Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Lost Children of Charles I

by Anita Davison

This post originally appeared in Hoydens and Firebrands in 2009, but it attracted so much interest at the time I wanted to repeat and expand on it here.

Charles I's Children - Mary, James, Charles Elizabeth and Anne

On 1 May 1625 Charles I was married by proxy to fifteen-year-old Henrietta Maria in front of the doors of the Notre Dame de Paris, before his first Parliament, who disapproved of a Catholic bride for the English king, could meet to forbid the banns.

Charles James, Duke of Rothesay and Cornwall (13 May 1629); their first child, was stillborn.

Elizabeth Stuart

Princess Elizabeth 'Temperance'
Born in 1635, Princess Elizabeth was called "Temperance" due to her pious and gentle nature. When she was seven, her father, Charles I marched into the House of Commons with troops to demand the arrest of five MPs, an action which resulted in open revolt where the royal family were forced to flee to Oxford for their safety.

The King and two elder sons, Charles and James, established a new royalist government at Oxford, but the Commons refused permission for Elizabeth and two-year-old Henry to join their parents, keeping them virtual prisoners at St. James's Palace. 

Their mother and baby sister, Henriette Anne, born in 1644, eventually fled to the continent, but Elizabeth never saw her mother again.

A sickly child, Elizabeth broke her leg in 1643 when she was eight and moved to Chelsea with her brother where she was tutored by the female scholar, Bathsua Makin. At this young age she could read and write Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian and French and the scriptures in their original tongues.

When Elizabeth was ten, her hostess the Countess of Dorset died and she and Henry were placed in the care of the Duke of Newcastle in a house on the Thames. James, Duke of York was allowed to visit, but Elizabeth was concerned about him being around the king's enemies for any length of time and provided the clothes, and perhaps the plan for his successful escape to the continent.

In 1647, Elizabeth and Henry were living at the country home of the Countess of Leicester. The French ambassador described her as a "budding young beauty" characterised by grace, dignity, sensibility and intelligence. Unlike her father she could judge characters and understand different points of view. But she was powerless, distraught and saddened as the tragedy of the English revolution unfolded. As parliamentary prejudice hardened, the Countess of Leicester was ordered to treat her royal charges without special privileges.

In January 1649, when Charles was tried, found guilty of treason and condemned to death, Elizabeth wrote a long letter to Parliament requesting permission to join her sister, Princess Mary, in Holland. This request was refused until after the execution had taken place.

On the day after Elizabeth's 13th birthday, King Charles was allowed one last meeting with Elizabeth and Henry. The prematurely aged king told her not to grieve as he would die a martyr and he gave her a Bible, which she kept close at hand for the rest of her short life.

The royal children were stripped of their titles and no one was allowed to kiss their hands or treat them as royal. Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester was now merely “Mr Harry”. Parliament continued to treat them with consideration, but the myth that they planned to marry Elizabeth to a commoner and apprentice Henry to a trade is royalist propaganda.
Elizabeth wrote an account of her last meeting with her father before his execution which was found among her possessions when she died in September 1650:

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.

In July 1650, the ruling Council of State decided to move Elizabeth and Henry to their father's former prison, Carisbrooke Castle. Elizabeth complained that her health was not equal to moving, but it went ahead anyway; taken there by the king's former servant Anthony Mildmay, described as, "at heart a knave".

Elizabeth had always suffered ill health, possibly including rickets. On the Monday after her arrival she caught a chill that developed into a fever which turned into headaches and fitting. On the morning of Sunday the 11th September 1650, Elizabeth was found dead, her head resting on the open Bible that had been her father's parting gift. Ironically three days later, unaware of the tragedy, the Council of State decided on her release so that she could join her elder sister Mary in the Netherlands. (Henry was released to Mary in early 1653).

Elizabeth's coffin was laid in a vault under the floor of St Thomas Church in Newport, Isle of Wight, with a stone marked "E.S." for Elizabeth Stuart as her only memorial. She was fourteen years old.

