Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen, was One of the Most Extraordinary Monarchs in History

Elizabeth Stuart in 1613. Portrait by an unknown artist. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

The Winter Queen

 In 1613, Elizabeth married Frederick, Count Palatine of the Rhine. Frederick was descended from the Kings of Aragon and Sicily- and like Elizabeth Henry II of England. However, her mother, Queen Anne, disapproved of the match because Frederick was not a King or Prince. Indeed, the heir to the throne of France and the King of Spain’s nephew were among Elizabeth’s suitors. However, James chose his son in law for reasons of religious politics. For Frederick was a staunch defender of the Protestant faith- and the foremost Protestant leader in Germany. Thus the marriage was formed to strengthen Europe’s Protestant states.

Fortunately, Elizabeth and Frederick appear to have formed a genuine, loving bond in the run-up to their lavish Valentine Day wedding. Then, after a two-month honeymoon in London, the couple began their journey back to Frederick’s court in Heidelberg. There the royal couple settled and in five years Elizabeth gave birth to three children: Frederick Henry, Prince of the Palatinate, Charles, and Elizabeth. However, they were not to remain at Heidelberg for long. For in 1618, the Thirty Years War broke out in central Europe and Frederick became central to specific events.

 At the height of its power, the kingdom of Bohemia had extended from Hungary to the Adriatic Sea.  By Elizabeth’s time, its sphere of influence had shrunk, covering what is now the Czech Republic. The rule of Bohemia also came under the auspices of the Hapsburg Empire.  However, in 1619, this all changed.  For when the reigning King, Matthias, died, religious tolerance towards protestants also passed away. The Habsburg candidate for Bohemia’s throne, Archduke Ferdinand was a rabid anti Protestants, known for his violent persecutions. So Bohemia’s Protestant’s decided on their own candidate for King: Frederick, the Elector of the Palatine. Elizabeth was central to persuading Frederick to accept, appealing to his honor.

Frederick V, 1596-1632, Elector Palatine, King of Bohemia. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Elizabeth was central to persuading Frederick to accept the crown, appealing to his honor“ as a prince and a cavalier and to his humanity as a Christian.” The family moved to Prague where on November 4, 1619, Frederick was crowned King. Three days later, Elizabeth’ was also crowned. Despite her mother’s misgivings at the match, marriage to Frederick had made a Queen after all. However, it was a state of affairs that was not to last long. For although Frederick was a popular King, Archduke Ferdinand did not intend to give up his throne without a fight.

On November 8, 1620, King Frederick was defeated by Ferdinand’s troops at the Battle of White Mountain.  Elizabeth fled Prague for Custrin Castle near Berlin and Frederick soon joined her. The couple became known as “The Winter King” and “The Winter Queen” because of the time of year which they gained- and lost – their throne. However, the throne of Bohemia was not the only thing Frederick and Elizabeth had lost. For the Palatinate was also now occupied by the Catholic League. They could not go home. The only option was for the Royal Couple to accept the invitation Protestant Prince of Orange and go in the exile in The Hague.