Isabel or Isabella Stuart was born to James, Duke of York (later King James II of England) and his wife Mary of Modena in 1676. Isabel was the second daughter born to James and Mary, but sadly her older sister had died a year earlier, though she did have two other sisters from her father’s first marriage to Anne Hyde – the two future Queens Mary II and Anne.
At the time of her birth, Isabel was fourth in line to the throne behind her sisters and her father. Her uncle Charles II was the reigning monarch at the time. A brother Charles and a sister Elizabeth shortly followed, but sadly both died young, which seemed a repeating pattern for the children of Mary and James. Of four young children, Isabel was the only one to survive the baby years until years later when James and Louisa came along.
In 1678, a conspiracy emerged, which revolved around the idea that James and his Catholic faction were planning to assassinate King Charles II. Though the conspiracy, known as the Popish Plot, was a fiction created by a man named Titus Oates, it led to mass anti-Catholic hysteria throughout England and King Charles II had his brother moved to Brussels during this period as many people wished for James to be taken out of the succession altogether. In 1678, the young Isabel moved with her parents and her older sister Anne to her sister Mary’s court in Brussels. At the time, Mary was Princess of Orange, and so the family’s short exile was lived out in comfort.
The family soon heard that King Charles II was gravely ill and rushed back to England. The King did not die, however, and James was then moved again, this time to Edinburgh. James and his wife Mary spent almost three years living in Holyrood Palace, which was in no fit condition for such royal guests at the time and was in need of extensive repairs. At Charles’s request, the couple left their daughter Isabel behind with her older sister Anne. Despite James being given power in Edinburgh after being created King’s commissioner to Scotland, Mary of Modena was deeply unhappy in their Edinburgh home without her daughter Isabel and became depressed.
Sadly Isabel did not escape the fate which befell the children of James and Mary at this time, and the girl died shortly before her fifth birthday. Her mother Mary fell into a deep despair and became fanatically religious, which worried those around her. The child was buried in Westminster Abbey as ‘The Lady Isabella, daughter to the Duke of York’. Four years later, her father ascended the throne as King James II.