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The Stuarts in Rome
By Herbert Can Vaughan


So multifarious and absorbing are the attractions of Rome,— classical, medieval, papal, even modern—that English-speaking travellers are apt to overlook the feet that the Eternal City holds a neglected but romantic page of their own history ; indeed, with the single exception of Canova’s well-known monument in St. Peter’s, most visitors to Rome remain unaware of the existence of the many Stuart landmarks and associations it contains. A few sight-seers have perhaps been struck while viewing the fine basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere by the royal escutcheons of England and France surmounted by the cross and scarlet hat in the chapel restored by Cardinal York, who for some sixty years was titular of this church ; but, generally speaking, very few indeed are acquainted with the dingy old palace in the Piazza Santissimi Apostoli, which for over half a century sheltered the little court of the Kings across the Water, or with other buildings connected with the later history of this ill-fated House, whose unbroken chain of misfortunes so excited the compassion even of Voltaire.

The Piazza Santissimi Apostoli, whose southern end opens directly into the newly-made busy Via Nazionale, is a long quiet space bounded towards the east by the huge Colonna palace and the pillared front of the church of the Apostles, its western side being occupied by houses belonging to various noble Roman families,awhile at its narrow northern end stands the old palace once occupied by the Stuarts (a tall featureless pile of buildings, modernised and totally uninteresting except for its historical memories) which is to-day known as the Palazzo Balestro and familiar as the seat of the British Consulate.

Shortly after the failure of the rising of 1715, a result due in no small degree to his own supineness and incapacity, the Chevalier de St. George (the James the Third of the Legitimists and the Old Pretender of the Hanoverians) arrived in Rome, where his young wife, Maria Clementina Sobieski, and a considerable number of devoted adherents, chiefly of Scotch and Irish descent, were awaiting him. From Pope Clement the Eleventh the exile received both royal honours and a warm welcome, the Pontiff presenting his guest with this palace near the church of the Holy Apostles as a suitable residence to contain both his family and his little court. Here in this house, one year after his parents’ reception in Rome, was born the Young Chevalier, his tiny hands being solemnly kissed by the whole College of Cardinals arrived hither in state to salute the newly-born Prince of Wales, for whose requirements the Pope had himself blessed and presented baby-linen ; and here five years later Henry Benedict (named after the reigning Pontiff Benedict the Thirteenth) first saw the light and was created Duke of York by his father,—two events which were duly reported by the English spy, Walton, to his Government with the addition of many spiteful inaccuracies. Here also died, in 1735, poor Maria Clementina, grand-daughter of the famous John Sobieski, who had been the saviour of Europe from the invading Turks under the walls of Vienna, after an unhappy married life with her dismal taciturn husband, the “old Mr. Melancholy” of Hanoverian wits, from whom on one occasion, in a mingled fit of depression and jealousy, she had fled to the fashionable Ursuline convent in the neighbouring Via Vittoria, remaining there over a year in spite of threats and entreaties. Little as he had appeared to appreciate or understand her in life, James Stuart deeply lamented Clementina’s death, while the loss of their high-spirited mother must have been a terrible blow to the two little princes now growing up to manhood in the gloomy old palace.

Of James Stuart and his two motherless sons the President de Brosses gives an amusing and vivid description in his Lettres Familieres:

The King of England is treated here with all the consideration due to recognised royalty. He lives in the Piazza SS. Apostoli in a vast dwelling with no pretence of beauty, where the Pope’s troops mount guard as they do [at the Quirinal] on Monte Cavallo, and accompany him whenever he drives out, which, however, is seldom. His house is very large on account of the many gentlemen of his own country who remain attached to bis cause and reside with him. The most distinguished of these is Milord

Dunbar, a Scotchman, [Lord George Murray, fifth son of the first Duke of Atholl, and father of the third Duke] a man of courage and highly esteemed, to whom the King, perhaps for political reasons, has entrusted his children, although he professes the Anglican religion.

