Succession to the Crown: King James II and VII

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As the official public record since 1665, The Gazette has been recording successions to the Crown for over three centuries. As part of our ‘Succession to the Crown’ series, historian Russell Malloch looks through the archives at the accession and reign of King James II and VII, as described in The Gazette.

Chapters

Introduction

William III & Mary II

Anne

Elizabeth II

First gazetted succession

The London Gazette’s first account of a succession to the Crown, and the events that are normally associated with a change in the royal authority, followed the death of King Charles II in 1685 (Gazette issue 2006).

At this period The Gazette mainly provided news about naval and military operations, and diplomatic and political developments in Europe, as illustrated by the fact that the edition which reported the King’s death also contained reports from Brussels, Cologne and Vienna about an ongoing conflict with the Turks.

The Gazette explained that King Charles took unwell on Monday 2 February 1685 and expired a few days later, when the court officials arranged for members of the Privy Council, together with the lord mayor of London and other public figures, to meet at Whitehall to confirm the transfer of power to the late King’s brother, James.

King Charles II

Accession Council

The privy counsellors played a central role in the transfer of royal authority in 1685 and have done so ever since. Entry to the council was generally limited to senior members of the King’s household and administration, together with high-ranking bishops and judges, which also continues to be the case.

The accession council issued a proclamation that was read in public at Whitehall Gate, Temple Bar and Royal Exchange in London during the afternoon of 6 February, which explained what happened after the King died:

Whereas it hath pleased almighty God to call to his mercy our late soveraign lord King Charles the Second of blessed memory, by whose decease, the imperial Crowns of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, are solely and rightfully come to the high and mighty prince James, Duke of York and Albany, his said late majesties only brother and heir; We therefore the lords spiritual and temporal of this realm, being here assisted with those of His late Majesties Privy Council, with numbers of other principal gentlemen of quality, with the lord mayor, aldermen, and citizens of London, do now hereby with one full voice and consent of tongue and heart, publish and proclaim that the high and mighty Prince James, is now by the death of our late sovereign of happy memory, become our only lawful, lineal, and rightful liege lord, James the Second, by the grace of God king of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c. To whom we do acknowledge all faith and constant obedience, with all hearty and humble affection”.

The proclamation did not refer to the status of the King’s wife, for although Queen Mary was crowned with him less than three months after the accession council, the queen consort had no formal role in exercising the royal authority during the brief reign.

The Gazette published the accession document with 47 signatures, among them the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of London and Durham, and the great officers of state, including the lord keeper, the lord president and the lord privy seal.

The Gazette reported three other matters that were dealt with at this time, and reflected a procedure that has been observed through to the 20th century:

  1. The first was a personal declaration by the King.
  2. The second was the swearing in of members of the new Privy Council.
  3. The third was the issue of orders to secure the continuity of public business by requiring “that all men being in office of government at the decease of the late King, shall so continue till His Majesty’s farther direction”.

The council met at a time when the King knew he was accused of being responsible for religious and political divides within the nation, and that many of his subjects questioned his fitness to reign, and so James used the occasion to defend his position, to deny that he was a man of arbitrary power, and to undertake to support the Church of England.

James was also mindful of his regal status and referred to the “just rights and prerogative of the Crown”, but he did not use the declaration to promote his role as the fountain of justice and honour or assert any claim in relation to the many powers he had inherited from his brother, such as the right to create peers and his place as sovereign of the Order of the Garter.

Charles II Mourning Notice

Mourning

The Gazette reported two matters relating to the memory of the late sovereign. The first was the earl marshal’s order that governed the mourning (Gazette issue 2007), while the second was the royal funeral service on 14 February 1685 (Gazette issue 2008), at which the chief mourner was King James’s son-in-law, Prince George of Denmark. The royal body was interred in the vault in King Henry VII’s Chapel, one of the structures within Westminster Abbey that later became the spiritual home of the Order of the Bath.

The Gazette routinely reported the royal mourning arrangements that were put in place after 1685. The rules that applied at court later became the responsibility of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, while the general mourning was regulated by the earl marshal and was usually for a shorter duration.

