Introducing Princess Elizabeth Stuart, Daughter of King James I and VI

by JoHarrington

If the Gunpowder Plot had succeeded in 1605, Princess Elizabeth would have been abducted and made queen. She was only nine years old.

When Robert Catesby proposed creating a new monarchy, sympathetic to the Catholic cause, his fellow Gunpowder Conspirators concurred.

Queen Elizabeth II would have been crowned at Westminster Abbey shortly after the assassination of her parents and brother. It was thought that she wouldn't have resisted. She was only a child.

In fact, that's all the group actually knew about her. She was royal and she was young. They admitted knowing nothing more at all. So let's take a look at the girl who would have been queen.

Princess Elizabeth and the Gunpowder Plot

When the Jacobean Gunpowder Plotters looked towards the future, it was with a new monarchy and a new Britain. They only had to indoctrinate the child.

Image: Princess Elizabeth StuartThe plan was simple, but it didn't succeed.  After Guy Fawkes had blown up the House of Lords, and killed the entire government and its king, there would be a Catholic Uprising.

All nearly 2000 Catholic families in England would join in and, while they were riding into battle, Catesby and his crew would head into Warwickshire. The nine year old eldest daughter of King James would be taken into their custody.

In order to restore the monarchy (thus order), she would be rushed to her coronation. Presumably this would be at Westminster Abbey, despite the carnage all around it.

Princess Elizabeth would be schooled in the Catholic faith; and all of her courtly and stately advisers would answer to the Pope too.

She would naturally be very malleable and she would do whatever she was told to do.  She was only a child and a female to boot. Plus she'd be in shock.  Half of her family had just been blown up.

That was the plan anyway.  The Gunpowder Plotters saw no flaws in it at all.  They even rode into Warwickshire after the news reached them that Guy Fawkes had been arrested.  But they weren't able to raise much support; nor were they able to grab the princess.

Catesby admitted that he knew nothing at all about Princess Elizabeth.  So what kind of a child was she?

Image:  Princess Elizabeth Stuart
Image: Princess Elizabeth Stuart

The Life of Elizabeth Stuart aged Nine

A high born princess, she did not live with her parents. In 1605, she was with the Harrington family in the Midlands.

There is much to say about the princess in adulthood.  She was to become Elizabeth of Bohemia, the Winter Queen.  Not so malleable then and, in fact, probably one of the strongest and most influential women of the time.

However, we're not interested in that now.  We're concerned only with the little girl targeted by the Gunpowder Plotters.

Of course, there's not a great deal that can be said in the biography of so young a child, particularly one as sheltered as a royal Stuart princess.  But she was probably much better traveled than many of her contemporaries today.

She was born on August 19th 1596, at Falkland Palace, in Fife, Scotland.  Her father was King James VI of Scotland (he hadn't yet taken the English crown too).  Her mother was Anne of Denmark, a highly cultured princess in her native land and now Queen of the Scots.

As was the custom with the British royal households of the time, the heirs did not live with their parents. This was a tradition which came as a nasty shock to Queen Anne of Denmark and ultimately led to the souring of relations between herself and King James.

Princess Elizabeth was taken as a baby to Linlithgow Palace, in West Lothian. She was placed into the care of Alexander, the 7th Lord Livingston.  Within four years, he would be made Earl of Linlithgow in recognition of his services to the Stuart royal line. 

The Livingstons raised the infant Elizabeth Stuart in the Protestant faith.

In 1603, when Princess Elizabeth was just six years old, there came the second biggest upheaval in her young life.  Though it's probably the first that she would have remembered.

Elizabeth I of England died, so King James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of England too. Despite the addition of more realms, it didn't greatly change Princess Elizabeth's actual status.  It made her a more valuable prospect for marriage, but she was still a princess.

However it did mean saying goodbye to the Earl of Linlithgow and his family.  In short, everyone she had known and cared about until now.  Princess Elizabeth was going to England.

Queen Anne had won the right, after much wrangling, to be reunited with her son, Prince Henry, for the journey down to London. So many people came to see them during their progress, that Princess Elizabeth's carriage - which set out two days afterwards - caught up with them.

