Princess Elizabeth in Prison at St James’, 1879
John Everett Millais (1826-1896)
Oil paint on canvas
Purchased by Thomas Holloway, 1881; acc. no. THC0045
The princess portrayed in this painting is Elizabeth, second daughter of Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. Following the outbreak of the civil war in 1642, Elizabeth and her younger siblings were put under house arrest. Here she is shown in St James’ Palace one of the locations in which she was confined.
She was noted for being an excellent scholar. She learnt Hebrew and Greek and by the age of seven she is said to have also been proficient in Latin, French and Italian. Millais symbolises her extraordinary capacity to learn by adding books by the foot of her chair. She died whilst still under house arrest aged only 15.
The painting is a pendant to Millais’ now more famous painting The Princes in Tower which Holloway also bought for the College. Both used the subject of incarcerated royal children who died before adulthood. Such subjects were popular with Millais’ Victorian audience who were moved by the idea of children becoming the innocent victims of political turmoil.