The unimaginable

You can’t make this stuff up!

What could be more unimaginable than being born at St. James Palace, London and popularized as a little bastard then ending up living at Louis XIV’s Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye where Louis XIV was born in 1638 and lived until 1682 when he removed to Versailles.  And putatively the singularity all turned on whether one were Catholic or Protestant (though I have no doubt the underlying financial scheme was far less unimaginable).

Gold, jewellery and fine art have always been welcome accessories to the royal booty but the more potent command then as now on either side of the English Channel has been real estate. To this day the British monarchy has preserved itself by entrusting its vast real property holdings (The Duchy of Lancaster going back centuries to 1265) to the government in return for a share (the Sovereign Grant) of the derivate annual income amounting to millions sufficient to maintain the monarchy and its extended royal family. It isn’t just tradition and symbolism for the benefit of the masses which maintain the monarchy!  The. monarchy are paid performers. Parliament is supreme! Down with the divine right of kings!

Louis XIV turned the château over to King James II of England after his exile from Britain in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. King James lived in the château for thirteen years, and his daughter Louise-Marie Stuart was born in exile here in 1692. King James lies buried in the nearby Church of Saint-Germain; his wife Mary of Modena remained at the château until her death in 1718. Their son James left the château in 1716, ultimately settling in Rome.

Many Jacobites—supporters of the exiled Stuarts—remained at the château until the French Revolution, leaving in 1793.

The last descendants of the British Jacobites, by then mostly bearing French names, were evicted when the building was confiscated by the government during the French revolution in 1793.  It became the Musée des Antiquités Nationales (National Museum of Antiquities) in 1867, displaying the archeological objects of France. In the 19th century, Napoleon I established his cavalry officers’ training school here. On September 10, 1919 the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, ending hostilities between the Allies of World War I and Austria, was signed at the château. During the German occupation (1940–44), the château served as the headquarters of the German Army in France.

Maintaining one’s legitimacy at all costs is not a thesis unknown in modern politics. My suspicion however is that its longevity is destined to the same private evolution as that of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender. In some regards the exile of current and antecedent ruling monarchs share the commonalty of religious dispute though the present condition manifests itself less by clerical ritual than by the more imaginable realities surrounding abortion.  Both current and historical battles share as well the commonality of mere provocation, expressing little to do with the universal human necessities of food, lodging and companionship.

The fact that Prince James left the château in 1716, ultimately settling in Rome, is not entirely unimaginable. From the little I know of royal palaces and châteaux, I understand it wasn’t uncommon for the staff to be found “en train de pisser dans les couloirs” which must have meant an uncomfortable sortie each morning from one’s bedroom lodgings down the long palace hallways to the sideboard in the dining room for breakfast. It is a familiarity one would have preferred to confine to the stables.

But of course I haven’t the regular distinction of being in either venue; and I am thus able to bear the complementary deprivation. It does however serve to embroider one’s currency. The day may come – as it already has over the past seven decades – when the comparative view of one’s past and present is recast considerably. What was once standard and common has become quaint and archaic. It is now unimaginable to have once worn bell-bottom trousers! Though I confess upon reflection that the nautical feature wasn’t entirely mistaken. Yet it is inconceivable that, in the privacy of his bedchamber, Prince James hadn’t a moment of blunt reconciliation upon removal of his wig and cuirass.

Absent the trimmings, we’re all born and die with identical accoutrements. In the meantime whether we’re legitimate or the Old Pretender doesn’t seem much to matter.  We’re not about to change either beginning or end though the possibility of an element of modification in between is not entirely unimaginable. For some the idle rumination upon the imaginable is absorbing.  For others the deliberation upon the unimaginable is nothing but a challenge to the improbable. For my part I have little to do with anything but the present (a variation upon which I am equally capable of diluting as any other).


Prince James Francis Edward Stuart (10 June 1688 – 1 January 1766), nicknamed the Old Pretender by Whigs, was the son of King James II and VII of England, Scotland and Ireland, and his second wife, Mary of Modena. He was Prince of Wales from July 1688 until, just months after his birth, his Catholic father was deposed and exiled in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James II’s Protestant elder daughter (the prince’s half-sister) Mary II and her husband (the prince’s cousin) William III became co-monarchs. The Bill of Rights 1689 and Act of Settlement 1701excluded Catholics such as James from the English and British thrones.

James Francis Edward was born on 10 June 1688, at St. James’s Palace. He was the son of James II of England and Ireland (VII of Scotland) and his second wife, Mary of Modena, both Roman Catholics.

The prince’s birth was controversial and unanticipated, coming five years after his mother’s last pregnancy and three years since his father’s reign started. His mother (then aged 29) had been considered past child-bearing age. The birth reignited controversies of religion, as the new son would be raised Catholic. Wild rumours spread among British Anglicans: that the child had died stillborn, and that the baby feted as the new prince was an impostor smuggled into the royal birth chamber in a warming pan.  Protestants found it suspicious that everyone attending the birth was Catholic. Another rumour was that James II had not been the father; he was said to be impotent after a bout with venereal disease years earlier. In an attempt to quash these rumours, James published the testimonies of over seventy witnesses to the birth.

On 9 December, Mary of Modena disguised herself as a laundress and escaped with the infant James to France. Young James was brought up at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which Louis XIV had turned over to the exiled James II. Both the ex-king and his family were held in great consideration by the French king (who was his first cousin), and they were frequent visitors at Versailles where Louis XIV and his court treated them as ruling monarchs.