Historical story

The Letters of Elizabeth Stuart

“From her desk, she initiated ambassadorial meetings and international treaties and influenced diplomatic relations, sieges and skirmishes in a war-torn early modern Europe.”

For example, the Queen of Bohemia is described by the literary scholar Nadine Akkerman in her new book about Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, “sentenced to a life of heavy obligations”.

Akkerman, researcher at the Institute for Cultural Disciplines of Leiden University, bases her series on Elisabeth Stuart on the extensive correspondence Stuart had with many influential people in Europe.

The second part, “The correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, Volume II (1632-1642)”, covers the time when Stuart became a widow and as a result was given the role of head of state of Bohemia from her husband.

“Elizabeth was known as the frivolous and extravagant consort of King Frederick V,” says Akkerman. “What struck me the most is that the letters paint a completely different picture. After the death of her husband - Frederick V, Elector Palatine and King of Bohemia - Elizabeth was forced to take over the role of the king, and fight to regain the lost ground of the Palatinate. It was not a role she would have chosen of her own accord. This is evidenced by a letter written in November 1632 to a former lady-in-waiting, Lady Broughton. Elizabeth writes that she is now condemned to a life of heavy obligations:'Who would have thought that I would become head of state, a role I have always most detested.'”

Candid and determined

Despite the fact that the letters in the period 1632 – 1642 mainly contain state affairs, Elizabeth's candor is apparent. In her personal addresses she sometimes makes fun of others. In a letter to James Hay, First Earl of Carlisle, she calls him "an ugly camel's head" and Ambassador Sir Henry Vane describes her as an "honest fat idiot".

Her involvement in her political role is apparent when she talks about her son and apple of the eye Rupert, who has been captured by the enemy. "I'd rather see him dead than in the hands of the enemy." With this Elizabeth indicates that she is afraid that her son will be persuaded to convert to the Catholic faith and to reinforce the enemy forces.

Military, political and diplomatic importance

Akkerman further explains:“Elizabeth's correspondence allows us to see events in early modern Europe in a broader perspective. She was in personal contact with all the major actors during that period and corresponded with them on topics of military, political and diplomatic importance. All these persons, and the subjects they discussed, are reflected in her letters!”

What is striking about this work is the amount of information Akkerman collected:1,224 pages, 622 letters, from Elizabeth and addressed to her. Collected from 47 different sources, the majority of which were previously unpublished.

The book contains not only transcripts of handwritten letters, but also correspondence in seven different numerical codes, all deciphered for the first time during this research. The same codes were used by ambassadors, diplomats and politicians during that period. Thus, Akkerman's discoveries are invaluable to other researchers of early modern Europe. For example, to decipher the letter collections of Balthazar Gerbier, art broker of the painter Peter Paul Rubens.