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Issue 08 – Christmas 2021

Historia Ecclesiastica

The Last Monarch of England

On Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal Duke of York


In November 1725, the always febrile gossip of the Holy See was aswirl with news of the marital discord afflicting arguably the most exalted resident foreigners in Rome. The wife, whose side most of Roman society, the Holy Father included, espoused, publicly accused her husband of compromising her young sons’s blamelessly Catholic households, by admitting over them the influence of known heretics. Her friends more discreetly accused a particular Protestant lady of having polluted the couple’s marriage bed. The aggrieved wife departed to the shelter of the Ursuline convent of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, leaving behind her sons, the younger being only eight months old. This infant boy was Henry Benedict Stuart, Jacobite Duke of York, younger brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and, as fate would have it, destined to be the last legitimate male in the senior line of his seven-hundred-year-old Scottish royal dynasty.

Henry’s mother was a beautiful, pious, and spectacularly rich Polish princess, Maria Clementina Sobieska. His father, James Francis Edward Stuart, was, to his openly devoted or covertly sympathetic followers, James III and VIII of England, Scotland, Ireland and France. But to the Protestant, Hanoverian monarchs, and Whig government of what had, in 1707, become the United Kingdom of Great Britain, James was merely “the Pretender.” The Stuart-Sobieski marriage, brilliant in prospect, proved a disappointment for reasons not entirely under this consistently (and, in Stuart terms, traditionally) unfortunate royal couple’s control. 

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About the author

Minoo Dinshaw

Minoo Dinshaw is the author of Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman and a contributing editor at The Lamp.