De Brasses also tells his readers that James is a thorough Stuart in face and figure, and that he bears a strong resemblance both to his late father, James the Second, and to his natural brother, the Duke of Berwick. He is excessively devout, spending much of his mornings in prayer at his wife’s tomb in the church of the Apostles. Of the young princes this genial old French gossip informs us that in Roman society the little Duke of York, then aged fifteen, is the more popular of the two on account of his pretty face and agreeable manners; but that, for his own part, he prefers the elder son in whose character and appearance he can perceive much latent courage and tenacity of purpose, an opinion which history was to verify strikingly a few years later. Both boys were devoted to music and both good performers: “The elder plays the ’cello very well; the younger sings Italian songs with a pretty boy’s voice in the best of taste; they hold a concert once a week : it is the best music in Rome, and I never miss it.”

De Brasses also gives a dismally humorous description of the mid-day meal which King James attended in state, and before which the two boys were wont first of all to kneel for their father’s blessing, while no guest was allowed to drink wine before the King had helped himself at least once, a point of etiquette which the French traveller found most inconvenient and productive of indigestion when on one occasion his royal host forgot to call for the botde. At these solemn daily banquets, de Brosses tells us, English was usually spoken between James and his sons, though French and Italian were more familiar to the exiled family.

Rome was at this time full of English travellers, many of whom were young men of rank and wealth making the Grand Tour incompany with their tutors, and to such persons a glimpse of James Stuart and the young princes would naturally be a matter of great curiosity. But all English subjects were stricdy forbidden to visit the Palazzo Stuart, a regulation that was carefully enforced by means of a succession of spies in the employ of the British Minister at Florence, England being then, as she is to-day, in the position of having no ambassador accredited to the Holy See.

Nevertheless, in spite of spies and adverse reports to Sir Horace Mann in Florence, an introduction to the discarded King of Great Britain or to his sons at some theatre or reception was eagerly sought after by English visitors to Rome, with the result that not a few of the unwary were apt to find themselves embroiled with the gentlemen of the mimic Jacobite court, who resented any expression of ridicule or ill-will towards the Stuarts and their cause. That astute old Hanoverian peer, Lord Chesterfield, himself married to a half-sister of George the Second, particularly cautions his son, Philip Stanhope, who was travelling in Italy soon after the Forty-Five, against such pitfalls in a letter full of the cynical worldly advice which is characteristic of his correspondence.

You will in many parts of Italy meet with numbers of the Pretender’s people (English, Scotch and Irish fugitives) especially at Rome ; and probably the Pretender himself. It is none of your business to declare war on these people ; as litde as it is your interest or, I hope, your inclination to connect yourself with them : and therefore I recommend you to a perfect neutrality. Avoid them as much as you can with decency and good manners; but, when you cannot avoid any political conversation or debates with them, tell them that you do not concern yourself with political matters ; that you are neither a maker nor a deposer of kings; that, when you left England, you left a king in it, and have not since heard either of his death or of any revolution that has happened, and that you take Icings and kingdoms as you find them: but enter no farther into matters with them, which can be of no use, and might bring on heat and quarrels. When you speak of the Old Pretender, you will call him only the Chevalier de St. George; but mention him as seldom as possible. Should he chance to speak to you at any assembly, (as, I am told, he sometimes does to the English) be sure that you seem not to know him ; and answer him civilly, but always either in French or Italian ; and give him in the former the appellation of Monsieur, and in the latter of Signore. Should you meet with the Cardinal of York you will be under no difficulty, for he has, as Cardinal, an undoubted right to Eminenza. Upon the whole, see any of those people as little as possible ; when you do see them be civil to them upon the footing of strangers  but never be drawn into any altercations with them about the imaginary right of their king, as they call him. . . . Never know either the father or the two sons, any otherwise than as foreigners ; and so not knowing their pretensions you have no occasion to dispute them.

