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James de la Cloche (1644?-1669?) is an alleged would-be-illegitimate son of Charles II of England who would have first joined a Jesuit seminary and then gave up his habit to marry a Neapolitan woman. He is known mainly through documentary evidence.

James de la Cloche is mainly known through studies of British historian Lord Acton. In 1862 he received copies of the so-called Gesu manuscript from Giuseppe Boero of the Jesuit archives in Rome. Lord Acton later wrote an article The Secret History of Charles II.

Based on the documents, Charles II would have had an illegitimate son with lady Marguerite de Carteret when he had been in Jersey in 1646. The official father was Marguerite's husband, Jean de la Cloche. The son would have received Protestant education in France and the Netherlands and used the name James de la Cloche du Bourg. Charles II would have recognized him in secret in 1665 and granted him an annuity of £500 as long as he would stay in London and as an Anglican. Apparently de la Cloche spoke mainly French.

Jacobus de la Cloche entered a Jesuit seminary in Rome 2 April 1668. He was wearing common clothes and claimed that he was 24 years old. De la Cloche had converted to Catholicism in Hamburg in 1667. He had received a written proof of his ancestry from Queen Christina of Sweden and now wanted to join the seminary. He was accepted and entered St. Andrea al Quirinale as a novice on 11 April.

Apparently King Charles was not angry that de la Cloche had switched faiths. In 1668 Oliva, the general of the Jesuits, received a letter in which the king told that he planned to convert to Catholicism. He could not contact any of the local catholic priests without arousing suspicions but his son, one de la Cloche, would be a perfect choice. He could arrange a cardinal's position for him, if he would not be suitable for the throne. In August the next letter invited de la cloche to come home, without speaking to queen Christina, who was coming to Rome. The king had arranged him to travel under the name Henri de Rohan. By October de la Cloche was on his way.

The next royal letter, dated 18 November 1668, says that Charles II had sent his son back to Rome to act as his unofficial ambassador to the Holy See and he would later return to London when he had received answers to questions the king was willing to deliver only orally. He had asked Oliva to give de la Cloche 800 doppies for expenses. After that, there is no mention of de la Cloche.

However, one James Stuart or don Giacopo Stuardo, appeared in Naples in 1669. In 19 February he married one Teresa Corona and gave her father 200 doppies as a dowry. When his father-in-law, an innkeeper, begun to boast about his birth and spread around his money, Stuart was arrested in suspicion of forging money. He claimed to be a natural son of Charles II (although it is not clear when he had said that). When the local viceroy heard about his claims, he wrote to England to verify them. Meanwhile Stuart contacted English consul Browne so he could help him out of confinement in the castle of Gaeta.

The English reply did not verify Stuart's claims, and he had no documents to verify them, so he was removed from the relative comfort of the castle of Gaeta to the lowly prison of Vicaria. He was sentenced to flogging but his in-laws managed to stop that.

Stuart was eventually released, left supposedly for England and returned with more money. By 31 August he was dead. In his confusing will he had asked Charles II to give his unborn child an "ordinary principality" or something equally appropriate. He also named Maria Henrietta Stuart as his mother. The matter was mentioned in contemporary newsletters and English consul's messages to England.

Stuart's widow gave birth to a son, Giacomo Stuardo. The son married Lucia Minelli di Riccia in 1711 and later regained some of his father's inheritance. The last record of him is from 1752.

Various historians have had conflicting opinions about the matter. James de la Cloche might have forged the royal letters himself. The confusing will may have been the handiwork of the Corona family. There might have been two separate men claiming the same ancestry - the change would have been rather drastic. Lord Acton and Father Boero assumed that the second man was an impostor. Boero assumed that de la Cloche had returned to London using yet another name and James Stuart had adopted his claim. Lord Acton suggests that Stuart might have been a servant who had robbed de la Cloche to get his money and papers.

Sources and further reading

Giovanni Tarantino, Jacques de la Cloche: A Stuart Pretender in the Seventeenth Century, in Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu, LXXIII (June-Dec., 2004).

Steuart, A. Francis, "The Neapolitan Stuarts", in The English Historical Review, Vol. 18, no. 71 (July 1903).

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