The Birth of the Old Pretender

J.P. Kenyon describes how, in 1688, there were weighty reasons to suppose that the new royal heir was a changeling, smuggled to the Palace in a warming pan.

Had James II not fled to France in December 1688, it is doubtful if he would ever have been deposed; and the Crown might never have passed to his daughter and son-in-law had there not been a plausible doubt about the legitimacy of the Prince of Wales. This paralysed the strong conservative support for the principle of Hereditary Succession, which had been so resoundingly confirmed only three years before by James’s own accession, despite his acknowledged Roman Catholicism.

On Christmas Eve 1688, those peers within reach of London assembled at St. James’s Palace to discuss the state of the nation, but when the Earl of Clarendon moved that they enquire into the birth of the Prince of Wales he was answered by the “Presbyterian” veteran, Lord Wharton, in these words: “My Lords, I did not expect, at this time of day, to hear anybody mention that child, who was called the Prince of Wales. Indeed I did not; and I hope we shall hear no more of him.” When the Convention assembled the following month the suggestion was made that James should be forced to abdicate in favour of his son, but it was brushed aside.

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