Jerseyman James de la Cloche, born about 1644, was alleged to be the son of Charles II, although most historians dismiss this claim.
Attention was first drawn to him by the discovery in 1861 of eight letters in the archives of the Jesuits at Rome.
In the Register of Admissions to the Jesuits' Novice House on the Quirinal the arrival is recorded on 11 April 1668 of 'Jacobus de La Cloche of the island of Jersey, aged 24', and a list is added of the scanty wardrobe that he brought with him.
He handed in three Certificates of Identity. The first "given at Whitehall, 27 September 1665, written and signed with our own hand, and sealed with our accustomed seal", bore the signature of Charles II, and declared:
- "We acknowledge as our natural son Jacques Stuart, who in obedience to our command has lived in France and other lands up to the year 1665. We have again commanded him to live under yet another name, that of De la Cloche du Bourg of Jersey, and for important reasons which affect the peace of the realm, we forbid him to speak of his relationship to us, until after our death, when he may present this our declaration to Parliament".
The second, dated 18 months later, ran:
- "Jacques Stuart, now known by the name De la Cloche, whom we have already acknowledged as our natural son, has pointed out that, if he should survive us, he might have nothing to live on. We therefore assign him out of our estate, if our successor and Parliament agree, £500 yearly, which, however, he shall not enjoy unless he lives in England, and follows the religion of his fathers and the Anglican liturgy".
The third certificate was signed with the name of Christina, the ex-Queen of Sweden, and declared:
- "James Stuart, born in the isle of Jersey, who now passes under the name of De la Cloche du Bourg, is a natural son of Charles II, King of England, as his Majesty has privately acknowledged to us. Having quitted the sect of Calvin in which he was brought up, he joined the Holy Roman Church at Hamburg on 29 July 1667."
These papers must have suggested to the Jesuits that their recruit would prove useful in negotiations with England, especially as he had proved his sincerity by making a financial sacrifice for the sake of his religion.
From the King
Four months later it was learnt that Christina was coming to Rome. De La Cloche then handed in two more letters, which, he said, had arrived from London. The first, signed "Charles, King of England", was addressed to Oliva, General of the Jesuits. It stated that the King had long been praying that he might find someone to whom he dared speak freely of his desire to become a Catholic. Now he had learnt with joy that he had a Catholic son:
- "The young Cavalier whom you have received under the name of de La Cloche of Jersey, for whom we have always felt a singular affection, because he was born to us, more through the frailty of early youth than from deliberate wickedness, when we were not more than 16 or 17 years old, of a young lady belonging to one of the most important (qualifiées) families in our Kingdom. Weighty reasons which concern the peace of our Kingdoms have hitherto prevented us from publicly recognizing him as our son, but this will shortly be altered".
He asked that de La Cloche might be sent to him at once.
- "We know that you could easily find some other secure channel of communication, but it will cause us great displeasure, if you confide your letter to anyone else. Above all nothing must be said to the Queen of Sweden about him, for being a woman, she cannot keep a secret. If there are difficulties in getting him ordained at once in Rome, he must be sent to Paris, where the King's sister, the Duchess of Orleans, can arrange for his secret ordination. We believe that your Paternity has too high a respect for crowned heads to refuse so reasonable a request. If you will let us know, by our dear son, if there is any way in which we can help your Society we will gladly do so".
The other letter was adressed to "our most honoured son, the Prince Stuart, residing at Rome with the Reverend Fathers, the Jesuits, under the name of Monsieur de La Cloche". It urged him to consider carefully before he took the Jesuit vows.
- "Remember you could claim from us titles as great, if not greater, than those of the Duke of Monmouth. Moreover we are without children by the Queen, and those of the Duke of York are sickly. Should the Catholic Religion be restored in this Kingdom, you might hope for the Crown. If we and our honoured brother should die childless, the Kingdom would belong to you. Parliament could not lawfully exclude you on any ground, except that the law, as it is at present, prevents it from electing a king who is not a Protestant. Because of your mother's rank you could claim to be preferred to the Duke of Monmouth. Such is what the Queens (the Queen Mother and the Queen Consort) counsel me to write to you".
