Stuart, originally Stewart, is the family name of Scottish kings and queens from nearly the end of the fourteenth century until 1714 – English monarchs as well from 1603 to 1714. It was founded by Walter Fitzallen, Steward of the King of Scotland. He in turn descended from Flald Fitzalan who had been Steward of Dol in Brittany.
Walter’s descendent became King Robert II of Scotland, her first Stuart monarch, ruling from 1371 to 1390. Robert’s son the Earl of Carrick became King Robert III, on the Scottish throne from 1390 – 1406. It was this Robert’s son who became James I of Scotland), who married Joan of the Beaufort family, English descendants of John of Gaunt, and this was the first English connection.
Robert’s son became James II (of Scotland) who was King from 1437 – 60. He married Mary of Gueldres and they had four children, one of whom became James IV. Here the sassenachs intervene again, for the crafty English King Henry VII (q.v.) arranged the marriage of his daughter Margaret Tudor to the Scottish king. Therefore for the second time the reigning houses of Scotland and England were linked. This is important because it later meant that a Scottish king was invited to become King of England and Scotland – but we are jumping the gun.
Margaret and James IV had a son called James, later James V, who married a fearsome Frenchwoman called Mary of Guise, a member of one of the most powerful (and frightening) families in France. Their daughter was none other than Mary, later known as Mary Queen of Scots, though by her marriage to Francis or François of France she was queen of France too. Mary was born in 1542, immediately becoming Queen of Scotland, but as we know came up against a deadly enemy in her cousin Elizabeth I of England, whose chief counsellor William Cecil, Lord Burghley arranged for the execution of the Queen of the French and the Scots in 1587.
François died young and the very beautiful Mary married Henry, Lord Darnley, himself of royal blood and not the penniless, dumb upstart that some historians have described. Their son became James VI of Scotland.
Meanwhile in England Elizabeth had a number of notable affairs with men but never married. When she died with heirs of either sex in 1603, it was this son of Mary Queen of Scots, James VI, who became James, first of the Stuart Kings in England. The Scottish line continued, but unofficially! Though the arrival of James VI and I united Scotland and England for the third time creating the United Kingdom, the Stuart inheritance passed on through James VII & II’s second marriage with Mary of Modena whose son became James Edward ‘The Old Pretender’.
If you are still with me, we will return to England, where James I (and VI) had a son who became the unfortunate Charles I, the second Stuart king. He fought against his own Parliament and lost both the crown and his head, dying bravely on the scaffold outside the great palace at Whitehall. A brief Republic under Oliver Cromwell existed, the only time such a thing has happened in English history, and then Charles’ son was recalled from the exile forced on him by the English Civil War (q.v.), to become Charles II (‘The Merry Monarch’) at The Restoration in 1660.
Charles II was in effect the first constitutional monarch in Britain, since he accepted that a Parliament was securely installed, and that the years of absolute monarchy were over. He was meant to be ‘merry’, as his nickname suggests, but he was more melancholic than merry, though he spent a great deal of energy in extra-marital affairs which produced at least eleven illegitimate children, almost all recognised by the King (q.v.). With his wife Catharine of Braganza he had no issue, and when Charles died comparatively young the throne passed to James, who became II of England and VII of Scotland. This handsome fellow was weak however, and a Roman Catholic to boot, and it was not long before his treacherous generals and a few powerful magnates decided they wanted nothing to do with the fourth Stuart king. In ‘The Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 James II was sent into exile and the magnates and Parliament invited his Proterstant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William of Orange to occupy the English throne. William III descended from Mary Queen of Scots, so the executed heroine could be said to have had her revenge at last.
This was not the last of the Stuarts, for when both William and Mary were dead the throne passed to James II’s other daughter Anne. With her death without heirs in 1714 resulted in the replacement of the Stuart house by the House of Hanover, whose Elector became George I of England. The Stuarts were exiled, but not forgotten, especially by the Scots.
Supporters of the Stuart exiles were called Jacobites and they proceeded to be a thorn in the flesh for many years, with two major rebellions occurring in 1715 and 1745 under ‘The Old Pretender’ James Edward Stuart, and ‘The Young Pretender’ Charles Edward Stuart. Both failed, and George III, the third Hanoverian King felt able to give a pension to Henry, Cardinal (and Duke) of York 1725 – 1807. The Stuart cause and line faded with Henry, who had no interest in women, was a Catholic priest, and had no heirs.
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