Jane Stuart, thought to be daughter of former King of England James II, is buried in Wisbech
- Credit: Archant
MUCH has been made of the discovery of the 15th century King of England Richard III’s skeleton beneath a Leicester car park last month but Wisbech too is thought to be the resting place of royalty,
Jane Stuart, a remarkable woman widely acknowledged to be natural daughter of James II, King of England (1685-88), is buried in the Quaker burial-ground attached to the Friends’ Meeting House, Wisbech, where a headstone with the initials “JS” and the age and date “88” and “1742” stands.
She is thought to have fled persecution for her quaker beliefs in London to live a quiet, humble life in Wisbech.
According to folklore written down thirty years after her death by Samuel Peckover, a prominent Cambridgeshire quaker. Jane moved north after the glorious revolution of 1688 and settled in Fenland, where she earned a living reaping in the fields in the summer and spinning wool and flax in the winter.
Jane is believed to have been born in Paris in 1854. Her father James, Duke of York, had escaped England in 1648 when confined to St James’s Palace by parliamentary leaders.
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She became a maid of honour to Queen Henrietta Maria and remained at the English Court from the Restoration to the Glorious Revolution, but she has never been officially recognised.
Although the Court of James II was Catholic, it is understood that Jane Stuart became influenced by the principles of the quakers.
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Like many of similar radical belief, she was imprisoned because of her association with the movement.
It was during this period of her life that she became engaged, but she would never marry because her future husband was killed when a coach they were travelling in overturned.
Following the tragedy, Jane remained in London for some time before setting-off on foot towards the Isle of Ely.
Short of money, she looked for work and enquired at several houses about employment.
When asked what she could do, she answered that she was prepared to set her hand at anything.
When she was asked “Canst thou reap?”, she replied that she didn’t know but was willing to try.
She was sent into the field and was found to be so proficient at reaping she became known as ‘Queen of the reapers’.
Jane settled in Wisbech and made her home in a basement room in a white house at the far end of the Old Market looking towards the Town Bridge, where she stayed until her death in 1742.
Her father James II, a Roman Catholic, enjoyed a chaotic three year reign as King of England. He ascended to the throne in 1685 but his attempts to give civic equality to Roman Catholic and Protestant dissenters led to conflict with Parliament, as he was seen as showing favouritism towards Roman Catholics.
When his second wife, Mary of Modena, gave birth in June 1688 to a son, it seemed that a Roman Catholic dynasty would be established.
William of Orange, Protestant husband of James’s elder daughter, Mary, was therefore welcomed when he invaded on November 5 1688.
The Army and the Navy, disaffected despite James’s investment in them, deserted to William, and James fled to France.
James’s attempt to regain the throne by taking a French army to Ireland failed - he was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
He spent the rest of his life in exile in France, dying there in 1701.