Friday 13 July 2007
The Last Stuart
Today marks the bicentenary of the death of the last member of the Royal House of Stuart, Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati (and Ostia and Velletri), Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church and Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, styled by Jacobites as "King Henry IX and I of England, Scotland, France and Ireland" (and popularly as "the Cardinal Duke of York", the form in which he publicly referred to himself, the dukedom being part of the Jacobite Peerage).
Henry Benedict Maria Clement Thomas Francis Xavier Stuart was born on the 6th March 1725, in the Palazzo Muti (now Palazzo Balestra) in Rome. The grandson of King James II, his parents were James Francis Edward Stuart, known as "the Old Pretender" or, to Jacobites, as "King James III and VIII", and the Polish Princess Maria Clementina Sobieska (the Jacobite "Queen Maria Clementina"), grand-daughter of the great hero of Europe, King John III Sobieski, victor over the Turks at the 1683 Siege or Battle of Vienna.
Born in Rome and baptised by Pope Benedict XIII, Henry soon began a life of devotion to the Church. In June 1747 Henry had the tonsure conferred upon him by Pope Benedict XIV, who soon after created him Cardinal-Deacon of Santa-Maria in Portico. In August 1747 Henry was promoted to the four minor orders and a year later he received the subdiaconate and then the diaconate. In September 1748 Henry was ordained a priest and he was elevated to the rank of Cardinal-Priest of Santi XII Apostoli in 1752.
In 1758 Henry was named Cardinal Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church. The Camerlengo is charged with administering the Church from the death of one pope to the election of the next; the position also brings with it use of the heraldic striped pavillion. As Camerlengo Henry had to deal with matters following the death of Pope Benedict XIV through to the election of Pope Clement XIII.
Henry was consecrated titular Archbishop of Corinth in 1758 and was made Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati in 1761. Two years later he was named Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, finally succeeding to the See of Ostia and Velletri on his appointment as Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals on 26 September 1803.
Henry spent his final years in the episcopal palace of Frascati, dying there 200 years ago today. He remains one of the longest serving cardinals in history. He was buried in the Vatican, in the crypt of St. Peter's where, thanks in part to the generosity of the Hanoverian Prince Regent, later George IV (with whom Henry was on amicable terms), the famous Stuart monument by Canova was later erected (pictured, photo: Noel McFerran). Below relief portraits of Henry, his father and brother the monument bears the following inscription:
IACOBI II MAGNAE BRIT REGIS FILIO
ET HENRICO DECANO PATRVM CARDINALIVM
IACOBI III FILIIS
REGIAE STIRPIS STVARDI POSTREMIS
ANNO M DCCC XIX
[To James III,
son of James II, King of Great Britain,
to Charles Edward,
and to Henry, Dean of the Cardinal Fathers,
sons of James III,
the last of the Royal House of Stuart,
Henry's will, which was signed "Henry R", stated that his rights of succesion were to pass to the "prince on whom they devolve by right, by proximity of blood, and by rights of succession". His nearest blood relative was Charles Emmanuel IV of Savoy, Henry's second cousin twice removed, although Charles never advanced any claim to the Jacobite succession (nor did he renounce any claim).