top of page
  • Writer's pictureLSS

The Winter Queen

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Elizabeth Stuart was Electress of the Palatinate & briefly Queen of Bohemia as the wife of Frederick V of the Palatinate. It's due to her husband’s reign in Bohemia lasting for just one winter, that Elizabeth is often referred to as The Winter Queen.

Elizabeth was born at Dunfermline Palace, Fife, on 19 August 1596 at 2 o'clock in the morning. King James VI of Scotland rode from Callendar, where he was attending the wedding of the Earl of Orkney to be at the birth of his second child by his wife Anne of Denmark. At the time of her birth, her father was King of Scots, & would later become King of England in 1603.

King James I of England and VI of Scotland  by Daniel Mytens oil on canvas, 1621
James VI & I

Anne of Denmark  by John De Critz the Elder oil on canvas,
Her mother Anne of Denmark by by John De Critz the Elder, c1605-10

Elizabeth was named in honour of Queen Elizabeth I of England, & christened on 28 November 1596 in the Chapel Royal at Holyroodhouse. Elizabeth was brought up at Linlithgow Palace, "one of the grandest of Scotland’s royal residences", where she was placed in the care of Lord Livingstone & his wife, Eleanor Hay. She grew close to her older brother Henry.

In 1603 Elizabeth I, the Queen of England died & Elizabeth father, James, succeeded to the thrones of both England & Ireland. Along with her elder brother, Henry, Elizabeth made the journey south toward England with her mother "in a triumphal progress of perpetual entertainment".

On 19 October 1603 "an order was issued under the privy seal announcing that the King had thought fit to commit the keeping & education of the Lady Elizabeth to the Lord Harrington & his wife". Under the care of Lord Harington at Coombe Abbey, Elizabeth met Anne Dudley, with whom she was to strike up a lifelong friendship.

Elizabeth at age 7 by Robert Peake the Elder
Elizabeth at age 7 by Robert Peake the Elder

The 1605 Gunpowder Plot

The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, 1605  by Crispijn de Passe the Elder engraving, circa 1605
The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, by Crispijn de Passe the Elder, circa 1605

Part of the intent of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was to assassinate Elizabeth's father & the Protestant aristocracy, kidnap the nine-year-old Elizabeth from Coombe Abbey, & place her on the throne of England & most likely the thrones of Ireland & Scotland as a Catholic monarch.

The conspirators chose Elizabeth after considering the other available options. Prince Henry, it was believed, would perish alongside his father. Charles was seen as too feeble (having only just learnt to walk) & Mary too young. Elizabeth, had already attended formal functions, & the conspirators knew that "she could fulfil a ceremonial role despite her comparative youth". They also planned to cause an uprising in the Midlands to coincide with the explosion in London & at this point secure Elizabeth's accession as a puppet queen. She would then be brought up as a Catholic & later married to a Catholic bridegroom. The plot failed when the conspirators were betrayed & Guy Fawkes was caught by the King's soldiers before he was able to ignite the powder.

Elizabeth, aged about 10 years old, by Robert Peake the Elder
Elizabeth, aged about 10 years old, by Robert Peake the Elder

Education & Courtship;

Elizabeth was given a comprehensive education & included instruction in natural history, geography, theology, languages, writing, history, music, & dancing. By the age of 12, Elizabeth was fluent in several languages, including French, "which she spoke with ease & grace" & would later use to converse with her husband. She also was an excellent horse rider, had a thorough understanding of the Protestant religion, & had an aptitude for writing letters. She also was extremely literary & "several mementoes of her early love of books exist".

Unlike the childless Elizabeth I, James, by simply "having children, could play an important role in dynastic politics". The selection of Elizabeth's spouse, therefore, had little to do with her personal preference & a great deal to do with the benefits the match could bring.