Princess Elizabeth's Tomb Sculpted by Carlo Marochetti

In the 1850s Victoria and Albert, whose holiday home, Osborne House is on the Isle of Wight, hired Carlo Marochetti, an Italian sculptor to complete a new tomb for Elizabeth in Carrara marble. Completed in 1856, Queen Victoria was so impressed with the result, she hired the same sculptor to carve the mausoleum statue for herself and Albert.

Anne Stuart

Anne was born on 17 March 1637 at St. James's Palace, the seventh child and third daughter. She was baptised on 30 March by William Laud, the Anglican Bishop of London. 

Anne was a sickly child, frail and slightly deformed. She contracted tuberculosis, and on the 5th November 1640, at the age of three, died at Richmond Palace. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, next to her brother Charles James.

Catherine Stuart  - 29 June 1639, lived a few hours.

Henry Stuart, 1st Duke of Gloucester and Duke of Cambridge - born 8 July 1640 also known as Henry of Oatland.

Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Cambridge

After his father's defeat at the end of the English Civil War, Henry and his elder sister Elizabeth were captured.  During the debates as to what regime should succeed the now abolished monarchy, Parliament was briefly suggested Henry be placed on the throne, and made to govern as a limited, constitutional monarch.

Considered young enough not to have been "corrupted" by the Catholic and absolutist views of his parents, Parliament felt he might be tutored to accept their perspective. However, the Rump Parliament opted instead to establish of a Republican Commonwealth. 

In 1652, Oliver Cromwell agreed to release Elizabeth and Henry, although it was too late for Elizabeth. Henry joined his mother and brothers in Paris, but as a staunch Protestant, he quarrelled bitterly with his mother, who was determined to convert him to Catholicism. In her view 'England was finished' and Henry needed to be acceptable to a European Catholic bride. Their mutual dislike reached such a level, that Henrietta expelled him from Paris.

Henry joined the Spanish armies fighting at Dunkirk where he met the Prince of Condé.  Henry was a good soldier and distinguished himself in battle, gaining an enviable reputation and formed a strong bond with the agnostic Condé,  and it was suggested that Henry might marry Condé's niece.

After the conclusion of peace between France and Spain, Henry lived at one of Condé's estates. After Oliver Cromwell's death and collapse of the Commonwealth, he was reunited with his brothers Charles and James. He returned to England as part of Charles' triumphant progress through London in May 1660, and took up residence in Whitehall.

He was created Duke of Gloucester and Earl of Cambridge by Charles II in 1659, but died of smallpox in September 1660, four months after reaching England again.  Much to his brother's distress, Henrietta Maria refused to see him as he lay dying. He was 20.

This mourning locket for Henry of Gloucester was discovered at Ham House and was believed to have belonged to Elizabeth Dysart and probably held a lock of his hair. 


  1. I am writing a NaNoWritMo novel this month that is a historical paranormal in which youthful Charles I is featured and it is my first excursion into the lives of the 17th century Stuarts. There is hardly a happy moment for any of them. Charles I could not even walk and talk until he was three. This post brought a tear to my eye.

  2. How very sad! Charles I was not much of a king, but what happened to his family was atrocious. I did some research on this for an article about Henrietta's dwarf, who had a fascinating life of his own.

  3. I disagree that Charles was not much of a King Sue - he was very misguided and did a lot of things wrong - but didn't they all! I think he firmly believed in his role and duty. I wonder how things would have developed had he been served by better advisers who had the good of the Kingdom at heart instead of religious views? This whole period is yet another example of how religious fanaticism takes precedence over all else, where intolerance of another's belief starts a war. History in these instances has a lot to answer for doesn't it? :-(

    Good article - thank you for something I didn't know before!

  4. It was not always a fortunate birthright being born to the ruling Monarchy as your excellent article points out. Thank you for sharing it again.

  5. Great comments, Linda, Sue and Helen - Charles I was always labelled incompetent, arrogant, stubborn and selfish, which is all true - but maybe his personal tragedies made him more intransigent and determined not to capitulate to the men who had torn his family apart. He missed his beloved wife dreadfully, and had Cromwell been kinder maybe he would have compromised. It's a thought.

  6. Thank you for an interesting post.


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