Sarah Fraser

The Stuarts

1603-1745: The glamour and horror of the game of kings

March 31, 2017

1603-1745: Rebellions, Revolutions, Breakthroughs & Breakdowns –

 the glamour and horror of the game of kings


 The British Royal House of Stuart:

An Epic covering 150 Years of Transformation

‘All political lives … end in failure.’ That could sum up the Stuarts. Revolutions, rebellions, breakthroughs and breakdowns – the Stuart age has it all.

Between the Springtime arrival of James VI in 1603, and the outcast, Bonnie Prince Charlie fleeing with a price on his head in 1746, the Stuarts gave the world an epic drama.

Henry’s little brother, Charles I – one of the worst kings we ever had

The catastrophes make gripping stories – I’ll try and give some of the best. They have all the drama and mythic power of great stories, with the added bonus of being true.

But of course, I am as interested in the scores of achievements they bequeathed to us. Because, although they failed to keep their thrones, many of those achievements defined Britain for a century to come, and are still part of who we think we are today. The modern age is born in 1603.

Henry Prince of Wales, perhaps the greatest king we never had
Henry Prince of Wales, 1594-1612 – perhaps the greatest king we never had

I’m going to take the spotlight off the Tudors in my blogs and vlogs. And put it on the House of Stuart. The Stuart dynasty ruled all British territories from 1603 to 1714 – apart from the eleven year interruption of the religious republican state.

the Battle of Culloden, Duncan Forbes's house in the backgorund
The Battle of Culloden, the wonderful Duncan Forbes’s house in the background

They caused the rebellion of 1745 to regain the thrones of their ancestors. And the last great battle fought on British soil – at Culloden, on 16 April, 1746. Both Charles Stuart and the Duke of Cumberland descended from James I.

Easy to deny at a distance, apparently irresistible in the person
Prince Charles Edward Stuart – Easy to deny at a distance, apparently irresistible in person

Before they came to London, the Royal Stuarts had been ruling Scotland since 1371. They were kings and queens for nearly 350 years. I only talk about the British Stuart age. They united the four countries for the first time in history. This union started the long labour, whose offspring was Great Britain in 1707.

The Royal Stuarts who really hold my attention lived at each end of of the Stuart era – first, James VI and I and his family who inaugurate the new age. Second, the Jacobite odyssey of James’s great-great grandson, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, that kills it off for good. And the consequences of all this for both public figures and private lives.

James VI of Scotland and I of England

On the Stuarts’ watch, Britain emerged from from a war weary, inward looking, medieval Protestant state in 1603. James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I, last of the Tudors, and added England, Ireland and Wales to the Scottish throne.

The Stuarts presided over the founding of British America, laying down the cornerstone of a vast trading and territorial empire. In tandem with it, is the growth of a British military and fiscal state able to fuel the take off of Britain as a global power. But, the Stuarts also cause the destruction of the monarchy in the bloodiest civil war to blight the kingdoms, inadvertently creating the right conditions for another revolution – the birth of parliamentary democracy.

When British forces finally repelled the Stuarts in 1745, Britain was in the avant garde of innovations in commerce, science, naval and military development, communication, and politics. I want to give exciting scenes from the astonishing diversity of characters, events, and issues that burn in the core of this era, and show why I think they are so important to us today. To be informative without being stuffy, packing in the action and bringing to life the events and personalities that made history, and those people – both famous and forgotten – whose destiny was made by history.

First, a timeline of Stuarts might be useful – pointing out key people who appear in the family tree at the top of the post.


James VI & I to the Bonnie Prince – Stuart monarchs, and some who weren’t, but wanted to be

James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England and rules all Britain from 1603 – the son of Mary Queen of Scots, James VI & I is one of the most intelligent King to ascend the thrones of Britain.

1594-1612 – Henry, Prince of Wales, son and heir of James I, burst into history at this turning point. Arguably one of the greatest kings we never had. A celebrity across Europe by 1612, the young man suffered an agonising, premature death. follow link for why I think so.

1625-49 – Charles I – Henry’s notorious young brother, lost his head and destroyed the monarchy and Stuart dynasty.

1660-85 – Charles II – son of Charles I, he languished in the shadows of a lost life in exile for years, before the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

1685-88 – James II – when Charles II died without producing a legitimate male heir, the throne passed to his brother, James. James II lost the male Stuarts their kingdoms for a second time.

1689-1701 – Mary and William of Orange – James II’s Protestant daughter, Mary Stuart invaded England. She and her husband, William of Orange usurped her father’s throne, at the behest of parliament.

1701-14 – Anne – Childless Mary’s sister, Queen Anne tried to secure the Stuart dynasty with 17 pregnancies. Tragically, not one of her children lived to see adulthood. There are no more Protestant male direct Stuart descendants of James VI and I. The closest male heirs are Catholics.

1714-27 – George I – To keep the Catholic male heirs off the thrones, the crown passes to Queen Anne’s cousin, George of Hanover. Grandson of Princess Elizabeth Stuart (daughter of James VI & I, and known to history as ‘The Winter Queen’), George inaugurated the Georgian-Hanoverian era.

1688-1766 – James ‘III’, the Old Pretender. Cousin of George I, as the Roman Catholic son of James II, the laws of England disbarred him from the succession. Although, he had a copper-bottomed blood claim. George I fought off the Jacobite supporters of James ‘III’, in 1708, 1715 and 1719.

1727-60 – George II. The son of George I had to contend with James ‘III’s son, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender.

1720-88 – Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Son of James ‘III’, great-great-grandson of James VI and I. In 1745, he mounted a surprise clan powered plunge to depose his German cousins, and reclaim the British monarchy a third time for the male Stuarts.

In my next post, I’ll outline the changeover from the last of the Tudors to the first of the Stuarts.

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