As a daughter of the King of England, the hand of the young Elizabeth was seen as a highly desirable prize. Suitors came from across the continent & were many & varied. They included: Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, son (& later successor) of the King of Sweden; Victor Amadeus, Prince of Piedmont, the King of Spain’s nephew & heir to the Duke of Savoy, among others.

Most of her suitors were rejected quickly for a variety of reasons. Some simply were not of high enough birth, had no real prospects to offer. Gustavus Adolphus, who on all other grounds seemed like a perfect match, but because his country was at war with Queen Anne’s native Denmark this was ruled out.

Portrait of Frederick believed to have been painted in 1613 the year of his marriage to Elizabeth by Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt
Portrait of Frederick believed to have been painted in 1613 by Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt

In the end the man chosen was Frederick (Friedrich) V, Count Palatine of the Rhine. Frederick was of undeniably high lineage. His ancestors included the kings of Aragon & Sicily. He & Elizabeth also shared a common ancestor in Henry II of England (reigned 1154 – 1189). He was also a staunch defender of the Protestant faith.

The husband to be arrived in England on 16 October 1612, & the match seemed to please them both from the beginning. Their contemporaries noted how Frederick seemed to "delight in nothing but her company & conversation". Frederick also struck up a friendship with Elizabeth’s eldest brother, Prince Henry, which delighted his prospective bride immensely.

On 6 November 1612 Henry, Prince of Wales, died. His death took an emotional toll on Elizabeth, & her new position as second in line to the throne made her an even more desirable match. Queen Anne & those like-minded who had "always considered the Palsgrave to be an unworthy match for her, were emboldened in their opposition". Elizabeth stood by Frederick, whom her brother had approved, & whom she found to have the sentiments of a fine gentleman. Above all, he was "regarded as the future head of the Protestant interest in Germany".

The Wedding & life as Electress Palatine ;

The wedding took place on 14 February 1613 at the royal chapel at the Palace of Whitehall & was a grand occasion that saw more royalty than ever visit that court of England. The marriage was an enormously popular match & was the occasion for an outpouring of public affection. It was celebrated with lavish & sophisticated festivities both in London & Heidelberg, including mass feats & lavish furnishings that cost nearly £50,000, & near enough bankrupted King James. A contemporary author viewed the whole marriage as a prestigious event that saw England "lend her rarest gem, to enrich the Rhine"

Celebrations continued for another two months then the couple began their journey to join the Electoral court in Heidelberg. The journey was filled with meeting people, sampling foods & wines, & being entertained by a wide variety of performers & companies.

Portrait by the Workshop of Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt, c. 1623
Portrait by the Workshop of Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt, c. 1623

Her arrival in Heidelberg was seen as "the crowning achievement of a policy which tried to give the Palatinate a central place in international politics" & was long anticipated & welcomed. Elizabeth’s new husband transformed his seat at Heidelberg Castle, creating between 1610 & 1613 the "Englischer Bau" (i.e., English Building) for her, a monkey-house, a menagerie, & the beginnings of a new garden in the Italian Renaissance garden style popular in England at the time. The garden, the Hortus Palatinus, was constructed by Elizabeth's former tutor, Salomon de Caus. It was dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" by contemporaries. Although Elizabeth & Frederick were considered to be genuinely in love & remained a romantic couple throughout the course of their marriage.

Elizabeth gave birth to three children in Heidelberg: Frederick Henry, Hereditary Prince of the Palatinate (sometimes called Henry Frederick) was born in 1614, Charles in 1617, & Elisabeth in 1619.

The Queen of Bohemia;

In 1619 Elizabeth’s husband Frederick was one of those offered the throne of Bohemia. Bohemia was "an aristocratic republic in all but name", whose nobles elected the monarch.

The country had enjoyed a long period of religious freedom, but in March 1619, on the death of King Matthias, this seemed about to change. The Habsburg heir apparent, Archduke Ferdinand, was a fervent Catholic who brutally persecuted Protestants in his realm of Styria (Styria is a state, or Bundesland, located in the southeast of Austria). The Bohemian nobles had to choose between "either accepting Ferdinand as their king after all or taking the ultimate step of deposing him". They decided on deposition, &, when others declined because of the risks involved, the Bohemians "pandered to the elector’s royalist pretensions" & extended the invitation to Elizabeth’s husband.

