Janet Erskine Stuart - Early Life
Cottesmore today
Cottesmore today
The door from the rectory to the churchyard through which Janet passed hoping to raise her mother from the dead.
Cottesmore today

Extracts from “The Life and Letters of Janet Erskine Stuart” by Maud Monahan RSCJ

Her early life
Janet Erskine Stuart, was born and brought up in the Anglican rectory at Cottesmore, where her father was the rector.   His first wife died after giving birth to seven children and, in April 1849 Canon Stuart married Mary Penelope Noel.

The Rectory, now privately owned.
By this marriage he had six children, three sons and three daughters, of whom Janet was the youngest.   ‘The thirteenth of the family has good opportunities of acquiring a habit of looking up,’ she wrote in 1909. ‘I think I have a good deal of capacity for appreciation and admiration, and if one can call it so – power of worship.’   (p.3)

It was in a happy home circle that the fair-haired, blue-eyed child opened her eyes on a world which she was to find so full of wonder, and began that life which she afterwards described as ‘an adventurous journey of faith and love with God in the dark.’  (p.3)

Cottesmore today
Cottesmore is one of those quiet old-world Midland villages, full of charm, that are found in the hills and woods round Oakham.   Its church is among the most beautiful in Rutland.   The rectory, a grey stone building, with high-pitched gables and mullioned window, stands close to it, its wall overgrown with lichens and ivy.   (p.4)
It seems not without significance, in the light of later events, and it certainly was not without its influence on her character, that the first twenty-one years of Janet’s life were passed in these surroundings; for though there were visits to Scotland, Ireland, and Germany, ‘home’ to her meant the rectory at Cottesmore, with its full life, its happy gathering of brothers and sisters, and the peace and joy of living in a ‘place where everyone loved.’   (p.5)

When Janet was only 14 months old Mrs. Stuart died, on January 4, 1859.    Her last words were to entrust her little children to the care of their sister (Theodosia, affectionately known as Dody), who was henceforth to be a mother to them……Young though she was – she was barely twenty- she entered on her new duties with a mind and character matured and softened by suffering and by long habit of serious thought.   So well did she fill the mother’s place to the four children, that their childhood was a singularly happy one.
At Dody’s knees the children learnt their first lessons from the Bible, and one of these made the deepest impression on Janet.   She herself tells the story:

‘It was on the subject of death that my faith, such as it was, received its first shock, when I was six years old.   Having heard of the resurrection of Lazarus, and that miracles equal to that could be worked by faith and prayer, I resolved to raise my mother from the dead, and escaped from my nurse into the churchyard to perform the miracle.   Having prayed with all my might, I shouted as loud as I could: ‘Mama, come forth,’ without the slightest doubt I should see the grave open at once.   The disappointment was very great and left a seed of doubt in my mind that bore fruit later.’

She poured out upon her father all the love of her deep, strong nature, and he returned it fully.   She was his Benjamin, his favourite child, and, as she grew older, his constant companion, sharing in all his interests and, as she could, helping him.   There was no jealousy among the brothers and sisters at this special love.   They recognised it indeed, but understood and approved of it.   For Janet was never self-assertive.  Others might mark her out for favour and love, as was the case throughout her life, but it often caused her more pain than joy; for in her own mind, and by her own choice, she was but one among the many.

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