Son of James II and his Catholic second wife Mary of Modena. James Francis’ birth in 1688 was controversial as it raised the prospect of succession of a Catholic king. A rumour was started by James’ detractors that the baby was a substitute introduced in a warming pan. James II was unpopular and the birth precipitated his fall when William of Orange, who had married Mary James’ daughter by his first wife Anne Hyde, was invited to take the throne the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688. James abdicated a few months later when his forces faced defeat by William, and he, his wife Mary of Modena and baby son James fled to France.
James was raised in France and on the death of his father in 1701 declared himself James III as the rightful heir to the English throne and James VII to the Scottish throne. He was recognised by the French King Louis XIV, and became the focus for the Jacobite movement to regain the thrones. In 1708 he attempted to land with French ships in the Firth of Forth in Scotland but was driven back by the English under Admiral Byng.
His two Protestant half sisters, Mary and Anne, had both become Queen, and when Anne died in 1714 he could have renounced his Catholicism and become king but he refused leaving the throne to the Hanoverian George I. In 1715 the Scottish Jacobites started an uprising and James set foot on Scottish soil spending 6 weeks cold and disconsolate in an alien land. The Battle of Sheriffmuir was indecisive and James decided to return to France disappointed by his lack of support. He became a political embarrassment, as the Scots were unimpressed and his patron Louis XIV had died, so James spent the rest of his life in exile.
He became known as ‘The Old Pretender’ after he married Maria Sobieski in 1719 and had one son Charles Edward Stuart ‘The Young Pretender’. Maria left him after 5 years, and James had an illegitimate son Henry Benedict Stuart. Pope Clement offered James the use of a Palace in Rome where he went to live. He lived through his son’s more spectacular attempt to regain the throne in 1745 before he died rejected in Rome in 1766 (Royal family history: www.britroyals.com)