The second surviving son of Charles I, he ascended the throne upon the death of his brother, Charles II. Members of Britain's Protestant political elite increasingly suspected him of being pro-French and pro-Catholic and of having designs on becoming an absolute monarch. When he produced a Catholic heir, a son called James Francis Edward, leading nobles called on his Protestant son-in-law and nephew William III of Orange to land an invasion army from the Dutch Republic, which he did in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James fled England (and thus was held to have abdicated). He was replaced by his eldest, Protestant daughter Mary II and her husband, William III. James made one serious attempt to recover his crowns from William and Mary when he landed in Ireland in 1689. After the defeat of the Jacobite forces by the Williamites at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, James returned to France. He lived out the rest of his life as a pretender at a court sponsored by his cousin and ally, King Louis XIV.
James is best known for his struggles with the English Parliament and his attempts to create religious liberty for English Roman Catholics and Protestant nonconformists, against the wishes of the Anglican establishment. This tension made James's four-year reign a struggle for supremacy between the English Parliament and the Crown, resulting in his deposition, the passage of the Bill of Rights, and the accession of his daughter and her husband as queen and king.
James, the second surviving son of King Charles I and his wife, Henrietta Maria of France, was born at St. James's Palace in London on 14 October 1633. Later that same year, he was baptised by William Laud, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury. He was educated by private tutors, along with his brother, the future King Charles II, and the two sons of the Duke of Buckingham, George and Francis Villiers. At the age of three, James was appointed Lord High Admiral; the position was initially honorary, but would become a substantive office after the Restoration, when James was an adult.
He was designated Duke of York at birth, invested with the Order of the Garter in 1642, and formally created Duke of York in January 1644.
The King's disputes with the English Parliament grew into the English Civil War. James accompanied his father at the Battle of Edgehill, where he narrowly escaped capture by the Parliamentary army. He subsequently stayed in Oxford, the chief Royalist stronghold, where he was made a M.A. by the University on 1 November 1642 and served as colonel of a volunteer regiment of foot. When the city surrendered after the siege of Oxford in 1646, Parliamentary leaders ordered the Duke of York to be confined in St. James's Palace. Disguised as a woman, in 1648 he escaped from the Palace, aided by Joseph Bampfield, and from there he went to The Hague.
When Charles I was executed by the rebels in 1649, monarchists proclaimed James's older brother king as Charles II of England. Charles II was recognised as king by the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of Ireland, and was crowned King of Scotland at Scone in 1651. Although he was proclaimed King in Jersey, Charles was unable to secure the crown of England and consequently fled to France and exile.
Like his brother, James sought refuge in France, serving in the French army under Turenne against the Fronde, and later against their Spanish allies. In the French army James had his first true experience of battle where, according to one observer, he "ventures himself and chargeth gallantly where anything is to be done". Turenne's favour led to James being given command of a captured Irish regiment in December 1652, and being appointed Lieutenant-General in 1654.
In the meantime, Charles was attempting to reclaim his throne, but France, although hosting the exiles, had allied itself with Oliver Cromwell. In 1656, Charles turned instead to Spain – an enemy of France – for support, and an alliance was made. In consequence, James was expelled from France and forced to leave Turenne's army. James quarrelled with his brother over the diplomatic choice of Spain over France. Exiled and poor, there was little that either Charles or James could do about the wider political situation, and James ultimately travelled to Bruges and (along with his younger brother, Henry) joined the Spanish army under Louis, Prince of Condé in Flanders, where he was given command as Captain-General of six regiments of British volunteers and fought against his former French comrades at the Battle of the Dunes.
During his service in the Spanish army, James became friendly with two Irish Catholic brothers in the Royalist entourage, Peter and Richard Talbot, and became somewhat estranged from his brother's Anglican advisers. In 1659, the French and Spanish made peace. James, doubtful of his brother's chances of regaining the throne, considered taking a Spanish offer to be an admiral in their navy. Ultimately, he declined the position; by the next year the situation in England had changed, and Charles II was proclaimed King.
