29 January 2015

Today's Princess: Elizabeth Stuart

via Wikimedia Commons
Many princesses have been caught in the midst wars and several have been held as prisoners in conflicts well beyond their control. Madame Royal in France. The Grand Duchesses in Russia. And today's princess, Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of the beheaded King Charles I of Great Britain.

When the English Civil War broke out, what once had been a close and unusually loving royal family was physically split up. The five surviving children of Charles and his French Queen Henrietta Maria would never be all together again. (A sixth child, Henrietta Anne would be born in the midst of the war.) Elizabeth was six years old. Parliament took over custody of her and her younger brother Prince Henry Duke of Gloucester and insisted that they be reared as Protestants in contrast to their Catholic family. They were shifted among various locations over the years, sometimes joined by their older brother The Duke of York (later King James II). Frequently, they were an unwanted burden for their caretakers.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth received an excellent education. She was particularly well-versed in religion and was able to read and write in many languages, including Ancient Greek, Latin, Italian, Hebrew, and French. She frequently wrote eloquent letters to request changes in her treatment. At age 12, she wrote to request that her household (her servants) not be removed from her, as had been planned. Parliament relented, allowing her to keep her quasi-family around her.

Renowned for her sweet and calm temperament, Elizabeth struggled with health issues. Centuries later, her body was examined and found to have suffered from rickets, knock knees and pigeon toes. These deficiencies led to at lease one seriously broken leg.

Her most heartbreaking moment came when she and Henry were allowed to say goodbye to their father as he awaited execution. They had seen him periodically over the years, and loved him dearly. Twelve-year-old Elizabeth stoically recorded as many details of their final meeting as she could remember. He sent his love to their mother, encouraged them to be good Protestants, and warned young Henry not to become a pawn king in the hands of Parliament: do not let them crown you while your older brothers live.

The sobbing children were led away into an even worse political situation. No longer children of the king, they were at the mercy of their guardians, who could not treat them very well lest they be seen as committing treason against Parliament. When their oldest brother swept into the country to have himself proclaimed king against Parliament's wishes, it was decided to move Elizabeth and Henry to the distant confines of the Isle of Wight. Elizabeth, ill at the time, wrote again to Parliament begging not to be moved because of her health. Her pleas went unheard. After the move, she developed pneumonia and died. She was 14.

For two centuries, her grave was marked simply by her initials, E.S., until Queen Victoria made the Isle of Wight her main home. She erected a monument depicting the young Princess, whose dead body had been found resting on the Bible that her father had given her during their last tear-filled meeting.

For more about Elizabeth:
Elizabeth Stewart - The Lost Princess on Madame Guillotine

28 January 2015

Today's Princess: Jutta and Agnes of Denmark

Agnes of Denmark was only a year old when her father, King Eric IV of Denmark, was murdered in 1250. Her sister Jutta was four. Their older sisters were Ingeborg, six, and Sophia, nine. All four young girls were left in the care of the new King Abel, their uncle, who may have had a hand in their father's death. He died two years later and they became the concern of their uncle King Christopher I, who wished to suppress the monetary and regal claims of his nieces by Eric and his nephews by Abel.

Eric's widow remarried and moved to Germany. Her four Danish daughters were sent to live in monasteries. In 1261, Christopher made important marriages for Sophia, who would be Queen of Denmark, and Ingeborg, who would be Queen of Sweden. Without alliances at the ready for Agnes and Jutta, he had to be more creative. Now 15, Agnes became the Abbess of a new convent founded in her name (and nominally "by" her), St. Agneta in Roskilde. However, Agnes did not really care for convent life. Neither did Jutta when she was placed there a couple of years later to become the new Abbess.

In their twenties, the princesses left the convent. Agnes went to manage an estate that had finally been granted as part of her overdue inheritance. Jutta went to Sweden to visit their sister Sophia, and got herself into a spot of trouble. Turns out King Valdemar of Sweden didn't mind sleeping with his wife's sister. The two had an affair that resulted in a son, Erik. While Valdemar did penance before the Pope in Rome, Jutta was sent back to the dreaded convent of St. Agneta. Queen Sophia never forgave her.

It is not known exactly when the two younger sisters died but they lived at least into their forties.