Amongst the English aristocratic ladies sent to meet the new queen was Lady Frances Howard, Countess of Kildare.  She was temporarily to become Princess Elizabeth's governess.

Books about King James Stuart and Queen Anne of Denmark

Learn more about the parents of Princess Elizabeth Stuart by delving into these history books.

For a time, Princess Elizabeth appears to have been at court with her family.  This would have included her parents, her elder brother Prince Henry, younger brother Prince Charles and the baby Princess Mary Stuart.

There are records of King James overseeing her schooling and proclaiming himself very pleased with it.

At least she seems to have made some kind of attachment to Henry, who was only ten; rather than with four year old Charles.  Within a few weeks, when Princess Elizabeth's English guardianship was agreed, she was genuinely distressed at being parted from Henry.

Her father suggested that she write frequently to both himself and Henry.  There was method here beyond salving the feelings of his daughter.  Those letters would strengthen the bonds between two siblings, who were being raised apart.  One day, Elizabeth was bound to be married to a potential British ally (as she was) and this was one way to ensure her loyalty to her brother, when he took the throne.

From the age of seven, Princess Elizabeth Stuart was handed over to Sir John Harrington, Baron of Exton, to be raised in his home.  She left court for Coombe Abbey at the end of 1603.

She was still there on November 5th 1605, when the Gunpowder Plot was foiled in London.

Coombe Abbey Hotel in Warwickshire

It's now open to the public and it's a popular venue for weddings.

The Education of the Future Winter Queen

As a European princess, it was expected from birth that Elizabeth Stuart would one day be the wife of a monarch.

Image: Princess Elizabeth StuartLike all royal children of her time, we know that she was highly educated. Even at nine years old, she was expected to be able to hold her own in a debate.  No tantrum nor short cuts, the points and responses had to be rational and supported by evidence.

Princess Elizabeth was fluent in, at least, English and French by the age of nine.  She probably had knowledge of Latin and Greek too.

She was also trained in the art of courtly manners and etiquette. This we can be certain was true of Princess Elizabeth, as a record of an official visit to Coventry has survived.

On April 13th 1604, when Elizabeth was seven, she was formally presented to the city.  The Princess was met, on the outskirts, by an honor guard of Coventry's prominent male dignitaries. They flanked her horse and escorted her into the city center. There she sat through a parade (practically mobbed by commoners), a church service, speeches and a formal banquet. 

Throughout all of it, she did not fidget, nor did she once present herself as anything other than a royal princess. Her mature grace and self-possession were gleefully recorded. She had acted like a miniature adult. 

How many eight year olds of your acquaintance would have taken that in their stride?  She even overcame a potentially embarrassing faux pas at the Coventry Civic Banquet. After being seated in the Chair of State, this happened:

Exalted in this high, shallow, and wide oaken chair, little Elizabeth was filling her place with dignity and gracefulness; but an unexpected dilemma arose. The cup in which she was to return the civic pledge was a ponderous and massy one of silver, and her little hand failing to move it, she applied both, and yet unable to raise and guide it to her lip, she turned with a smile, to which her lively disposition and conception of the ridiculous lent something of a comic expression, towards her watchful governor ; who instantly coming to her aid, with grave dignity assisted in raising the cup to her still smiling lips.
Coombe Abbey: An Historical Tale of the Reign of James I by Selina Bunbury

Sir John Harrington helped her lift the silver cup and all mortified dignitaries breathed a sigh of relief. Note that he couldn't intervene, as any ordinary parent or guardian would, until she had indicated that he should.  She outranked him.  Such are the perils of high office.

Though so young, rank meant a lot in those circles.  Princess Elizabeth outranked everyone in that household. If she gave an order, technically it had to be obeyed.  She was taught from infancy how to command a stately home, with all its estate management, servants, visitors and guests. 

Naturally, she would have had a great deal of assistance in this, due to her youth.  But this, and her education, was largely the point of her being sent to Coombe Abbey. It was to prepare her for one day being married to a high-ranking man, probably becoming queen of a nation in the process.

