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Elizabeth Stuart (1635–1650)

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Elizabeth Stuart (1635–1650)

This article is about the daughter of Charles I of England. For other people called Princess Elizabeth, see Princess Elizabeth (disambiguation).
Elizabeth Stuart
Princess Elizabeth in 1649.
House House of Stuart
Father Charles I of England
Mother Henrietta Maria of France
Born 28 December 1635
St. James's Palace, London
Died 8 September 1650(1650-09-08) (aged 14)
Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight
Burial 24 September 1650
St. Thomas's Church, Newport, Isle of Wight

Elizabeth Stuart (28 December 1635–8 September 1650) was the second daughter of King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland and his wife, Henrietta Maria of France. From the age of six until her early death at the age of fourteen she was a prisoner of Parliament during the English Civil War. Her emotional written account of her final meeting with her father on the eve of his execution and his final words to his children have been published in numerous histories about the war and King Charles I.[1]

Failed betrothal

Elizabeth was born on 28 December 1635 at St James's Palace and was baptized there on 2 January the next year by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1636, Maria de' Medici, Elizabeth's maternal grandmother, attempted to have the infant princess betrothed to the son of the Prince of Orange, the future William II of Orange. Despite the fact that Charles I thought the marriage of an English princess to a Prince of Orange beneath her rank, the king's financial and political troubles forced him to send Elizabeth's sister, Mary, Princess Royal, to marry him instead.

Civil war

On the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, Elizabeth, along with her brother the Duke of Gloucester, were placed under the care of Parliament. Guardianship was assigned to different nobles, among them Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke.

After guardianship of the king's younger children was given to the Earl of Northumberland in 1642, their brother, Prince James, Duke of York, the future James II, came to visit, but was supposedly advised to escape by Elizabeth, who was concerned about him being around the king's enemies for any length of time.

In 1643, the seven-year-old Elizabeth broke her leg, and soon moved to Chelsea with her brother, the Duke of Gloucester. She was tutored by the great female scholar Bathsua Makin until 1644, by which time she could read and write in Hebrew, Greek, Italian, Latin and French. Other prominent scholars dedicated works to her, and were amazed by her flair for religious reading.

Finally, in 1647, Elizabeth, the Duke of York and the Duke of Gloucester were permitted to travel to Maidenhead to meet the King, and spent two days with him. A relationship was established, and after the King was forcibly moved to Hampton Court Palace, he visited his children under the care of the Northumberlands at Syon House. This quickly came to an end when the king fled to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight; ten-year-old Elizabeth supposedly helped the Duke of York escape once again, dressed as a woman.

She was called "Temperance" in the family for her kind nature.[1] The turmoil under which she had grown up had produced a young woman of unusual character. When she was eleven, the French ambassador described the princess as a "budding young beauty" who had "grace, dignity, intelligence and sensibility" that enabled her to judge the different people she met and understand different points of view.[1] Her strength of character was in contrast to continued poor health. A Victorian-era examination of her remains revealed that the princess had suffered from rickets, which caused shoulder and back deformities, knock knees and pigeon toes which would have made it hard for her to walk.[2] The adolescent Elizabeth had a long face with a protruding jaw and reddish-brown hair.

Scottish and English Royalty
House of Stuart
Charles I

When Parliament decided to remove Elizabeth's household in 1648, the twelve-year-old princess wrote a letter of appeal against the decision: "My Lords, I account myself very miserable that I must have my servants taken from me and strangers put to me. You promised me that you would have a care for me; and I hope you will show it in preventing so great a grief as this would be to me. I pray my lords consider of it, and give me cause to thank you, and to rest. Your loving friend, Elizabeth." The Lords were sympathetic and condemned the Commons for presuming to intervene with the Royal Household, and the decision was overturned. However, the Commons demanded that the royal children be brought up strict Protestants; they were also forbidden to join the Court at Oxford, and were held virtual prisoners at St. James's Palace. The young Duke of Gloucester was even, at one point, considered as a possible replacement king, who would have been groomed as a strictly constitutional monarch.

