Patricia Bernstein

A Drastic Change in the British Monarchy Led to Two Major Rebellions

George I, a German Prince
George I, a German Prince

Possibly the most drastic change in the British monarchy that was not the result of a war, occurred because those in power in England were determined that Great Britain would never again be ruled by a Catholic.

King James II, who came to the throne in 1685 when his brother Charles II died, was openly Catholic. The public in general were uneasy with a Catholic monarch. Catholics were associated with “Bloody Mary,” the daughter of Henry VIII who had over 300 Protestants burned at the stake, and Guy Fawkes who had tried to blow up Parliament and the king on behalf of persecuted Catholics.

But James II had two Protestant daughters by his first wife. When James became king, his second wife Queen Mary Beatrice had no children and had not been pregnant for six years. Everyone assumed that James would die without an heir like his brother, and his Protestant daughters would succeed him.

But—surprise!—Queen Mary Beatrice bore a son in 1688. An ongoing Catholic dynasty was not acceptable to the British public. By December of that same year, James II was forced to flee the country when William of Orange, who was married to James’ elder daughter Mary, invaded England.

But then William and Mary died without heirs, and Mary’s younger sister Anne became queen and also died without leaving an heir. In 1701, Parliament passed a law providing that never again could any Catholic or anyone married to a Catholic reign over Great Britain.

When Queen Anne died in 1714, the powers that be passed over more than 50 closer relations to Queen Anne and chose the nearest Protestant relation, the German Elector George of Hanover to become king of Great Britain. German George spoke little English and was an uncouth man with an unsavory reputation whose wife, Sophia Dorothea, referred to him among her friends as “Pig Snout.” After bearing George two children, Sophia engaged in an affair with a dashing Swedish count. George had her lover murdered by a group of assassins and thrown in a river.  Then George divorced Sophia and shut her up in a dreary, isolated German manor. She was never allowed to see her father or her children again.

James Francis Edward Stuart
James Francis Edward Stuart “the Chevalier”

George arrived in England for his coronation accompanied by two mistresses instead of a wife. One was extraordinarily fat and was known as “the Elephant.” The other, tall and scrawny, was called “the Scarecrow.” By this time Catholics had suffered cruel persecution in Great Britain for over 100 years, but they were not the only British citizens who were horrified by this German lout being foisted on their country by politicians. Many would have preferred young James Francis Edward Stuart, son of James II, as their king. The young prince, who had been raised in exile in France, became known among his followers as “the Chevalier” or “the king over the water.” He was viewed as a real English king though he was a Catholic. Supporters of James were known as “Jacobites” because Jacobus was Latin for James.

Catholics also realized that the change in the monarchy, the introduction of a disliked, foreign king, was their best chance to bring a Catholic to the throne and end the merciless oppression of Catholics. My novel A Noble Cunning describes how the Highland clans and others gathered in force and marched to try to overthrow King George I in what became known as the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion.

Categories: British Monarchy
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