After this warning against the exiled Stuarts and the contemptuous allusions contained in it, it is amusing to read Lord Chesterfield’s further advice to his son to avoid also the society of his own countrymen in Rome: “a number of idle, sauntering, illiterate English, as there commonly is there, living entirely with one another, supping, drinking, and sitting up late at each other’s lodgings; commonly in riots and scrapes, when drunk ; and never in good company when sober.”

With the failure of the Forty-Five, followed three years later by the ungracious expulsion of the Young Chevalier from French territory under the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, the political estimation of James Stuart’s court naturally declined, and his own position in the papal capital became one of greater difficulty. The younger son, feeling the Stuart cause definitely and for ever lost, now entered the Roman Church with James’s consent and was made a cardinal (July 3rd, 1747,) at the early age of twenty-two, an irrevocable step which so angered his brother that Charles Edward never again set foot in Rome until after his father’s death, but continued for years to lead a wandering, aimless, and somewhat disreputable life in various Continental cities. Naturally low-spirited and now thoroughly saddened by the extinction of all his hopes as well as by the absence of his elder son, the poor old exile in the Palazzo Stuart gradually sank into a moping invalid and for the last five years of his life never left his private apartments. At length on New Year’s Day, 1766, James was seized with his last attack, and passed away in the arms of Cardinal York, who in the double capacity of priest and son had affectionately attended his father during these last years of suffering and disappointment. Clement the Thirteenth seems to have been genuinely touched by James’s death ; indeed, the Roman Church in recent times has not possessed, with the exception perhaps of the Comte de Chambord (the Henry the Fifth of French Legitimists), any member of royal rank who proved himself throughout life at once so pious and so devoted, to the exclusion of worldly interests, as this luckless son of the dethroned James the Second.

At the private expense of the Pope a magnificent funeral was ordered, of which a minute description is to be found in rare contemporary work in my possession, entitled The Account of the Illness, Death, Solemn Obsequies and Funeral of His Majesty, James III., King of Great Britain. It raises a smile to read the extravagant language of this quaint Italian pamphlet, which lauds in terms almost fulsome the virtues both of the late King and of the long-dead Maria Clementina.

Are not their devotion to the Catholic Faith, their fortitude in the greatest misfortunes, their magnanimity, their patience, their most liberal charity towards the Poor, their perfect resignation to the will of God, such sublime Virtues as to induce in us a certain hope of the eternal Salvation of these illustrious twin-Souls?

From the same source we learn that the body of James, richly dressed, lay in state in the neighbouring church of the Holy Apostles (where for years he had been wont daily to hear Mass and to pray beside his wife’s tomb), the whole building within and without being draped with black hangings edged with lace and gold fringe and decorated, according to the morbid taste of the period, with boughs of cypress, with skulls and cross-bones, and with laudatory inscriptions upheld by skeletons. The catafalque itself, raised on a dais of five steps and hung with black velvet and cloth-of-gold, was flanked by four huge figures of skeletons, each bearing a tall taper and a gilded palm-branch, while in conspicuous positions were displayed the crowns of England, Scotland, and Ireland together with the insignia of the various orders to which by right of descent the deceased prince was entitled. In short, the funeral of the Jacobite king in the old Roman basilica of the Santissimi Apostoli was as costly, as dismal, and as pompous a ceremony as any royal burial that the eighteenth century could devise.

In spite of the royal honours paid publicly at death to James Stuart, Pope Benedict looked with' no favourable eye upon the heir, for Charles Edward, who had now held aloof from Rome for twenty-two years, had come to be regarded at the papal court as a man of loose life, as an incorrigible drunkard and, worst of all, as a renegade for political reasons from that faith of which his dead father had been so shining an ornament. In spite of indignant protests from “Charles the Third,” now at last returned to Rome, the escutcheons of Great Britain and Ireland were removed from the entrance of the Palazzo Stuart by order of the Pope, who at the same time refused to recognise the royal claims of its owner, or to grant him even a private interview on the footing of a king. Slighted thus by the papal court and spurning the good offices of his brother, Charles Edward sulked in the dreary old house in which, thanks to his drunken habits and quarrelsome temper, very few of his old adherents now kept him company.

