allies, so he was forced to exile James from French territories.

James lived a hand-to-mouth existence whilst hiding in Monpellier, Toulouse and Bordeaux until Prince Leopold of Lorraine, out of sympathy, received the Chevalier in 1712 and provided the château of Bar-le-Duc for his use.

Many considered James a viable alternative so the Tories made a secret offer providing he changed his religion, but he obstinately refused.

Jacobite Rebellion

George I of Great Britain, 1714 by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723)
George I of Great Britain, 1714 by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723)

His half-sister Anne died from a stroke on 1 August 1714 so the throne passed to Sophia’s son, George I, so James issued a manifesto protesting against the Elector of Hanover’s usurpation.

The English Government responded by placing a £100,000 bounty on James’ head.

The Earl of Mar, without consulting James, proclaimed him as James III of England and VIII of Scotland at the ancestral stag-hunt at Braemar on his behalf on 6 September.

The Fifteen proved a dismal failure with an indecisive battle at Sheriffmuir before James had arrived in December 1715. At first, magistrates paid homage as James made a state entry into Dundee, and proclaimed his forthcoming coronation at Scone. James’ cold public manner soon alienated his followers and he was soon forced to flee to France.

Louis XIV had died, depriving the Jacobites of French support, as James was now considered an embarrassment. He had nowhere to go as Duke Leopold now refused to accommodate him.

James married wealthy Polish princess, Maria Clementina Sobieski, on 3 September 1719, and Pope Clement XI provided a generous pension and a home, the Palazzo Muti.

Maria Clementina Sobieska
Maria Clementina Sobieska

The marriage proved a disaster as James was a solemn, morose and reserved man of thirty-one married to a pretty, but empty-headed seventeen-year-old who was inclined to be wilful.

They produced two sons, Charles (the Young Pretender) and Henry Benedict. James indulged his sons his relationships with his sons were strained as they grew into adulthood. He disapproved of Charles’ drinking and his numerous affairs.

Maria Clementina died from tuberculosis in 1735 and buried with full honours in Rome, so James retired from public life, preferring to live in Albano. He devoted more time to religious exercises and his indifference to fate hastened a physical decline in his heath.

As a pessimist, James had little faith in his son’s ability to restore the family fortunes during the expedition of the Forty-Five, and to carry it through.

James died on 1 January 1766 in Rome, aged 78.


Callow, John, James II: The Triumph and the Tragedy, The National Archives, Kew, 2005

Crofton, Ian, The Kings and Queens of England, Quercus, London, 2006

Erickson, Carolly, Royal Panoply, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2003

Lees-Milne, James, The Last Stuarts, Chatto & Windus (The Hogarth Press), London, 1983

Schama, Simon, A History of Britain: The British Wars 1603-1776, Volume 2, BBC Worldwide Ltd, London, 2001

Starkey, David, Monarchy: From the Middle Ages To Modernity, HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2006

Weir, Alison, Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy, Vintage Books, London, 2008

© 2010 Carolyn M Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 29 May 2010.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.