Mary Beatrice d'Este was born on 5 October 1658 in the Ducal Palace of Modena in Italy, she was the daughter of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena, and Laura Martinozzi, the neice of Cardinal Mazarin. She was christened with the names Maria Beatrice Anna Margherita Isabella. Mary Beatrice descended from the Bourbon royal family of France and the Medici family of Italy.
Mary Beatrice's father, the Duke of Modena died when she was just four, after which her younger brother Francesco succeeded to the dukedom, with her mother Laura Martinozzi acting as regent until he came of age. Mary received an excellent education, she spoke French and Italian fluently, as well as Latin.
A staunch Catholic, Mary Beatrice expressed a wish to become a nun but when she was eleven years old, proposals for her hand in marriage were received from James, Duke of York, the Roman Catholic younger brother of King Charles II and heir to the English throne (later James II). James, a widower, was twenty five years older than Mary and scarred by smallpox and Mary Beatrice was loath to marry him. Nevertheless, following a letter of persuasion from the Pope, the proposal was eventually accepted and the couple were married by proxy in Modena, on September 30, 1673 when Mary was fifteen. After the proxy marriage Mary was sent to England. On her journey, she stopped in Paris, where James first cousin Louis XIV presented her with a brooch worth £8,000. Her reception in England was much cooler. Parliament, which was composed entirely of Protestants, disliked the idea of a Catholic marriage, the English people, who were predominantly Protestant, referred to Mary as the the "Pope's daughter".
The couple first met on 23 November 1673, on the day of the occasion of their second marriage ceremony. James presented her with a ruby ring and pronounced himself well pleased with his bride, who was described by contemporaries as "Tall and admirably shaped; her complexion was of the last degree of fairness, her hair black as jet; so were her eyebrows and her eyes, but the latter so full of light and sweetness, as they did dazzle and charm too". Mary, however, is reported to have burst into tears when she first set eyes on James. From his previous marriage to Anne Hyde, who had died in 1671, James had two daughters, the Princesses Mary and Anne. The elder daughter Mary, who was born in 1662, was bit four years younger than her father's new wife. They were introduced to their new step mother by James who told them, "I have brought you a new play-fellow". Princess Anne is said to have initially disliked her father's new wife, but Mary played games with Anne, to win her affection. King Charles II quickly warmed to his new young sister-in-law, who was described by those who knew her descibed her as charming, kind and intense.
Mary Beatrice's first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage but she gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter, named Catherine Laura, for Queen Catherine of Braganza and Mary's mother, Laura Martinozzi on 10 January 1675. She was to be the first of seven children born of the marriage, five of of whom were to die in infancy. A further daughter, Isabel Stuart was born on 28 August 1676 St James's Palace, but died aged four years old on 2 March 1681. A son, Charles Stuart, Duke of Cambridge, followed on 7 November 1677 but died the following month after catching small pox from his half-sister Anne. Mary gave birth to a third daughter named Charlotte Mary in August 1682, who died three weeks later.
In 1688, the Duchess of York's Catholic secretary, Edward Colman, was falsely implicated in a fictitious plot against the King by Titus Oates. The plot, which became known as the Popish Plot, led to the Exclusionist movement, headed by Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. The Exclusionists aimed to debar the Catholic Duke of York from the throne. James and Mary Beatrice were begrudgingly exiled to Brussels, ostensibly to visit Princess Mary, who since 1677, had been married to her cousin of Prince William III of Orange, the son of James sister, Mary Stuart.
On receiving news that King Charles II was very sick the couple returned hastily to England, James feared the King's popular eldest illegitimate son, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, might attempt to take the throne if Charles died in their absence. Charles recovered, but sent the Yorks to Edinburgh, where they lived at Holyrood House. James's popularity was revived in 1683 following the discovery of the Rye House Plot which aimed to assasinate both the King and himself and have Monmouth placed on the throne as Lord Protector. In 1684, James was re-admitted to the Privy Council, after an absence of eleven years.
James succeeded to throne on the death of Charles II on 6 February 1685. Mary, now Queen of England, sincerely mourned Charles passing , remarking in later life, "He was always kind to me". Their joint coronation took place on 23 April, Saint George's Day. On 19 July 1687, Mary's mother, Laura Duchess of Modena died, which plunged the court into mourning. The Duchess left Mary a considerable amount of cash and some jewellery. James Protestant son-in-law, William III of Orange, sensed popular discontent with the Catholic James's government; he used the death of Mary's mother as an excuse to send his half-uncle, Count Zuylestein, to England, ostensibly to offer condolences to Queen Mary, but in reality to spy.
James's blatant infidelities with Arabella Churchill (the sister of John Churchill) and Catherine Sedley aroused jealousy and great pain in his wife wife. James had several illegitimate children by his mistress Catherine Sedley. On his accession to the throne, he made Mrs. Sedley leave Whitehall. Mary was aware of their affair but was forced to tolerate it. However, when James created Catherine Sedley Countess of Dorchester, Mary reacted proudly and threatened to renounce her throne and enter a convent if Catherine was not got rid of. She eventually won on the issue, James banished Catherine Sedley to Ireland, with a generous yearly pension.
