Renaissance and Reformation Elizabeth Stuart Queen of Bohemia
Nadine Akkerman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0404


When Elizabeth Stuart died in 1662, having returned to England the previous year after forty years of exile, she had been welcomed into the world as the daughter of Scotland, been heir apparent to the three thrones of the Stuart kingdom, became Electress Palatine of the Rhine and Queen of Bohemia, brought on the Thirty Years’ War, been eulogized as the icon of pan-European Protestantism and Elizabeth Rediviva, the true spiritual heir of her godmother Queen Elizabeth I, and had transformed the cultural landscape of the Dutch Republic, her place of asylum. As daughter of King James VI of Scotland (from 1603 also James I of England) and Anna of Denmark, Elizabeth was always at the center stage of politics. At the heart of the Gunpowder Plot was a plan to install her as Catholic puppet queen when she was but eight and a half years old. At sixteen she was heir apparent to the crowns of England, Scotland, and Ireland, due to the feeble health of her younger brother Charles and the unexpected death of their older brother Henry, Prince of Wales. Mere months later, her wedding to Frederick V, Elector Palatine turned into what is said to have been the most sumptuous feast of the early modern period, and after six years in the Palatinate she was crowned Queen of Bohemia in Prague at twenty-three. The Holy Roman Emperor who was also the deposed king of Bohemia struck back, leading to Frederick and Elizabeth fleeing before the Catholic armies within the year. Elizabeth experienced all the seasons in Bohemia only once—hence the mocking soubriquet “Winter Queen”—but she insisted on being addressed as Queen of Bohemia for the remainder of her life, establishing a vibrant court in The Hague and Rhenen, from where she and her husband fought to regain the Palatinate—their hereditary lands in Germany that were held by the Spanish Habsburgs, the Bavarian Wittelsbach, the Swedes, and the French—she through diplomacy, he through military action. Widowed at the age of thirty-six, Elizabeth, an experienced politician, gave audiences to diplomats and made sure her letters were received by those in power to garner support for the Palatine cause, which she never gave up for the sake of her ten (of thirteen) surviving children. While she saw her nephew Charles II restored to the throne, she could never have imagined that within decades her grandson George I would accede to the throne of Britain, starting the royal succession that still occupies it.

Editions of Elizabeth Stuart’s Correspondence

Akkerman 2011 and Akkerman 2015– comprise two of the three volumes of the first comprehensive and annotated edition of the Queen of Bohemia’s correspondence to be published. Not one of the several editions of Elizabeth’s letters previously published—Aretin 1806, Baker 1953, Bromley 1787, Evans 1857, Fiedler 1864, Lemberg 1996, Marchegay 1863, Monck-Berkeley 1789, and Wendland 1902–is currently in print, and of these only Lemberg 1996 provides footnotes. While Baker 1953 is often considered comprehensive, this edition merely collates letters previously published in biographies, other editions, and those that appeared in journals: a mere 374 in total. Furthermore, the most frequently cited editions of Elizabeth’s correspondence, Baker 1953 and Bromley 1787, frequently delete whole paragraphs from the original holograph text, especially when Elizabeth uses cipher codes. As none of these works identified the manuscript sources either, no complete census of Elizabeth’s correspondence existed before Akkerman 2011. The three volumes of The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, Akkerman 2011, and Akkerman 2015– present about two thousand letters, of which around 65 percent were previously untraced and unpublished. Elizabeth Stuart’s archive has not surfaced; letters from her servants suggest that it might have been destroyed shortly after her death. The surviving letters are spread over about fifty archives and libraries, mostly in the United Kingdom and Germany. The corpus consists of holographs from the archives of her correspondents and copies sent to her that were kept behind for administrative purposes in letter books. Akkerman 2011 and Akkerman 2015– is also the first edition that includes letters in both directions, reconstructing complete dialogues between Elizabeth and her correspondents, offering translations of non-English letters and those dealing with especially sensitive matters that were written in cipher.

  • Akkerman, Nadine, ed. The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, Vol. I: 1603–1631. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015–.

    Elizabeth’s life falls naturally into three periods: her life as Stuart princess and newly married Electress turned queen; as widow and regent of the Palatine government in exile; and as dowager presiding over an alternative Stuart court in The Hague. This volume comprises the first, starting off with her childhood letters to her brother Henry, Prince of Wales, culminating with Frederick joining King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden on the battlefield.

  • Akkerman, Nadine, ed. The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, Vol. II: 1632–1642. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    This volume comprises the second period of Elizabeth Stuart’s life, the years between 1632 and 1642, when she was a widow and regent over the Palatine government in exile during her eldest son’s minority and imprisonment by the French. This intense political decade starts off with Frederick dying of the plague and ends with her freed son Charles Louis taking over the regency, when she relinquished her role as stateswoman.

  • Aretin, Ioh. Chr. von. “Sammlung noch ungedruckter Briefe des Churfürsten Friderich V. von der Pfalz, achherigen Königs von Böhmen; von den Jahren 1612 –1632.” In Beyträge zur Geschichte und Literatur, vorzüglich aus den Schätzen der pfalzbaierischen Centralbibliothek zu München, 7. Munich: Kommission der Schererschen Kunstund Buchhandlung, 1806.

    This edition is based on a single collection in the Bayerische Staatsbiblothek, Munich (Cod. gall. 544): Frederick V’s letters addressed to Elizabeth, all in French and partly in cipher, from the moment of their courtship until his unexpected death in November 1632.

