Or, my obsession with 18th century fashion
Are you like me, totally blown away by all of the amazing, to DIE for dresses on Showtime’s Outlander?
Or are you like me, completely distracted by the sexy guys in kilts?
Or are you also like me, really confused by all of the guys named Prince Charlie or Lord James or King George and whatnot?
Ok, so I may have Multiple Personality Disorder.
But, if you’re like the third personality me, I have great news! I come bearing the answers to your dilemma.
Outlander takes place during a particularly complicated and confusing time in British history, one rife with rebellion, deception, betrayal, and lots and lots of kilts. And dresses. I mean shit, what I wouldn’t give for some of those costumes…
In order to adequately explain all of the goings on, I have to take you all the way back to the reign of psycho Henry VIII and his hissy fit with Rome.
After six pregnancies and only one live child – a daughter – Henry VIII was ready for a new wife. Or at least, that’s what Anne Boleyn told him. So he threw a shit fit when Rome wouldn’t let him annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, leading Henry to break England off and form the Anglican Church.
The reigns of his three children caused England to experience a bit of whiplash. Edward VI further pushed England away from Rome; Mary pulled England back; and Elizabeth put the final nail in the Catholic coffin. When Elizabeth died, she gave the throne to her Protestant cousin, James I, who also happened to be the king of Scotland. While the two countries didn’t officially become one until 1707, they were unified in all but name.
James I was one of those people who liked to play both sides. One of the biggest conflicts coming out of the 16th century was the power struggle between Protestants and Catholics, generally represented by Spain and France versus England and Germany, respectively. Early in his English reign, James married his daughter, Elizabeth, to Frederick V, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, with the promise that he would provide help to his son-in-law against the super Catholic Hapsburgs. Just a few years later, James I turned around and tried to marry his son, Charles, to the Hapsburg princess Maria Anna of Spain. When Charles thoroughly screwed that up by harassing Maria Anna, James married him to the French princess, Henrietta Maria.
During Charles I’s reign, England decided it didn’t want monarchs anymore, and a civil war broke out. The eventual outcome was the institution of the Commonwealth headed by Oliver Cromwell, the execution of Charles I, and the flight of the rest of the royal family to France where they sheltered with Henrietta Maria’s family. At this point it’s important to remember that the queen was a Catholic.
While the royal children were in France, they had the chance to become acquainted with the Catholic religion. This had the biggest effect on the young James and his commoner wife, Anne Hyde. In addition, the youngest child, Henrietta, married her cousin Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, brother to the French king.
When Oliver Cromwell died, England decided to become a monarchy again. Charles, now Charles II, was invited back to be king. He and his brother James moved back to England. James and Anne Hyde had two daughters, Mary and Anne. Recognizing that his heir was showing Catholic leanings, Charles II insisted that James’ daughters were raised Protestant. The threat turned out to be real when Anne Hyde and then later James himself converted to Catholicism.
Upon Charles II’s death, James came to the throne as James II. Anne Hyde had died at this point and James married an Italian princess named Mary of Modena. And it was at this point that the English people began to panic.
See, ever since Elizabeth I became queen, Parliament started passing a series of laws restricting the rights of Catholics in the country. Each subsequent monarch added more laws until the reign of James II, who started to go the other way. He started repealing a bunch of them, and started allowing Catholics to do such horrible things like serving in government and worshipping in public. Nowadays we look at this and cheer James II on for his open-minded approach to religion (don’t worry, he still hated the Jews), but back then, people were freaking out that he was going to start pulling the same kind of shit Mary I did when she became queen. Namely, burn a bunch of Protestants.
But hey, it wasn’t that big of a deal, seeing as how he still had two Protestant daughters. His eldest, Mary, was married to William, Prince of Orange, a superhero of Protestant rights (also a grandson of Charles I through his daughter Mary). And his younger daughter, Anne, was married to George, Prince of Denmark, also super Protestant. So James II was welcome to do whatever he wanted, because as soon as he died, England would have another Protestant queen.
And then Mary of Modena got pregnant.
And then Mary of Modena gave birth to a son.
And then people went holy fucking shit it’s time to PANIC!
Really nasty rumors started to spread that the infant, named James Francis, wasn’t even royal. That Mary’s child was stillborn so she had another baby snuck inside in a warming pan and she was passing off the changeling as her own. These rumors got so bad that Princess Anne started repeating them. A lot of people reasoned that even if the baby was legit, he was still a Catholic and that wasn’t going to fly.