After Richard Cromwell's resignation as Lord Protector in 1659 and the subsequent collapse of the Commonwealth in 1660, Charles II was restored to the English throne. Although James was the heir presumptive, it seemed unlikely that he would inherit the Crown, as Charles was still a young man capable of fathering children. On 31 December 1660, following his brother's restoration, James was created Duke of Albany in Scotland, to go along with his English title, Duke of York. Upon his return to England, James prompted an immediate controversy by announcing his engagement to Anne Hyde, the daughter of Charles's chief minister, Edward Hyde. In 1659, while trying to seduce her, James promised he would marry Anne. Anne became pregnant in 1660, but following the Restoration and James's return to power, no one at the royal court expected a prince to marry a commoner, no matter what he had pledged beforehand. Although nearly everyone, including Anne's father, urged the two not to marry, the couple married secretly, then went through an official marriage ceremony on 3 September 1660 in London. Their first child, Charles, was born less than two months later, but died in infancy, as did five further sons and daughters. Only two daughters survived: Mary (born 30 April 1662) and Anne (born 6 February 1665). Samuel Pepys wrote that James was fond of his children and his role as a father, and played with them "like an ordinary private father of a child", a contrast to the distant parenting common with royalty at the time. James's wife was devoted to him and influenced many of his decisions. Even so, he kept mistresses, including Arabella Churchill and Catherine Sedley, and was reputed to be "the most unguarded ogler of his time." Anne Hyde died in 1671.
After the Restoration, James was confirmed as Lord High Admiral, an office that carried with it the subsidiary appointments of Governor of Portsmouth and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. James commanded the Royal Navy during the Second (1665–1667) and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars (1672–1674). Following the raid on the Medway in 1667, James oversaw the survey and re-fortification of the southern coast. The office of Lord High Admiral, combined with his revenue from post office and wine tariffs (granted him by Charles upon his restoration) gave James enough money to keep a sizeable court household.
In 1664, Charles granted American territory between the Delaware and Connecticut rivers to James. Following its capture by the English the former Dutch territory of New Netherland and its principal port, New Amsterdam, were named the Province and City of New York in James's honour. After the founding, the duke gave part of the colony to proprietors George Carteret and John Berkeley. Fort Orange, 240 kilometres (150 mi) north on the Hudson River, was renamed Albany after James's Scottish title. In 1683, he became the governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, but did not take an active role in its governance. James also headed the Royal African Company, a slave trading company.
In September 1666, his brother Charles put him in charge of firefighting operations in the Great Fire of London, in the absence of action by Lord Mayor Thomas Bloodworth. This was not a political office, but his actions and leadership were noteworthy. "The Duke of York hath won the hearts of the people with his continual and indefatigable pains day and night in helping to quench the Fire", wrote a witness in a letter on 8 September.
James's time in France had exposed him to the beliefs and ceremonies of Catholicism; he and his wife, Anne, became drawn to that faith. James took Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church in 1668 or 1669, although his conversion was kept secret for some time and he continued to attend Anglican services until 1676. In spite of his conversion, James continued to associate primarily with Anglicans, including John Churchill and George Legge, as well as French Protestants, such as Louis de Duras, the Earl of Feversham.
Growing fears of Catholic influence at court led the English Parliament to introduce a new Test Act in 1673. Under this Act, all civil and military officials were required to take an oath (in which they were required to disavow the doctrine of transubstantiation and denounce certain practices of the Catholic Church as superstitious and idolatrous) and to receive the Eucharist under the auspices of the Church of England. James refused to perform either action, instead choosing to relinquish the post of Lord High Admiral. His conversion to Catholicism was thereby made public.
Charles II opposed the conversion, ordering that James's daughters, Mary and Anne, be raised as Protestants. Nevertheless, he allowed James to marry the Catholic Mary of Modena, a fifteen-year-old Italian princess. James and Mary were married by proxy in a Catholic ceremony on 20 September 1673. On 21 November, Mary arrived in England and Nathaniel Crew, Bishop of Oxford, performed a brief Anglican service that did little more than recognise the Catholic marriage. Many British people, distrustful of Catholicism, regarded the new Duchess of York as an agent of the Pope. James was noted for his devotion. He once said, "If occasion were, I hope God would give me his grace to suffer death for the true Catholic religion as well as banishment."
