Portrait of Mary of Modena, Queen consort to James II

On this day in history: Mary of Modena born

History of Italy News

Mary of Modena, the controversial Queen Consort of James II of England was born on 5th October, 1658. She was the daughter of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena, and his wife, Laura Martinozzi.

Mary of Modena, born Maria Beatrice Anna Margherita Isabella d’Este, is a figure often overshadowed by the tumultuous political and religious landscape of 17th-century England. As the wife of King James II of England, her life was marked by controversy, intrigue, and the upheaval of the Glorious Revolution.

Early Life and Marriage

Mary of Modena was born on October 5, 1658, in the duchy of Modena, Italy, to Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena, and his wife, Laura Martinozzi. Her early life was marked by the political complexities of the Italian states and her family’s alliances.

In 1673, she married James, Duke of York, who would later become King James II of England. This union was not only a symbol of diplomatic ties but also had a significant impact on the religious landscape of England.

Between 1675 and 1682, Maria Beatrice gave birth to five children, none of whom survived. 

Religious Tensions

One of the most notable aspects of Mary’s life was her Catholic faith. James, her husband, was a staunch Catholic at a time when England was predominantly Protestant. This religious divide created considerable tension within the British court and among the public. Mary’s faith was used by political opponents to undermine the legitimacy of James’s rule and stoke fears of a Catholic conspiracy.

The Popish Plot

During the reign of Charles II, James’s brother, England was embroiled in the Popish Plot. The plot was a fictitious conspiracy invented by Titus Oates between 1678 and 1681; it accused Catholics of plotting to assassinate the king. This further fueled anti-Catholic sentiment in the country, and Mary, as a Catholic queen consort, was a target of suspicion.

The Glorious Revolution

The climax of Mary of Modena’s life came during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The birth of James and Mary’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart, in 1688 intensified fears of a Catholic succession. This led to widespread opposition to James II’s reign and his policies promoting religious tolerance. As a result, James was deposed, and he and Mary fled to France, where they lived in exile.

Legacy and Later Life

Mary and James lived in exile, seeking refuge at the court of King Louis XIV of France. Mary devoted herself to her family. Her children became known as the “Jacobites” – those who sought to restore the Stuart monarchy in England.

She witnessed the failed Jacobite uprising of 1715 which aimed to place her son, James Francis Edward Stuart, on the English throne.

Mary of Modena passed away on May 7, 1718, in Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France.

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