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date: 25 February 2020

Elizabeth, Princess [Elizabeth Stuart]free

  • Ronald G. Asch

Princess Elizabeth (1596–1662)

by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1642

© The National Gallery, London

Elizabeth, Princess [Elizabeth Stuart] (1596–1662), queen of Bohemia and electress palatine, consort of Frederick V, eldest and only surviving daughter of James VI of Scotland (James I of England) (1566–1625) and his wife, Anne of Denmark (1574–1619), was born at Falkland Palace, Cupar, on 19 August 1596 (Akkerman, 322–3)—and was baptized on 28 November the same year.

Childhood and education

As a child the Princess Elizabeth was entrusted by her father to the care of Alexander, Lord Livingstone, later earl of Linlithgow, and his wife, Helen Hay, daughter of Andrew Hay, earl of Erroll. Elizabeth grew up in Linlithgow Castle, midway between Stirling and Edinburgh, within a day's ride of each. In June 1603 Elizabeth accompanied her mother to England. Here Lady Frances Howard, who had married Henry Brooke, Lord Cobham, as her second husband, was appointed her governess. However, when Cobham's involvement in the Main and Bye plots was discovered, Lady Cobham was relieved of her charge in September 1603 and Elizabeth was removed on 19 October to the household of John, Lord Harington of Exton, and his wife, Anne. Harington was well known for his strict adherence to the Reformed faith, for his abhorrence of Catholicism, and for his belief in the virtues of learning, ideals which were to have a considerable influence on the princess. Elizabeth now lived mostly at Combe Abbey, 2½ miles north of Coventry, one of the family seats of her governor, visiting the court only on rare occasions until 1608. She received instruction in writing, French, and Italian (languages she was to master with considerable success) as well as horse riding, music, and dancing. John Bull, organist of the Chapel Royal, was one of her music instructors. At the time of the Gunpowder Plot, Harington left Combe Abbey with his charge and sought protection in Coventry as he had reason to fear that the conspirators would try to seize the princess, but otherwise Elizabeth's childhood in England was uneventful.

From the end of 1608 Elizabeth took up residence at court, where she took part in the great court festivals and danced in the masque Tethys in 1610. She had lodgings at Hampton Court as well as at Whitehall and in Harington's residence at Kew. During these years her elder brother Henry, born in 1594, became her closest confidant. When they were unable to see each other, brother and sister exchanged frequent letters. The education she had received in Lord Harington's house had prepared Elizabeth for the idealistic militant protestantism which Henry cultivated. In fact one of Henry's closest companions was John Harington, son and heir of Elizabeth's preceptor. The princess clearly idolized Henry. She remained all her life true to the memory of her high-minded brother, who died prematurely in November 1612, and was later seen by contemporaries as the real inheritor of his political and religious ideals, much more so than her younger brother Charles.


The choice of a suitable husband for the attractive princess—visitors to the court commented on the striking beauty of the golden-haired girl—was predictably a matter of great political concern. Her elder brother openly opposed a marriage with a Catholic prince, which James I and even more so his consort Queen Anne were reluctant to reject out of hand. There was certainly no lack of suitors. Among the princes asking for Elizabeth's hand were Frederick Ulrich of Brunswick, Prince Otto of Hesse, the duke of Savoy's son, and the king of Sweden's son Gustavus Adolphus, the hero of the early 1630s, all except the prince of Savoy protestants. In the end, however, Frederick V count palatine of the Rhine and elector of the Holy Roman empire (1596–1632), was chosen as her husband. Born on 26 August 1596 ns, he was the son of Friedrich IV (1574–1610) and Louise Juliana (1576–1644), daughter of William I of Orange (d. 1584), and had been educated in the Huguenot enclave at Sedan, under the protection of the duc de Bouillon. Having sent first Johann Albrecht, Count Solms, the lord high steward of the Palatinate, and then the steward of his household, Hans Meinhard von Schönberg (or Schomberg), to England to prepare the ground (the marriage contract itself was signed on 16 May), Frederick arrived in England himself on 16 October 1612. Although Elizabeth's mother was opposed to the marriage and warned her daughter that she was marrying beneath her station, the young princess, probably under the influence of her brother Henry, eagerly welcomed the match. On 18 December Frederick was invested with the Order of the Garter and on 27 December betrothed to Elizabeth in the banqueting house in Whitehall. The solemn wedding ceremony took place on 14 February 1613 in the chapel of Whitehall Palace, accompanied by extensive celebrations staged both at court and in the City.