In 1677, James reluctantly consented to his daughter Mary's marriage to the Protestant William of Orange (who was also James's nephew, the son of his sister Mary, Princess Royal), acquiescing after his brother Charles and William had agreed upon the marriage. Despite the Protestant marriage, fears of a potential Catholic monarch persisted, intensified by the failure of Charles II and his wife, Catherine of Braganza, to produce any children. A defrocked Anglican clergyman, Titus Oates, spoke of a "Popish Plot" to kill Charles and to put the Duke of York on the throne. The fabricated plot caused a wave of anti-Catholic hysteria to sweep across the nation.
In England, the Earl of Shaftesbury, a former government minister and now a leading opponent of Catholicism, attempted to have James excluded from the line of succession. Some members of Parliament even proposed that the crown go to Charles's illegitimate son, James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth. In 1679, with the Exclusion Bill in danger of passing, Charles II dissolved Parliament. Two further Parliaments were elected in 1680 and 1681, but were dissolved for the same reason. The Exclusion Crisis contributed to the development of the English two-party system: the Whigs were those who supported the Bill, while the Tories were those who opposed it. Ultimately, the succession was not altered, but James was convinced to withdraw from all policy-making bodies and to accept a lesser role in his brother's government.
On the orders of the King, James left England for Brussels. In 1680, he was appointed Lord High Commissioner of Scotland and took up residence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh to suppress an uprising and oversee royal government. James returned to England for a time when Charles was stricken ill and appeared to be near death. The hysteria of the accusations eventually faded, but James's relations with many in the English Parliament, including the Earl of Danby, a former ally, were forever strained and a solid segment turned against him.
In 1683, a plot was uncovered to assassinate Charles and James and spark a republican revolution to re-establish a government of the Cromwellian style. The conspiracy, known as the Rye House Plot, backfired upon its conspirators and provoked a wave of sympathy for the King and James. Several notable Whigs, including the Earl of Essex and the King's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, were implicated. Monmouth initially confessed to complicity in the plot, implicating fellow-plotters, but later recanted. Essex committed suicide and Monmouth, along with several others, was obliged to flee into Continental exile. Charles reacted to the plot by increasing repression of Whigs and dissenters. Taking advantage of James's rebounding popularity, Charles invited him back onto the privy council in 1684. While some in the English Parliament remained wary of the possibility of a Catholic king, the threat of excluding James from the throne had passed.
Charles died in 1685 from apoplexy after converting to Catholicism on his deathbed. Having no legitimate children, Charles was succeeded by his brother James, who reigned in England and Ireland as James II, and in Scotland as James VII. There was little initial opposition to his accession, and there were widespread reports of public rejoicing at the orderly succession. James wanted to proceed quickly to the coronation, and was crowned with his wife at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1685. The new Parliament that assembled in May 1685, which gained the name of "Loyal Parliament", was initially favourable to James, and the new King sent word that even most of the former exclusionists would be forgiven if they acquiesced to his rule. Most of Charles's officers continued in office, the exceptions being the promotion of James's brothers-in-law, the Earls of Clarendon and Rochester, and the demotion of Halifax. Parliament granted James a generous life income, including all of the proceeds of tonnage and poundage and the customs duties. James worked harder as king than his brother had, but was less willing to compromise when his advisers disagreed.
Soon after becoming king, James faced a rebellion in southern England led by his nephew, the Duke of Monmouth, and another rebellion in Scotland led by Archibald Campbell, the Earl of Argyll. Argyll and Monmouth both began their expeditions from Holland, where James's nephew and son-in-law, William of Orange, had neglected to detain them or put a stop to their recruitment efforts.
Argyll sailed to Scotland and, on arriving there, raised recruits mainly from his own clan, the Campbells. The rebellion was quickly crushed, and Argyll was captured at Inchinnan on 18 June 1685. Having arrived with fewer than 300 men and unable to convince many more to flock to his standard, he never posed a credible threat to James. Argyll was taken as a prisoner to Edinburgh. A new trial was not commenced because Argyll had previously been tried and sentenced to death. The King confirmed the earlier death sentence and ordered that it be carried out within three days of receiving the confirmation.
