Tuesday 5 March 2019

The canonisation of King James II and VII

Charles Coulombe is an American Catholic who holds to a very Anglican and un-American belief in the sanctity of King Charles I, the only saint ever canonised by the Church of England. An article by Mr Coulombe in this week's Catholic Herald reminded me of the 'cause' for the canonisation of King James II and VII of England, Scotland and Ireland. 

This was opened by the Archbishop of Paris in 1734, nineteen miracles being claimed to have happened at James's intercession shortly after his death. 

I am a sentimental Jacobite and fond of the silly ass, but he was no saint. His brother King Charles II said his mistresses were so ugly that he slept with them as a penance. A very Catholic joke. 

James converted to Catholicism in 1670 with his wife, Anne Hyde, daughter of Lord Clarendon, the politician and historian, known to the wits because of his sententiousness as Polonius.

Anne Hyde used to pummel him with her fists. She died in 1671 and he married in 1673 the Italian Princess, Mary of Modena.

Mary of Modena was 15, 'tall and admirably shaped', he 39, scarred by smallpox and afflicted with a stutter. For some time she burst into tears whenever she met him, but eventually they were said to be happy. 

Compare this age difference with Mahomet who married a wife aged nIne, if we are to believe his biographies written centuries after his death. I don't really think we can, but Muslims do.

Of course, there is a huge difference between fifteen and nine. Fifteen is today the age of consent in France. In England for girls the age of consent at common law was twelve but in 1875 when it was raised to 13 and ten years later to 16. Under an Act of 1576 sexual intercourse with girls under the age of 10 was a felony, while sexual intercourse with girls aged 10-12 was a misdemeanour.

The Duke of York, the future James II, sadly did not become a faithful husband when he became a Catholic or when he married a young wife. In fact, he took as his mistress Catherine Sedley, daughter of one of my favourite poets, Sir Charles Sedley, and a lady in waiting to Mary of Modena. 

The portraits of Catherine Sedley show her to have been no looker. She said she did not know why the Duke was attracted to her. 
"It cannot be my beauty for he must see I have none and it cannot be my wit, for he has not enough to know that I have any."
King James II, who was my favourite king when I was four, just as Mary I was my favourite queen, was the last Catholic King to reign over England. 

He took the throne in 1685, after the death of his brother King Charles II, and made every crass mistake. The birth of a son, the future King James III and VIII of England, Scotland and Ireland, if you are a Jacobite, or the Old Pretender if you are not, seemingly ensured a Catholic dynasty on the throne, precipitated the Glorious Revolution and the first successful invasion of England since 1066 by Dutch William. It was in fact not an invasion or in the larger sense a revolution but a coup d'etat, a very British coup, though it led to war in Ireland until James was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne.

The King before and after the Revolution was very devout. The English Benedictines, the English branch of the order of monks who fled England at the Reformation, became custodians of his memory and offered prayers for his canonisation.

King James II, when Duke of York, gave his name to New York, but New Yorkers do not care about him.

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