The marriage was part of a wider alliance concluded in the spring of 1612 between England and the protestant union, an association of German princes and free cities under the leadership of the Palatinate. For James I this protestant alliance was to be complemented by a closer understanding with Catholic dynasties, possibly cemented by the marriage of his sons with French or Spanish princesses. Thus the palatine marriage was to be not much more than a well-calculated move in a more comprehensive dynastic policy which would allow James to play his cherished role as Europe's peacemaker. For James's son Henry, however, who died before the wedding ceremony took place, and those at court who thought like him, the marriage between his sister and the elector meant much more. The Masque of Truth, which was to be performed at the wedding and which had probably been commissioned by Henry, celebrated the marriage as an event of truly eschatological significance, ushering in the final battle between light and darkness in which the empire of evil, that is popery, would finally be vanquished. After Henry's death it became impossible to stage this masque, but even so numerous plays and poems written or performed in 1613 or the following year, such as The Hector of Germanie, or, The Palsgrave, Prince Elector by Wentworth Smith (1614), conveyed the same political message. Such sentiments were to be revived in 1619, when Frederick V accepted the crown of Bohemia, to the dismay of Elizabeth's father. In 1613 even James I had a medal struck to celebrate the wedding on which his daughter figured as 'Elizabeth altera', an allusion to James's predecessor and to the political traditions of Elizabethan England. In later years Elizabeth did not hesitate to mobilize support for the palatine cause by appealing to the almost saintlike veneration in which she was held as the heiress of the 'Name and Vertues, the Majesty and generositie of our Immortal Queene Elizabeth' (Cogswell, 96).

Electress palatine

Elizabeth and her husband did not leave England until 26 April to travel slowly via Flushing, The Hague, and up the River Rhine to Heidelberg, where the new electress was solemnly welcomed on 17 June 1613. Frederick V, the prince whom Elizabeth had married, was the ruler of one of the four secular prince electorates of the Holy Roman empire, and as such a key figure in German politics before the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War. As a Calvinist he was in the forefront of the battle against the Counter-Reformation and against the house of Habsburg in Germany. Frederick V's marriage with James I's daughter seemed to be the crowning achievement of a policy which tried to give the Palatinate a central place in international politics. Moreover, the marriage with a princess of royal blood was bound to enhance the status that Frederick V enjoyed among the German princes and strengthened his own and his counsellors' political ambitions, which in retrospect were dangerously unrealistic. Indeed Elizabeth herself was later blamed for having encouraged her husband to pursue an aggressive anti-Habsburg policy and to accept the crown of Bohemia in 1619, because she thought it demeaning to be the wife of a mere German prince. There is no real proof for this supposition, but the fact that Frederick V was married to a princess who could claim precedence over him on ceremonial occasions—and did, on her father's insistence, do so—must have furthered his wish to obtain a kinglike status or indeed a royal crown for himself, which would put him on an equal footing with Europe's great monarchs or at least with his own wife.

Elizabeth's presence in Heidelberg brought an air of extravagance and refinement to the Palatinate. The princess, who had been accompanied to Heidelberg by her own numerous English household establishment, insisted on living in style. Her lack of restraint in financial matters, and her sometimes rather drastic sense of humour as well as her refusal to become 'all Dutch' (i.e. German) and indeed to learn German, however, did not make her universally popular in Heidelberg, in spite of her indisputable charm and beauty (Lemberg, 16). It took the sustained efforts of Hans Meinhard von Schönberg, who now held the office of marshall in the palatine court but acted also as James I's representative in Heidelberg, to alleviate the tensions between her servants and the elector's entourage and to reorganize Elizabeth's household, where waste and disorder reigned. But the influence which the matrimonial alliance with England had on the Heidelberg court went beyond a mere increase of expenditure and occasional conflicts of precedence. Even in earlier years the Palatinate had been more strongly influenced by the intellectual traditions of western European than other German principalities. After 1613 Heidelberg was clearly distinguished from other princely courts by an altogether grander and almost royal style at once indebted to the ideals of chivalry, humanism, and militant protestantism. This style was inspired by the dynastic alliance with the Stuarts, which also brought new artists to Heidelberg. The famous architect, engineer, and scientist Salomon de Caus, for example, who had worked for Elizabeth's brother Henry before 1613, followed her to Heidelberg and created the Hortus Palatinus, the most famous Renaissance garden in Germany.