Monmouth's rebellion was coordinated with Argyll's, but the former was more dangerous to James. Monmouth had proclaimed himself King at Lyme Regis on 11 June. He attempted to raise recruits but was unable to gather enough rebels to defeat even James's small standing army. Monmouth's rebellion attacked the King's forces at night, in an attempt at surprise, but was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor. The King's forces, led by Feversham and Churchill, quickly dispersed the ill-prepared rebels. Monmouth was captured and later executed at the Tower of London on 15 July. The King's judges—most notably, George Jeffreys—condemned many of the rebels to transportation and indentured servitude in the West Indies in a series of trials that came to be known as the Bloody Assizes. Some 250 of the rebels were executed. While both rebellions were defeated easily, they hardened James's resolve against his enemies and increased his suspicion of the Dutch.
To protect himself from further rebellions, James sought safety by enlarging his standing army. This alarmed his subjects, not only because of the trouble soldiers caused in the towns, but because it was against the English tradition to keep a professional army in peacetime. Even more alarming to Parliament was James's use of his dispensing power to allow Roman Catholics to command several regiments without having to take the oath mandated by the Test Act. When even the previously supportive Parliament objected to these measures, James ordered Parliament prorogued in November 1685, never to meet again in his reign. In the beginning of 1686 two papers were found in Charles II's strong box and his closet, in his own hand, stating the arguments for Catholicism over Protestantism. James published these papers with a declaration signed by his sign manual and challenged the Archbishop of Canterbury and the whole Anglican episcopal bench to refute Charles's arguments: "Let me have a solid answer, and in a gentlemanlike style; and it may have the effect which you so much desire of bringing me over to your church." The Archbishop refused on the grounds of respect for the late king.
James advocated repeal of the penal laws in all three of his kingdoms, but in the early years of his reign he refused to allow those dissenters who did not petition for relief to receive it. James sent a letter to the Scottish Parliament at its opening in 1685, declaring his wish for new penal laws against refractory Presbyterians and lamented that he was not there in person to promote such a law. In response, the Parliament passed an Act that stated, "whoever should preach in a conventicle under a roof, or should attend, either as preacher or as a hearer, a conventicle in the open air, should be punished with death and confiscation of property". In March 1686, James sent a letter to the Scottish Privy Council advocating toleration for Catholics but not for rebellious Presbyterian Covenanters.
James allowed Catholics to occupy the highest offices of the Kingdoms, and received at his court the papal nuncio, Ferdinando d'Adda, the first representative from Rome to London since the reign of Mary I. James's Jesuit confessor, Edward Petre, was a particular object of Protestant ire. When the King's Secretary of State, the Earl of Sunderland, began replacing office-holders at court with Catholic favourites, James began to lose the confidence of many of his Anglican supporters. Sunderland's purge of office-holders even extended to the King's Anglican brothers-in-law (the Hydes) and their supporters. Catholics made up no more than one-fiftieth of the English population. In May 1686, James sought to obtain a ruling from the English common-law courts that showed his power to dispense with Acts of Parliament was legal. He dismissed judges who disagreed with him on this matter, as well as the Solicitor General Heneage Finch. The case, Godden v. Hales, affirmed his dispensing power, with eleven out of the twelve judges in Godden ruling in favour of the dispensing power.
In 1687, James issued the Declaration of Indulgence, also known as the Declaration for Liberty of Conscience, in which he used his dispensing power to negate the effect of laws punishing Catholics and Protestant Dissenters. He attempted to garner support for his tolerationist policy by giving a speaking tour in the West of England in the summer of 1687. As part of this tour, he gave a speech at Chester where he said, "suppose... there should be a law made that all black men should be imprisoned, it would be unreasonable and we had as little reason to quarrel with other men for being of different [religious] opinions as for being of different complexions." At the same time, James provided partial toleration in Scotland, using his dispensing power to grant relief to Catholics and partial relief to Presbyterians.
In 1688, James ordered the Declaration read from the pulpits of every Anglican church, further alienating the Anglican bishops against the Catholic governor of their church. While the Declaration elicited some thanks from Catholics and dissenters, it left the Established Church, the traditional ally of the monarchy, in the difficult position of being forced to erode its own privileges. James provoked further opposition by attempting to reduce the Anglican monopoly on education. At the University of Oxford, James offended Anglicans by allowing Catholics to hold important positions in Christ Church and University College, two of Oxford's largest colleges. He also attempted to force the Protestant Fellows of Magdalen College to elect Anthony Farmer, a man of generally ill repute who was believed to be secretly Catholic, as their president when the Protestant incumbent died, a violation of the Fellows' right to elect a candidate of their own choosing.
