The monument is in a chapel at the end of the North Aisle of the church, to the left of the chancel. The Princess is represented as though dead, her head on an open bible, inscribed with the words from Matthew 11 28: "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden......". The effigy lies on a chest bearing an inscription indicating that Queen Victoria had instigated the tomb's erection, and both are set within an arched embrasure, whose back and sides are decorated with fictive bars. At the front, within the arch, actual bars of metal descend from the archivolt, to suggest that the figure is confined within the space.
Princess Elizabeth was the daughter of Charles I. After the execution of her father, she and her fourteen year old brother, the Duke of Gloucester were held prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. She was said to have been very gifted in languages and to have impressed even her captors by her gentleness and good manners. The princess became ill in captivity and died at the age of fourteen. She was reported to have been found dead in her apartment, her hands clasped as though in prayer and her head resting on a Bible. She was buried under the chancel of St Thomas's church, Newport, but, with only her initials engraved on a stone on the church floor, there was little to remind people of the fact. In 1793, some workmen, digging a grave, came across the grave-stone, and discovered in the vault beneath a lead coffin, identified by a plate inscribed with the words "Elizabeth, 2d Daughter of ye late King Charles, dece'd Sept. 8, MDCL". A brass plaque was then placed in the church in memory of the Princess.
Queen Victoria took a special interest in her Stuart ancestors. Her biographer, Sidney Lee, commented that this was less because she approved "their method of government", than because of her pity for "their fall from high estate to manifold misfortune". (S.Lee, Queen Victoria, London, 1902, p.556) Her favourite opera was Vincenzo Bellini's I Puritani, whose plot concerns the loyalty of a young cavalier gentleman to Queen Henrietta Maria, imprisoned by Commonwealth forces. Clearly, whilst resident at Osborne in the Isle of Wight, she made herself familiar with the historical occurences at Carisbrooke Castle nearby. In 1850, the Queen placed a memorial window commemorating Princess Elizabeth in St Thomas's church in Newport, and the royal couple then went on to contribute largely to a restoration of the church, which was carried out in a neo-gothic style.The Prince laid the foundation stone on the 24 August 1854. The architect was S.W. Daukes, and the decorative carvings in the new church were by a Mr. Baker of Kennington. At the centre of the chancel vault, no doubt an allusion to the Princess's death, are corbels "intended to illustrate "Martyrdom" and "Its Reward"; the former holding to her bosom a Calvary cross, and the other offering a celestial crown as its guerdon". At the four corners of the vault are angels bearing ribbons, inscribed with a passage from the Litany, in illuminated characters - "The noble army of Martyrs praise Thee." (for descriptions of the church, see J.B.Beal, St Thomas, Newport, London, 1856, and The Illustrated Times, 10 Jan. 1857)
The commission from Queen Victoria to Marochetti for a sculpted tomb of the Princess was given at the end of August 1854. Marochetti wrote to accept it on 1 September. He seems from the start to have conceived his memorial in the spirit of those expiatory monuments which had been erected after the Bourbon Restoration in France to express regret over the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. We are told by Janet Ross, in her book of reminiscences, entitled The Fourth Generation (London, 1912, p.39)that Marochetti's first model represented the Princess kneeling with her head bowed down on the bible, with one arm hanging over the front of a prie-dieu. This however proved unacceptable to the Queen, who said that the statue "was to go under an arch and must be lying down". Once having settled that it must be an effigy, further suggestions by Marochetti tending to emphasize the expiatory nature of the work seem also to have been resisted by the Queen. He wished to incorporate into it somewhat sinister symbols referring to the assassination of Henri IV (the grandfather of the Princess) and the beheading of Charles I, as well as fetters, symbolizing the Princess's captivity. These were omitted from the final design, and verses from the Book of Job, which Marochetti wished to inscribe upon the Princess's open bible, were rejected in favour of the words from St Matthew's Gospel. The design of the arched embrasure was taken from a tomb in Westminster Abbey.
Janet Duff Gordon (later Janet Ross), daughter of the civil servant Sir Alexander Duff Gordon, posed for the figure of the Princess. In her memoirs, she recalls the pain of lying flat on her back for hours, and remembers that "in spite of Marochetti's pleasant conversation and the kindness of the Baroness, I was much bored". The boredom was only somewhat relieved by hearing conversations regarding the colouring of the sculptor's marble busts. (Janet Ross, Early Days Recalled, London, 1891, pp.59-60, and The Fourth Generation, London, 1912, p.39) She appears not to have been the only model subjected to this ordeal. Julia Jackson, a niece of Julia Margaret Cameron, is also supposed to have sat, or rather, reclined for it (J.Beechey, "A portrait by Derain after Julia Margaret Cameron", Burlington Magazine, no.CXLV, July 2003)
Work was still going on on the inscription in December 1856, but all seems to have been in readiness when the church was opened to the public. The Queen , with two of her daughters , drove over to see it on that day, and she recorded in her Journal how moving she had found the experience of seeing the tomb.
It would appear that in the early stages of this commission, no consideration had been given to the question of Marochetti's payment. As a consequence, he was forced to write a letter to Colonel Phipps, Keeper of the Privy Purse, to explain what he thought might be his due. In the process he explained that the only comparable effigy which he had done was that of Earl Brownlow for the church at Belton (Lincs).For this he had been paid by the Earl's son, H.C. Cust, the sum of £1000. He was however insistent that he did not wish to overcharge, particularly as the work was sure to bring him great credit with the public.
Nearly two years after Marochetti's death, a loan exhibition was held at the South Kensington Museum, consisting of small models for the sculptor's statues and groups. A reviewer for the Athenaeum (no.2191, 23 Oct. 1869, p.535), after decrying the "flashy design" and excessive "cleverness" of these works, picked out the model for the Princess Elizabeth as an example of these, in his view, negative qualities. He found it "very 'French' and showy, yet effective to those who might as freely accept it for the statue of a dead girl cast ashore from a wreck as the monumental effigy of a princess who died in prison". This critic even presumed that it "was originally designed for such a subject".
Bronze reductions of the effigy were made, one of which was donated to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford by a Mr George Wyatt of Newport in 1893. This was itemised, as no.452, in Nicholas Penny's 1992 Catalogue of European Sculpture in the Ashmolean (p.125), though at that time it was described as "untraced". The work has subsequently re-appeared and now makes a fine showing among the museum's increasingly representative collection of 19th century bronzes. A letter from the donor claimed that "only two models of this bronze exist, one at Potsdam, presented by the Queen to the Crown Princess of Prussia, and this". The Potsdam bronze has not so far been traced. A small model of the entire monument, complete with the architectural embrasure and its fictive prison bars, was also once in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, though it was not found in a search of 2006. The monument was also frequently the subject of commercial stereoscopic photographs, obviously a favourite tourist attraction for visitors to the Isle of Wight.
(References to the documents in the Royal Archives recording the commissioning of the sculpture can be found in P.Ward-Jackson, "Expiatory Monuments by Carlo Marochetti in Dorset and the Isle of Wight", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol.53,1990, pp.266-280 and ills., pp.29-35)