Engraving by Balthasar Moncornet of Frederick and Elizabeth as king and queen of Bohemia, 1620
Engraving by Balthasar Moncornet of Frederick and Elizabeth as king and queen of Bohemia, 1620

Frederick, although doubtful, was persuaded to accept. Elizabeth "appealed to his honour as a prince & a cavalier, & to his humanity as a Christian", aligning herself with him completely. Elizabeth & her family moved to Prague, where "the new King was received with genuine joy". Frederick was crowned officially on 4 November 1619. The coronation of Elizabeth as Queen of Bohemia followed three days later.

The royal couple's third son, Prince Rupert, was born in Prague one month after the coronation. There was great popular rejoicing. Thus, Frederick's reign in Bohemia had begun well, but only lasted one year. The Bohemian crown ‘had always been a corner-stone of Habsburg policy’ & the heir, Ferdinand, now Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, would not yield. Frederick's reign ended on 8 November 1620 with his defeat by Ferdinand at the Battle of White Mountain (the trigger-event of the Thirty Years' War).

Elizabeth is remembered as the "Winter Queen", & Frederick as the "Winter King", in reference to the brevity of their reign, & to the season of the battle.

Fearing the worst, by the time of the defeat at the Battle of White Mountain, Elizabeth already had left Prague & was awaiting the birth of her fifth child at the Castle of Custrin, about 50 miles from Berlin. It was there on 6 January 1621 that she ‘in an easy labour lasting little more than an hour’ was delivered of a healthy son, Maurice.

Frederick's military defeat, meant that there was no longer a prospect of a returning to Prague, & the entire family was forced to flee. They could no longer return to the Palatinate as, despite the assistance of Elizabeth’s father, it was occupied by the Catholic league & a Spanish contingent. So, after a courteous invitation from the Prince of Orange was extended their way, they headed for The Hague. The Stuart princess, turned Electress, was now a queen in exile.

The exiled Queen arrived in The Hague in the spring of 1621 with only a small nucleus court, & the expectation was that it would be there that Elizabeth would remain for the rest of her life. Exile in The Hague, although relatively safe & comfortable, was not a particularly friendly or pleasant place to be & consequently, Elizabeth never felt at home. Nonetheless, Elizabeth’s sense of duty to assist her husband out of the political mess in which they had found themselves, meant that "she became much more an equal, if not the stronger, partner in the marriage".

The King and Queen of Bohemia and their family  by Willem de Passe line engraving, 1622 or after NPG D26452  © National Portrait Gallery, London
The King & Queen of Bohemia & their family c.1622 © National Portrait Gallery, London

During her exile Elizabeth produced eight more children, four boys & four girls. The last, Gustavus, was born on 2 January 1632 & baptised in the Cloister Church where two of his siblings who had died young, Louis & Charlotte, were buried. Later that same month, Frederick said farewell to Elizabeth & joined the King of Sweden on the battlefield. Things for Frederick did not go as planned & after declining conditions set out by King Gustavus Adolphus that would have seen the Swedish King assist in his restoration, the pair parted with Frederick heading back toward The Hague. Unfortunately, he never was reunited with Elizabeth. Since the beginning of October 1632 he had been suffering from an infection, & he died on the morning of 29 November 1632. He was 36 years old.

When Elizabeth received the news of Frederick’s death, she became senseless with grief & for three days did not eat, drink, or sleep. When Charles I heard of Elizabeth’s state, he invited her to return to England; however, she refused. The rights of her son & Frederick’s heir Charles Louis "remained to be fought for". Elizabeth then fought for her son's rights, but she remained in The Hague even after he regained the Electorate of the Palatinate in 1648. She became a patron of the arts, & commissioned a larger family portrait to honour herself & her husband, to complement the impressive large seascape of her 1613 joyous entry to the Netherlands.

