Your RDA of Irony

Nursery Politics

Since childhood, you all have known the details of the Glorious Revolution as well as the weather patterns on the North Sea. Perhaps you just didn’t realize it.

The Glorious Revolution began with the birth of a child, a son and heir for James II. Under most circumstances, the arrival of James Jr. would seem a joyous event. However, the members of Parliament were not checking the baby gift registry at Harrod’s. No, they would have been in the Stationery Department, selecting a tasteful invitation to William and Mary to come over from the Netherlands and replace James II on the throne.

Why was James II so unpopular? Well, he was an irksome individual; he could have offended you discussing the weather. However, being likable is not a requirement of a king; otherwise Britain would have had a 145-year-gap in monarchs, from Charles II until William IV. James’ personality could be overlooked, but not his religion. While in France–a refugee from Cromwell–the Stuart prince had picked up Catholicism instead of syphilis.

When the monarchy was restored, James was next in succession to his brother Charles II. Parliament was none too thrilled with the prospect of a Catholic on the throne, but it had the solace that James would be a theological aberration. From his first and reassuringly Protestant marriage, James had two daughters raised in the best traditions of the Church of England. From his second and alarming Catholic marriage, James had no children. So, no matter how irritatingly Catholic he was, James’ daughters–Mary and Anne–were dogmatically correct. Furthermore, both women had been paired off with impeccably Protestant husbands. Mary’s husband William of Orange seemed to like pugs better than women, but Anne’s mate George of Denmark lacked the imagination to be anything but heterosexual.

There was only one threat to this Protestant succession. Apparently, James’ wife did not find him all that repellent. In 1687 Mary of Modena became pregnant. The baby’s gender was a matter of the greatest concern to Parliament. The arrival of a daughter would be uneventful. The little Catholic princess would trail her older Protestant sisters in the royal succession. However, according to Primogeniture, a son would take precedence over his older sisters, and Parliament was faced with the prospect of a dynasty of Catholics.

Of course, Parliament did have its prerogatives. If it could behead a king, it could also fire one. While awaiting the birth of the little Stuart, Parliament began a discreet job search for the next monarch. The Protestant heir to the throne was James’ older daughter Mary. So long as her husband William was acknowledged as a sovereign in his own right, Mary was willing to overthrow her father and rule in his place. This Glorious Revolution all depended on the gender of a baby.

The birth of a daughter would have kept James on the throne, but James couldn’t do anything right. In 1688, little James Francis Edward Stuart was born. With the support of Parliament, William and Mary arrived from the Netherlands to claim the throne. James panicked and fled; perhaps he actually liked exile in France.

And William and Mary had a pleasant and quick voyage from the Netherlands. The winds on the North Sea tend to blow in a southwestern direction. It is accommodating for a trip from Holland to England. In fact, wits of the time referred to that weather pattern as a Protestant Wind.

So, how you were first acquainted with this history? You knew it from this summary:

Rockabye baby on the treetop. When the wind blows the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks the cradle will fall. And down will come baby, cradle and all.

  1. Poor James. Being theologically correct is so imperative. What a mess!

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