In 1687 James prepared to pack Parliament with his supporters so that it would repeal the Test Act and the penal laws. James was convinced by addresses from Dissenters that he had their support and so could dispense with relying on Tories and Anglicans. James instituted a wholesale purge of those in offices under the crown opposed to James's plan, appointing new lords-lieutenant and remodelling the corporations governing towns and livery companies. In October James gave orders for the lords-lieutenant in the provinces to provide three standard questions to all members of the Commission of the Peace: 1. Would they consent to the repeal of the Test Act and the penal laws? 2. Would they assist candidates who would do so? 3. Would they accept the Declaration of Indulgence? During the first three months of 1688, hundreds of those asked the three questions who gave hostile replies were dismissed. Corporations were purged by agents, known as the regulators, who were given wide discretionary powers in an attempt to create a permanent royal electoral machine. Most of the regulators were Baptists and the new town officials that they recommended included Quakers, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Catholics, as well as Anglicans. Finally, on 24 August 1688, James ordered the issue of writs for a general election. However, upon realising in September that William of Orange was going to land in England, James withdrew the writs and subsequently wrote to the lords-lieutenant to inquire over allegations of abuses committed during the regulations and election preparations as part of the concessions James made to win support.
In April 1688, James re-issued the Declaration of Indulgence, subsequently ordering Anglican clergy to read it in their churches. When seven Bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, submitted a petition requesting the reconsideration of the King's religious policies, they were arrested and tried for seditious libel. Public alarm increased when Queen Mary gave birth to a Roman Catholic son and heir, James Francis Edward, on 10 June that year. When James's only possible successors were his two Protestant daughters, Anglicans could see his pro-Catholic policies as a temporary phenomenon, but when the prince's birth opened the possibility of a permanent Catholic dynasty, such men had to reconsider their position. Threatened by a Catholic dynasty, several influential Protestants claimed the child was "supposititious" and had been smuggled into the Queen's bedchamber in a warming pan. They had already entered into negotiations with William, Prince of Orange, when it became known the Queen was pregnant, and the birth of James's son reinforced their convictions.
On 30 June 1688, a group of seven Protestant nobles invited the Prince of Orange to come to England with an army. By September, it had become clear that William sought to invade. Believing that his own army would be adequate, James refused the assistance of Louis XIV, fearing that the English would oppose French intervention. When William arrived on 5 November 1688, many Protestant officers, including Churchill, defected and joined William, as did James's own daughter, Princess Anne. James lost his nerve and declined to attack the invading army, despite his army's numerical superiority. On 11 December, James tried to flee to France, first throwing the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames. He was captured in Kent; later, he was released and placed under Dutch protective guard. Having no desire to make James a martyr, the Prince of Orange let him escape on 23 December. James was received by his cousin and ally, Louis XIV, who offered him a palace and a pension.
William convened a Convention Parliament to decide how to handle James's flight. While the Parliament refused to depose him, they declared that James, having fled to France and dropped the Great Seal into the Thames, had effectively abdicated the throne, and that the throne had thereby become vacant. To fill this vacancy, James's daughter Mary was declared Queen; she was to rule jointly with her husband William, who would be king. The Parliament of Scotland on 11 April 1689, declared James to have forfeited the throne. The English Parliament passed a Bill of Rights that denounced James for abusing his power. The abuses charged to James included the suspension of the Test Acts, the prosecution of the Seven Bishops for merely petitioning the crown, the establishment of a standing army, and the imposition of cruel punishments. The Bill also declared that henceforth, no Roman Catholic was permitted to ascend the English throne, nor could any English monarch marry a Roman Catholic.
With the assistance of French troops, James landed in Ireland in March 1689. The Irish Parliament did not follow the example of the English Parliament; it declared that James remained King and passed a massive bill of attainder against those who had rebelled against him. At James's urging, the Irish Parliament passed an Act for Liberty of Conscience that granted religious freedom to all Roman Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. James worked to build an army in Ireland, but was ultimately defeated at the Battle of the Boyne on 1 July 1690[O.S.] when William arrived, personally leading an army to defeat James and reassert English control. James fled to France once more, departing from Kinsale, never to return to any of his former kingdoms. Because he deserted his Irish supporters, James became known in Ireland as Séamus an Chaca or "James the Shit". Despite this popular perception, Breandán Ó Buachalla argued that "Irish political poetry for most of the eighteenth century is essentially Jacobite poetry", and both Ó Buachalla and Éamonn Ó Ciardha argued that James and his successors played a central role as messianic figures throughout the eighteenth century for all classes in Ireland.