It was here that the special envoy of the French King visited the wreck of him who was once known as Bonnie Prince Charlie (and who, rumour said, was found by the ambassador in a state of helpless intoxication) with proposals of marriage in order that the Stuart line might not become extinct. The suggestion was eagerly grasped at by the Prince, now aged fifty-one, who shortly afterwards betook himself secretly to Paris, where an alliance was arranged for him with the nineteen-year-old Louise of Stolberg, daughter of a German princeling and a descendant on her mother’s side of the noble Scotch house of Bruce. This marriage, proposed by Louis the Fifteenth, with the obvious intention of harassing the English Crown by means of a Legitimist heir, and approved by Cardinal York in the hope that such a step might bring back his erring brother into the paths of orthodoxy and self-respect, took place in a private house at Macerata, near Ancona, on Good Friday, 1772 ; and a few days later, the bridegroom and bride, styling themselves King and Queen of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, drove up to the door of their Roman palace in a coach-and-six with outriders in scarlet liveries and white Stuart cockades. In spite of a chilling reception from Pius the Sixth the newly-wedded pair were at first fairly happy, and for a time at least his marriage seems to have improved both Charles Edward’s prospects and behaviour, while in Roman society the young bride at once became an object of general interest and sympathy, her admirers even styling her Regina Apostolorum in allusion to her place of residence. But in two years’ time the Count and Countess of Albany (as they were now generally called outside their own little Jacobite circle) grew weary of the continued slights of Pope Pius and dissatisfied with each other, being mutually disappointed in the non-appearance of an heir, the only object of their ill-assorted loveless marriage, with the result that they finally quittfed Rome in 1774 for Florence, only to encounter there equal neglect and hostility from the Grand-Ducal family of Tuscany and to live together yet more unhappily till their final separation in December, 1780.

Meanwhile Cardinal York continued to reside in Rome, where in spite of the sunken fortunes of his House he always held a high reputation. As Bishop of Frascati and papal Vice-Chancellor Henry Stuart divided his time between his Ua at Frascati and the splendid palace of the Cancelleria, one of the great architect Bramante’s best known and happiest efforts, which stands close to the Campo de’ Fiori; while, a Roman by birth and a Roman ecclesiastic by choice, he lived the ordinary life of a prince of the Church, strictly avoiding all the petty and futile political intrigues in which his elder brother was perpetually engaged. The good Cardinal was therefore sorely perplexed at hearing of the escape of the Countess of Albany from the drunken violence of Charles Edward in Florence and of her flight to Rome, where she spent some months of the spring of 1781 in the aristocratic Ursuline convent in the Via Vittoria, the same nunnery that had years before sheltered for a time her husband’s mother. Nevertheless, Henry Stuart, knowing his brother’s character and believing Louise’s story of insult and ill-treatment, received his sister-in-law with every mark of kindness and finally installed her in a suite of rooms in his own official palace of the Cancelleria. Nor did the easy-going Cardinal see anything strange or irregular in the subsequent arrival of the Countess's devoted cavaltere servente, the Piedmontese poet, Vittorio Alfieri, who now hired the Villa Strozzi on the Esquiline, whence he was wont to pay daily visits to Louise of Stolberg with the approval of her brother-in-law. Perhaps her two years’ residence in the Cancelleria (so different from her life with Charles Edward in the Palazzo Stuart hard by) was the happiest period in the whole of Louise’s chequered career; feted by the Roman aristocracy, protected by a kindly and complaisant Cardinal, and attended on all occasions by an illustrious lover, the young Princess enjoyed a delightful and all-too-short spell of popularity and pleasure, which reached its zenith in the historic production of Alfieri’s Antigone (with the author in the part of Creon) at the Spanish Embassy in the Piazza di Spagna on November 30th, 1782.

