Mary of Modena - Early Life (1658–1673)

Early Life (1658–1673)

Mary Beatrice d'Este, the elder child of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena, and his wife, Laura Martinozzi, was born on 5 October 1658 NS in Modena, Duchy of Modena, Italy. Her only elder brother, Francesco, succeeded their father as Duke upon his death in 1662, the year Mary turned four. Mary and Francesco's mother Laura was strict with them, and acted as regent of the duchy until her son came of age. Mary's education was excellent; she spoke French and Italian fluently, had a good knowledge of Latin and, later, mastered English.

Mary was described by contemporaries as "tall and admirably shaped", and sought as a bride for James, Duke of York, by Lord Peterborough. Lord Peterborough was groom of the stole to the Duke of York. A widower, James was the younger brother and heir of Charles II of England. Duchess Laura was not initially forthcoming with a reply to Peterborough's proposal, hoping, according to the French ambassador, for a "grander" match with the eleven-year-old Charles II of Spain. Whatever the reason for Laura's initial reluctance, she finally accepted the proposal on behalf of Mary, and they were married by proxy on 30 September 1673 NS.

Modena was within the sphere of influence of Louis XIV of France, who endorsed Mary's candidature and greeted Mary warmly in Paris, where she stopped en route to England, giving her a brooch worth £8,000. Her reception in England was much cooler. Parliament, which was entirely composed of Protestants, reacted poorly to the news of a Catholic marriage, fearing it was a "Papist" plot against the country. The English public, who were predominantly Protestant, branded the Duchess of York — as Mary was thereafter known as until her husband's accession — the "Pope's daughter". Parliament threatened to have the marriage annulled, leading Charles to suspend parliament until 7 January 1674 OS, to ensure the marriage would be honoured and safeguarding the reputation of his House of Stuart.

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