Queen Mary became pregnant again in late 1687, English Catholics rejoiced but Protestants, who had tolerated James's government because he had a Protestant heir in the Princess Mary who would eventually succeed him, were disillusioned. The child was a son, James Francis Edward Stuart, born on 10 June 1688, at St. James' Palace, many Protestants chose to believe the child was sneaked into the birth chamber as a substitute to the Queen's real but stillborn child. Princess Anne of Denmark, (later to be Queen Anne) wrote to her sister Mary, Princess of Orange, in Holland "Whenever one talks of her (Mary Beatrice) being with child, she looks as if she was afraid one should touch her. And whenever I have happened to be in the room as she has been undressing, she has always gone into the next room to put on her smock.when she is brought to bed, nobody will be convinced 'tis her child, except it prove a daughter. For my part, I declare I shall not except I see the child and she parted." , Anne also answered a memorandum of 18 questions regarding James Francis Edward's birth for her sister. Anne's answers convinced the Princess of Orange that her father had thrust a changeling upon the nation. Count Zuylestein, returning to the Netherlands shortly after the birth, agreed with Anne's biased findings.
William of Orange, now displaced by James' son in the succession, was in correspondence with many of the disaffected Protestants in England. They urged him to lead an army into the country to redress their grievances. William landed at Torbay in Devon on 5th November. Plymouth surrendered to William, which heralded further uprisings against James in Cheshire and the north. Treachery in the royal ranks was rife and many hastened to desert James' cause, including John Churchill, appointed second-in-command of the King's army. James' younger daughter Anne had also left him, accompanied by Sarah Churchill and escorted by the Bishop of London. This was a great emotional blow to the King who had been a fond and indulgent father to both of his daughters.
Having already sent his Queen and the new Prince of Wales to safety in France, James resolved to flee to join them although advised that leaving the country would be construed as abdication. William was more than happy for him to do so as it rid him of the embarrassing problem of what to do with his deposed father-in-law. James reached France on Christmas Day 1688, where he was welcomed by his first cousin, King Louis XIV, at Versailles.
William and Mary were invited to accept the throne vacated by her father. The invitation assured William that "nineteen parts of twenty of the people throughout the kingdom" wished for an intervention. The revolution, known as the Glorious Revolution, deprived James Francis Edward of his right to the English throne, on the grounds he was not the King's real son and, later, because he was a Catholic. England in the hands of William of Orange's 15,000-strong army, James and Mary went into exile in France. There, they stayed at the expense of James' cousin King Louis XIV, who supported the Jacobite cause.
Louis XIV gave the exiled James II and Queen Mary the use of Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where they set up a court-in-exile. Mary became close friends with Louis XIV and his morganatic wife, Madame de Maintenon and was popular at the court of Versailles, where diarist Madame de Sévigné described her "distinguished bearing and her quick wit". James himself was largely excluded from French court life, his contemporaries found him boring, and French courtiers frequently joked that "when one talks to him, one understands why he is here."
Mary gave birth a daughter at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Louisa Maria Theresa Stuart (pictured right) born on 28 June 1692. Louis XIV, acted as the child's godfather. James referred to her as his solice.
James launched an expedition to Ireland in March 1689 but abandoned hope of recovering the throne after his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Mary supported his efforts by selling her jewellery to finance them, she also tried to assist those of her husband's followers living in poverty.
The exiled James II became increasingly gloomy in his last years, at the age of sixty-eight he suffered a stroke while hearing mass at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye in March 1701, which left him partially paralysed and died of a seizure on 16 September 1701. He was buried at St.Germaine.
Louis XIV recognised James and Mary's son, James Francis Edward as King of England, Ireland and Scotland as James III and VIII. Mary, who dressed in mourning for the rest of her life, issued a manifesto, outlining James Francis Edward's claims which was largely ignored in England. In Scotland, however, the confederate Lords sent Lord Belhaven to Saint-Germain, to request that the Queen to surrender the custody of James Francis Edward to them and accede to his conversion to Protestantism, to enable his accession to the English throne upon William III's death. Although Mary would not agree to Belhaven's requests, a compromise was reached, whereby James Francis Edward, if he became King, would limit the number of Roman Catholic priests in England and promise not to interfere with the established Church of England.
William III died in March 1702 and Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, declared for James Francis Edward at Inverness. Soon after he arrived at Saint-Germain, and begged Mary to allow her son to come to Scotland, he planned to raise an army of 15,000 soldiers in Scotland and seize the throne for James Francis Edward. Mary however, refused to part with her young son and the rising failed.
When James Francis Edward reached the age 16, Mary sought refuge from the stresses of exile at the Convent of the Visitations, Chaillot, near Paris, where she befriended Louis XIV's penitent mistress, Louise de La Vallière. Mary stayed with her daughter Louisa Maria for long periods almost every summer. It was here that she learned the news in 1711, that as part of the Treaty of Utrecht, James Francis Edward was to lose Louis XIV's recognition. The following year, James Francis Edward was expelled from France and tragically, her daughter Louise Mary died of smallpox at the age of twenty, according to her close friend Madame de Maintenon, Mary was "a model of desolation".
Mary lived out the rest of her days at Chaillot and Saint-Germain in virtual poverty. She died from breast cancer on 7 May 1718 and was buiried at Chaillot among the nuns she had befriended. Her tomb was later destroyed during the French Revolution.