Princess Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia and Electress Palatine  studio of Gerrit van Honthorst circa 1642
Queen of Bohemia c.1642

Elizabeth filled her time with letter writing & making marriage matches for her children. Her life after the death of Frederick, however, seems to have been fraught with heartache. Between his death in 1632 & her own death 30 years later, she would see the death of four more of her children: Gustavus in 1641, Philip in 1650, Henriette Marie in 1651, & Maurice in 1652. She would suffer another blow with the execution of her brother Charles I, King of England in early 1649, & the removal into exile of the surviving Stuart family during the years of the Commonwealth. The relationships with her remaining living children also became somewhat estranged, although she did spend time with her growing number of grandchildren. She began to pay the price for having been "a distant mother to most of her own children", & the idea of going to England now was uppermost in her thoughts.


In 1660, the Stuarts were restored to the thrones of England, Scotland & Ireland in the person of Elizabeth's nephew Charles II. Elizabeth, now determined to visit her native land, arrived in England on 26 May 1661. By July, she was no longer planning on returning to the Hague & made plans for the remainder of her furniture, clothing, & other property to be sent to her. She then proceeded to move to Drury House, where she established a small, but impressive & welcoming, household. On 29 January 1662 she moved, to Leicester House, but by this time she was quite ill. Elizabeth was suffering from pneumonia, & on 10 February 1662 she haemorrhaged from the lungs & died soon after midnight on 13 February 1662 aged 65.

On the evening of 17 February, when her coffin (into which her remains had been placed the previous day) left Somerset House, Rupert was the only one of her sons to follow the funeral procession to Westminster Abbey. There in the chapel of Henry VII, "a survivor of an earlier age, isolated & without a country she could really call her own" was laid to rest among her ancestors & close to her beloved elder brother, Henry, Prince of Wales.

Elizabeth & Frederick had 13 children:

  • Henry Frederick, Hereditary Prince of the Palatinate (1614–1629); drowned

  • Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine (1617–1680); married Charlotte of Hesse-Kassel

  • Elisabeth of the Palatinate (1618–1680)

  • Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine (1619–1682)

  • Maurice of the Palatinate (1620–1652)

  • Louise Hollandine of the Palatinate (18 April 1622 – 11 February 1709)

  • Louis (21 August 1624 – 24 December 1624)

  • Edward, Count Palatine of Simmern (1625–1663); married Anna Gonzaga

  • Henriette Marie of the Palatinate (7 July 1626 – 18 September 1651); married Sigismund Rákóczi, brother of the Prince of Transylvania

  • John Philip Frederick of the Palatinate Frederick (26 September 1627 – 16 February 1650); also reported to have been born on 15 September 1629

  • Charlotte of the Palatinate (19 December 1628 – 14 January 1631)

  • Sophia, Electress of Hanover (14 October 1630 – 8 June 1714); married Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover, their children included the future King George I of Great Britain. Many other royal families are Sophia's, & therefore, Elizabeth's, descendants. Sophia came close to ascending to the British throne, but died two months before Queen Anne.

  • Gustavus Adolphus of the Palatinate (14 January 1632 – 1641)

Under the English Act of Settlement 1701, the succession to the English & Scottish crowns (later British crown) was settled on Elizabeth’s youngest daughter Sophia of Hanover & her issue. In August 1714, Sophia's son (Elizabeth's grandson) George I ascended to the throne, with the future Royal family all his descendants & hence, also descendants of Elizabeth. The Elizabeth River in colonial Southeastern Virginia was named in honour of the princess, as was Cape Elizabeth, a peninsula, & today a town in the United States in the state of Maine.


1,366 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Unknown member
Nov 14, 2021

Thanks 😊👍

bottom of page