1603-1745 rebellions, revolutions, breakthroughs & breakdowns, the glamour and horror of the game of kings
The British Royal House of Stuart: 150 Years of Transformation
‘All political lives … end in failure.’ That has to sum up the Stuarts. Revolutions, rebellions, breakthroughs and breakdowns – the British Stuart age has it all.
Between James VI of Scotland’s ascent to the throne of Elizabeth I in 1603, and the outcast, Bonnie Prince Charles Edward Stuart fleeing Scotland with a price on his head in 1746, the Stuarts gave the world an epic drama.
The consequences of some of their achievements and greatest personal catastrophes last for centuries. Stuart history offers all the drama and mythic power of great stories, with the added bonus of being historically true. 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.
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.
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, leader of the rebel forces, and his cousin, the Duke of Cumberland, leader of the government army, descended from James I of England.
Charles I , one of the worst kings we ever had
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, is King James VI and I. He and his family come to the thrones on the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. They inaugurate the new age. At the other end of the Stuart dynasty, James VI and I’s great-great grandson, Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s clan powered plunge for the thrones of his ancestors in 1745, leaves a trail of devastation in its wake.
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.
Henry Prince of Wales, 1594-1612 , arguably a great king we never had
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 hope 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.
Prince Charles Edward Stuart, easy to deny at a distance, apparently irresistible in person
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 Kings 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. A celebrity across Europe by the time of his premature death he showed the potential to be one of the greatest or deadliest kings we never had. 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.