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Five Stuart Princesses
Edited by Robert S. Rait (1902)

Five Stuart Princesses
Margaret of Scotland, Elizabeth of Bohemia, Mary of Orange, Henrietta of Orleans, Sophia of Hanover, Edited by Robert S. Rait (1902)


For the nature of the present work, no apology would seem to be required. The personal aspect of history is at once important for the proper appreciation of its lessons and attractive to the majority of readers, and both considerations go far to justify the existence of biographical studies as a legitimate expression of the results of historical research. For the immediate choice of subject some further explanation may be required. Of the five Princesses of the Royal House of Stuart1 who form the subjects of this volume, four were nearly related, and their lives find a connecting link in the position in which they stood to the succession to the throne of this country. Elizabeth of Bohemia was the eldest daughter of King James I. and VI., and the mother of the Electress Sophia, the illustrious lady who was destined to become the acknowledged heiress of the British Crown, and the ancestress of the present Royal House. The Princess Mary of Orange, as the daughter of Charles I. and the first Princess Royal of England, while also the mother of William III., supplies the link between the ancient family and the House of Orange which immediately supplanted it. To the Princess Henrietta, [Historically, the spelling “Stewart” was not superseded by “Stuart” till the 16th century, and it is, therefore, slightly inaccurate as applied to the Princess Margaret of Scotland, in her biography, the older spelling has been adopted, but “Stuart” has become so familiar in connexion with the seventeenth century, that it seemed pedantic to depart from it as the general title of the book.] the negotiator of the fatal Treaty of Dover, which may be taken as the beginning of the Revolution of 1688, there came the nemesis that her descendants, the nearest branch of the Royal family, should, along with the direct male line itself, be rendered incapable of the succession by those difficulties of religious faith in which the secret clauses of the Treaty of Dover definitely involved the restored Stuarts.

Not only is there in each life a point of contact with the domestic struggle of the seventeenth century, but the four princesses, as they appear on the stage of European politics, supply almost a continuous history of the foreign policy of this country. The life of Elizabeth of Bohemia is a pathetic commentary on the attitude of James I. to foreign affairs—wise and statesmanlike in his aims, but incapable of understanding how impossible was their realization. As the Thirty Years* War became merely a duel between France and Spain, the troubled monarchy of Great Britain counted for less in the arbitrament of the affairs of Europe; but the career of Mary of Orange illustrates at once the last despairing efforts of Charles I. and the policy of his uncrowned successor. Oliver Cromwell and Mary of Orange disappeared together from the scene, and, with the Restoration, the favourite sister of Charles II., and the beloved sister-in-law of Louis XIV., became an important factor at a great crisis in the history of Europe. For Great Britain, for Holland, for France and Germany alike, the direct results of the Treaty of Dover were of European importance; the English Revolution, the temporary greatness of the Dutch, and the rise of Prussia are all connected with the struggle against the aggrandisement of France, in the interests of which Louis sent Henrietta to treat with King Charles. Finally, it was in the interests of the Protestant Succession as represented by the Electress Sophia, that Marlborough was sent to create the military power of this country in the War of the Spanish Succession, and the alliance of the Hanoverian House was valued alike by King William and by the advisers of Queen Anne.

In each of the four lives there is also much of personal and social interest. The beautiful Queen of Bohemia, the heroine of Protestant England, in whose behalf so many English prayers were uttered and so many English lives were spent, and Mary of Orange, whose life was almost tragic in its long struggle and its brief triumph, alike possess the interest of high-spirited and strenuous endeavour. The story of the fascinating Henrietta, the centre of the Court of the Bourbons at the moment when French prestige was highest, affords us many glimpses of the life at Saint Cloud and Versailles in the early years of Louis Le Grand, and its pathetic, and, to contemporaries, mysterious ending contributes the aspect of sadness and melancholy which was inevitable in the life of a lady of the House of Stuart. It may, at first, seem questionable whether Sophia, Electress of Hanover, by birth a Princess Palatine, and a Guelph by marriage, could reasonably find a niche in a gallery of Stuart Princesses ; but the lady who unites the elder with the younger branch, who, in virtue of her Stuart blood, was declared Queen Anne’s successor, and from whose relationship to King James, the reigning sovereign of these realms, like his six immediate predecessors, derives his claim under the Act of Settlement, may surely be granted such a title. Sophia was, moreover, a Stuart by birthright, and long before the English succession could have appeared possible for herself, she regarded herself as an English Princess. Her lively memoirs and her sprightly letters make her a real and vivid personality, and illustrate the social and intellectual life of her period.

The remaining biography, which stands first in order of date, it would be impossible to associate in any way with those of which we have spoken. Nearly three hundred years separate the birth of Margaret of Scotland and the death of Sophia of Hanover. Nor is it possible to connect the Princess Margaret with any great national movement, as the other four may be connected with the struggle for constitutional liberty. Her life possesses many points of interest in the relationship of fifteenth-century France and Scotland; it is one of those episodes in history which can never fail to appeal to the imagination and to the emotions; and it is a story little known. Only common Stuart blood and a common Stuart fate connect Margaret with the seventeenth-century Princesses of her House, and the short sketch of her life is included here only because it is a convenient opportunity to relate a story worth telling again.

How far this book has succeeded in taking due advantage of the possibilities just indicated, it must be for readers to decide. But the editor may be allowed to say, on behalf of his contributors, that each biography has been written after a careful study of authorities, contemporary and modern. Each article aims at presenting its subject in relation to the political and social circumstances in which she was placed, and at producing a character-sketch which may enable the reader to realize the personality of the lady whose life it narrates. But beyond this no attempt has been made to obtain uniformity of treatment; each author has been left to deal with his subject as might best suit his conception of her character and the materials at his disposal; and for every expression of opinion the individual writer is solely responsible.

The books which have been found most useful are indicated in the footnotes; but a general expression of gratitude may here be made to Mr. Gardiner’s great seventeenth-century history, and to the writings of two earlier workers in the same field, Miss Strickland and Mrs. Everett-Green. Fifty years have passed since these ladies published their well-known books, and, in the interval, historical research has not been silent; but to their industry and insight all subsequent inquirers must owe much, even where (as in the present instance) their interests are less purely personal and domestic than were those of the authors of the Lives of the Queens of Scotland and the Lives of the Princesses of England.

To M. Alexis Larpent, grateful thanks are due for a careful criticism of portions of the proof-sheets, and to the Earl of Craven for kind permission to reproduce the portraits of Elizabeth of Bohemia and Henrietta of Orleans from his collection of paintings at Combe Abbey.

R. S. R.
New College, Oxford,
October, 1901.

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