Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Spare Child of James I of England: a Tragedy in the Making

by Linda Root

Charles I {{PD-Art}}

Somehow in the last several years the phrase 'an heir and a spare' has become a popular term to describe the ideal dynastic plan.  The press has been peppered with it recently, partially due to the high visibility of the current favorite  spare, the fascinating and unpredictable Prince Harry, and the recent announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge  are expecting a second child.  Under current law, whether the child is male or female, it still will be that coveted spare child likely to insure the preservation of the dynasty, assuming the monarchy itself survives.  Such was not the case in 1600.

At the end of the Sixteenth Century,  King James VI of Scotland and his Danish bride Anne had one son and one daughter.  The heir was Henry Frederick Stuart, Duke of Rothesay, born in February 1594, and what an heir he was!  He was robust and alert, and by God, he was male!  His sister Elizabeth followed in August 1596.  Anne’s next child was another daughter, Margaret, who died shortly after her first birthday.  Anne was obviously capable of producing children and had  many child bearing years ahead.  There was no cause for alarm.

Henry Frederick {{PD-Art}}
Anne of Denmark {{PD-Art}}

The Duke of Rothesay was the ideal prince. One thinks of England’s Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales. But James VI and I was no more content to risk his dynasty on the survival of a single son than Henry VII had been.

Dunfermline Palace, Engraving by William .Miller {{PD-Art}}

And thus, on November 19 of 1600 at Dunfermline, the second son was born, and in December he was christened Duke of Albany in the chapel royal at Holyrood with far less pomp than had accompanied his older brother's legendary baptism at Sterling.  Another lavish christening such as James himself had been given by his mother the Queen of Scots and which he had sought to equal for Henry Frederick would have bankrupted Scotland.

DunfermlineAbbey {{Wikimedia}}

Although James had his coveted second son, the birth of the spare did little to insure the dynasty.  The infant Charles was a sickly, fragile bairn who in the present day might be termed a 'failure to thrive' child. There were subsequent royal pregnancies, and none of the infants including a third son Robert lived more than two years. The queen had suffered at least two miscarriages even before Elizabeth Tudor died in the spring of 1603.

Some historians suggest at least one of them was provoked by her husband’s failure to allow her to take custody of her eldest son Prince Henry, who was living in Stirling under the supervision of the Countess and Earl of Mar as was the Scottish custom.  James had been raised at Stirling under the guardianship of a previous Earl of Mar, and like Anne, his mother Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots, had been denied his custody in April of 1567.

The last time Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots saw her infant son was when Mar allowed her a few hours of supervised visitation. On the way home from Stirling, the Queen of Scots was carried off to Dunbar by the Earl of Bothwell and was either raped or merely seduced.  Her trip to collect her heir did not end well.  Anne's similar defeat was far less tragic in the long term. In 1603 when Elizabeth Tudor died and James VI traveled south to claim his crown, he took the Earl of Mar along while Queen Anne remained in Scotland. She took advantage of their absences and marched on Stirling to take physical custody of the prince, but Mar's relatives suppressed and repelled her assault, and in May she suffered a miscarriage.

James VI and I-  {{PD Art}}

Finally James gave in and allowed Queen Anne to travel south with his nine-year-old heir. Charles did not join the entourage.  He was adjudged too sickly to endure the journey. At age three, the little Duke of Albany neither walked nor talked.

One wonders if the decision to leave him in Scotland with Seton was made in part to keep the slow developer from raining on his older brother's parade.  And indeed, a parade it was. Anne was a flashy woman, and at age nine, Prince Henry Frederick was already magnificent to behold.  People traveled across England just for a glimpse of them as they journeyed south to meet the king.

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales {{PD-Art


In 1600 when Charles was born, Queen Anne was not denied the close association with her second son she had so desperately wanted with her firstborn. She would never need to arrange an armed confrontation to gain his custody. No one else particularly wanted him.

His survival was uncertain and no aristocrats vied for the responsibility of having a dead royal on their hands.

By then Anne had made Dunfermline Abbey in Fife her home and established a royal palace adjoining the abbey. The supervision of Charles's early training was placed in the hands of the queen's friend Alexander Seton,  Lord Fyvie, who later became Earl of Dunfermline. The queen's new apartments were remodeled and embellished by the queen's favorite William Schaw, the same architect who had upgraded Stirling for the lavish Christening of Henry Frederick.