But this platonic devotion between the wife of the Jacobite King of England and the eccentric red-haired Piedmontese Count, which was diverting all Rome, was abruptly put an end to by the action of Cardinal York, who, after a visit to his brother in Florence, then believed to be dying, suddenly veered round and expressed the strongest disapprobation of all that he had hitherto condoned; indeed, seeing what a reputation for exaggerated propriety, even prudery, the English cardinal possessed among his colleagues, it seems strange that he should ever hare sanctioned the daily visits of Alfieri to his sister-in-law in such circumstances. Realising now the possible scandals and dangers of the present arrangement, Henry Stuart, in high alarm, at once induced Pope Pius to banish Alfieri from papal territory, and the enamoured tragedian much against his will was compelled to quit Rome and his Psipsia, as he theatrically styled the Countess of Albany; while the latter remained behind in her apartments at the Cancelleria to bewail equally the absence of her gifted lover and the continued existence of “the man in Florence,” who, however, a little later consented to a legal deed of separation making his wife practically independent of his control. So much for the two Roman experiences of Louise of Stolberg ; one as the wife of a crownless king old enough to have been her father, and the other as the romantic heroine of the great Italian poet whose acknowledged wife she was afterwards to become.

By his brother’s death in January, 1788, (that month always so fatal to the Stuarts), the empty honours and disregarded claims of a discrowned king descended to Cardinal York, who took little notice of this change in his position except by erecting a memorial tablet to the unhappy Charles Edward in the cathedral-church at Frascati, and by striking a commemorative medal with the pathetic inscription, “Henry IX., by the grace of God, not by the will of Man.” But Henry Stuart, to whose peaceful innocent life history has not yet paid due regard, was not suffered to live on quietly in the city he so loved, and which he had rarely left in the whole course of a long life-time. Driven from Rome during the troubled years following upon the French Revolution, and deprived both by political changes and by his own former generosity of a once considerable income, the poor old man at length found himself at seventy-three a penniless wanderer. At this critical moment an annuity of 4.000 a year, gracefully tendered by George the Fourth, then Prince Regent, and accepted with gratitude by his distant cousin, enabled Cardinal York to spend the few remaining years of his life in state and comfort, and thus, dependent on the bounty of his supplanters, the last lineal descendant of the House of Stuart died in his villa at Frascati in 1807.

With these Roman recollections of an unfortunate royal House, whose memory in spite of all faults is still dear to the English-speaking race at lange, let us seek out Canova’s famous monument in die north aisle of St Peter’s, close to the entrance of the gaudy Capella del Coro where crowds daily attend to hear the singing of the Pope’s choir. On the simple dignified tomb of pure white marble, erected at the expense of the Prince Regent in 1819, only the father is alluded to by his royal tide, though almost every account of this monument wrongly declares that Charles Edward and Henry Stuart are likewise named as kings in the inscription; as a matter of fact the three empty titles of James the Third, Charles the Third, and Henry the Ninth are engraved only on the three sepulchral urns which are preserved below in the Grotte Vaticane or crypt of old St. Peter’s, now rarely shown to strangers. It is pleasant to linger here a few moments in the incense-scented atmosphere listening to the distant singing of the papal choir and reflecting on the personal charm, the ill-luck, and the incapacity of these Stuart princes and of the extraordinary devotion their cause inspired. Nor should we omit to visit Maria Clementina’s monument, which is visible only a few paces from the tomb of her husband and sons, consisting of a draped sarcophagus in porphyry above which a Genius holds aloft a mosaic medallion portrait of the queen with high powdered hair adorned with pearls. This theatrical cenotaph was executed .by Bracchi at the expense of Pope Benedict the Fourteenth, and on this incident Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, during a visit to Rome many years afterwards, contrived to build up a ridiculous story of a love intrigue between the Pope and the unhappy wife of the Old Chevalier. Poor Clementina Stuart  She was undoubtedly bigoted and hotheaded, but no breath of scandal had ever touched her name until Lady Mary’s posthumous logic revealed the hidden secret of her disappointed miserable life.

Herbert M. Vauohan.


 

 


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