Five Eldest Children of King Charles I

Charles I & Queen Henrietta Maria

This painting of the five eldest children of Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria is one of the most beautiful images I have ever laid eyes on. I’ve looked at it several times and never felt inspired enough to write anything about it.

Today, I’ve decided that the sitters in the image deserve a moment of my time as well as your’s to briefly discover a little about who they were.

But before we get into their story please take a moment to really look at this painting. It is visually stunning, and the details are amazing.

5 Eldest Children of Charles I
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

The love story between Charles I and Henrietta Maria is the stuff of legend. As we wander around the great Royal Palaces in London, the couple gaze down at us from portraits, and you can just tell that these two were very much in love. Despite their differences in the early part of their marriages, despite their differences in religion they ended up falling very much in love with each other. That’s not to say their marriage was easy, far from it, but their story is so sad and never fails to bring a tear to my eye. –Charles I & Henrietta Maria: A Love Story

These gorgeous children of King Charles I of England had a traumatic childhood after their father the king was arrested and executed. Prior to that they had an ideal childhood full of love.

Of all the children it appears that Elizabeth suffered the most. The day before Charles was to be executed he was allowed to see his two children who remained in London while their father was imprisoned. Elizabeth and Henry.

After their visit Elizabeth wrote down the exchange with her father:

He told me that he was glad I was come, for, though he had not time to say much, yet somewhat he wished to say to me, which he could not to another, and he had feared ‘the cruelty’ was too great to permit his writing. ‘But sweetheart,’ he added, ‘thou wilt forget what I tell thee.’ Then shedding an abundance of tears I told him that I would write down all he said to me. ‘He wished me,’ he said, ‘not to grieve and torment myself for him, for it was a glorious death he should die, it being for the laws and the religion of the land.’ He told me what books to read against Popery. He said that, ‘he had forgiven all his enemies, and he hoped God would forgive them also;’ and he commanded us, and all the rest of my brothers and sisters, to forgive them also.

He bid us tell my mother that his thoughts had never strayed from her, and that his love would be the same to the last. Withal, he commanded me and my brother to be obedient to her; and bid me send his blessing to the rest of my brothers and sisters, with communications to all his friends. Then, taking my brother Gloucester on his knee, he said, ‘Sweetheart, now they will cut off thy father’s head.’ And Gloucester looking very intently upon him, he said again, “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. And his majesty spoke to him of the welfare of his soul, and to keep his religion, commanding him to fear God, and He would provide for him. Further, he commanded us all to forgive those people, but never to trust them; for they had been most false to him and those that gave them power, and he feared also to their own souls. And he desired me not to grieve for him, for he should die a martyr, and that he doubted not the Lord would settle his throne upon his son, and that we all should be happier than we could have expected to have been if he had lived; with many other things which at present I cannot remember. – Elizabeth Stuart, the lost princess

The following day Charles was dead. His children Elizabeth and Henry were shuffled between guardians who weren’t very excited to care for their new charges. They were afraid of being seen treating them too well and in turn be considered sympathizers.

It wasn’t until the Countess of Leicester took their charge that they began to be treated well again.

Unfortunately, just over a year later the often sick fourteen year old Elizabeth was dead of apparent pneumonia.

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