(1618-1680)

Elizabeth, daughter of Frederick the Elector Palatine (King of Bohemia, where the Czech republic now lies) and Elizabeth Stuart (daughter of James I of England) is known mainly through her long correspondence with Descartes.

This lovely young lady was born in Heidelberg, a rather picturesque German city which I've seen personally. I'm sure it was a lovely place to grow up, and as was usual for a lot of children at the time, she spent the first few years of her life living with her grandmother, and also her aunt Elizabeth-Charlotte in Silesia.

As a child she became a member of Catholicism (odd since she's wrote to Descartes later on complaining of her brother's conversion to the faith; as well as being an abbess of a Protestant convent in later life), and as history rolled on, she refused the throne of Bohemia. A strong and smart woman, she made her own way in life.

Her interest in philosophy, and the beliefs she held also led her to avoid marriage as well. Poverty may have also played a role, as a princess her family was to give a large dowry for her, and most likely couldn't afford it. (At least she didn't go down the route of the Lydians.) In any case, after Descartes passed away in 1649 she retired to a convent in Herford in Westphalia so the chances of her marrying were significantly reduced, if not eliminated.

Her letters to Descartes are little philosophical works in themselves and the subtlety of her mind is perhaps best illustrated with a quote. She was merciless in her probing of the Cartesian inadequacy of how an immaterial substance ( like the mind ) can produce motion in the material substance (like the body). In more enlightened times she would I'm sure have been better recognize. See Cartesian Dualism.

"And I admit it would be easier for me to concede matter and extension to the soul, than the capacity of moving a body and of being moved, to an immaterial being. For, if the first occurred through 'information' the spirits that perform the movement would have to be intelligent, which you accord to nothing corporeal. And although in your metaphysical meditations you show the possibility of the second, it is, however, very difficult to comprehend that a soul, as you have described it, after having had the faculty and habit of reasoning well, can lose all of it on account of some vapors, and that, although it can subsist without the body and has nothing in common with it, is yet so ruled by it." - from a letter to Descartes in 1643.

She rose (unsurprisingly) to become the head of the convent where she stayed, and by all accounts ran it very well until her death in 1680 after a long and protracted illness.

Elizabeth of Bohemia

YOU meaner beauties of the night,
Which poorly satisfy our eyes
More by your number than your light,
You common people of the skies,—
What are you, when the Moon shall rise?

Ye violets that first appear,
By your pure purple mantles known
Like the proud virgins of the year,
As if the spring were all your own,—
What are you, when the Rose is blown?

Ye curious chanters of the wood
That warble forth dame Nature's lays,
Thinking your passions understood
By your weak accents,—what's your praise
When Philomel her voice doth raise?

So when my Mistress shall be seen
In sweetness of her looks and mind,
By virtue first, then choice, a Queen,
Tell me, if she were not design'd
Th' eclipse and glory of her kind?

by Sir Henry Wotton

Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, was the daughter of James I and Anne of Denmark. She was born August 19, 1596, at Falkland Castle, Fifeshire, Scotland. On February 14, 1613, she married Frederick V, Elector of Palatine, against her mother's wishes.

In August 1619, a few months after the death of Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor, the people of Bohemia deposed Matthias' successor, Ferdinand II, and chose Frederick as their king. This act precipitated the Thirty Years' War. Though Frederick was reluctant, at first, to take the crown, he finally did so on November 4, 1619, in Prague. Elizabeth was crowned Queen three days later on November 7, 1619.

Fredinand II and the Hapsburgs immediately declared war on Frederick and Bohemia. Despite repeated requests by both Elizabeth and Frederick, James I sent them no help. The German Protestant Union, which Frederick headed and his father had founded, also provided no help. Because Frederick had few troops and very little money, he eventually lost his kingdom to the Emperor on November 8, 1620, at the battle of White Mountain. The Emperor had predicted that Frederick would be a "winter king" and gone with the melting snow. The title stuck to both he and Elizabeth.

Having lost both the Palatinate and the Bohemian kingdom, the couple escaped with most of their children, and little else, to The Hague. They were to spend the rest of their lives there, living in poverty, trying to regain all they had lost. It was from their exile they suffered the humiliation of watching the Spanish take, first, the Lower Palatinate, then the upper, and see the Palatinate given to Maximilian I of Bavaria to rule.

After Frederick's death in 1632, Elizabeth continued to live in extreme poverty at the Hague. Her brother, Charles I, who had his own problems, wasn't of much help to her and Parliament was always slow to send her the pension she was owed. She had to trod a very dangerous path when her brother was executed; she needed the money from Parliament to support her family, but she was angered and outraged that they had killed her brother. She did what she could to help support her brother's family, but it was mostly in the way of moral support.

Elizabeth didn't leave The Netherlands until 1661, when she returned to England after the restoration of her nephew, Charles II. She died there on February 13, 1662, at Leicester House, in London.

Apparently, Elizabeth and Frederick had been very much in love, and she mourned him until her death, 30 years later. Together they had 13 children, including Charles Louis, who eventually regained the Palatinate in the Peace of Westphalia, Elizabeth of Bohemia, Prince Rupert, Sophia, Electress of Hanover, who was the mother of George I.


Source: The Winter Queen, Elizabeth of Bohemia by Carola Oman.

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