Princess Elizabeth was born on 28 December 1635. She was the second daughter of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. The princess, a sickly child, died in her fifteenth year after being caught in a shower on the bowling green at Carisbrooke Castle. Her sad end completed the turmoil of her life. She was a prisoner of Parliament, albeit a well cared for one, from the age of six along with her brother Prince Henry – Duke of Gloucester until her death.
Parliament ensured the children were educated as befitted their rank and Elizabeth demonstrated a flair for languages and religion while she was separated from her family. Numerous academics took to dedicating books to the princess and there are accounts of her growing beauty. In addition, she was known within her family for her tolerance and kindness. This fairy tale princess didn’t see her father from 1642 until 1647. Elizabeth and two of her brothers spent two days with the king but then he fled to the Isle of Wight. This ultimately led to his trial and execution. Henry and Elizabeth were permitted to see their father for one last time without hope of any happy ever afters. Elizabeth, aged thirteen wrote an account of the meeting that ought to move the hardest of hard-hearted Parliamentarians which was found with 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.” The king had to ask whether Elizabeth would be able to remember everything he said to her because she was crying so hard but she assured her father she would remember everything – clearly she wrote it all down in order to help keep her promise to her father. It is from this source we see that Charles was aware of the role that some Parliamentarians might have had in mind for his captive son. “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.”
Prince Charles, the penniless eldest son of King Charles I who’d sought refuge n the Low Countries was now a penniless king in the Low Countries but Parliament could not rest easy especially when the aforementioned king arrived in Scotland in 1650 and got himself crowned King of Scotland. Elizabeth was now an important pawn in a desperate political game. She was moved from the English mainland to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight where her father had been imprisoned and where he’d failed to escape not once but twice. The Princess was not well when Parliament ordered this move but Parliament did not heed her pleas to be left alone. According to legend she was caught in a shower on the bowling green and this led to a chill which in turn led to pneumonia but it is possible that she was already ailing.
Romantic accounts say that Elizabeth was discovered with her head resting on a Bible which her father had given her during their last meeting. It was this story that the Victorian artist Cope recorded in his picture “The Royal Prisoners.” The picture in this blog was accessed from http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/the-royal-prisoners-16672 (14th July 2015 at 20:01). In the image Prince Henry and a guard discover the dead princess with her head on the open Bible and a miniature of her father in her hands. Her learning is signified by the books around her and her love of music in the lute that is also pictured. The open bird-cage is symbolic of the flight of Elizabeth’s soul. Henry’s hands are clutched in those of the guard who has dropped his still smouldering pipe. Parliament quickly buried the princess in the parish church of Newport in a largely unmarked grave. She was rediscovered in 1793 during building works and was reburied with a plaque to mark her resting place. Prince Henry was finally released into the care of his family in 1652.
That might have been the end of it but in the next century Queen Victoria was horrified to discover that her distant relation had not received a burial befitting to a princess. The princess was disinterred from her resting place in St Thomas’s Church and a suitable monument erected. Whilst building work was being completed the mortal remains of the princess were kept in a locked shed. A local Doctor- Ernest Wilkins- decided that the skeleton should be examined in the interests of science. He deduced that the princess suffered from rickets and having made his research departed from the shed with a rib and some of the princess’ hair which shortly, to the horror of the citizens of Newport, found themselves on public display in a curio shop owned by a certain Mr. Ledicot according to the June edition of The Isle of Wight Life.
Ledicot refused to remove them from public display despite a deputation asking him to think of propriety. He changed his mind rather rapidly when he received a visit from a distinctly unamused Queen Victoria and Princess Beatrice who took the grisly artefacts no doubt amid much bowing and scraping. The rib was returned to Elizabeth’s grave but Victoria kept Elizabeth’s faded locks of hair, which can be seen in the Carisbrook Castle museum.