Elizabeth Stuart Becomes The Winter Queen of Bohemia

Elizabeth Stuart was the eldest daughter of James VI King of Scots (future King James I of England and Ireland as well after the death of Queen Elizabeth I ), and his wife, Anne of Denmark. She was the granddaughter of Mary, Queen of Scots, and like her grandmother she was famed for her beauty from a young age.

Princess Elizabeth Stuart age 7

She was also the unknowing targeted “beneficiary” of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The conspirators wanted to blow up Parliament, along with King James and the heir to the throne – Prince Henry –and to replaced them with the kidnapped Princess Elizabeth. At nine years of age, she was considered old enough to be a figurehead, but young enough to covert to Catholism. They could also marry her off to a staunch Catholic of their choice, and England would once again be in the fold of the True Church. Of course, someone got cold feet and ratted them out, and the royal forces were able to capture Guy Fawkes on November 5th before he could blow most of the English government sky high.

We just spent this weekend enjoying the fireworks and bonfires that celebrate this foiled plot, and it was awesome. However, the effigy of Guy Fawkes that is traditionally burned is actually piggy-backing on the far older tradition of the Celts burning a wicker man on Samhain, which may have been the Celtic new year. The burning of a wicker man was to call down the powers of warmth and light, and evoke the protection of benevolent deities throughout the dark winter months. 

But I digress.

The little princess was obviously not kidnapped, and she continued her very thorough education in peace. Meanwhile, her parents poured over the large list of men who were petitioning for her hand in marriage to find the right one among those that were both high-ranking and of the correct religious persuasion.

Elizabeth Stuart age 10

The lucky man King James finally picked to be his daughter’s husband was Frederick (Friedrich) V, Count Palatine of the Rhine. Frederick was ‘only’ a count, but he was descended from nearly every royal family in Europe and (more importantly) was devoutly and completely Protestant.

Friedrich_V Count of Palatine and King of Bohemia

The bridegroom came to England in the autumn of 1612, and he and Elizabeth were wed on 14 February  1613. The marriage on St. Valentine’s Day turned out to be appropriate, because it seems as though the couple were sincerely in love and happy to be married to one another. Elizabeth soon moved with her new husband to Heidelberg, in modern day Germany.

The couple, being young and in love, soon fell into the habit of producing offspring while living in Heidelberg Castle. The eldest son, Frederick Henry, Hereditary Prince of the Palatinate (AKA Henry Frederick) was born in 1614, the second son Charles in 1617, and their first daughter, Elisabeth, was born in 1619.

In 1619 there was a sudden change in the young couple’s lives; Frederick was offered the crown of Bohemia. Frederick hesitated to accept, knowing the throne might be contested, but Elizabeth urged him to take the appointment to preserve Bohemia’s tradition of Protestant protections and freedoms. Finally, Frederick accepted the kingship. The newly royal family moved to Prague, where Frederick enjoyed an official coronation on 4 November 1619, and Elizabeth was crowned as Queen of Bohemia on 7 November 1619. The new king and queen quickly blessed Bohemia with another prince, Rupert, who was born just one month after they had taken the throne.

Elizabeth,_Queen_of_Bohemia_from_NPG

Their happiness and reign was, alas, short-lived. The new king and queen were incredibly popular among their Bohemian subjects, but Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, wanted the crown for himself and did not give a fig what the people of Bohemia wanted. Moreover, Ferdinand was a Catholic and he was by gum going to make Bohemia Catholic too.

With Frederick’s Protestant Bohemia troops outnumbered and out-gunned, they were crushed by Emperor Ferdinand’s forces at the Battle of White Mountain on 8 November 1620. Knowing he was probably going to lose to the superior Catholic military, Frederick had already sent Elizabeth to the German Castle of Custrin. Frederick was able to join her there, where in realitive saftey on 6 January 1621 she gave birth to their fifth child, Maurice.

The Bohemians would remember Frederick and Elizabeth as The Winter King and The Winter King, because their reign started so happily one winter and had ended by the next.

With the royal family deposed, things got ugly in Bohemia very quickly. Ferdinand stormed into Prague and executed more than two-dozen “rebel” members of the aristocracy who had supported King Frederick. Afterwards, more than 80% of the Bohemian nobles fled their Hapsburg-occupied country. Within a year Ferdinand was demanding Bohemians convert to Catholicism or get out of the country, which could easily be a death sentence for the Protestant refugees. The Protestant territories of the Holy Roman Empire that were being forcibly “re-Catholicized” joined forces with each other and the surround Protestant states to fight for their religious freedom. This turned into the Thirty Years War and plunged the Czech lands into chaos.

Fortunately for Frederick and Elizabeth and their children, they had a Protestant benefactor in Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, who welcomed them to find succor in Dutch city of The Hague. There Elizabeth and Fredrick would remain for the decade, during which time they had EIGHT more children. Their last baby, Gustavus, was born on 2 January 1632  a couple of weeks before Frederick left to help the Swedes fight for the Protestants in the Thirty Year’s War. Sadly, on his way back to The Hauge, Frederick succumbed to an infection on 29 November 1632 and died at only thirty-six years of age.

Elizabeth went nearly mad with grief. She was a able to pull herself together eventually, and then dedicated her remaining 30 years of life fighting to restore her eldest surviving son to his inheritance as Electorate of the Palatinate, which she finally did in 1648, and making sure her children married as well as possible. 

Elizabeth Stuart as a widow

Once her children were wed and her eldest son restored as the Electorate of the Palatinate, Elizabeth returned home to England on 26 May 1661, but she wouldn’t be able to enjoy her native country for long. Elizabeth developed pneumonia in the winter of 1662 and on 13 February. She was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, in the chapel of her ancestor Henry VII, a few days later on 17 February. Her funeral was sparsely attended, and she had been largely forgotten by the English people.

She has been consistently overlooked by history, but Elizabeth’s genetic legacy has been unequaled. Her grandson, the eldest child of her 12th child (and the 5th daughter) Sophia, became George I of Great Britain in 1714. This means that the current British monarch, Elizabeth II, is Elizabeth Stuart’s “direct descendant of the 10th and 11th generation through different paths”. Furthermore, the royal families of “Spain, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden, as well as those formerly of Greece, Romania, Germany, and Russia, are also descendants of Elizabeth Stuart”.

     

Share This:

One thought on “Elizabeth Stuart Becomes The Winter Queen of Bohemia


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Elizabeth Stuart-The Winter Queen. Thank you for the wonderful article and the beautiful portraits of her.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *