Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Elizabeth Stuart: A Lost Girl

Elizabeth Stuart (born 28 December 1635)

The daughter of the ill-fated Charles I, king of England, and his queen, Henrietta Maria, Elizabeth Stuart didn't have much of a life. 

Van Dyck's 1637 painting of Elizabeth Stuart
and her younger sister, Anne,
who died in 1640, at the age of three
It might all have turned out quite differently for her--in 1636, while the Stuart princess was still an infant, her grandmother, the French regent Marie de' Medici was interested in arranging a match between the baby and William, the prince of Orange (the future William II of Orange). 

Although King Charles was not impressed with the prospects of such an alliance and rejected it for Elizabeth, he later accepted it for his eldest, Mary Henrietta, in 1641, after other marriage negotiations fell through and his economic situation grew dire.

After the outbreak of the English Civil Wars in 1642, Elizabeth Stuart and her younger brother, Henry, duke of Gloucester, were taken into the "care" of Parliament, placed into the hands of a series of "guardians" assigned to the task. 

In 1643, she was moved to Chelsea, where she was tutored by a woman we have met before, the scholar Bathsua Makin; with Makin, the princess  studied classical and modern languages and mathematics. In 1644, when Elizabeth was nine years old, Makin wrote about the princess's accomplishments, and although it is not absolutely clear, she may have remained as the girl's tutor until Elizabeth's death. 

Meanwhile, in 1647, Elizabeth and her brother were allowed to spend two days with their father, who had been captured and was being held by parliamentary forces. They had more occasion for visits when the king was moved to Hampton Court palace, but after his escape, there would be no more time spent with him.

In 1648, parliament acted to reduce Elizabeth's household, a decision she protested in a letter: "My Lords," she wrote, "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." 

An engraving of Elizabeth Stuart,
after 1645
The princess was moved to St. James's, where she was held in close captivity. After her father's trial and condemnation, she again wrote parliament, asking for permission to join her sister on the continent, in the Netherlands. Denied even that, the thirteen-year-old Elizabeth and her younger brother, were allowed to visit their father before his execution.

According to her account of this visit, she wrote that her father attempted to console his sobbing daughter. Further, 
He bid us tell my mother that his thoughts had never strayed from her, and that his love would be the same to the last. Withal, he commanded me and my brother to be obedient to her; and bid me send his blessing to the rest of my brothers and sisters, with communications to all his friends. Then, taking my brother Gloucester on his knee, he said, "Sweetheart, now they will cut off thy father's head." And Gloucester looking very intently upon him, he said again, "Heed, my child, what I say: they will cut off my head and perhaps make thee a king. But mark what I say. Thou must not be a king as long as thy brothers Charles and James do live; for they will cut off your brothers' heads when they can catch them, and cut off thy head too at the last, and therefore I charge you, do not be made a king by them." At which my brother sighed deeply, and made answer: "I will be torn in pieces first!" And these words, coming so unexpectedly from so young a child, rejoiced my father exceedingly. And his majesty spoke to him of the welfare of his soul, and to keep his religion, commanding him to fear God, and He would provide for him. Further, he commanded us all to forgive those people, but never to trust them; for they had been most false to him and those that gave them power, and he feared also to their own souls. And he desired me not to grieve for him, for he should die a martyr, and that he doubted not the Lord would settle his throne upon his son, and that we all should be happier than we could have expected to have been if he had lived; with many other things which at present I cannot remember.
The two children were regarded as even more of a burden after their father's execution--parliament refused the repeated offer of sanctuary in the Netherlands, and a succession of men appointed to act as their guardians rejected the duties the job entailed. 

Elizabeth found some respite under the care of Robert Sidney and his wife Dorothy Percy, who extended kindness to the girl. But even this didn't last--in 1650, when her elder brother, who would one day become Charles II, entered Scotland, the frightened English parliamentarians moved Elizabeth to the Isle of Wight, despite her pleas of ill health. 

She developed pneumonia and died on 8 September 1650, shortly after the move to Wight. She was fourteen years old.

When she was eleven years old, am ambassador from France had called her a "budding young beauty" who had "grace, dignity, intelligence and sensibility." But when her remains were examined in the nineteenth-century, it could be seen that she had suffered from rickets, resulting in shoulder and back deformities that would have made it difficult for her to walk--the result, surely, of the deprivations she suffered.

(Henry, duke of Gloucester, managed to survive his trials and tribulations, eventually reuniting with his older brothers, Charles and James, on the continent. He was with his brothers when Charles was restored to the throne, but he died shortly thereafter of smallpox. As he lay dying, his mother, Henrietta Maria, refused to see him because he had withstood her efforts to convert him to Catholicism. Family values. Sheesh.)

You may be interested in this BBC History Extra podcast, in which historian Linda Porter discusses the unhappy fate of Charles I's "left behind" children--click here.

For a post on Elizabeth Stuart's sister, Mary Henrietta, click here.