Queen of Bohemia

The marriage between Elizabeth and Frederick was a happy and affectionate one, although the elector was subject to periodic bouts of depression. On 14 January 1614 ns the couple's first child, Frederick Henry (1614–1629), was born; the birth of their second son, Charles Lewis, followed on 1 January 1618 and that of their eldest daughter, Elizabeth, one year later (5 January 1619). By this time the political crisis in Germany had already worsened to such an extent that war was imminent. Frederick, influenced by his advisers, decided to accept the crown which the Bohemian estates, having shortly before deposed Archduke Ferdinand of Austria—soon to be elected emperor—offered him in August 1619. Elizabeth herself did not yet play a very active part in politics. She did, however, clearly identify herself with her husband's policy, and certainly did nothing to dissuade him from accepting the Bohemian crown. Personal affection and loyalty, religious enthusiasm, but probably also the encouragement she received from the archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbott, account for her attitude. Abbott gave Elizabeth to understand that her father would be bound to support her and her husband, regardless of his reluctance to endorse the Bohemian adventure. In October Frederick and Elizabeth left the Palatinate and travelled to Prague, where they arrived on 31 October. A few days later, on 4 November, the elector was crowned king of Bohemia in St Vitus's Cathedral. This ceremony was followed by Elizabeth's own coronation three days later. However, the royal couple were not universally popular in their new capital. Elizabeth herself spoke little German, whereas the ladies of the Bohemian court hardly knew any French—a language Elizabeth spoke fluently—let alone English. Elizabeth's manners, her low-cut dresses—shameless by Bohemian standards—the irregular hours she kept, and not least the dogs and pet monkeys which surrounded her, offended the feelings of the native nobility and citizens. The strict Calvinism which Frederick and his entourage subscribed to, however, was even more offensive, and made the new king and his consort unpopular even with many non-Catholics, who preferred a more moderate form of protestantism.

On 18 December 1619 Elizabeth gave birth in Prague to her fourth child, who was christened Rupert (Ruprecht), evoking the memory of Rupert III, elector palatine, who had been elected king of the Romans and emperor designate on the deposition of King Wenceslaus (who had ruled Bohemia as well as Germany) in the year 1400. The situation in Bohemia as well as in the Palatinate itself, however, soon became critical. In autumn 1620 Spanish troops overran large parts of the Lower Palatinate. Elizabeth, who knew that she could not really count on her father's support, entreated her brother Charles to intercede with James I for her 'that loves you more than all the world' and her husband (Elizabeth to Charles, 15 Sept 1620, Letters, 54). In October the Catholic armies advanced on Prague, and on 8 November Frederick's troops suffered a devastating defeat at the battle of the White Mountain. As Frederick's enemies had predicted, his rule in Bohemia had not lasted much longer than one winter. The Catholic pamphlets which were now published, and which satirized Frederick's short reign, often attributed the responsibility for his reckless policy to his allegedly arrogant and frivolous consort, although such criticism did nothing to diminish her popularity among the more militant protestants in Europe. The royal couple fled via Breslau, Küstrin (where her fifth child, Maurice, was born on 16 January 1621), Berlin, and Wolfenbüttel to the Netherlands.

Elizabeth and the establishment of the palatine court in exile, 1621–1623

In The Hague Frederick and Elizabeth were received by the stadholder Maurice of Orange on 14 April 1621. The states general granted Frederick and his family financial support which was, at least initially, generous. They resided in the house Wassenaar-Duivenvoorde in The Hague, which belonged to Johan van Oldenbarnevelt's exiled son-in-law Cornelius van der Myle. In 1625 Oldenbarnevelt's own house—the owner had been executed for political reasons in 1619—also became part of their lodgings. In the Netherlands, where Elizabeth was to spend the next decades in exile, she and her husband continued to live, at least during the 1620s, before retrenchments became inevitable, with all the trappings of royalty and little regard to the costs this entailed. Hunting, dances, and spectacles dominated life at the palatine court in exile. Elizabeth had herself and her family painted by some of the leading Dutch portrait painters of the period, in particular Gerrit van Honthorst and Michiel Jansz von Miereveldt, and sent many of the portraits to her supporters in the Netherlands and abroad. She and two of her children, Rupert and Louise Hollandine, later even took painting lessons themselves.

Politically, however, matters went from bad to worse. In 1622–3 Spain and Bavaria occupied the Upper and Lower Palatinate, where the last garrisons loyal to the elector surrendered. Frederick V had already been outlawed by the emperor in January 1621; he now lost not only his hereditary dominions but also his electoral dignity, which was transferred to Maximilian of Bavaria in February 1623. In this desperate situation Elizabeth's political role began to change. In Heidelberg and Prague she had played only a modest part in politics in spite of her elevated status as a king's daughter. In exile, however, she became much more an equal, if not in fact the stronger, partner in the marriage with Frederick V. Frederick was devoted more than ever to his wife. He relied on English diplomatic and financial support in the 1620s, the latter, apart from the Dutch subsidies which he received, his principal source of income in exile, and continued to hope for England's direct intervention in the war. Elizabeth herself had a considerable talent to inspire admiration, loyalty, and love in Germany as well as England, more so than her husband, who tended to abandon himself to despair. Her beauty and undisputed charm, her strength of character, and the high-spirited courage with which she continued to fight undismayed for the palatine cause against heavy odds, but also the fact that her upbringing and education seemed to make her the perfect protestant heroine, gave her a unique position as the symbol of militant protestantism in Europe. Seemingly sober diplomats or scholars like Sir Henry Wotton wrote sonnets in her praise or, like Sir Thomas Roe, swore to 'serve her to deathe, to poverty', adding 'if you shall ever please to command, I will be converted to dust and ashes at your Majesties feet' (Strachan, 119; Oman, 212–13). Noblemen and soldiers committed to the ideals of chivalry like Christian of Brunswick in Germany or the third earl of Essex in England took pride in fighting for her cause. A cult of the 'Queen of Hearts' (Oman, 255), in which erotic, romantic, and religious elements were combined, developed in the 1620s, and Elizabeth knew how to encourage this enthusiasm.