Along with this growing power and responsibility, Princess Elizabeth had the ability to confer favors; and to learn the importance and politics of the same.  Making friends wasn't a simple matter of talking to likely looking children in the playground. She had to learn, hard and fast, to evaluate each potential alliance.  She had to work out what that person might gain or want from a friendship. 

Fortunately for Princess Elizabeth, the Harringtons had been chosen precisely because they weren't known for their political manoeuvrings at court.  Those visitors with access to the little girl had already been carefully vetted or were members of the Baron's family.  Accordingly, her best friend while growing up was Anne Dudley, a young niece of Sir John Harrington.

As for the young Stuart princess's intelligence, it seems roughly average.  She was diligent and extremely well educated, but without anything which denotes actual genius at this age.  That would come later, when she was Queen of Bohemia and fighting for her family's rule as the Electress of Palatine.

Image:  Princess Elizabeth Stuart in 1606 aged ten
Image: Princess Elizabeth Stuart in 1606 aged ten

The Young Personality of Princess Elizabeth Stuart

The aspirations of the Gunpowder Plotters rested on the nine year old princess doing precisely what she was told.

It's difficult to grasp much about the character of a girl who lived five hundred years ago.  But some insights have survived.

Princess Elizabeth's letters from the time do not reveal a girl given to wit or frivolity. In fact, she was noted more for a certain gravity, which made her seem more mature than she actually was. 

She was prone to approaching life with a seriousness that didn't lend itself to playing.

Her mother, Anne of Denmark, was known for her patronage of the arts, so she would have been happy with the choice of Lucia Harrington as an influence on Princess Elizabeth. 

Lucia was the teenaged daughter of Sir John and Lady Edith Harrington. She was noted for her cultural pursuits, and she was mentioned by Anne's favorite poets Ben Jonson and John Donne.

Exposed to Lucia's artistic personality, Princess Elizabeth did start waxing lyrical in her own correspondence.  The sudden flowery language was commented upon, which implies that this was out of character for the girl.  It can be deduced that she was ordinarily less inclined towards the arts than other matters.

Which isn't to say that she was ignorant of such things.  Her education would have bombarded her with art and literature, primarily focusing upon the classics and theological works.

Nor should we read into this that Elizabeth lacked emotion or social empathy.  Another thing notable about her correspondence with Prince Henry is their one-sided tenor. Elizabeth was always writing about how she missed him and how receiving a letter from him made her day. 

Her eldest brother seems to have delighted more in not responding, to the point of tormenting her about it.  She replied with angst and complaints that she was bored at Coombe Abbey, with its regimented routine and almost monastic gravity.

Books about Prince Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales

Elizabeth was closer to her older brother than any other member of her family. Had the Gunpowder Plot succeeded, he would have been killed in the House of Lords.

Would Princess Elizabeth have Co-Operated with the Gunpowder Conspirators?

It never happened. History can't prove us wrong or right. How do you think that she would have reacted, if the plan had gone ahead?
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What Happened to Princess Elizabeth During the Gunpowder Plot?

We've already gone through what the conspirators wanted to happen. It didn't quite play out that way in reality. Not even close in fact.

Image: Sir John HarringtonWhen Guy Fawkes was arrested in Westminster, with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in his possession under the House of Lords, the new wasn't instantly known in Warwickshire. It wasn't like anyone could pick up a telephone or send an e-mail.

Nor was it immediately apparent that the conspirators had designs upon kidnapping the young Princess Elizabeth.  In fact, the earliest questioning seems to reflect fears that Princess Mary was the target, after all, she was the only Royal Stuart, who had actually been born in England.

However, Sir John Harrington was in the perfect position to get an early warning nonetheless.

The Gunpowder Plotters headed straight into Warwickshire, and stole horses from Warwick Castle. They began in this county with their rushing from house to house, always knocking on Catholic doors, attempting to gain support for the uprising.

In short, the Baron knew that something was happening in his backyard; and when you have a princess in your charge, you take no chances with that.  Catesby and his group never raised enough people to ride into Coombe Abbey; but if they had, they would have found Princess Elizabeth gone.