At this point, Mary and William, who had been listening in on the whole thing over in Orange (which is in present day Holland) offered to take over if enough English lords asked them to. In 1688, seven important lords sent William an official invitation to invade. He sent an armada and James II, Mary of Modena, and the infant James Francis fled England for France. Once they’d left, Parliament announced that James II had abandoned the throne, leaving the way open for William and Mary to ascend.
Both William and Mary died childless, leaving the throne to Anne and her husband, George. Despite 17 pregnancies, Anne was left without an heir. As this was the end of the Protestant Stuart line, the royals were left with a bit of a mess.
The closest relatives were the exiled James II and his son James Francis, and the offspring of Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans. All of these people were Catholic. At this point, it was officially decided that Catholics could no longer become monarchs of England. That prevented over 50 people from claiming the throne. The closest non-Catholic living relative turned out to be Sophia of Hanover, the youngest daughter of Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of James I (the one he promised to help against the Hapsburgs and then promptly abandoned).
With Sophia set up as the heir, Anne spent the rest of her reign avoiding the nagging loneliness of childless widowhood. It was suggested that Sophia visit England to familiarize herself with her future country, but Anne fought against this. Sophia died a few months before Anne did, so upon Anne’s death, the crown went to Sophia’s son, George. And thus began the Hanoverian dynasty.
But over in France, James II and Mary of Modena continued to raise their son, whom the rest of the Catholic world, including the Pope, considered the real heir to the throne. James Francis, who came to be known as The Old Pretender, married Maria Clementina Sobieska, the granddaughter of the king of Poland. Shortly after George of Hanover was crowned George I of England in 1714, uprisings in Scotland and Cornwall started with the goal of putting James Francis (as they called him, James III) on the throne. These ended shortly after he arrived in Scotland where he fell seriously ill. James Francis attempted to return to France, but due to a new political climate was forced to retire in Papal territories, finally settling in Rome. A few further uprisings were attempted but none gained serious support.
James Francis and Maria Sobieska had two children, Charles Edward Stuart and Henry Benedict Stuart. It’s with Charles Edward that we can finally talk about Outlander.
Outlander takes place during the reign of George II, a devout Protestant. Depending on where you were in the country (at this point it was one unified country of Great Britain – no more Scotland and England – although try telling that to the Scots), this was either really awesome or really shitty. Generally, the further north you went in Scotland, the shittier this got. Most Englishmen were Protestant but there were still a lot of Scots who clung to Catholicism. And basically any Catholic believed that the real king of England was James Francis, not George of Hanover. When Claire goes back in time to Scotland in the 1740s, she winds up in the beginnings of another Jacobite rising (Jacob being the Latin name for James). When she and Jamie travel to France, they directly meet Charles Edward Stuart, known to history as Bonnie Prince Charlie.
In 1745, Charles Edward attempted to take the throne of Great Britain. His uprising failed spectacularly at Culloden, and the backlash was brutal. Charles Edward was able to escape back to the continent and spent the rest of his life in exile. The pope declared him king of England in 1766 when his father died.
Charles Edward did end up marrying royalty, but ended up physically abusing both his wife and his mistress. His only child to survive infancy, Charlotte, fled with her mother and left Charles Edward to grow old alone, a loser alcoholic. There may be an existing line from Charles Edward into the present day, but the evidence is thin. Upon his death, his brother, Henry Benedict, who had become a cardinal, attempted to get out of Holy Orders so he could marry and father children. The Pope refused and didn’t recognize him as anything other than a cardinal. Still, Jacobite supporters referred to him as King Henry IX, in vain. Henry Benedict was the last Stuart pretender to the English throne.
Upon his death, the Jacobite claim reverted to the descendants of Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans. Several lines exist today. The senior claimant is Franz, Duke of Bavaria. His heir is his brother, Max. Neither of them accepts this claim and both acknowledge the Hanoverian succession, which has Elizabeth II as the current monarch.
As for Jamie and Claire? The next stage of their adventure involves American history, and in some weird twist of fate, I give absolutely zero fucks about American history. Go figure. I’m American and I’m beyond fascinated by this British and European stuff but American? Hit me with a baseball bat and I’m more interested.
Maybe I’ll go watch The Tudors again.
Questions? Comments? Let me know below! I can also be reached on Twitter @Rhydnara.