Henry Frederick Stuart: the Lost Prince

When James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603, he came with a royal family, something that England hadn’t known for many generations. This included Henry, the oldest son, who would unfortunately die aged eighteen in 1612. There hadn’t been a male heir to the throne since Henry VIII’s son, Edward, but he became king at a young age and was never officially invested as Prince of Wales. The last prince to be invested with this title was Prince Arthur, back in 1504. What exactly would the new role as heir to the recently connected Scottish and English throne mean? Upon his progress to England, James wrote to Henry what type of character he would need for this, suggesting that it shouldn’t “make you proude or insolent” and to ensure “kyndnes but in honorable sort”.[1] Other than this guidance, it would be up to Henry to shape what it would mean to be the heir. Of course, what no one knew, was just how short lived the poor prince’s life would eventually be. It was this that would define his life in the psyche of the nation at the time, but first he would prove himself to shine his light in a way that would show he would have been a very capable king.

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Robert Peake the Elder, Portrait of Prince Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, Private Collection / Photo © Philip Mould Ltd, London / Bridgeman Images

Henry would prove himself to be a well-rounded renaissance prince, who was equally interested in the arts, science, travel and military activities.[2] In this respect he was seen as everything James wasn’t, especially in his interest in foreign wars and the wish to assert English authority abroad, much to the frustration of seeing friends and other protestant nations across Europe fight for their religion.[3] The friendship he struck up with Henri IV of France, who came from a Huguenot background, made this more acute. Upon Henri’s assassination in 1610 made Henry appear to be the next hope for Protestant Europe, so “that he might marshal a decisive protestant victory”.[4] As this was in direct opposition to James’ peaceful style of monarchy, Henry’s circle attracted many protestants, as well as those of an artistic background, who felt alienated in James’ court, which was known for its direct style of order.[5]

It was this opposition that postponed Henry’s investiture. It was only with Henry’s supporters pushing for an official investiture ceremony, hoping that once confirmed as Prince of Wales, he would be allowed military roles.[6] When the celebrations finally came, they lasted over several days and included many masques and a river pageant, all of which surrounded the main place of power at Whitehall. There was disagreement as to whether a street or river pageant would be best. As the investiture was not long after Henri IV’s assassination, it was decided a river pageant from Richmond to Whitehall would be best. Another reason for the celebrations to be placed in Whitehall was because the majority of the money financing it came from the City of London.[7] Despite these reasons, there were some contemporaries who thought a street procession wasn’t chosen as James was jealous of the Prince’s popularity with the people, and this would have been a more open way of showing this popularity, rather than a river pageant.[8] Whatever the motives behind it, it was an opportunity to show a collective love for Henry, especially with the City funding it, as this showed loyalty towards a future sovereign.[9]

The whole point of these few days of celebrations was to represent the court culture, most notably that of masques, in a way that would show adoration of Henry.[10] These masques, as with any masques at the time, were a way of expressing royal power.[11] In the context of Henry’s investiture, this would have related to allegories of the power in royal succession and the celebration of him becoming Prince of Wales. The allegorical nature of masques was often meant to symbolise current political rhetoric, but on the day of the masque for the investiture, the allegory alluded to the celebrations themselves.[12] Queen Anne, Princess Elizabeth and Lady Arbella Stuart acted as the personification of rivers, including the River Thames, thus alluding to the previous river pageant during the celebrations.[13]

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Isaac Oliver (after), Henry, Prince of Wales, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK / Bridgeman Images

The pageants and ceremony that followed Henry in life would also follow him in death. Between his death and the funeral, life in Henry’s chambers carried on almost as normal, as washbasins and his favourite meals were still delivered.[14] Despite this sense of normality, the grief of the royal family was evident in the fact that it was forbidden to mention Henry’s name in the company of King James and Queen Anne.[15] The sudden death of their eldest son created issues as to how to best continue with Prince Charles as the next heir. James was advised to not simply swap Henry for Charles, so most of Henry’s belongings were quickly sold, other than some of his art collection.[16] This part of Henry’s legacy would create major issues in the lead up to the English Civil War, as many of those who had been in Henry’s circle believed that Charles had betrayed what “they and their prince stood for”.[17]

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The arms of Henry Prince of Wales (1594-1612), possibly early 17th century, Salisbury Museum / Bridgeman Images

In preparation for the funeral, an effigy was created that was made to look as realistic as possible. It was even dressed in some of Henry’s finest clothes to ensure it still looked alive.[18] It was thought that it would help the nation to grieve and showed the status others had placed upon him as effigies were usually reserved for monarchs.[19] The immense grief the nation felt was likened to that of the death of the Black Prince 300 years before, especially as the untimely death went against his heroic and chivalric nature.[20] With the nation in mourning, a large state funeral full of magnificence was required. The total cost for it would total around £16,000, even more than the cost of celebrations for Princess Elizabeth’s wedding.[21]

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Funeral effigy of Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales, Westminster Abbey

Despite the success of the funeral and the love for Henry it fuelled in the nation, the Prince appears to have been lost to the history books and in the current understanding of the Stuart era. There are many reasons for this, mainly because in some respects, the suppression of remembering his life by James following the funeral, meant he was forgotten, but also the events of the Civil War decades later would overshadow it. The lack of physical points of remembrance have also made it hard. Due to the cost of the funeral, ideas for a permanent tomb were put on hold, only to be forgotten about.[22] This left only the effigy as a focus point for people. However, visitors who came to see it often took relics from it, leaving it now completely unrecognisable.[23] Now it is only an indistinguishable pile of wood, hiding its royal image and the hope of a better monarch that were once had in Henry whilst he was alive.

[1] James writing to Henry (1603), cited in Gardener, E. E., ‘A British Hunting Portrait’, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 3.5 (1945), p. 113.

[2] Gardener, E. E., ‘A British Hunting Portrait’, p. 114.

[3] Streete, A., ‘Elegy, Prophecy, and Politics: Literary Responses to the Death of Prince Henry Stuart, 1612-1614’, Renaissance Studies, 31.1 (2017), pp. 87-88.

[4] David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance, 2nd Edition, cited in Streete, A., ‘Elegy, Prophecy, and Politics: Literary Responses to the Death of Prince Henry Stuart, p. 87; Woodward, J., The Theatre of Death: The Ritual Management of Royal Funerals in Renaissance England, 1570-1625 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1997), p. 154.

[5] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, Comparative Drama, 42.4 (2008), p. 434.

[6] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, p. 434.

[7] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, p. 435.

[8] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, p. 435.

[9] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, p. 439 and 441.

[10] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, p. 446.

[11] S. Orgel, The Illusion of Power cited in Bergeron, D. M., ‘Court Masques about Stuart London’, Studies in Philology, 113.4 (2016), p. 822.

[12] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Court Masques about Stuart London’, p. 832; Marcus, L. S., ‘”Present Occasions” and the Shaping of Ben Jonson’s Masques’, ELH, 45.2 (1978), p. 206.

[13] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, p. 444.

[14] Fraser, S., The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart (London: William Collins, 2017), p. 255.

[15] Fraser, S., The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, p. 254.

[16] Fraser, S., The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, p. 256.

[17] Fraser, S., The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, p. 265.

[18] Fraser, S., The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, p. 260.

[19] Woodward, J., The Theatre of Death, p. 161.

[20] Woodward, J., The Theatre of Death, p. 155.

[21] Woodward, J., The Theatre of Death, p. 148.

[22] Woodward, J., The Theatre of Death, p. 162.

[23] Fraser, S., The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, p. 266.

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