The Death of a Royal Christian Princess, and the Hope of Eternal Life

Elizabeth_tombThe Princess Elisabeth,

The daughter of King Charles I, of England, lies buried in Newport Church, in the Isle of Wight During the time of her father’s troubles she was a prisoner in Carisbrook Castle, in the same beautiful island.

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She was found one day dead in her bed with her Bible open before her and her finger resting on these words,

“Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” A monument in Newport erected by Queen Victoria, represents the young princess with her head bowed in death, and her hand rests on a marble book before her, her finger pointing to the words.

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.”

Meet the Royal Christian Princess of our story:  Elizabeth Stuart (1635 – 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.

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.

She was called “Temperance” in the family for her kind nature. 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. Her strength of character was in contrast to continued poor health.

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.

Charles also gave his daughter a Bible during their highly emotional final meeting. 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 then 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”. After Charles’ execution, the royal children became unwanted charges of the State.

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.” 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.

Character excerpts taken from Wikipedia