|Anne of Denmark|
Elizabeth Stuart was the third child of Anne of Denmark[i] and her husband James VI of Scotland. Elizabeth was born on 19th August 1596 at Dunfermline Palace in Fife; three and a half years before her father became king of England as well as Scotland. She was placed under the governance of Lord and Lady Livingstone, as was her sister Margaret born two years later. Margaret died when Elizabeth was four. For the most part Elizabeth lived at Linlithgow Palace.
More siblings followed; Charles, born in November 1600, Robert who died at the age of four months and a stillborn child. Mary was born in 1605 and died two years later. Finally there was Sophia who was born in 1606 and died the day after her birth.
|Elizabeth age 7|
At the age of seven Elizabeth was removed from Scotland and followed her parents down to England, when James became king upon the death of Elizabeth, the princess’s namesake. The young Charles was left in Scotland, entrusted to the care of Lord Fyvie[ii], as it was believed that he was too frail to travel[iii].
Elizabeth was with her mother and her elder brother Henry when James met them at Easton Neston[iv]. The new king was delighted to be rejoined with his family, asking Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton;
‘If he did not think his Annie did not look passing well…….my little Betsy is not too ill-favoured a wench and may outshine her mother one of these days.’[v]
|Henry as Prince of Wales|
After the move to England Elizabeth was transferred from the Livingstones’ care to that of Frances Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard[vi]; a most unsuitable lady[vii], given the job by virtue of her high connections. A friend of Robert Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief councillor, Frances’ father was created Earl of Suffolk and Lord Chamberlain by James and was appointed a Privy Counsellor. Elizabeth was extremely upset to be parted from Lady Livingstone.
Elizabeth attended Windsor Castle on 2nd July to see Henry being presented with the Order of the Garter. She stood with Lady Anne Clifford[viii] and watched Henry’s flawless performance, Henry Howard[ix] and Charles Howard[x], Earl of Nottingham, both admired;
‘[Henry’s] quick and witty answers, princely carriage and reverend performing his obeyance at the altar, all of which seemed very strange unto them and the rest of his beholders, considering his tender age[xi].’[xii]
|Elizabeth age 10|
Elizabeth’s tuition was carefully inspected by James and, once she had learned to write, he encouraged her to write letters to himself and to Henry; a task which cemented the relationship of the two siblings.
At the end of 1603 Elizabeth was given into the care of Lord John Harington and his wife Anne[xiii]; a decision that Elizabeth regretted as it separated her from her siblings. Elizabeth wrote to Henry from her new home, Coombe Abbey;
‘My dear and worthy brother, I most kindly salute you, desiring to hear of your health; from whom, though I am now removed far away, none shall ever be nearer in affection, than your most loving sister, Elizabeth.’[xiv]
The Harington’s were chosen as Elizabeth’s governors because they were the parents of Queen Anne’s especial friend, Lucy Bedford. Their son John was a friend of Prince Henry’s.
Of Lord Harington’s efforts to school his charge, James wrote in 1606;
‘My cousin, Lord Harrington of Ex[t]on doth much fatigue himself with the royal charge of the Princess [Elizabeth]……[and] hath much labour to preserve his own wisdom and sobriety.’[xv]
The cost of looking after Elizabeth proved ruinous for Lord Harrington and he was given the licence to mint farthings; a reward that only partially compensated him for the expense[xvi].
Death of a Prince
The Stuart family were a loving family; both James and Anne loved their children. Like any teenager Henry rebelled against some of his father’s preoccupations, in particular his intellectual concerns, saying;
‘I know what becomes a Prince, it is not necessary for me to be a professor, but a soldier and a man of the world.’[xvii]
Henry took after his mother’s side of the family. In 1605 Henry was sent to study at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took an interest in sports. A witty, outgoing & popular young man, Henry was also interested in naval & military matters, as well as national concerns; about which he was unafraid to take issue with his father. Henry was also able to keep financial control of his money (unlike his father & brother).