Father's execution

When the king was captured for the final time and sentenced to death by Oliver Cromwell and the other judges in 1649, Elizabeth wrote a long letter to parliament requesting permission to join her sister Mary in Holland. However, this request was refused until after the execution had taken place. On 29 January 1649, a highly emotional final meeting occurred between the two young royals, Elizabeth and the Duke of Gloucester, and their father. Elizabeth, who was then thirteen, while her younger brother was eight years old, wrote an account of the meeting that was found among her possessions after her death: "He told me he was glad I was come, and although he had not time to say much, yet somewhat he had to say to me which he had not to another, or leave in writing, because he feared their cruelty was such as that they would not have permitted him to write to me." Elizabeth was crying so hard that her father asked her if she would be able to remember everything he told her. She promised never to forget and said she would record it in writing. She wrote two separate accounts about the meeting, both found among her effects after her death a year and a half later. Her father told his sobbing daughter not to "grieve and torment herself for him" and asked her to keep her faith in the Protestant religion. Charles I told her to read certain books, among them Bishop Andrew's Sermons, Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity and Bishop Laud's book against Fisher, to ground her against "popery".Template:Cquote Charles I also gave his daughter a Bible during the meeting.[3] After the execution, the royal children became unwanted charges. Joceline, Lord Lisle, the Earl of Northumberland's son, put a case to parliament for the removal of Elizabeth and her brother from the Northumberlands' care. Parliament, however, refused to allow them to go to Holland, and instead placed them in the care of Sir Edward Harrington; however, Harrington's son successfully pleaded that they be looked after elsewhere.


The next residence for Elizabeth and her brother was Penshurst Place, under the care of Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester and his wife Dorothy. Parliamentary instruction was that the children should not be indulged; however, the Countess of Leicester treated Elizabeth with great kindness, and was the recipient of a jewel from the Princess's own collection. The valuable jewel was later the centre of conflict between the Countess and Parliamentary commissioners appointed to oversee the late king's personal estate.

In 1650, Elizabeth's brother, the now titular Charles II journeyed to Scotland to be crowned king of that country. Elizabeth was moved to the Isle of Wight as a hostage, and placed in the care of Anthony Mildmay with a pension of £3000 a year. This move from Penshurst was probably the cause of her death. The Princess complained that her health was not equal to moving, but it went ahead anyway; she caught a cold, which quickly developed into pneumonia, and died on 8 September 1650. Some accounts say that Elizabeth was found dead with her head on the Bible her father had given her. In her last days, she was described as a sad child by those who had been around her.[4] Three days after she was found dead, the Council of State granted permission for the princess to join her sister Mary in the Netherlands.[1] She was buried at St. Thomas's Church, Newport, on the Isle of Wight.

Following her death, her grave was largely unmarked until the 19th century, with the exception of her carved initials: E[lizabeth] S[tuart]. Queen Victoria, who made her favourite home at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, commanded that a suitable monument be erected to her memory. In 1856, a white marble sculpture by Queen Victoria's favorite sculptor Carlo Marochetti was commissioned for her grave that depicted Elizabeth as a beautiful young woman, lying with her cheek on a Bible open to words from Gospel of Matthew: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Above the sculpture is a grating, indicating that she was a prisoner, but the bars are broken to show that the prisoner has now escaped to "a greater rest."[5] The plaque marking the sculpture reads: "To the memory of The Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Charles I, who died at Carisbrooke Castle on 8 September 1650, and is interred beneath the chancel of this church, this monument is erected as a token of respect for her virtues and of sympathy for her misfortunes, by Victoria R., 1856."[6]

The concluding lines from The Death of The Princess Elizabeth in the 1866 book Lays of the English Cavaliers by John Jeremiah Daniel commemorated Victoria's actions: "And long unknown, unhonoured, her sacred dust had slept/When to the Stuart maiden's grave a mourner came and wept./Go, read that Royal Martyr's woe in lines the world reveres/And see the tomb of Charles's child wet with Victoria's tears."[7]




  • M. A. E. Green, Lives of the Princesses of England (1849 – 1855)
  • Gordon Goodwin, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Princess Elizabeth Stuart.
  • Toms, Jan. "Elizabeth Stuart: A Princess Lost and Found," at
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