Queen Mary of Modena was born Marie Beatrice d’Este on 5 October 1658, the Catholic daughter of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena. She was the second wife of James II (his first wife Anne Hyde had died in 1671) who, in 1669, had converted to Catholicism. The match was arranged through French diplomatic channels; the couple was married by proxy in September 1673, and she arrived in England in November.
James engaged Christopher Wren to build a large new chapel at Whitehall, decorated by Antonio Verrio, and with an altarpiece painted by Benedetto Gennari. A period of intense religious strife would follow. The English public regarded Mary as an agent of French and papal interests. Between 1675 and 1682 she gave birth to five children, none of whom survived, the blame for which was assigned to James suffering from venereal disease.
In June 1688 a second son, James Francis Edward, was born early. It was rumoured that the child was had been imposed upon the nation to ensure a Catholic succession to the throne. Upheaval resulted in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the invasion (by invitation) of William III of Orange. Mary escaped with her son to France; James followed soon after. He was the last Roman Catholic monarch of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Mary died in May 1718 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.