At the first sign of serious trouble, Sir John Harrington had relocated her to Coventry.  It was a city which had already professed loyalty to her and its dignitaries were under oath to protect her.  This they did with relish!  There is a record of the city's armory being emptied, as all able bodied men were handed pikes, breastplates, swords and the like. 

The nine year old princess remained calm and collected, as they gathered around her.  She was defended by her own private army!

Sir John Harrington wasn't amongst them though.  As soon as he'd ensured the safety of his charge, he rode out with his own men to intercept the Gunpowder Plotters.  He thought that he was going after horse thieves primarily, though the reality was that his hounding contributed to driving the gang into Staffordshire.  That would end in a deadly siege in the Black Country.

Meanwhile, Princess Elizabeth emerged utterly unruffled.  Her take on the whole incident is revealed only as a short, albeit smug, comment in a letter to her brother Prince Henry. 

"If God be for us, who can be against us?" She wrote; and that was apparently her conclusion on it all.

Books about Elizabeth of Bohemia, the Winter Queen

Discover what happened to the young Stuart princess, after she became one of the most influential queens in Europe.
The Winter Queen: Elizabeth of Bohemia

With wonderful accounts of the Shakespearean England from her youth to Restoration England to which she returned, this is the rags-to-riches story of Elizabeth of Bohemia. "It i...

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The Winter Queen: The Life of Elizabeth of Bohemia 1596-1662

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The Letters of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, Volume II

The Letters of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia is the first edition, in three volumes, of Elizabeth Stuart's complete letters ever published. Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662), al...

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Five Stuart Princesses: Margaret of Scotland, Elizabeth of Bohemia, Mary of Orange, Henrietta of ...

This book was originally published prior to 1923, and represents a reproduction of an important historical work, maintaining the same format as the original work. While some pub...

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Elizabeth, electress palatine and queen of Bohemia

This book was originally published prior to 1923, and represents a reproduction of an important historical work, maintaining the same format as the original work. While some pub...

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The Winter Queen: The Story of Elizabeth Stuart

Classic British History. From a woman's place in history. Tragedy. Historical non-fiction.

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Updated: 04/23/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 11/15/2012

LOL I love that it's a bandwagon. It's been rocking on for over 500 years here! At what point does it stop being a bandwagon and start being a party?

Glad to have inserted the jigsaw pieces for you; and yes, I did finally track her down to Westminster.

Ember on 11/15/2012

Haha, yes it was a good coincidence! She had a friend who told her to enjoy the movie but to not get on 'that stupid remember the 5th of November bandwagon,'...... >.> Maybe he'll read the links too! .-.

It was worth the rant I received before, especially after reading it and bits of the rant make a lot more sense now. xD

JoHarrington on 11/15/2012

I love the coincidence there! And yes, she should watch the movie! It's wonderful. \o/

I'm glad that you liked this article and the Guy Fawkes one. Was it worth the ranting that you had to endure before?

Ember on 11/15/2012

Yay! Wonderful article :) I had to go and read the Guy Fawkes one and then came back and read this one.

Ironically, in between the two, my friend announced that she was going to watch V for Vendetta for the first time, and so I went to comment and link her to your article, because it was interesting. \o/

JoHarrington on 11/15/2012

It's possibly because Elizabeth of Bohemia would have been Elizabeth II. The lady that you are discussing would be Elizabeth III, if she'd ever come to the throne at all.

Elizabeth Stuart was the matriarch of the Georgians/Hanoverians, so if she never made it abroad, we wouldn't have had them.

I agree that the 1998 Elizabeth was a great film.

katiem2 on 11/15/2012

This made me think of the Queen, off base I know but it did. I adore Queen Elizabeth there has always been something about her so inspiring and intriguing, she was a woman before her time, a heroine if you will, IMHO There are so fab films out about her on Amazon. Elizabeth (Spotlight Series) (1998) is my fave! Just Saying :)K

JoHarrington on 11/15/2012

You're very welcome. I enjoy writing about it!

Ragtimelil on 11/15/2012

I love the history. Thanks!

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