The Story

of the Winterking and Winterqueen

Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I of England, Ireland and Scotland became known as the Winterqueen. Her official title was Queen of Bohemia. The Winterqueen outlived her husband by 30 years and became a popular historical figure.

Elizabeth married Frederick V, Elector Palatine, in 1613. They were the same age – which was rare for royal couples at the time – and remained deeply in love for the rest of their lives. In 1613, the newlyweds moved into Frederick’s lavish castle at Heidelberg. Later, in 1619, the couple were elected king and queen of Bohemia and they took up residence at the immense Hradschin Palace in Prague. Emperor Ferdinand was not pleased and sent troops to oust them from ‘his’ Bohemia. No match for the mighty emperor, the couple left Prague within the year. In their propaganda, the Jesuits referred to Frederick and Elizabeth as having been king and queen for a winter. It was the sad truth and the name stuck.

Forced to flee, the couple came to Holland, arriving at The Hague in 1621. Frederick’s mother was a daughter of William of Orange, so the Orange princes Maurits and Frederick Henry were direct cousins. At The Hague, the royal couple moved into Wassenaer Hof on Kneuterdijk, the home confiscated from Jan van Oldenbarneveldt. The royals lived in great splendour, well beyond their means. Fortunately for them, their influence grew when one of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting, an impoverished German countess, married Frederick Henry. She was Amalia van Solms, soon the most powerful woman in Holland.

Several years later, the Winterking commissioned Bartholomeus van Bassen to transform the derelict Cunera cloister at Rhenen into a hunting lodge. Frederick enjoyed it for barely a year. He died in 1632, on campaign in Germany. Elizabeth dressed in black the rest of her life, and never stopped lobbying to reclaim her Palatinate realm. Following the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, her son Charles Louis was finally reinstated. Elizabeth had always wanted to return to England, but was prevented by the Civil War. Only after Charles II was restored was she able. Yet once again she was prevented, now by local commercial interests, to whom she owed a combined debt of 900,000 guilders. The States General and the English king came to an arrangement and in 1661 Elizabeth finally returned to her native England. She died within the year and was buried at Westminster Cathedral with a state funeral.

In 1714, one of her grandsons became king of England: George I. Her most illustrious son was certainly Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

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