Historians have not been kind to James II the last of the Stuart kings; his brief reign failed to win confidence either...


JAMES II: Soldier and Sailor

Historians have not been kind to James II the last of the Stuart kings; his brief reign failed to win confidence either among Parliamentarians or the populace at large. Nevertheless he has his defenders, Haswell among them. Haswell concedes that James, unlike his wily brother Charles, was not by temperament a politician. He had exalted notions of the royal prerogative, having apparently learned the wrong lesson from the Civil War which cost his father's head. And from long years of service in the armies of Louis XIV he acquired a ""propensity for military solutions,"" an approach entirely unsuited to the intrigues, compromises and cynical deals which characterized Restoration politics. But despite James' rigid notions of monarchy, Haswell claims he would have prevailed but for his religion. From the day of his conversion his fortunes changed: ""from one of the happiest princes in Europe [he became] the most unfortunate and abandoned man on earth."" As the highest Catholic in the realm he was at once the focal point for anti-Papal prejudice, and the sinister rumors which surrounded him were exacerbated by that villain Titus Oates, by the unscrupulous Whig Shrewbury, and by the machinations of William of Orange. This interpretation, a favorite among Catholic historians from Hilaire Belloc on, cannot be gainsaid -- but it does ignore the extent to which religion and politics were inextricably linked in the 17th century. Historically Catholicism had provided the rationale for the Divine Right of Kings and there is little doubt that James meant to exercise it to its fullest. To say, however, as Haswell does, that James' religion was a strictly private matter, not an affair of state, is an anachronistic fallacy. In his time, James' Popery was regarded as a high-handed affront to public opinion and one which threatened to undo the Civil War settlement. Less sentimental than Peggy Miller's James (p. 178), Haswell's biography nonetheless fails to grasp the political climate of the day, depicting James as a victim, tout court.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 1972


Page Count: -

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972