Room 8: The Later Stuarts
© The National Portrait Gallery, London
James II and William and Mary
As Charles II grew older it became apparent that he would have no legitimate children. Anxiety about the Roman Catholicism of his brother and heir, James, Duke of York, led to a number of attempts to exclude him from the succession to the throne, and the Duke of Monmouth, Charles's oldest illegitimate son, was proposed as an alternative, Protestant candidate. When Charles died in 1685 James did succeed, but Monmouth, ambitious and over-confident of support, claimed the throne and marched with troops through the West Country. Defeated by James's army at Sedgemoor, he was captured and executed.
James II ruled for three uneasy years. His attacks on the Church of England and appointment of Catholics to important public positions fuelled the fears of his critics and lost him the favour of many of his supporters. Shortly after the birth of James's son in 1688, a group of prominent statesmen invited William of Orange, his Protestant nephew and son-in-law to land in England with an army. James fled the country, and Parliament offered the vacant throne jointly to William and his wife Mary, James's elder daughter.
The reign of William and Mary was marked by the establishment of a relationship between the Crown and Parliament which formed the basis of the British monarch's role in Government today. His power limited by the Declaration of Rights (1689), William became further dependent on Parliament through his need for funds to support a costly war against France. In his absence fighting on the continent, Mary proved a wise and popular Queen. After her death in 1694, William reigned alone, and was succeeded at his death in 1702 by Mary's younger sister Anne.
Anne's reign was characterised by warring factions, both political and religious. Opposing parties, who came to be known as Whigs and Tories, fought for office, divided on the issues of religious toleration (imposed by the Tories) and the conduct of the war against France, where the Whigs favoured a continental land war and the Tories a maritime policy and the dismissal of the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of Marlborough. All factions published propaganda, particularly in the form of pamphlets, to further their aims. Anne was swayed in these conflicts by her personal likes and dislikes, and particularly by the influence of her favourite, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. The most important political achievement of her reign, however, was the Act of Union in 1707, uniting the Scottish and English Parliaments.
Although happy in her marriage to George, Prince of Denmark, Anne's domestic life was dominated by tragedy. She had eighteen pregnancies, but none of her children survived childhood; the last, William, Duke of Gloucester, died at the age of eleven in 1700. The succession was secured in favour of the family of Sophia, the Protestant Electress of Hanover, daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia and granddaughter of James I. On Anne's death in 1714 the Stuart monarchy came to an end, and the Crown passed to the Electress's son George, the first of the Hanoverian kings.