Exiled Royals in Rome

Rome is not usually the first place that comes to mind when thinking of English and Scottish royalty. However, some of the royal Stuart family spent much of their lives in the Eternal City.

James Francis Edward Stuart, “The Old Pretender,” was born in England in 1688. His father was King James II of England and Ireland (James VII of Scotland), and his mother was Mary of Modena, the king’s second wife.

Mary of Modena and her son, James Stuart
Mary of Modena and her son, James Stuart

This was a time of religious turmoil in England, complicated by the fact that King James II, who was Catholic, had two Protestant daughters by his first marriage, the elder being Mary, who would marry her Protestant first cousin, William of Orange. But King James II’s second wife, Mary of Modena, was Catholic. With the birth of a male heir, the country feared that the next king would be a Catholic. A few months after the younger James was born, his mother, facing anti-Catholic sentiment, fled with him to France.

William and Mary would ultimately seize the throne, deposing her father (who fled to France) in a “Glorious Revolution.” While normally the throne would pass to the king’s son (James Stuart), such would have meant a return to a Catholic monarchy. England’s Parliament would ultimately bar James Stuart from succession. His supporters became known as the Jacobites, after a Latin form of his name.

After the death of his father, James Stuart was recognized by the Vatican as the legitimate — and Catholic — king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He subsequently tried but failed to claim the throne. A man without a country, he came to Rome in 1719 at the invitation of Pope Clement XI, who gave him a palace, Palazzo Muti, also known as Palazzo Balestra or Palazzo Stuart.

Palazzo Muti today
Palazzo Muti today

This palazzo remained the seat of the Stuarts and would be the birthplace of James Stuart’s sons, including Charles Edward Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, or the “Young Pretender.” This man would become a romantic legend, landing in Scotland and valiantly attempting to regain the throne. However, he was defeated at the Battle of Culloden. He ultimately died back in Rome, at Palazzo Muti, in 1788, at age 67.

Bonnie Prince Charlie
Bonnie Prince Charlie

These royals lived out their lives in Rome, and rest today in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica. In the basilica, you’ll find them memorialized by the Monument to the Royal Stuarts by Antonio Canova, with its beautiful, weeping angels, symbolizing the lost hope of the Jacobite cause.

Jacobite memorial in St. Peter's Basilica
Jacobite memorial in St. Peter’s Basilica

The Stuarts were not, however, the only foreign royals in Rome. More on that in future posts…

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