Alexander Seton {{PD art}}
From 1603 until the autumn of 1604, Charles was left at Dunfermline in the custody of Alexander Seton, a cautious Catholic who was a member of Queen Anne's inner circle and who was soon to become Scotland’s Chancellor.  Seton was happy  to be ensconced in Dunfermline, which was closer to the centers of power than his newly acquired estates at Fyvie.

Anne could have selected worse in terms of the quality of the  education and care Seton provided,  but leaving him in Seton's Catholic household may have helped seal his ultimate fate.  By then, Anne herself was considered a closet Catholic, and Seton was a known adherent of the auld religion.  He was just wise enough not to flaunt it.

At the time of Elizabeth Tudor’s death, Sir Robert Carey, her first cousin once removed, a grandchild of her aunt Mary Boleyn, was representing Northumberland in the English Parliament, and living in the English north.

Carey  had been Warden of the East Marches during a portion of the final decade of  the Sixteenth Century and was the person who rode to Scotland to inform James of Elizabeth Tudor’s death. The year after  his queen and his heir arrived at Windsor,  the king sent Carey to Dunfermline to report on Charles’s development. Sir Robert engaged a new physician who declared the Duke of Albany able to travel after a demonstration in which young Charles was able to stagger across the Great Hall at Dunfermline.


The Careys ~ {{PD-Art}} Wikimedia

If the new doctor exaggerated his ward’s recovery, Seton did not complain. Being guardian to a royal was a thankless task. Keeping Charles at Dunfermline was confining and expensive. Elaborate arrangements were made for the journey south, with Carey and Seton leading the entourage.  In February 1605, Sir Robert and his formidable wife Dame Robert were made his guardians. Within months, Dame Robert had him walking unaided and talking, albeit with a stammer. Charles was slight of build, and while he apparently recovered physically under Dame Robert’s care, he never cut the same swashbuckling image as his flamboyant and staunchly protestant older brother.  According to his caregivers, he was given to displays of temper which he never entirely outgrew.


While Charles is said to have idolized Prince Henry Frederick, there is at least one  incident reported in which his older brother publicly humiliated him.  There were religious undertones to the insult. The affair is used to support an allegation that Henry Frederick had scant affection for his brother. It is just as likely a single incident seized upon by historians who wished to separate the image of the glorious heir who died from the unpopular young sibling who survived. Whatever the Prince of Wales’ attitude to his less auspicious young brother may have been, when Henry Frederick died apparently of typhoid in November 1612, Charles was the chief mourner at his funeral.  King James disliked funerals and refused to attend. At least outwardly, Henry Frederick had resisted the Stuart dynasty's love affair with the concept of Divine Right Monarchy.  He also had the gumption and independent spirit to openly defy his royal father on occasion. There is evidence James had grown afraid of him.

The twelve year old second son of England’s first Stuart king never captured the imagination of the English people in the way his brother had. The glory and hope of England had died an early death. As heir apparent, at least Charles finally gained the attention of his parents. One wonders if the king did not feel some relief for having an heir who was less a rival.

However, by 1612 when the Prince of Wales died,  the king’s own fiscal policies, his personal extravagance and his friendly relationship with Spain had eroded his support both with the parliament and the common people . Charles, the erstwhile spare, became the heir to an already brewing tragedy. James made the further mistake of forsaking his promise to the Scots to stay close to Scottish politics. Instead, in his only trip to Scotland after he became the king of England, all he did was  try to force a high Anglican prayer book on the Scottish kirk, an act which caused a religious division that became a precursor of civil war.


Then James and his Queen did the unthinkable.  They sought a Spanish marriage for their son. James, to his credit, dreamed of bringing peace to Europe, but his logic was flawed in thinking he could achieve it through a marriage of his second son to the Spanish Infanta. Prince Charles, in the company of the overreaching Duke of Buckingham, traveled to Spain in hopes of negotiating a formal betrothal. The English people and the Parliament, however, had not forgotten what occurred when Queen Mary Tudor married Philip of Spain.  They also remembered the words of Henry Frederick who had scoffed when such a plan was proposed to him. The ardent protestant Henry Frederick  declared there would never be two religions sleeping in his royal bed. Later when Charles married the French Catholic daughter of Henry IV and Marie de Medici, Henrietta Maria, the English were not impressed.