In France, James was allowed to live in the royal château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. James's wife and some of his supporters fled with him, including the Earl of Melfort; most, but not all, were Roman Catholic. In 1692, James's last child, Louisa Maria Teresa, was born. Some supporters in England attempted to assassinate William III to restore James to the throne in 1696, but the plot failed and the backlash made James's cause less popular. Louis XIV's offer to have James elected King of Poland in the same year was rejected, for James feared that acceptance of the Polish crown might (in the minds of the English people) render him incapable of being King of England. After Louis concluded peace with William in 1697, he ceased to offer much in the way of assistance to James.
During his last years, James lived as an austere penitent. He wrote a memorandum for his son advising him on how to govern England, specifying that Catholics should possess one Secretary of State, one Commissioner of the Treasury, the Secretary at War, with the majority of the officers in the army.
He died of a brain haemorrhage on 16 September 1701 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. James's heart was placed in a silver-gilt locket and given to the convent at Chaillot, and his brain was placed in a lead casket and given to the Scots College in Paris. His entrails were placed in two gilt urns and sent to the parish church of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the English Jesuit college at Saint-Omer, while the flesh from his right arm was given to the English Augustinian nuns of Paris.
James's body was laid to rest in a triple sarcophagus (consisting of two wooden coffins and one of lead) at the Chapel of Saint Edmund in the Church of the English Benedictines in the Rue St. Jacques in Paris, with a funeral oration by Henri-Emmanuel de Roquette. James was not buried, but put in one of the side chapels. Lights were kept burning round his coffin until the French Revolution. In 1734, the Archbishop of Paris heard evidence to support James's canonisation, but nothing came of it. During the French Revolution, James's tomb was raided.
James's younger daughter Anne succeeded to the throne when William III died in 1702. The Act of Settlement provided that, if the line of succession established in the Bill of Rights were extinguished, the crown would go to a German cousin, Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and to her Protestant heirs. Sophia was a granddaughter of James VI and I through his eldest daughter, Elizabeth Stuart, the sister of King Charles I. Thus, when Anne died in 1714 (less than two months after the death of Sophia), the crown was inherited by George I, Sophia's son, the Elector of Hanover and Anne's second cousin.
James's son James Francis Edward was recognised as King at his father's death by Louis XIV of France and James's remaining supporters (later known as Jacobites) as "James III and VIII." He led a rising in Scotland in 1715 shortly after George I's accession, but was defeated. Jacobites rose again in 1745 led by Charles Edward Stuart, James II's grandson, and were again defeated. Since then, no serious attempt to restore the Stuart heir has been made. Charles's claims passed to his younger brother Henry Benedict Stuart, the Dean of the College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church. Henry was the last of James II's legitimate descendants, and no relative has publicly acknowledged the Jacobite claim since his death in 1807.
Historical analysis of James II has been somewhat revised since Whig historians, led by Lord Macaulay, cast James as a cruel absolutist and his reign as "tyranny which approached to insanity". Subsequent scholars, such as G. M. Trevelyan (Macaulay's great-nephew) and David Ogg, while more balanced than Macaulay, still characterised James as a tyrant, his attempts at religious tolerance as a fraud, and his reign as an aberration in the course of British history. In 1892, A. W. Ward wrote for the Dictionary of National Biography that James was "obviously a political and religious bigot", although never devoid of "a vein of patriotic sentiment"; "his conversion to the church of Rome made the emancipation of his fellow-catholics in the first instance, and the recovery of England for catholicism in the second, the governing objects of his policy."