  • Baker, L. M., ed. Elizabeth Stuart, The Letters of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia. London: Bodley Head, 1953.

    This edition consists of 374 letters: it is a compilation of full transcripts of all the letters written by Elizabeth that appeared in print before 1953, thus excluding those also previously published but addressed to the queen.

  • Bromley, George, ed. A Collection of Original Royal Letters, Written by King Charles I and II, King James II, and the King and Queen of Bohemia: Together with Original Letters Written by Prince Rupert, Charles Louis, Count Palatine, the Duchess of Hanover, and Several Other Distinguished Persons, from the Year 1619 to 1665. London: printed for John Stockdale, 1787.

    This edition is based on a single collection now housed in the Generallandesarchiv in Karlsruhe, Germany: 77 Pfalz Nr. 9863. These are Elizabeth’s son Prince Rupert’s papers, formerly in the possession of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle, and nowadays kept in Germany. When passages are deciphered, an incorrect key is used.

  • The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia.” In Early Modern Letters Online.

    Currently 1,210 letters. This online catalogue in Early Modern Letters Online (EMLO) and Women’s Early Modern Letters Online (WEMLO) contains the metadata of the first two volumes of The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, edited by Akkerman, such as “sender,” “recipient,” and “date,” which allows users of this open access online database to combine these data with other sets of correspondences in W/EMLO, to analyze, and to literally visualize early modern networks. Primary contributors Nadine Akkerman, Oxford University Press, and Oxford Scholarly Editions Online.

  • Evans, John. “Unpublished Letters from the Queen of Bohemia, daughter of James I, to Sir Edward Nicholas.” Archaeologia 37 (1857): 224–243.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0261340900009279

    This article prints twenty-five letters of Elizabeth addressed to Sir Edward Nicholas, written between April 1655 and January 1656, from one single collection: British Library, Egerton MS 2548. While it leaves out four letters of Egerton MS 2548, it is a continuation of Elizabeth’s letters to Nicholas written between August 1654 and January 1655, fifteen in total, as published in an appendix to John Evelyn’s Memoirs edited by William Bray in 1827.

  • Fiedler, Joseph, ed. Correspondenz des Pfalzgrafen Friedrich V und seiner Gemahlin Elisabeth mit Heinrich Mathias von Thurn. Vienna: Aus der K. K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1864.

    Twenty-six of Frederick’s letters and fourteen of Elizabeth’s letters addressed to Heinrich Matthias, Count of Thurn, which were intercepted and sold to Emperor Ferdinand III by P. Gregorio de la Fossa in 1637, some ten years after they were written, presumably as curiosities. The collection is still housed in the Imperial archives Vienna: Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, HHStA Große Korrespondenz 30/1, alt 30.

  • Lemberg, Margret, ed. Eine Königin ohne Reich. Das Leben der Winterkönigin Elisabeth Stuart und ihre Briefe nach Hessen. Marburg, Germany: Historisch Kommission für Hessen, 1996.

    Thirty-two letters by Elizabeth Stuart to the Landgraves Moritz, Wilhelm V, and Wilhelm VI, as well as to Landgravines Juliane, and Amalie Elisabeth of Hesse, from several collections, but all deposited in the Hessische Staatsarchiv Marburg. The editor excludes their replies that are also to be found in the same archive, as well as some of Elizabeth’s other letters that have either been overlooked or not included.

  • Marchegay, Paul. Original Letters to the Trémoille Family, Chiefly from Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia. Archaeologica or Miscellaneous Tracts relating to Antiquity. London: Society of Antiquaries of London, 1863.

    Twenty-one letters by Elizabeth, and three by her husband Frederick V, all addressed to various members of the Trémoille family (Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Viscount de Turenne and Duke of Bouillon, was an uncle of Frederick through his marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of William the Silent). Paul Marchegay, ancien Archiviste du departement de Maine et Loire, found the letters in Serrant, Anjou. The originals remain untraced.

  • Monck-Berkeley, George, ed. Literary Relics: Containing Original Letters from King Charles II, The Queen of Bohemia, Swift, Berkeley, Addison, Steele, Congreve, The Duke of Ormond, and Bishop Rundle. To which is prefixed, An Inquiry into the Life of Dean Swift. London: Printed for C. Elliot and T. Kay, 1789.

    Ten letters by Elizabeth addressed to James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, whom she supported full-heartedly, unlike the Scots Covenanters, written in 1649, and whose portrait she had hung in her cabinet to fright the Scottish Presbyterians. The originals are to be found in National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh.

  • Wendland, Anna, ed. Briefe der Elisabeth Stuart, Königin von Bo¨hmen, an ihren Sohn, den Kurfürsten Carl Ludwig von der Pfalz, 1650–1662, nach den im Königlichen Staatsarchiv zu Hannover befindlichen Originalen. Tübingen, Germany: Bibliothek des litterarischen Vereins in Stuttgart, 1902.

    Letters exchanged between Elizabeth and her son Charles Louis, after the peace of Westphalia, when he was restored to the Lower Palatinate. These letters, kept in the Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv in Hanover, are taken from daughter Sophia of Hanover’s papers, and mostly concern arguments about the Palatine inheritance, his unlawful refusal to give up her dowry Frankenthal, and his rightful claims over her palace in Utrecht, with its paintings and tapestries.

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