Mary of Modena

In 1673, Mary of Modena married James, who would go on to become James VII & II (King of Scotland, England and Ireland) twelve years later, before being deposed in 1688. In the same year that her husband was deposed, Mary gave birth to a son they named James Francis Edward Stuart. The Jacobites fought across two centuries to get these two Jameses (Jacobus being Latin for James) crowned. Mary, as wife and mother, was at the centre of the civil war from its beginnings to her death in 1718.

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Mary of Modena

 

Born in 1658, Mary, whose full name was Maria Beatrice Anna Margherita Isabella d’Este, was the only daughter of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena, and his wife, Laura Martinozzi. Her father died when she was young, and her brother inherited the title. Mary grew up multilingual and a devout Catholic. She expressed interest in becoming a nun, but when it reached Italy that James, Duke of York, was looking for a new wife, following the death of his first, she was convinced to reconsider.

James and Mary were married by proxy, before having a second ceremony when she arrived in England. The union was unpopular, with many Protestants viewing Mary with suspicion, believing her to be an agent of the Pope. Things worsened for James and Mary when a secretary of theirs was implicated in the fictitious Popish Plot, a plan to assassinate Charles II. This led to the Exclusionist Crisis, an attempt to bar the Catholic James from ever becoming King.

In an effort to ease tensions, Charles II sent his brother and Mary away from London, with them first going to Brussels and then Edinburgh for a few years, only returning to London for brief periods, such as when Charles got sick. In 1683, they enjoyed a boost in popularity after the Rye House Plot was discovered. The Rye House Plot had sought to assassinate both Charles II and James, which prompted many people to sympathise with them. Aware of this shift, Charles invited his brother and sister-in-law back to London. Charles II died in 1685, leaving no legitimate children. His brother was crowned James II and VII.

Since getting married, Mary had suffered several miscarriages, and all of her and James’s children had been stillborn or had died young. In 1688, she gave birth to a healthy son who was named James Francis Edward Stuart. James’s two daughters from his first marriage had been raised as Protestants, despite James’s own beliefs; because of this, Protestants had hoped that one of them would succeed their father. The new child became known by many as the “warming-pan Prince”, named so because of the rumour spread that Mary’s own child had been stillborn and swapped out for a random healthy baby. This, combined with a negative response to James’s policies, led to the Glorious Revolution, which resulted in James being deposed and him and Mary living in exile in France.

Louis XIV of France presented James and Mary with Château de-Saint-en-Layne, where they resided for the rest of their lives. Mary also spent a lot of time at Versailles, where she was well-liked. In 1692, she gave birth to a daughter, Louisa, who lived until 1712. The Jacobites referred to Mary as “The Queen Over the Water”.

In 1701, James VII & II died, and his young son succeeded him to the Jacobite claim. Mary, acting as regent, pushed for her son to be recognised as King. France, Spain, Modena and the Papal States acknowledged him, but in London he was declared a traitor. Though she wanted to promote his claim, she was against him being apart from her before he was of age. She acted as regent until her son turned sixteen.

Mary spent her later years assisting and visiting convents. She died of cancer at the age of fifty-nine. She was buried in the Convent of the Visitation at Chaillot, which was later destroyed during the French Revolution.

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The Order of the Thistle

The Order of the Thistle is the highest order that can be given in Scotland and is said to have been established by King James VII & II in 1687.

It is believed that James established the Order to help engage with, and maintain his close relationship with, the Scots. He asked two of his ministers of state to come up with something that would portray both the importance of the people receiving the Order whilst also carrying the air of exclusivity and royal support. Thus, the Order of the Thistle as it is known today was formed.

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Order of the Thistle Badge and Sash

 

However, there are some who argue that James VII & II simply resurrected a much older idea. Legend has it that in 809 the Scottish King Achaius gave the Order to Charlemagne. This may have some truth to it as Charlemagne was known to employ Scottish bodyguards but most consider the exchange to be a gift. Reference to an Order of the Thistle crops up again with James III who bestowed the “Order of the Burr or Thissil” on King Francis I of France in the fifteenth century but again there is little evidence to support this. If there was indeed an Order at this time it would appear to be sporadic and was not an enduring cause.

Ultimately it is James VII & II who is largely credited with being the Order of the Thistle creator. The problems don’t end with him though as issues arise when he was deposed  in 1688 and his successors to the throne, William and May, did not continue the tradition of the Order of the Thistle. It was however brought back by Marys sister Anne in 1703 after she took the throne and since then it has continued to exist to this day.

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Book Cover from the Thistle Chapel at St Giles Cathedral

 

As we said earlier the Order of the Thistle is the highest honour in Scotland and is second only to the Order of the Garter in England. It is a special honour to have bestowed upon you as it is a personal gift from the monarch, there is no government involvement. It is also a very exclusive club. Today there are only 16 knights of the Order of the Thistle at one time as well a handful of officials and a few ‘extra’ knights, who are mainly members of the Royal Family.

Knights gather once a year at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, where they wear their ceremonial robes of deep green and display the Order of the Thistle star on their left breast with the motto ‘Nemo me Impune Lacessit’  which means ‘no-one provokes me with impunity’, or who dares meddle with me. This is considered to be the motto of Scotland and appears on the royal coat of arms and on some pound coins.

We hope you enjoyed discovering a bit about the history of the Order of the Thistle. As always please like, share, tweet and comment.

All the best, K & D