The Gazette also provided details about the funeral of most of Charles’s successors, including the services that were performed in Westminster Abbey until 1820, when the venue changed to St George’s Chapel. However, The Gazette would not report the ceremonial for three former sovereigns, which reflected the fact that James II died in exile in France, George I died on his way to Hanover, and Edward VIII abdicated before he died.

King James II

Coronation

The process of assuming the royal power in England was normally completed by the coronation service, but King James granted marks of favour even before his formal inauguration. That precedent has been followed ever since, and so succession to the Crown, rather than completion of the coronation, was all that was required to permit the sovereign to exercise the royal authority.

The first honour to be granted by King James was recorded in The Gazette, as he knighted Thomas Vernon of London on 8 March 1685 “as a mark of his royal favour for his stedfast loyalty” (Gazette issue 2014). The King and Queen were crowned a few weeks later, and The Gazette described the ritual for the first time, including the presentation of the symbols of royal authority (Gazette issue 2028):

This day being the festival of St George, the coronation of their sacred majesties King James the Second and Queen Mary, was performed at Westminster in manner following.

Their Majesties being come from Whitehall to the Palace of Westminster (where the nobility and others who were to go into the proceeding, were assembled) came down in state from the House of Lords in Westminster Hall, about eleven of the clock in the morning, and being seated on the throne there, the sword of state, the sword Curtana, and the two pointed swords, together with the gold spurs, were presented to His Majesty, and laid on a table before him.

Then the dean and prebends of Westminster, having before brought the crowns and other regalia in solemn procession from the collegiate church there, came up the hall, and presented them severally to His Majesty, which being likewise laid on the table, were (together with the four swords and spurs), delivered to the lords appointed to carry them in the procession...”.

One commentator considered the significance of the regalia:

“The sword is the instrument by which summary punishment was inflicted in ancient times upon dastards, spies, and traitors, who were sentenced to decapitation in the field of battle: the spur, on the contrary, was buckled round the heel of those, who, having gone out to war on foot, displayed superior valour, and were on the very spot advanced to the order of knighthood, as an immediate remuneration for their services, and a powerful excitement to valiant exertions on the part of their comrades. What then does the sword indicate, but that the king is the fountain of justice? and the spur, but that he is the fountain of honour?”

(Jonas Denis, A Key to the Regalia, page 9)

1685 Coronation Medal James II

The spurs continued to be used to symbolise the authority that lies at the heart of the honours system, and they were last presented at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953.

The 1953 ceremony was marked by the issue of a special medal, which was the direct descendant of the medal that was struck to commemorate King James’s inauguration in 1685. The Gazette explained that a senior court official known as the treasurer of the household “threw about the coronation medals” at the point in the service when the lords spiritual and temporal paid their homage to the King. The medal showed James’s effigy and royal style and titles on one side, while the other side showed a laurel wreath and a crown descending from heaven.

The practice of distributing medals during the act of homage was reported in The Gazette until 1838 when the treasurer last performed that duty after Queen Victoria was crowned (Gazette issue 19632). When the next coronation took place in 1902 (Gazette issue 27489), the occasion was marked by having medals delivered to individual recipients, rather than having them thrown about as part of the abbey ritual.

James’s coronation portrait also appeared in the early coins of his reign, which adapted a design that was introduced for King Charles in 1662, which combined the royal effigy with four shields bearing the arms of England, Scotland, France and Ireland. A similar design with four shields was used in the United Kingdom’s coinage until the 1930s.

James also retained the basic design of his brother’s great seal, which portrayed the sovereign seated on a throne on one side, and on horseback on the other, with a Latin form of the royal style and titles.

Louis XIV

Crown of France

Two notable features of the accession proclamation were the reference to James’s status as king of England and Scotland, rather than Great Britain, and his connection with France.

The title of king of Great Britain did not appear in the proclamation, and was not used in the coronation medal, but did feature in several official settings, including the great seal and the coinage. Even so, England and Scotland were still separate nations, and their crowns were joined in a personal rather than a legal union until 1707.

The French connection was a different matter, as the proclamation reflected a claim that had been made by James’s predecessors since the 14th century. The title was routinely reflected in the royal arms and official settings in England, where the style of king of France appeared on the great seal, and one of the four shields on the coins of the realm displayed the French fleur-de-lis.