Elsewhere the letter says "The Queens are most impatient to see you".
A month later came an urgent letter for Oliva demanding that James should leave Rome, before Queen Christina arrived. The General is to pretend that he knows nothing of the secret of James' birth, and, if she should ask about him, is to say that he has gone to Jersey to receive his mother into the Catholic Church, and to claim the inheritance of his father, a rich preacher, who 'had died some time before’.
Meanwhile James was to travel by Jersey to Southampton, where he would find 50,000 crowns waiting for him to form a fund which he could put in a bank. On reaching London he was to wait on the Queen Consort, when she goes to visit our dear and honoured mother, (the sentence in italics was omitted in Monsignor Barnes' reprint of the letters, but appeared in the earlier copy made by Father Boero). Four times in other parts of this letter the writer asserts that he has talked matters over with the Queens. With this, arrived another letter dated a week later:
- "We had scarcely sealed our former letter, when the Queens advised us not to send it immediately, because they wished to consider further how our dear son's arrival might be made more secret. Their Majesties have learnt that in your Society novices are not allowed to travel alone, but are always accompanied by someone to report on their conduct. This prudent rule we admire. Nevertheless we pray your Paternity to grant a dispensation to our dear son in this matter, because we absolutely command him, by virtue of the authority given us over him by God, to come to us alone. We wish him to find an English ship at Genoa, and travel as Henri de Rohan, a French Calvinist Prince. We who make this plan are precisely three, Ourself, my beloved Mother, and the Queen Regent".
Oliva apparently agreed to all that was asked, for a draft of his reply is written on the back of this letter:
- "From the bearer of this, who is a French gentleman, your Majesty will learn that I have carried out his instructions given in your three letters".
De La Cloche returned to Rome with one more letter, dated 18 November. This said that the ‘King's dear son will tell the General what the King desires’. Charles would send "a notable sum in expiation for our sins" toward the repair of the Jesuit buildings, as soon as Oliva tells him how he would like to receive it. Meanwhile he asked that James may be sent back at once to London, and provided with all that he needed for the journey, the amount to be charged to the King's account.
At this point de La Cloche disappeared. The most careful search through Jesuit records has failed to find any Father James Stuart or Father de La Cloche. He did not die. He was not expelled. He was not sent on a mission. He simply vanished.
Monsignor Barnes has written a book suggesting that he was the Man in the Iron Mask.
The authenticity of these letters has been keenly debated, Were they genuine or were they forgeries? Was James really a son of the king or was he an impostor? A close investigation leaves little doubt as to the answer.
- The first certificate is dated "Whitehall, 27 September 1665"; but at that time plague was raging in London, and the Court had fled to Oxford. *The King constantly writes that he has talked things over with his dear mother; but Queen Henrietta had gone to live in Paris three years before, and never returned to England.
- Not even in his drunkenest moment could the King have written that one of his bastards would be heir to the throne, and that Parliament could not legally object except on grounds of religion.
- Charles always refused to allow his illegitimate children, even his favourite, Monmouth, to use the surname Stuart. His heralds invented surnames for them: Fitzroy, Fitzcharles, etc. He would never have adressed a letter to De la Cloche, Notre tres honore fils le Prince Stuart, or written of him as le Sieur Jacques Stuart.
- Whitehall was littered with the King's acknowledged bastards, many of whom he ennobled. Lucy Walter's son was Duke of Monmouth; Nell Gwynne's, Duke of St Albans; Barbara Villiers', Duke of Southampton; Catherine Pegge's, Earl of Plymouth, and so on. It is nonsense to say, as he does again and again in these letters, that he is longing to recognize de La Cloche as his son, but dare not do so, because "it would imperil the peace of the kingdom".
- Moreover, if de La Cloche forged the letters himself, this would explain two points emphatically urged in them. No letter must be sent to the King, unless James himself is the bearer: if a query had really reached Charles he would probably have replied that he had never heard of any such person. Not a word must be said to Queen Christina about him: it would have been awkward, if he had been mentioned to her as her protégé, and she had disclaimed all knowledge of him.
- One final point may be added: de La Cloche's own statement, when he joined the Jesuits, proved his story a lie. He gave his age as 24 in 1668. This would have made him born in 1644; and Prince Charles did not go to Jersey until 1646.
There is little doubt that James was an exceedingly clever rogue, who for eight months was smart enough to get the Jesuits to support him and to provide him with considerable sums for travelling expenses; and then, when he had stretched the hoax to the very limit of safety, disappeared into space. But there is a sequel to this story. In the year de La Cloche disappeared there arrived in Naples a man who called himself James Henry de Bovere Roano Stuardo. Notice the names and the Stuardo, and Roano is reminiscent of de Rohan.
He claimed to be an Englishman, but could only speak French. He married an innkeeper's daughter, and made such a show of his money that he was arrested on suspicion of being a coiner. He then claimed to be a natural son of the King of England, and to have been born in Jersey. The British consul reported this to the King, who declared he knew nothing about him.
But the coins proved genuine and he was released from prison. In the following year he died of fever, making a most devout end, and leaving a preposterous will, in which he asserted that he was a son of King Charles by the Lady Mary Henrietta Stuart of the Barons of St Marzo (a person whom no one can trace). He appointed his "cousin", the King of France, his executor. He commended his unborn child to the King of England, and, if it should be a boy, he asked that he may be created Prince of Wales or Monmouth.
He left enormous sums to all his wife's relations, to be paid by the King of England, and transferred to them his dominions, including the Marquisate of Juvigny, which can be found on no map. There was obviously some connection between James Stuardo and James de La Cloche. Lord Acton thought that he was a servant, who had stolen de La Cloche's papers. But it seems more probable that he was de La Cloche himself. The megalomaniac will is closely akin to the letters which offered to de La Cloche titles greater than those of the Duke of Monmouth and eventually the English Crown.
One point has still to be considered: de La Cloche's connection with Jersey. This was probably genuine. A British subject, who knew no English, and whose native language was French, certainly suggests a Jerseyman. The constant references to Jersey in the letters would be natural to a Jerseyman and to no one else. He asserted that he was born in Jersey, his mother still lived in Jersey ; he had an inheritance in Jersey. Christina was to be told that he had gone to Jersey.
He was to travel to England via Jersey and Southampton. He knew that King Charles had been in Jersey, and that Jersey was Calvinist. La Cloche or de La Cloche was a well known Jersey name (The 'de' need not bother us, for in those days the family wrote its name in both ways. The famous Royalist Rector of St Ouen called himself Etienne La Cloche, but his son called himself Jean de La Cloche. It was not until 1711 that the Royal Court decided: "The name of this family is La Cloche, not de La Cloche") And the Rector of St Ouen may well be the "rich preacher" mentioned in one letter.
In quite modern times it has been suggested that de La Cloche's mother may have been Marguerite de Carteret, daughter of the Seigneur of Trinity. but the only arguments advanced for this are very unconvincing. *In 1656, ten years after the Prince's visit, Marguerite married Jean de La Cloche; so, if she had an illegitimate child, he might have taken his stepfather's name. But this is no proof that she ever had such a baby. *Part of a page has been removed from the Register of Trinity Church for 1648. This may have been done for any one of a dozen different reasons, but can have nothing to do with the baptism of any son of the Prince, for 1648 was two years after the Prince had left the island, and in those days babies were baptised a week after their birth.
- Marguerite's brother, Josue, became a Parliamentarian, and this may have been because his sister had been seduced by the King. This is the weakest argument of all. The de Carterets were not all Royalists. Francois of La Hague was for a time a Parliamentary Commissioner and his son Philippe one of Cromwell's Jurats. Josue was an unprincipled scamp, who cared only for his own interests, and was Royalist when the Royalists were winning, and only Parliamentarian when they were defeated.
One statement in the forged letters effectively clears Marguerite of suspicion. James claimed that his mother's rank entitled him to the throne, which must mean that she was of royal blood. The Naples impostor named a 'Lady Mary Stuart' as his mother.
The most reasonable conclusion to come to about James is that he was probably a Jerseyman, but that there is no ground for believing either that Charles was his father or Marguerite de Carteret his mother.