Prince Charles, however, was a Divine Right Monarchist to the core and had inherited his father’s disdain of Parliament, considering it an advisory body, a toy to be put aside at will. He no doubt thought the dynasty was secure when he and his French Catholic wife Henrietta Maria, sister of the French king, produced two sons, Charles and James, although it took eight years to do so.  He was not particularly troubled when his French wife raised them as Catholics. The English people were not as accommodating as their king. There was widespread belief that Charles also had but a single religion in the royal bed—and not the one the English were prepared to tolerate.

When one explores the writings of Robert Carey, often regarded  the first modern English autobiographer, and the memoirs of Alexander Seton, Earl of Dunfermline, one wonders if Charles was not marked to be a victim from the time of his birth.  What Charles did not realize at the time of his ascension when his father died was the English people also had a spare in incubation.

His name was Oliver Cromwell.

Portrait said to be Charles by unknown artist


It is difficult not to feel empathy for the little Duke of Albany, left behind when his mother and brother traveled to England in glory. There are qualities to be admired in young Charles. With Dame Robert Carey's help, he overcame his physical infirmities. presumably caused by Rickets.  His recuperation must have been physically and mentally painful. At one point the king had wanted to put him in iron boots, and Lady Carey would not stand still for it.  Soon after she had her royal ward walking. It is not surprising throughout his early reign, he often sought advice from her.  In a sense she was his surrogate mother and his greatest champion.

Under the guidance of Dame Robert, the  once crippled child learned to enjoy sports, especially the hunt.  Charles seemed to emulate the family life characteristic of the Careys. He and Henrietta Maria came to love one another. He sired nine children, five of  whom survived.  He took great pride in his family. He exceeded the expectations of those who had attended his birth simply by living.

I read somewhere when Henry Frederick was on his death bed, Charles braved the risk of contagion and brought him a little metal horse as gift in hopes it would cheer him.  He was the chief mourner at a funeral his father did not choose to attend.  There is something profoundly sad about a child who struggled so hard merely to endure only to suffer so ignomious an end.

The beheading of Charles Stuart, King of England , Scotland and Ireland

Author's note:

Thank you for joining me.   The young Charles Stuart and Dame Robert Carey appear in  my Scottish fantasy The Green Woman in which he is kidnapped by the Wizard Earl of Bothwell, Frances Stuart, in collusion with the Goddess Nyx and sleeps through the entire adventure.

Charles is also the focus of my conventional historical novel in progress, In the Shadow of 
the Gallows, in which he briefly appears as a potential target of Gunpowder plotter Thomas Percy in an effort to kidnap Charles and place him as a puppet on the English throne under a Regency by Percy's relative Northumberland or some other peer sympathetic to the Catholic cause.  Fortunately, due to suspiciously delayed action of the Earl of Salisbury, Robert Cecil, the infamous explosion did not ignite other than in the imaginations of the British people and generations of historians and historical novelists.

Linda Root is the author of  The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, the story of the Queen's relationship with her cousin Marie Flemyng, whose love affair with William Maitland stunned the Queen and rocked the Scottish court; and The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, the embellished adventures of Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange.  Kirkcaldy's death after holding Edinburgh Castle as the last fortress to fly the banner of the captive Queen of Scots inspired the series The Legacy of the Queen of Scots, including The Midwife's Secret:The Mystery of the Hidden Princess.  Its sequels The Other Daughter, and 1603, the Queen's Revenge and her current work in progress In The Shadow of the Gallows feature Kirkcaldy's posthumous bastard daughter Daisy and Lord James Hepburn's bastard son William Hepburn who is an actual character but about whom little is recorded. Root and her husband Chris live in the Morongo Basin area of San Bernardino County where they are leasing space in a house governed by their giant Alaskan Malamutes Maxx and Maya. Linda is a retired major crimes prosecutor and Supervising Deputy District Attorney.


  1. Dame Robert sounds like she was quite the woman!

  2. So interesting! I felt so bad for that poor little boy. So glad he had Dame Robert.

  3. TY Linda for another fascinating article. I have not read 2 of your novels, but as soon as I finish the 4 I am reading they are next. I have digressed into Tudor England, which is another interest of mine. I have recently been convinced by Marie Macpherson that Darnley had syphilis when Marie first nursed him, and she fell in love with him. Measles presents similar symptoms. It would explain his bouts of tantrums and insanity. Perhaps these weaknesses were passed down the line to the poor heir to James. I was not aware of his poor health and death. I'm sure it didn't help that Marie and Darnley were very close in affinity. I am going to post this article on the page, as I think it is so important, and new for us. TY for your talent


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.