Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596–1662)

BiographyEdit

Elizabeth of Bohemia (also known as Elizabeth Stuart or Elisabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia) was born in the palace of Falkland on the 9th of August 1596 to James VI (King of Scotland, England and Ireland) and I Anne of Denmark, their second child and eldest daughter[1]. Elizabeth was richly educated for a woman of the time, literate and fluent in multiple languages including English and French. Elizabeth was also academically passionate surrounding the pursuit of knowledge regarding humanitarian causes, such as natural history, geography, theology, writing, music, and dancing. This was a much more comprehensive exposure to intellectual pathways than most women, even elite women, would have had at the time. Interestingly, Elizabeth was not to be exposed to Latin in her education is lieu of her gender, as her father perceived that Latin had the ability to “make women more cunning"[2], which was not a trait he deemed suitable for a woman of her position. Elizabeth of Bohemia has been known throughout history and narrative by the name of the ‘Winter Queen’, an acknowledgement of her husband Frederick V of the Palatinate’s short reign which lasted only one winter[3]. Most strikingly, however, Elizabeth was referred to as ‘The Queen of Hearts’ due to her compassion, charm and beauty[4]. Elizabeth of Bohemia died on the 13th of February 1662, leaving behind a rich legacy of intellectual pursuit on her children and a thoughtful female perspective in her writings and correspondence.


WorksEdit

Elizabeth Bohemia did not have any works published throughout her lifetime. Instead, posthumous collections and correspondence from different periods in her life provide insight into her literary endeavours.

As her correspondence was so vastly spanned across the world, the Queen of Bohemia’s secretary Sir Frances Nethersole was said to keep an archived inventory of the material which she wrote[5]. However, the completeness of this archive can be largely contested due to its inclusion of political and sensitive material, which the Elizabeth of Bohemia was said to have burnt to diminish its legacy[6]. It is written on this matter that “In a culture that valued women’s letters as somewhat less important than a man’s, there was less incentive to preserve them for posterity or even in later centuries to bother cataloguing those that did survive. Gathering Elizabeth’s letters took decades, and still, we cannot know which of them elude us” [7].

The works of Elizabeth of Bohemia have been posthumously sorted into the three stages of her life: her life as a young Stuart and new Queen, a widow and a member of the Palatine government (at which point she was exiled), and her time presiding over n alternative Stuart court. Available correspondence from Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia suggests that her writings spanned from 1603 up until her death in 1662. Her rich education can be seen in her works, well-articulated and carefully curated to ensure political reverence, whilst private in nature, Elizabeth Stuart’s works provide an insight into a well-educated woman, utilising a rich education to preserve feminine presence of intelligence in the court. It is through her time as a widow that most of her works are populated, as she spent her time in grief creating correspondence and politically aligning her efforts of matchmaking for her thirteen children[8].


Reputation and LegacyEdit

The legacy of Elizabeth Stuart can be summarised through a letter written by diplomat r Sir Balthazar Gerbier in 1639 ‘Your Majesty [. . .] (as the Mirror of her sexe & quality), the most incomparable in generosity and a­ability by right termed the Queene of ♥[9]. Elizabeth Stuart was treated with dignity and reverence throughout her life, encompassed as an honourable, humorous, witty and strong-willed Queen. According to Akkerman, the published works of the manuscripts of Elizabeth of Bohemia are altered, often with information deleted and ill-cited. [9] This has created a distorted legacy, one following a traditional narrative and inserting Elizabeth’s feminine voice into the rigid royal history. It should be noted, then, that the legacy (up until recent scholarship) of Elizabeth of Bohemia has been distilled. However, it should be acknowledged that despite this wavering accuracy in manuscript publication, there has been significant progress in creating a more holistic and accurate insight into original manuscripts (see further reading), which is presently changing the perception of the legacy and life of Elizabeth of Bohemia. Undoubtedly, Elizabeth of Bohemia created a legacy of intellectual women, through her addressing of informative education for her children, particularly Elisabeth of Bohemia, known as the ‘Philosopher’s Princess’ [10]. Through her communal memory as the Queen of hearts, and her intellectual legacy, anachronistic of her time, Elizabeth of Bohemia has created a legacy which strengthened the academic and intellectual voice of women from the 1600’s and beyond.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Stuart Costello, Louisa. Elizabeth Stuart, Queen Of Bohemia. Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, Publisher In Ordinary To Her Majesty, 1844.
  2. Fraser, Antonia. The Weaker Vessel: Woman's Lot In Seventeenth-Century England. 2nd ed., Phoenix, 2002, p. 71.
  3. Cannon, John. "Elizabeth of Bohemia." A Dictionary of British History. : Oxford University Press, . Oxford Reference.
  4. "Elizabeth Stuart, Queen Of Bohemia Westminster Abbey". Westminster Abbey, 2022, https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/royals/elizabeth-stuart-queen-of-bohemia.
  5. Adams, Robyn, et al. The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia. United Kingdom, Oxford University Press, 2011.
  6. Adams, Robyn, et al. The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia. United Kingdom, Oxford University Press, 2011.
  7. Akkerman, Nadine et al. The Correspondence Of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen Of Bohemia Volume II. Oxford University Press, 2011.
  8. Stuart Costello, Louisa. Elizabeth Stuart, Queen Of Bohemia. Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, Publisher In Ordinary To Her Majesty, 1844.
  9. a b Akkerman, Nadine. Elizabeth Stuart, Queen Of Hearts. Oxford University Press, 2021.
  10. Jeffery, Renée. Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia: The Philosopher Princess. United States, Lexington Books, 2018.

Further ReadingEdit

Akkerman, Nadine. The Correspondence Of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen Of Bohemia Volume I. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Akkerman, Nadine et al. The Correspondence Of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen Of Bohemia Volume II. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Elizabeth, Electress Palatine and Queen of Bohemia by Mary Anne Everett Green, Methuen & Co., 36 Essex Street W.C. London, 1909

Lives of the Queens of Scotland and English Princesses by Agnes Strickland, New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers, Franklin Square, 1859