On 6th November 1612 the family was beside themselves with grief when Henry, a devout Protestant, died of typhoid fever. He’d been playing tennis, although unwell, and had failed to wrap up warm after the game. Elizabeth attempted to visit her brother during his last illness; knowing that visits from close family had been forbidden for fear of contagion, she dressed up as a country girl. But she was recognised and turned away.
Elizabeth and Charles had always been close to Henry and their letters show much evidence of their love for him. On one occasion Charles wrote;
Sweet, sweet brother, I will give anything that I have to you: both my horse and my books and my pieces and my cross-bows or anything that you would have. Good brother, love me and I shall ever love and serve you.’[xviii]
Henry left the highly unsuitable young and distraught Charles as heir to the throne. He was buried with much pomp in Westminster Abbey on 7th December; Charles was the principal mourner.
A Husband Fit for a Princess
Elizabeth’s future husband had already been decided upon; Frederick, the Elector Palatine[xix] was visiting England when Henry died and he walked in the funeral procession which James did not attend[xx].
James had originally leaned towards an alliance with Spain as England’s best hope for continued prosperity. Elizabeth’s suitors had included the Dauphin, Louis, Frederick Henry the Prince of Orange, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and Philip III of Spain. Indeed the Swedes had been given to understand that Elizabeth was;
‘More inclined to Duke Gustav than to any other prince in the world.’[xxi]
James eventually chose Frederick to strengthen England’s ties with the Protestant powers in Germany.
|Frederick, Elector Palantine|
Elizabeth attended her betrothal ceremony on 27th December, wearing black satin and silver lace. Frederick was invested with the Order of the Garter in a private ceremony and on 1st January there was an exchange of gifts between Frederick and the royal family. Frederick gave Elizabeth a carcanet[xxii], a tiara and a ring while she gave him a miniature of St George set in gold and precious stones.
The marriage was set for 14th February and there were great celebrations much to James’ dismay. On 11th there was a great fireworks display at Whitehall and on the 13th a naval fight was staged.
The 14th itself saw Elizabeth robed in a gown of white and silver studded with diamonds; her train was carried by thirteen young ladies also wearing white. The courtiers were not to be outdone and Lady Wotton, wife of Sir Edward Wotton[xxiii], wore an embroidered dress costing £50 a yard![xxiv]. Lord Montagu[xxv] spent £1500[xxvi] on apparel for his two daughters.
Dinner lasted three hours and then a ballet was performed, prepared by Lord Hay which the audience felt lasted far too long. The celebrations exhausted the royal treasury which had spent £140,000[xxvii] on the wedding.
Gustavus Adolphus the Great – Nils Ahnlund, 1999 History Book Club
Memoirs of Elizabeth Stuart, vols 1 & 2 – Elizabeth Benger (ed), General Books LLC 2012
The Early Stuarts – Godfrey Davies, Oxford University Press 1987
The Gunpowder Plot – Antonia Fraser, BCA 1996
King James – Antonia Fraser, BCA 1974
Robert Cecil – Alan Haynes, Peter Owen Publishers 1989
After Elizabeth – Leanda de Lisle, Harper Perennial 2006
Charles I – Christopher Hibbert, Penguin 1968
[ii] A friend of James
[iii] He didn’t journey down until mid-July 1604
[iv] The home of Sir George Fermor
[v] After Elizabeth – de Lisle
[x] Known as Howard of Effingham; he was Lord High Admiral for both Elizabeth and James
[xi] Henry was just 9½
[xii] After Elizabeth – de Lisle
[xiv] Memoirs of Elizabeth Stuart, vol 1 – Elizabeth Benger (ed)
[xvi] After his death, on his journey back from Bohemia escorting Elizabeth to her new home, Harrington’s estates were taken by his creditors
[xvii] King James - Fraser
[xviii] Charles I - Hibbert
[xx] James did not attend funerals, nor visit the dying; this has led to a belief that he did not care for his family
[xxi] Gustavus Adolphus - Ahnlund
[xxii] An ornamental necklace, chain, collar, or headband