The French claim was not being actively pursued by the end of the 17th century, but it remained a contentious issue and led to an ironic twist in 1714, when The Gazette reported protests being made by the government in London (Gazette issue 5260) after Louis XIV recognised the claim to the English throne of James’s son, a man the British authorities described as the “Pretended Prince of Wales” and who is known to many as the Old Pretender.

In practice King Louis reigned supreme in France, and The Gazette contains no hint that James advanced any claim to his crown or sought any role in the government of France. There was certainly no report of any equivalent of an accession council being held for James in Paris, or of any steps being taken to depose the “Pretended King of France”.

Crown of Scotland

The London accession council was followed by proceedings to confirm the succession to the crowns of Scotland and Ireland, and The Gazette reported the proclamation that was issued by the Scottish Privy Council, in which the sovereign was styled King James the Seventh, to reflect the numbering of the Scottish monarchs before the union of 1603 (Gazette issue 2009).

The Scottish Parliament met in Edinburgh for the first time during the reign on St George’s Day of 1685, the day on which James received the English crown, but no equivalent coronation service or presentation of swords and spurs was organised to mark the King’s status north of the border.

Order of the Garter Badge

Award of honours

King Charles II’s English coronation of 1661 had been marked by the nomination of a number of knights of a special standing, known as knights of the Bath, but no equivalent royal favours were distributed to celebrate the ritual for King James and Queen Mary, perhaps to avoid inflaming some of the religious and political tensions that were already dividing the nation.

King James may have neglected the old knighthood of the Bath, but The Gazette showed that he exercised the royal authority in relation to the other English honours, as he invested the Duke of Norfolk as a knight of the Garter in May 1685 (Gazette issue 2032). A few days later it was announced that he had granted baronies in the peerage of England to John Churchill (Gazette issue 2034), the future hero of Blenheim and duke of Marlborough, and to Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys, who gained a reputation for his harsh treatment of the King’s enemies.

The distribution of coronets and ribands were likely to be of limited concern to the King in 1685, as The Gazette that reported Norfolk’s Garter also included a proclamation “for putting the Kingdom of Scotland in a posture of defence against the enemies of the King and Government”, while Churchill’s peerage was reported alongside the trial of Titus Oates, who faced perjury charges for his role in the 'Popish Plot’ conspiracy.

This was an era of deep division, with risings in Scotland under the Earl of Argyll, and in England under the banner of James’s nephew, the Duke of Monmouth; events that led to the grim account of Argyll’s head being fixed to the Tolbooth in Edinburgh in June (Gazette issue 2048), and to Monmouth being beheaded on Tower Hill in London in July of 1685 (Gazette issue 2051).

Order of the Thistle Badge

Order of the Thistle

The Gazettes of the late 1680s reported the civil unrest that continued to upset the peace of the kingdoms after the execution of Argyll and Monmouth, but also James’s use of the royal authority to add to the supply of honours, which he did in May 1687 by arranging for a patent to be passed under the great seal of Scotland for “reviving and restoring the most ancient and most noble Order of the Thistle to its full lustre, glory, and magnificence” (Gazette issue 2251).

The Gazette reported the names of the eight knights who joined the Thistle at the start and explained that the King had dispensed with their being installed “until there shall be a fit opportunity for them meeting chapterly at His Majesties royal chappel in his Palace of Holyrood-House, which is appointed to be the chappel of that Order in time coming”. The knights – who were all Scottish noblemen and supporters of the King’s policies – never gathered in Edinburgh, and their order and its chapel survived for less than two years under its first sovereign.

The Scottish order did not feature in The Gazette for more than a decade after James’s son-in-law William, Prince of Orange, crossed the English Channel in 1688 at the start of a campaign that would see James forfeit the crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland.

About the author

Russell Malloch is a member of the Orders and Medals Research Society and an authority on British honours.

See also

Gazette Firsts: The history of The Gazette and royal coronations

Images (in order of appearance)

The Gazette

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The Gazette

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Noonans of Mayfair

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Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

Publication date: 6 July 2022

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.