From the moment of his birth, on 10 June 1688, at St. James's Palace, the prince was the subject of controversy. He was born to the reigning king, James II of England and VII of Scots, and his Roman Catholic second wife, Mary of Modena, and as such was automatically Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay among other titles.
James II had two adult daughters from his first marriage who had been brought up in the Protestant faith. As long as there was a possibility of one of them succeeding him directly, his opponents saw his rule as only a temporary setback. When people began to fear that Mary would produce a son and heir, a movement grew to replace James by force with his elder daughter Princess Mary and his son-in-law/nephew, William of Orange.
When the young prince was born, a false rumour was immediately spread that the call for a "warming-pan" had been the pretext for a substitution, the real baby having allegedly been born dead. On 10 December, within six months of his birth, Mary of Modena left London and took him to France for safety, while his father continued to fight (unsuccessfully) to retain his crown.
With his sister Louisa Maria, the prince was brought up in France. There, recognised by King Louis XIV of France as the rightful heir to the English and Scottish thrones, he became the focus for the Jacobite movement.
On his father's death in 1701, he declared himself King, with the name of James III and VIII and recognised as such by France, Spain, the Papal States and Modena. All of these states refused to recognise William III, Mary II or Queen Anne as the legitimate British sovereign. As a result of this, he was attainted for treason, 2 March 1702, and his titles forfeited under British law.
Having been delayed in France by an attack of measles, James attempted an invasion, trying to land at the Firth of Forth on 23 March 1708. His French ships were driven back by the fleet of Admiral Sir George Byng.
Had he renounced his Roman Catholic faith, he might have strengthened the existing support of Tory, pro-Restoration forces in England, but he refused to do so. As a result, in 1714, a German Protestant became King—George I of Great Britain.
French forces were defeated, and Louis XIV of France was forced to accept peace with England and her allies. He signed the Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, that, amongst other conditions, required him to expel James from France.
In the following year, the Jacobites started "The 'Fifteen" Jacobite rising in Scotland, aimed at restoring "James III and VIII" to the throne. In 1715, James finally set foot on Scottish soil, following the indecisive Battle of Sheriffmuir, but he was disappointed by the strength of support he found. Instead of carrying through the plans for a coronation at Scone, he returned to France, sailing from Montrose. He was not welcomed back, because his patron, Louis XIV, was dead and the government found him a political embarrassment.
Pope Clement XI offered James the Palazzo Muti in Rome as his residence, and he accepted. Innocent XIII, like his predecessor, showed much support. Thanks to the mediation of a close friend of his, Cardinal Filippo Antonio Gualterio, James was granted a life annuity of eight thousand Roman scudi. Such help enabled him to organise a Roman Jacobite court, where the Pope's cousin, Francesco Maria Conti of Siena, was the Gentiluomo di camera (Chamberlain).
Following James's failure, attention turned to his son Charles, "the Young Pretender", whose rebellion of 1745 came closer to success than his father's. With the failure of this second rebellion, however, the Stuart hopes of regaining the British throne were effectively destroyed.
James's full titles before his father's deposition were: Prince James Francis Edward, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.
Upon his father's deposition he lost his automatic titles as eldest son of the Sovereign (i.e. Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland). Thus he was Prince James Francis Edward, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter until his attainture for treason.