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Monument to the Royal Stuarts
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Monument to the Royal Stuarts

The Monument to the Royal Stuarts is a memorial in St. Peter's Basilica, in the Vatican in Rome. It commemorates three exiled descendants of the Royal House of Stuart, the son and two grandsons of King James II, who was deposed and fled into exile in 1688.

Those commemorated are: James Stuart, the son of James II, self-styled "King James III" and known as "the Old Pretender"; his elder son Charles Stuart, self-styled "King Charles III" and known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie" and "the Young Pretender," and his younger son, Henry Cardinal Stuart, self-styled "Henry Duke of York," "Henry Cardinal York" and (after his brother's death), "King Henry IX."

The monument marks the location of the tombs of the three exiles, who are buried in the crypt below. The marble monument is by Antonio Canova, the most celebrated Italian sculptor of his day, and is in the form of a truncated obelisk. It carries bas relief profile portraits of the three exiled princes, and the following inscription:

JACOBO III
JACOBI II MAGNAE BRIT. REGIS FILIO
KAROLO EDVARDO
ET HENRICO DECANO PATRUM CARDINALIUM
JACOBI III FILITIS
REGIAE STIRPIS STVARDIAE POSTREMIS
ANNO M.DCC.XIX

("To James III, son of King James II of Great Britain, Charles Edward and Henry, Dean of the Cardinal Fathers, sons of James III, the last of the Royal House of Stuart. 1819")

Below the inscription are two weeping angels, symbolising the lost hopes of the exiled Stuarts. Opposite the memorial is a portrait of Maria Stuart, wife of James Stuart and mother of Charles and Henry Stuart. Its inscription reads:

MARIA CLEMENTINA M. BRITANN.
FRANC. ET HIBERN. REGINA

("Maria Clementina, Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland"). The reference to France is a relic of the Plantagenet claim to the French throne, which lingered in the Royal Style and Title of the Kings of England and Great Britain until the Treaty of Amiens (1802).

These monuments were commissioned by Pope Pius VII and paid for by subscriptions from Jacobite sympathisers. Among the subscribers, curiously, was King George IV, who (once the Jacobite threat to his throne had ended with the death of Cardinal Stuart in 1807) was an admirer of the Stuart legend.

The monument is easy to miss amid the clutter of the interior of St. Peter's. It is on the left as the visitor enters the basilica, near the doorway which leads up to the dome. It is frequently adorned with flowers by Jacobite romantics.

James Stuart died in 1766 and was buried in the crypt of St Peter's Basilica. When Charles Stuart died in 1788, however, Clement XIV refused to allow him to be buried there, fearing diplomatic complications with Britain. But when Cardinal Stuart died in 1807, Pius VI gave permission for both Stuarts to be buried in St Peter's. On July 16, 1807, the bodies of Henry and Charles III were laid beside their father, having been brought from Frascati where both had spent their final years and where Charles had been buried since 1788. Three separate tombstones were erected on the site.

Until 1938 the bodies of the three Stuarts were buried where the tomb of Pius XI now stands. In that year the bodies were moved slightly further east on the left side of the crypt, to make room for Pius's tomb. In 1939 a single sarcophagus was erected over the three graves. On top of the sarcophagus is a bronze pillow on which is placed a bronze crown. On the front of the sarcophagus is the same inscription quoted above.

The Christina of Sweden, the only other monarch with a memorial in the church, lies entombed in the opposite pillar, across the nave. She abdicated her throne in 1654 in order to convert to Catholicism.