Charlotte,  England,  Western Europe

The Winter Queen: Elizabeth Stuart

Elizabeth Stuart, The Winter Queen
Elizabeth Stuart, The Winter Queen

Born into the royal Stuart family of Scotland, Elizabeth was brought up as a princess and taught to be a future queen. It was on August 19 of 1596 that Elizabeth was brought into this world by her father, King James IV of Scotland (not yet the king of England or Ireland) and mother, Anne of Denmark. She was the second eldest child of 7, only preceded by her elder brother, Henry, Prince of Wales. If only she knew that life would not always be about pampering and extravagance, life as it were for Elizabeth was a struggle.

Up until the age of 7 Elizabeth had been placed in the care of Lord Livingstone at Linlithgow Palace. It was the news that was brought on March 24, 1603 that changed life for Elizabeth when she learned that her godmother had died. That godmother also happened to be Queen Elizabeth I of England, and without any issues, King James IV of Scotland ascended the throne becoming King James I of England and Ireland as well. The family moved to England at this time where the children lived at Oatlands, an old Tudor hunting lodge.

Elizabeth’s time in England was focused on education and was of the utmost importance as she was tutored in many more areas than other royals of her equal. The education included geography, theology, natural history, multiple languages, music, writing, history and art. Now that she could add princess of England and Ireland to her already impressive resume, it is no wonder that she should be sought after by many men because of the advantages the marriage would being to the man who could win her hand.

It was necessary for her to marry well, not only for her family, but also to benefit her father’s increasingly expanding rule and to fulfill her duty by serving her father and country. Many suitors had visited the Stuarts to propose marriage to the fair-haired beauty including Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, Philip III of Spain and Frederick V, Count Palatine of the Rhine. Frederick V was a favorite of many for Elizabeth, including King James because of the connection to German territory that could benefit Scotland, England and Ireland. Anne, on the other hand, disliked him from the beginning thinking that he was beneath her daughter’s birth. Anne was also biased considering she was the daughter of a king (Frederick II of Denmark), wife of a king, and would also become the mother of a future king, so she felt that Elizabeth had the right by birth to be a queen herself.

King Frederick and Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia
King Frederick and Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia

At the disapproval of her mother, Elizabeth, or rather King James, accepted the offer from Frederick V and a marriage contract was signed in May of 1612 before the couple had met. Five months later saw the arrival of Frederick in England when the two betrothed laid eyes on one another for the first time and it is reported that the couple got along famously. Unfortunately, tragedy struck the family only one month after their meeting when Henry, Prince of Wales, died on November 6, 1612 of typhoid fever. The wedding that was planned was inevitably pushed back as the family mourned the heir to the throne.

Valentine’s Day of 1613 was a day later described as “a wonder of ceremonial and magnificence even for that extravagant age”. At the hand of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Elizabeth and Frederick were married at Whitehall Palace, both at the age of 16 making Elizabeth now Electress Palatine. After two months of living in England while attending continual marriage celebrations, it was now time for the couple to leave the Stuarts to head for Heidelberg, as Frederick needed to return to the Electoral court.

The first of Frederick and Elizabeth’s 13 children was born in January of 1614 and baptized Frederick Henry. Two more children would be born through 1619 when the tides decided to turn their fate toward Frederick. King Matthias of Bohemia had died in March of 1619, and while the nobles did not want the Habsburg heir, Ferdinand, who was also the Holy Roman Emperor, to rule Bohemia. Ferdinand was known as a devout Catholic and also for his harsh persecution of Protestants. The nobles elected Frederick King of Bohemia, which he only accepted at the urging of Elizabeth, in August 1619. Frederick was crowned king on November 4, 1619 and Elizabeth’s crowning occurred 3 days later, starting her reign as “the winter queen”.

It is safe to say that Ferdinand was not too pleased about the decision of Frederick being elected king as it was his birthright to hold that title. The trouble was stirring and Ferdinand began amassing an army to take back what was rightfully his. A few days past their 1 year anniversary as King and Queen of Bohemia, Frederick and Ferdinand fought at the Battle of White Mountain. Frederick lost the battle on November 8, 1620, and the results were not only that he lost the crown for himself and his wife, they were also exiled and even worse, it started the 30 years’ war across Northern and Central Europe.

Now with no crown and a kingdom lost, Frederick and Elizabeth were forced into exile and fled to the Hague. Arriving in the spring of 1621, the two were unaware the stay in the Hague would become a permanent solution as there was no where else the couple could go that was safe. Eight more children were born in exile, giving a total number of issues at an astounding 13 with the last child born in 1632 when Elizabeth was 36 years old.

Unfortunately, Frederick would only spend a few months with the youngest child before he met his maker while returning from a march he participated in with King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. While on his way back to the Hague, Frederick was suffering from an infection and died of pestilential fever on November 29, 1632. His death left Elizabeth alone in the world and upon hearing of her husband’s death, Elizabeth’s younger brother, now Charles I of England, offered her asylum in England. Shockingly, the offer was refused because Elizabeth never stopped believing in her own restoration and that of her children and used her time wisely in asylum to try and restore all that she felt was hers. Determination was the key to success as her son, Charles Louis, regained the title of Electorate of the Palatinate in 1648.

By this time, so much misfortune had befallen Elizabeth. After the death of her beloved husband that she never stopped mourning, a son of hers died in 1648 and she also lived through the execution of her brother Charles I. She continued, through all of this, to willingly live in the Hague even though she now had the option to return to Bohemia. It was not until 1661 that she returned to England once Oliver Cromwell died and Charles II was restored to the throne. Even though Charles II was Elizabeth’s nephew, he only allowed her to return begrudgingly and she was only to stay a short while. The short while turned into a more permanent situation when she established a household in London in January of 1662 and requested that her belongings be sent to her there.

It turned out however, that the stay would be short lived in the end as she began to lose her health. In her frail state, Elizabeth caught pneumonia and couldn’t fight it resulting in a hemorrhage of her lungs that caused her death on February 10, 1662. The majority of her life was spent in exile, a little over 40 years in total, and watching the deaths of brothers, children and husband, Elizabeth played her part well as a strong and capable woman.

Known as the Winter Queen because the reign of her and her husband lasted for one winter in Bohemia. She played a much larger role than just her short reign as she is the direct link between the Stuart line and the Hanover line in England’s monarchy. At the death of the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne in 1714, George I ascended the throne as the first Hanover. The connection is that of grandson to Elizabeth as George was the son of Elizabeth’s youngest daughter.