It’s easy to miss, but a tiny exhibit on display at Carisbrooke Castle’s museum is a poignant fragment of British Royal history.
The item is a locket containing a lock of hair from the head of Princess Elizabeth the 14 year-old daughter of King Charles I.
A frail and sickly child, she was imprisoned at the Castle after her father was beheaded in 1649, for the crime of being a Royalist.
Tragically, whilst exercising on the castle’s bowling green, she caught a chill and was found dead in her room by her captors, her head resting on a small Bible that had been the last gift from her father.
She was interred in a modest tomb at St Thomas Church in Newport – and lay there for over two centuries until her Royal descendant Queen Victoria found out about the humble burial place, and was so outraged that she ordered a white marble tomb more befitting of a Princess.
Whilst the new tomb (which remains to this day in St Thomas Church) was being made, the Princess’s original coffin and contents were stored in a shed in St Thomas Square. This was when a local doctor took it upon himself to surgically examine the remains – and discovered that most of the bones were misshapen, suggesting that the tragic child had suffered from rickets.
During his examination, the rogue doctor removed a rib bone and some scalp hair, which later found their way into a curio shop in Newport. Not surprisingly, the townsfolk were outraged by the tasteless exhibit and pressure was put on the owner Mr Ledicot for its removal.
He ignored all such pressures- until the day Queen Victoria herself turned up at the shop with her daughter Beatrice and demanded the ghoulish items back. She then had the bone placed in the tomb with the rest of the girl’s remains, and kept the lock of hair herself.
Ultimately this found its way back to Carisbrooke Castle, where visitors can now view it and ponder on the life of this 17th century adolescent Royal.
* The complete story is told as part of the Newport Ghost Walk, run every Monday at 8pm, by Marc Tuckey of the Isle of Wight Ghost Experience.
To hear this story and many others, join the walk from its starting point at the Wheatsheaf Inn in St Thomas Square, Newport, Isle of Wight