One of Elizabeth's most ardent admirers was Christian of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (1599–1626), the protestant administrator of the prince-bishopric of Halberstadt in northern Germany. Christian was a military adventurer who acquired a reputation for ruthlessness; he was not averse to acts of robbery and kidnapping to improve his financial situation. In 1621, however, he raised an army to fight for his cousin Elizabeth and Frederick V. Christian's device in his campaign was 'pour dieu et pour elle', and in serving Elizabeth he clearly modelled himself on the knightly heroes celebrated by the chivalrous novels of the time. However, in June 1622 Christian was beaten at Höchst by Tilly and, having raised a new army, again in August 1623 at Stadtlohn near the Dutch border. Nevertheless, he was made a knight of the Garter in 1624 on Elizabeth's request. He remained devoted to Elizabeth until his early death in 1626. Although Elizabeth's own feelings for the 'mad bishop of Halberstadt', as contemporaries called him, are difficult to ascertain, Christian's sister Sophie assured him in December 1625 that 'la belle' whom he so adored still had a great deal of affection for him (Opel, 317). With Christian's defeat in 1623, however, the palatine cause seemed to be desperate, and all the more so as James I was now more strongly committed than ever to a compromise with Spain. Elizabeth watched with dismay the negotiations over a Spanish marriage and the prince of Wales's journey to Madrid in 1623. She had come to distrust her father, and wrote in despair to Lord Conway in September 1623, 'yet I hope his majesty will one day see the falsehood of our enemies'; but she continued to hope for her brother's help, in particular after his return from Spain, when Charles turned to a strongly anti-Spanish policy (Letters, ed. Baker, 67–8).

Renewed hopes and disappointments, 1624–1632

The fact that both Charles and the king's favourite the duke of Buckingham now tried to win king and parliament for a war against Spain seemed to augur well for the palatine cause. After November 1623 Elizabeth began to wear an ornament whose centrepiece was a lock of Charles's hair as a token of the trust she put in her brother. She and her husband remained in close contact with the war party in England during the last months of 1623 and throughout 1624. However, after Charles I became king in March 1625, the war strategy soon proved to be abortive. One of Frederick's and Elizabeth's most influential and most trusted advisers, Johann Joachim von Rusdorf, who acted as their representative in England, clearly blamed the old and new favourite the duke of Buckingham for this disaster. Rusdorf was in close contact with Buckingham's opponents at court, in particular Archbishop Abbott, in 1625–6, and although it is not quite clear to what extent Frederick and Elizabeth shared Rusdorf's sentiments—they certainly could not afford to criticize the duke openly—Buckingham himself began to see the palatine court in exile as a hotbed of opposition to his policy, closely linked with his enemies at court and in the country. On the other hand, the king and queen of Bohemia were bound to react with indignation to Buckingham's plans to marry his daughter to one of their sons, possibly their heir, which he wished to promote during a visit to The Hague in November 1625. Buckingham apparently wished to silence those of his critics who still saw him as a traitor to the protestant cause by this marriage, but such an alliance would also have made his grandchild the possible heir to the English crown. The king and queen of Bohemia managed to stifle any discussion of the dubious marriage project without openly offending the duke, but relations with the favourite remained tense. Rusdorf had to be recalled from London in January 1627 because the duke rightly suspected him of damaging his reputation abroad, in The Hague as much as in Germany and Scandinavia, by his reports. When Buckingham was assassinated in August 1628, Rusdorf on his part welcomed his death as an 'act of God' (Rusdorf, Mémoires, 2.606). Elizabeth was more cautious, but clearly did not regret the end of the 'great man's' influence (Letters, 77; Oman, 297). However, the dissolution of parliament in 1629—at about the same time as the power of the emperor and his Catholic allies in Germany had reached its apogee—and Charles's determination to abandon the war effort altogether, put paid to all hopes to regain the palatine dominions and the electoral dignity with English support. Frederick V and Elizabeth resented the treaty of Madrid, which ended the war between England and Spain in November 1630 without providing for the Palatinate. Elizabeth remained all the more popular in England, and those who were dissatisfied with Charles's policies for religious or political reasons were clearly disappointed when Queen Henrietta Maria bore Charles a son in 1630, thereby ending Elizabeth's role as Charles's heir apparent. At court Dudley Carleton, Viscount Dorchester, appointed secretary of state in December 1628, remained a close friend of the palatines—he had won Elizabeth's trust during his time as English ambassador at The Hague in the early 1620s. With the victories achieved by Sweden in 1631, there seemed to be once more a realistic chance for English intervention on the continent in the palatine dynasty's favour. Elizabeth implored her brother in a letter to enter into an alliance with Sweden (Letters, 81–2). Charles, though irritated by the tone of Elizabeth's letter, was not entirely unmoved by his sister's pleading, but with Dorchester's death in February 1632 the peace party nevertheless gained the upper hand at the English court.

Widowhood and political isolation, 1632–1642

The year 1632 was in many ways the most disastrous for Elizabeth since her flight from Prague. In early November Gustavus Adolphus, who was widely seen as the saviour of the German protestants, was killed in action in the battle of Lützen. Frederick V had accompanied the Swedish king on his campaign in 1632 but had later in the year left the Swedish army and visited the Palatinate, which had been liberated by the Swedes. However, while he was staying in Mainz he fell ill and died on 29 November, thirteen days after the ‘lion of the north’. Elizabeth, who was deeply devoted to her husband, was shattered. Nevertheless, she declined her brother's offer to settle in England. She recognized that such a move would be tantamount to abandoning all claims to the Palatinate for herself and her children. She therefore decided to stay in the Netherlands, where she and Frederick had built a country house at Rhenen in Gelderland in 1629–30, which she now increasingly preferred to her residence at The Hague. Her younger children were educated away from her own court in Leiden. The number of her children had quickly increased during the years in exile. Louise Hollandine (d. 1709) was born in 1622, Louis, who died in infancy, in 1624, his brother Edward (d. 1684) one year later, and his sister Henrietta Maria (d. 1652) two years later. Four more children were to follow: Philip (1627–1650), Charlotte (1628–1631), Sophia (1630–1714), and Gustavus (1632–1641). Elizabeth's eldest son, Frederick Henry, however, deeply mourned by his parents, fell victim to an accident on 17 January 1629. Accompanying his father on a boat trip from Haarlem to Amsterdam, he drowned when the boat capsized. In spite of the strokes of fate which Elizabeth suffered, her spirit remained unbroken. She continued to indulge her passion for horse riding and hunting, and occasionally her children and visitors even performed a play or masque at her residence, a fact which irritated the strict Dutch Calvinists and was likely to provoke the indignation of the fervent protestants in England who still considered Elizabeth their heroine.

During the 1630s Elizabeth's relations with the English court were marked by considerable political tensions. After Dorchester's death her closest confidant in her native country was Sir Thomas Roe, the former ambassador in Constantinople, who did not, however, hold any office at court, although he was employed by Charles I in diplomatic missions in the late 1630s and early 1640s. Relations with James Hay, earl of Carlisle, the king's groom of the stool (1580–1636), were also friendly, but Carlisle was neither influential nor determined enough to create a pro-palatine party at court, although men such as Sir John Coke, one of the two secretaries of state, and the earls of Holland, Northumberland, and Leicester were sympathetic to the palatines. But ardent adherents of the queen like Georg Rudolf Weckherlin, a German by birth and one of Coke's assistants, remained isolated at court, and Elizabeth's official representative in England, her former secretary Sir Francis Nethersole, lacked the tact and discretion necessary to promote the palatine cause. In December 1633 he wrote to Secretary Coke accusing Charles I of having neglected the interests of his sister. The Palatinate, Nethersole argued, had been lost through his father's and the king's own fault, and there would be no hope of regaining the principality if Charles continued to ignore his sister's interests. The king took offence, and had Nethersole, who had initially taken refuge in the Dutch embassy, arrested. His correspondence was seized and the letters he had received from Elizabeth examined by the privy council. Elizabeth had to dismiss her servant, who was banished from the court. In spite of the misgivings she clearly had about her brother's political inertia with respect to the Palatinate, she nevertheless remained opposed to a closer co-operation with France which Rusdorf, still one of her most influential advisers, advocated.

In 1635 Elizabeth sent her son Charles Lewis—who was later joined by his younger brother Rupert—to England to gain Charles's support, but he achieved very little in political terms. When King Charles sent the earl of Arundel to Vienna in 1636 in a seemingly last attempt to have the palatine problem solved by peaceful means, Elizabeth remained extremely sceptical and was as opposed as ever to any concessions to Bavarian and Habsburg interests. The failure of the mission spared her at least the necessity of rejecting an unsatisfactory compromise between Charles and the emperor, which might have been founded on a marriage alliance between Charles Lewis and the imperial dynasty. In October 1638 Rupert, who had followed his brother Charles Lewis into the field to fight against the emperor, was taken prisoner by imperial troops. He was taken to Austria, where he remained in captivity for more than three years. Charles Lewis himself had escaped but was arrested in France in 1639, partly because the French suspected him of trying to recruit an army of his own in Germany among troops who served France, but perhaps also intending to keep him as a hostage in case England should side with Spain in the Franco-Spanish War. This incident confirmed Elizabeth in her innate distrust of French policy. Charles Lewis was released after about half a year, but he and his brothers, as well as Elizabeth herself, were now about to be confronted by difficult choices on account of the political crisis of the Stuart monarchy.

Elizabeth during the English civil war

When civil war broke out in England in 1642, Rupert and his younger brother Maurice decided to fight for the king, whereas Charles Lewis showed clear sympathies for parliament and issued a manifesto in October 1642 in his own and his mother's name in which he distanced himself from his uncle (Green, 358). Elizabeth's own sympathies were apparently more with Rupert than with Charles Lewis in this matter, although she wrote to Roe in April 1643 that she had only refrained from advising Rupert and Maurice to leave England because, having once joined the king's army, their honour was now engaged in the fight for the royal cause. She certainly knew that there was a greater chance of receiving financial aid from parliament than from her brother, and she apparently accepted her eldest son's decision to go to England in 1644 to seek the support of parliament for his cause and financial relief. Elizabeth herself sent a petition to both houses in April 1643 to request their help and support on the advice of Sir Thomas Roe, who had even proposed to ask the queen of Bohemia to mediate between her brother and parliament during the earlier stages of the conflict. Parliament had hardly any money to spare for the exiled princess, but further petitions followed. Only her brother's trial and execution caused her to break off all contacts with Charles's old enemies. She came to detest Cromwell and saw him as the very Beast from the book of Revelation. Although her relations with her eldest son had always been affectionate in the past, his dubious attitude in this moment—he was present in England when his uncle was executed—was not easily forgiven. Relations further deteriorated when he refused to comply with his mother's request for generous financial support and a formal transfer to her of the lands and castles which formed her jointure according to her marriage treaty after the restoration of the palatine dynasty in the Lower Palatinate by the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. In Elizabeth's eyes it was an essential precondition for an eventual return to the Palatinate that she should gain possession of these lands. As no agreement could be reached on this point between Charles Lewis and herself, she stayed at The Hague after 1648. The final success of the cause she had fought for for such a long time—the return of the Palatinate to its native dynasty—therefore brought her personally little joy or relief.

In fact, Elizabeth's financial situation in the Netherlands, which had become desperate after the outbreak of war in England, hardly improved after the Westphalian peace. In the early 1640s she had still been able to rely on the support of William, Lord Craven, one of her most ardent admirers and closest friends and a frequent visitor at her court, but the outcome of the civil war had ruined Craven, like many other real or suspected royalists. Furthermore, the Dutch states general refused to support her any longer after the end of the war with Spain in 1648 and the political eclipse of the house of Orange in 1650. The contrast between the claim to royal status which she never abandoned and the reality of life in her household, where poverty and a pronounced lack of discipline among the servants, who hardly received any regular wages, dominated, became ever more glaring and it was increasingly difficult to keep nervous creditors at bay.

Elizabeth and her children: last years and death

Elizabeth's situation was not made easier by the tensions within her family. Her son Edward had gone to Paris in the 1640s, where he married Anne de Gonzague, daughter of Charles, duke of Nevers, Mantua, and Montferrat, an attractive and wealthy woman eight years his senior who played a prominent role in French aristocratic society. Before the marriage Edward converted to Catholicism, a severe shock for his mother, although Elizabeth later forgave him his apostasy. Her youngest son, Philip, caused her even more trouble. In June 1646 he killed one of her courtiers and youthful admirers, the count de l'Espinay, whom malicious tongues credited with a love affair either with the widowed queen herself or with her daughter Louise Hollandine. Philip had to leave the Netherlands, and Elizabeth broke off all contact with him. He died in 1650. Two years later another son, Maurice, also died prematurely, when his ship sank in the Caribbean during one of the privateering raids he and his brother Rupert had undertaken against the merchant fleet of the hated English Commonwealth. Of Elizabeth's daughters her namesake Elizabeth was probably the most gifted. She studied science and philosophy, and when Descartes stayed in the Netherlands a friendship between the princess and the philosopher developed. After the philosopher's death in Sweden she was disconsolate and left her mother's court, went to Brandenburg, and eventually became abbess of the protestant ecclesiastical community of Herford. Her sister Henrietta married Sigismund Rakoczi, prince of Transylvania, but died soon afterwards, in February 1652. Louise Hollandine had in many ways been closest to her mother, but life in exile and poverty proved too much of a strain for her. In December 1657 she suddenly left her mother's court in secret and went to France, where she, like her brother Edward, became a Catholic. She entered a monastery and eventually became abbess of Maubuisson in 1664. As opposed to Edward's conversion, Louise's flight and change of religion never found Elizabeth's forgiveness. Even Sophia, her youngest daughter, who later depicted her mother in her memoirs as a somewhat distant figure who cared more for her dogs and monkeys than for her children, did not get on too well with her. Against her mother's will she left The Hague for Heidelberg in 1650, and married Ernst August of Brunswick in 1658, a younger son whom Elizabeth did not consider a suitable match for her daughter. She was unable to foresee that Ernst August was to become the first elector of Hanover and father of King George I. Of her sons and daughters Rupert was undoubtedly closest to his mother in Elizabeth's last years. When he returned to England after the Restoration which he and his mother had so eagerly awaited, Elizabeth became reluctant to stay any longer in the Netherlands. However, the invitation by Charles II which she expected did not materialize. She therefore decided to go to England even against the king's wishes in May 1661. In London she stayed at the house her old friend the earl of Craven owned in Drury Lane. As in the past, Craven proved to be a great support in difficult times. The earl undoubtedly admired her, but rumours that they were married in secret in the 1650s, or that there was at least a secret love affair between them, seem to be unsubstantiated. In February 1662 Elizabeth decided to acquire a residence of her own and moved to Leicester House. Apparently the removal in the midst of winter was too much for her. She died shortly afterwards, on 13 February at Leicester House, in the presence of her son Prince Rupert, probably from the effects of severe bronchitis, an illness she had suffered from in its chronic form for a long time. On 17 February she was buried in Westminster Abbey next to Prince Henry.


Like few other women of the early seventeenth century Elizabeth Stuart has continued to fascinate the popular imagination in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her life and character seemed in many ways to provide the ideal material for romantic novels. But even if one discards this romantic version of her life, the pertinacity and willpower she demonstrated in defending her own ideals and her family's interests for so long, with very few material resources and relying more on her charm and reputation than on political power, remain remarkable. Although sometimes considered by contemporaries as arrogant and frivolous as a young princess, she managed to adapt surprisingly well to life in exile, and later to her position as the female head of an outlawed dynasty. Political success, however, proved elusive in spite of her endeavours, and in the newly established European order, emerging from the turmoil of the Thirty Years' War, there was no longer any place for her political ideals inspired by the militant protestantism of her youth, except, possibly, in the English republic which had, however, killed her brother. At odds with most of her children she had, in the last decade before her death, become the survivor of an earlier age, isolated and without a country which she could really consider her own.


  • The letters of Elizabeth queen of Bohemia, ed. L. M. Baker (1953)
  • G. Bromley, ed., A collection of original royal letters (1787)
  • K. Hauck, ed., Die Briefe der Kinder des Winterkönigs, Heidelberger Jahrbücher, 15 (1908)
  • J. Nichols, The progresses, processions, and magnificent festivities of King James I, his royal consort, family and court, 4 vols. (1828)
  • J. J. Rusdorf, Mémoires et négociations secrètes, ed. E. G. Kuhn, 2 vols. (1789)
  • J. J. Rusdorf, Consilia et negotia politica (1725)
  • Memoiren der Sophie Kurfürstin von Hannover, ed. A. Köcher (1879)
  • Memoirs of Sophia, electress of Hanover, ed. and trans. H. Forester (1888)
  • A. Wendland, ed., Briefe der Elisabeth Stuart, Königin von Böhmen an ihren Sohn, den Kurfürsten Carl Ludwig von der Pfalz, 1650–1662 (Tübingen, 1902)
  • M. A. E. Green, Elizabeth electress palatine and queen of Bohemia, ed. S. C. Lomas, rev. edn (1909) [still useful being based on a wealth of sources; based on M. A. E. Green, ‘Elizabeth, eldest daughter of James I’, Lives of the princesses of England, 5 (1854), 145–573]
  • M. Lemberg, Eine Königin ohne Reich: das Leben der Winterkönigin Elisabeth Stuart und ihre Briefe nach Hessen (1996)
  • K. Hauck, Elisabeth, Königin von Böhmen, Kurfürstin von Pfalz in ihren letzten Lebensjahren (1905)
  • T. Cogswell, The blessed revolution: English politics and the coming of war, 1621–1624 (1989)
  • K. Hauck, Karl Ludwig, Kurfürst von der Pfalz (1903)
  • C. M. Hibbard, Charles I and the Popish Plot (1983)
  • R. Lockyer, Buckingham: the life and political career of George Villiers, first duke of Buckingham, 1592–1628 (1981)
  • Neue deutsche Biographie, [6 vols.] (Berlin, 1953–64)
  • N. Mout, ‘Der Winterkönig im Exil: Friedrich V. von der Pfalz und die niederländischen Generalstaaten, 1621–31’, Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung, 15 (1988), 259–72
  • D. Norbrook, ‘“The masque of truth”: court entertainments and international protestant politics in the early Stuart period’, Seventeenth Century, 1 (1986), 81–110
  • J. O. Opel, ‘Elisabeth Stuart, Königin von Böhmen, Kurfürstin von der Pfalz’, Historische Zeitschrift, 23 (1870), 289–328
  • L. J. Reeve, Charles I and the road to personal rule (1989)
  • R. E. Schreiber, The first Carlisle: Sir James Hay, first earl of Carlisle as courtier, diplomat and entrepreneur, 1580–1636 (1984)
  • F. H. Schubert, Ludwig Camerarius, 1573–1651: eine Biographie (1955)
  • F. H. Schubert, ‘Die pfälzische Exilregierung im dreissigjährigen Krieg: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des politischen Protestantismus’, Zeitschrift für Geschichte des Oberrheins, new ser., 63 (1954), 575–680
  • V. F. Snow, Essex the rebel: the life of Robert Devereux, the third earl of Essex, 1591–1646 (1970)
  • M. Strachan, Sir Thomas Roe, 1581–1644: a life (1989)
  • R. C. Strong, Henry, prince of Wales, and England's lost Renaissance (1986)
  • E. Weiss, Die Unterstützung Friedrichs V. von der Pfalz durch Jakob I. und Karl I. von England im dreissigjährigen Krieg (1966)
  • J. G. Weiss, ‘Die Vorgeschichte des böhmischen Abenteuers Friedrichs V. von der Pfalz’, Zeitschrift für Geschichte des Oberrheins, new ser., 53 (1940), 383–492
  • H. Werner, ‘The Hector of Germanie, or, The Palsgrave, prince elector and Anglo-German relations of early Stuart England: the view from the popular stage’, The Stuart court and Europe, ed. R. M. Smuts (1996)
  • S. Orgel and R. Strong, eds., Inigo Jones and the theatre of the Stuart court, 2 vols. (1973), vol. 1
  • Die Renaissance im deutschen Südwesten, 2 vols. (1986), vol. 1
  • H. Wotton, Reliquiae Wottonianae, 3rd edn (1672)
  • E. A. Beller, Caricatures of the winter king of Bohemia (1928)
  • N. Akkerman, ed., The correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, queen of Bohemia, 1: 1603–1631 (2015)