Hilaire Belloc, a writer and Catholic apologist, broke with this tradition in 1928, casting James as an honourable man and a true advocate for freedom of conscience, and his enemies "men in the small clique of great fortunes ... which destroyed the ancient monarchy of the English." However, he observed that James "concluded the Catholic church to be the sole authoritative voice on earth, and thenceforward ... he not only stood firm against surrender but on no single occasion contemplated the least compromise or by a word would modify the impression made." By the 1960s and 1970s, Maurice Ashley and Stuart Prall began to reconsider James's motives in granting religious toleration, while still taking note of James's autocratic rule. Modern historians have moved away from the school of thought that preached the continuous march of progress and democracy, Ashley contending that "history is, after all, the story of human beings and individuals, as well as of the classes and the masses." He cast James II and William III as "men of ideals as well as human weaknesses." John Miller, writing in 2000, accepted the claims of James's absolutism, but argued that "his main concern was to secure religious liberty and civil equality for Catholics. Any 'absolutist' methods ... were essentially means to that end." In 2004, W. A. Speck wrote in the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that "James was genuinely committed to religious toleration, but also sought to increase the power of the crown." He added that, unlike the government of the Netherlands, "James was too autocratic to combine freedom of conscience with popular government. He resisted any check on the monarch's power. That is why his heart was not in the concessions he had to make in 1688. He would rather live in exile with his principles intact than continue to reign as a limited monarch."
Tim Harris's conclusions from his 2006 book summarised the ambivalence of modern scholarship towards James II:
The jury will doubtless remain out on James for a long time ... Was he an egotistical bigot ... a tyrant who rode roughshod over the will of the vast majority of his subjects (at least in England and Scotland) ... simply naïve, or even perhaps plain stupid, unable to appreciate the realities of political power ... Or was he a well-intentioned and even enlightened ruler—an enlightened despot well ahead of his time, perhaps—who was merely trying to do what he thought was best for his subjects?
In 2009, Steven Pincus confronted that scholarly ambivalence in 1688: The First Modern Revolution. Pincus claims that James's reign must be understood within a context of economic change and European politics, and makes two major assertions about James II. The first of these is that James purposefully "followed the French Sun King, Louis XIV, in trying to create a modern Catholic polity. This involved not only trying to Catholicize England ... but also creating a modern, centralizing, and extremely bureaucratic state apparatus." The second is that James was undone in 1688 far less by Protestant reaction against Catholicization than by nationwide hostile reaction against his intrusive bureaucratic state and taxation apparatus, expressed in massive popular support for William of Orange's armed invasion of England. Pincus presents James as neither naïve nor stupid nor egotistical. Instead, readers are shown an intelligent, clear-thinking strategically motivated monarch whose vision for a French authoritarian political model and alliance clashed with, and lost out to, alternative views that favoured an entrepreneurial Dutch economic model, feared French power, and were outraged by James's authoritarianism.
Scott Sowerby countered Pincus's thesis in 2013 in Making Toleration: The Repealers and the Glorious Revolution. He noted that English taxes remained low during James II's reign, at about 4% of the English national income, and thus it was unlikely that James could have built a bureaucratic state on the model of Louis XIV's France, where taxes were at least twice as high as a proportion of GDP. Sowerby also contends that James's policies of religious toleration attracted substantial support from religious nonconformists, including Quakers, Baptists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians, who were attracted by the king's push for a new "Magna Carta for liberty of conscience". The king was overthrown, in Sowerby's view, largely because of fears among the Dutch and English elites that James might be aligning himself with Louis XIV in a supposed "holy league" to destroy Protestantism across northern Europe. Sowerby presents James's reign as a struggle between those who believed that the king was sincerely devoted to liberty of conscience and those who were sceptical of the king's espousals of toleration and believed that he had a hidden agenda to overthrow English Protestantism.14 October 1633 – 6 February 1685: The Duke of York
10 May 1659 – 6 February 1685: The Earl of Ulster
31 December 1660 – 6 February 1685: The Duke of Albany
6 February 1685 – 11 December 1688 (by Jacobites until 16 September 1701): His Majesty The King
The official style of James in England was "James the Second, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." The claim to France was only nominal, and was asserted by every English King from Edward III to George III, regardless of the amount of French territory actually controlled. In Scotland, he was "James the Seventh, by the Grace of God, King of Scotland, England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc."
James was created "Duke of Normandy" by King Louis XIV of France on 31 December 1660.KG: Knight of the Garter, 20 April 1642
Prior to his accession, James's coat of arms was the royal arms (which he later inherited), differenced by a label of three points Ermine. His arms as king were: Quarterly, I and IV Grandquarterly, Azure three fleurs-de-lis Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a double tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland).