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James II, King of Great Britain (1633-1701)

The second son of Charles I, and brother of Charles II, James was named Duke of York at birth. He became a successful naval commander during the reign of his brother and acceded to the throne in 1685. James had been secretly received into the Roman Catholic church in 1670; his obvious sympathy for Catholicism was increasingly evident by the time of his accession, leading to widespread distrust among his subjects and a rebellion only three years into his reign. From December 1688 he spent most of the rest of his life in exile in France.

As Duke of York, James had commissioned thirteen portraits of fellow naval officers from Sir Peter Lely, though only two now remain in the collection. One of the most interesting portraits James commissioned for the collection depicts a Chinese convent to Catholicism, Shen Fu-Tsung, who travelled to Europe and spent time at James's court and was painted by Godfrey Kneller. James also engaged the two Dutch painters, Willem Van de Velde the Elder and Younger, to paint a series of paintings of naval battles.

James's Catholicism is reflected in his commissioning of altar plate. He engaged Christopher Wren to build a large new chapel at Whitehall, decorated by Antonio Verrio and with an altarpiece painted by Gennari, now in the Ringling Museum, Sarasota. After James's first wife, Anne Hyde had died in 1671, he married again in 1673 to the Catholic Mary of Modena. Wren was also engaged to design new apartments for her, and elaborate silver-gilt sconces were made to decorate them.

The birth of a son, James, in June 1688, led to a rise in opposition to the Catholic monarchs, and by the end of the year they were in exile. A version of a fine family portrait exists in the Royal Collection today depicting them in France. Supporters of James II, the Jacobites, would continue their claims for the return of the King and his son, 'The Old Pretender', for several decades. Objects such as this sculpture made after James's flight to France still attested to his right to the throne. James's daughters by his first wife, Anne Hyde, would both succeed to the throne, as Mary II and Queen Anne.

Reigned: 1685–88


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