The Warming Pan Scandal

A strange title but it caught my attention when I was doing some research for a walking tour around St James’s Palace a few months back. I decided to look into it some more as I knew what a warming pan was, but had no idea how one got associated with a scandal.

When I first heard the words warming pan my memory was suddenly flung back to the time when I stayed over at my grandmother’s house as a youngster, and remembered that she had one of these warming pans but it was purely decorational.

She hung it on the longest wall in her cottage which was on the narrow spiral stairs. As you walked up or down them, you needed to have a good centre of gravity as they were quite steeep, and on many occassions as a youngster I’d graze it with my shoulder as I went past it, and it would swing like a pendulum.

I decided to look into the strange naming of this scandal, and discovered that it originated in 1688. It was associated with a royal birth which explained how it came up in my research of St James’s Palace.

Mary of Modena, second wife and Queen to King James II eventually gave birth to a son at St James’s Palace in London on the 10th June 1688. This boy was the heir to the throne and his birth was celebrated by many in the country. But not everyone was happy as it meant ushering in a permanent Catholic dynasty in Britain. The people that weren’t happy were the Protestants.

The problem was that James II was widely unpopular and he became even more unpopular when he married a devout Roman Catholic, Mary of Modena. The fear was that with a Catholic Monarchy and a healthy boy next in line, the Church of England would be replaced and allegience established with Rome.

Mary had been married to James for 10 years and had a number of still births and babies that died very young. For the Protestants they weren’t too overcome with sympathy as they were in support of James’s two eldest daughters, Princess Mary and Princess Anne. Both had been brought up as Protestants upon the insistance of their uncle Charles II, who was James’s older brother.

Rumours were started that Mary had not given birth to a healthy prince, but in fact it was another still born child, not unsurprising going by her past record. It was rumoured that an impostor baby was smuggled in a warming pan and delivered to the Queen’s bedchamber.

Already the story seems somewhat unbeliveable, as how on earth could you fit a new born baby in a warming pan? as well as in front off courtiers gathered in the Queen’s bedchamber to witnesses the royal birth.

James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766)
The long awaited son of King James II

James II was outraged and eventually produced forty witnesses to his son’s birth, however the rumours persisted. It is said that Mary and Anne were particularly fond of the story and were said to have encouraged its validity.

James’s grip on power was beginning to wain, and just six months after the birth of his son he was overthrown in a ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688. Queen Mary fled the Palace of Whitehall disguised as a washerwoman along with her infant son and escaped to the court of Louis XIV in France, where she was later joined by her husband.

On his father’s death in 1701. James Francis Edward Stuart claimed to be the rightful heir and named himself King James III, with the support of his  followers and his cousin Louis XIV of France. Fourteen years later, he unsuccessfully attempted to gain the British throne in the Jacobite uprising of 1715. He became known as the ‘Old Pretender’ and would never be actually crowned. Whilst in exile he married and had a son himself who would carry the baton as the ‘Young Pretender’ but more romantically he would be forever remembered as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’.

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