Did you know that one man had the choice–to be Catholic or to be King of England?
The amazing story of James III of England goes like this: After the Protestant tyrant Elizabeth I there reigned James I (of King James Bible fame). He was succeeded by his son Charles I. Charles I married a French princess who was Catholic. He was very sympathetic to the Catholic cause and was eventually tried, convicted and executed by the Protestant Parliamentarians under Oliver Cromwell. The time under Protestant rule was called The Commonwealth. It lasted for just eleven years.
In 1660 Charles I’s son (who had escaped to France) was restored to the throne as Charles II. Charles II was married to a Catholic and although he remained a Protestant to retain his throne, he was received into the Catholic church on his deathbed. Charles II died without a legitimate heir, so his brother James, who was a devout Catholic inherited the throne as James II. The English nobility were not enthusiastic about having a Catholic monarch, and when James produced an heir they invited the Protestant Dutch monarch William III–who was married to James’ daughter Mary to invade England. James II fled the country and William and Mary were crowned as Protestant monarchs of England.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. James II lived out the rest of his life in a court in exile claiming to be the rightful King of England. On his death his son James claimed the crown as James III. Living in France, and later in Rome, James III continued to claim the throne of England. After the death of King William and Mary, James’ half sister (Mary’s sister) Anne was crowned as Queen. When she was about to die in 1714 Harley and Bolingbroke–leading politicians in England corresponded with James III–offering him the throne of England on Anne’s death if he would only convert to Protestantism. James refused–thus choosing his Catholic faith over the throne of England–choosing if you like–loyalty to the chair of Peter–steward of Christ the King–over being the monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland.
So James III gave up the throne of England for his Catholic faith. He continued to live in exile in Rome supported by Pope Clement XI. James III had two sons: Charles Edward Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie and Henry Benedict Stuart. At the death of James III, Bonnie Prince Charlie continued to claim the legitimate King of England. At his death his brother Henry Benedict Stuart became the legitimate heir.
However, Henry Benedict (sometimes referred to as King Henry IX) was a Catholic priest–and eventually a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. He was titled Cardinal Duke of York. The romantic and noble defeat of the rightful Catholic kings of England is commemorated in St Peter’s Basilica. Henry-the Cardinal Duke of York is buried in the crypt of St Peter’s and above his tomb in the upper church is a monument by the sculptor Canova in memory of James III who gave up his throne rather than convert to Protestantism, and his sons== Bonnie Prince Charlie and Henry Cardinal Duke of York–the last Catholic King of England who ironically was entitled to the name Henry IX–following Henry VIII who tore England away from the Catholic Church to start with.
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