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James the Second’s escape is foiled

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, Revolution, Royalty on Tuesday, 31 May 2011

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This edited article about James II originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 954 published on 3 May 1980.

James II, picture, image, illustration

Faversham’s  local fishermen recognised Hales and took James to be a priest in disguise, by Ken Petts

In the ancient town of Faversham stands a building which was the scene of one of the least glorious episodes in the history of England’s monarchs. Now a shop, three centuries ago it was an inn, the Queen’s Arms.

The events which brought the inn its moment of fame began in the early hours of a December morning in 1688. Three horsemen were riding through the lanes of Kent. Two were elegantly clad; the third, to judge by his shabby cloak and short black wig, looked like some kind of serving man.

Hurrying on in the growing daylight, the little cavalcade avoided towns and busy roads. Those were troubled times, especially for Catholics; and one of the riders was the most important Catholic in England. For the man in the old cloak was no servant, but King James II.

The king’s attempts to revive Catholicism, and his disregard of the laws, had caused widespread resentment. Finally some of his most influential subjects had invited the king’s son-in-law, the Dutch Prince William of Orange, to come to England “and rescue the nation”.

When William had landed in Devon in November, many of the king’s most trusted “friends” had deserted to the invader’s side. After weeks of indecision, James despaired of saving his kingdom and resolved on flight. Escorted by Sir Edward Hales and another gentleman, he set out on his secret ride to the Kent coast.

By mid-morning they had crossed to the Isle of Sheppey, and had boarded the small craft that had been hired to take them to France. But they got no farther.

Catholics, or Papists, as they were called, were now regarded as public enemies. Uphappily for James, Hales, who was known in the district and was a convert to the Catholic faith, had been recognised.

That night, as they were about to set sail, boats pulled alongside, and a party of fishermen and others roughly seized Hales and the king, whom they took to be a priest in disguise. They were taken ashore to be carried off for questioning by the Mayor of Faversham.

In Faversham the coach in which they were conveyed stopped at the Queen’s Arms, and the prisoners were dragged inside. Here, at last, the king was recognised. But his humiliation was not yet at an end; for the mayor insisted on keeping him in custody. At last, however, he was released and escorted back to London.

Prince William, who had reached the capital, was far from pleased. He wanted nothing more than to see James depart so that he could seize the throne himself. When, a few days later, James again slipped away, nobody hindered him. He sailed to France, never to return.

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