Mary Beatrice of Modena (1658-1718) was the only Italian queen of England. She wanted to become a Visitation nun but instead at the age of fifteen Mary was sent to a foreign country to marry a forty year old man. The Catholic religion was proscribed in England and the young princess, as bride of the Catholic Duke of York, brother and heir of Charles II, met with a great deal of prejudice. Mary and her husband James had six children but only two lived to adulthood; only one lived to old age, and he is known as the "Old Pretender."
As Duchess of York, Mary was a patroness of the arts and benefactress of the poor. The Catholic queen of Charles II, Catherine of Braganza, did not care for her. Mary likewise had a tenuous relationship with James' daughters by his first marriage. She also had to deal with her husband's infidelities. However, she was blessed to have as her spiritual director Blessed Claude de la Colombière, who had been the confessor of St. Margaret Mary. Blessed Claude instilled in Mary a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotion which would sustain her through the upheavals and exiles of her life. When her husband became James II, he did not reign for long, but was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 by his own daughters, Mary and Anne. James, Mary Beatrice and their infant son fled to France, where the king and queen lived out their days.
Her final years are described thus:
After resigning herself from any more political activity, Mary Beatrice became fully devoted to the Convent and the sisters. In 1712, Mary’s only surviving daughter, Louise Maria, died of small pox. Mary herself was suffering from breast cancer tumors and sought to lose herself in religious devotions. Mary Beatrice finally died of breast cancer at St. Germain-en-Laye, France on May 7, 1718. She was buried in the Convent of the Visitation at Chaillot, which was eventually destroyed during the French Revolution. One French courtier wrote:Share
“The good and pious Queen of England died yesterday…Surely she must be in heaven. She kept nothing for herself and gave all she had to the poor;…I am convinced…that she is more to be regarded as a saint than her husband.” (Hopkirk, 294)
Upon searching through her belongings, a prayer was found that Mary Beatrice wrote in her own hand:
“Lord, give me grace to drink the chalice Thou hast prepared for me.” (Hopkirk, 297)
This small note is illustrative of the immense dignity and elegance with which Mary Beatrice conducted herself throughout her tumultuous life.