Nostalgia: Mystery lingers in the churchyard at Finsthwaite

The Westmorland Gazette: The base of the cross in Finsthwaite churchyard. The base of the cross in Finsthwaite churchyard.

Dr Kent Brooks of Kendal describes the myth and mystery surrounding ‘the Finsthwaite Princess’.

Finsthwaite is a delightful village set among the wooded hills and green fields of South Lakeland.

In the churchyard is a cross commemorating Clementina Johannes Sobieski Douglass.

She was the alleged daughter of Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie, a myth which has grown over more than 200 years, fuelled by rumour after rumour.

Originally she and a Captain James Douglas lodged at Waterside near Newby Bridge or at Jolliver Tree (also called July Flower Tree on the Ordinance Survey map).

Even then nobody knew who she was. She was merely regarded as a ‘quite grand lady’.

Her relationship to James Douglas has not come down to us, but he may have been father, brother or uncle. The myths came later, long after her death in 1771.

The myths seem to have begun with the reburial of Miss Douglas (or Douglass) in the grave of Miss Backhouse, of Jolliver Tree, when it was later claimed a lock of fair hair and a blue ribbon were found in the grave.

The connection to the Young Pretender was first made by outsiders and much later.

It was surmised that she was his daughter by his mistress Clementina Walkenshaw and named after the Pretender’s mother, Princess Maria Clementina Sobieska, granddaughter of King Johannes of Poland.

There is no documentary evidence of such a daughter, although there is of one child, who became the Duchess of Albany. Douglas was an alias known to have been used by the Pretender. Over the years this all grew into an incredibly convoluted story, which is difficult to entangle.

The most fanciful addition came in 1940, stemming from rumours circulating in pubs in Barrow. It was alleged that the ‘Princess’s’ grave had been opened by the Home Office to avoid Nazi attempts to destabilise the wartime royal family. Needless to say there is absolutely no evidence for this.

Janet Martin, who wrote the most recent and sober assessment of the story, suggests that Clementina Douglas was the daughter of a staunch Jacobite, who called her after his heroes in the Stuart family. They came to Finsthwaite for a quiet time after the Jacobite defeat.

Whatever the truth, and there are other twists not covered here, mystery still lingers in the churchyard at Finsthwaite.

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