  • Alnwick Castle, corresp.
  • Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, collectio cameriana
  • Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Munich, Geheimes Hausarchiv, Kasten Blau: Akten der pfälzischen Wittelsbacher / records of the Palatinate branch of the Wittelsbach dynasty
  • BL, Harley MS 7007
  • BL, Add. MS 637744
  • TNA: PRO, state papers foreign Germany, SP 81
  • TNA: PRO, state papers foreign Netherlands, SP 84
  • V&A NAL, corresp., vol. 39
  • Alnwick Castle, duke of Northumberland MSS
  • Arundel Castle, duke of Norfolk MSS
  • Arundel Castle, corresp. with Lord and Lady Arundel
  • Berks. RO, letters to William Lenthal [transcripts]
  • BL, letters to Sir Edward Nicholas, Egerton MS 2548
  • BL, letters to Lady Elizabeth Broughton, Add. MS 30797
  • NA Scot., letters to first marquess of Montrose
  • priv. coll., letters to the duke of Gloucester
  • TCD, corresp. of Sir Thomas Roe, MS 708
  • TNA: PRO, state papers domestic James I and Charles I, SP 14, SP 16


  • Hilliard, miniature, 1610, Royal Collection
  • Hilliard, miniature, 1610, V&A
  • I. Oliver, miniature, 1610, Royal Collection
  • I. Oliver, miniature, 1610, V&A
  • R. Elstrack, line print, 1612, BM
  • C. de Passe, print, 1612, BM, NPG
  • studio of M. J. van Miereveldt, oils, 1625–30, NPG
  • A. Van de Venne, group portrait, oils, 1626, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • D. Mytens, oils, 1626–1627, Royal Collection
  • oils, 1628 (after G. van Honthorst); version, Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire
  • W. J. Delff, line engraving, 1630 (after oil painting after G. van Honthorst), BM, NPG
  • G. van Honthorst, oils, 1632, Buccleuch estates, Selkirk
  • attrib. F. Dieussart, marble bust, 1641, V&A
  • G. van Honthorst, portrait, 1642, National Gallery, London [see illus.]
  • studio of G. van Honthorst, oils, 1642, NPG
  • G. van Honthorst, oils, 1650, Ashdown House, Oxfordshire
  • B. Bolswert, line print (after M. J. van Miereveldt, 1615), BM, NPG
  • G. van Honthorst, group portrait (allegorical with family), Landes Museum, Hanover, Germany
  • studio of G. van Honthorst, oils (type of 1642), NPG
  • C. de Passe, group portrait, line engraving (after medal; with her husband and son), NPG
  • etching and woodcut, NPG
  • medals, BM
  • oils (type of c.1630; after G. van Honthorst), Plymouth Art Gallery; loaned by Clarendon collection

Wealth at Death

presumably in debt but still owned valuable moveable goods: Oman, Elizabeth of Bohemia; ‘The last will, 8 May 1661’, CS 83 (1863) 109–10

private collection
National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh
British Library, London
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
National Portrait Gallery, London
British Museum, London
Berkshire RO, Reading
Trinity College, Dublin