Friday, March 13, 2015

A Princess Most Royal - Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen

by Linda Root

The following European sovereigns may not look alike, but they are all linked  through a common ancestor.



Great Britain


The Netherlands

They are all current European sovereigns and like the earlier sovereigns of Germany, Russia, Romania and Greece, they are all grandchildren many times removed of the same little Scottish princess, Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James VI (Scotland) and I (England), known in history  and in romantic literature as The Winter Queen.

The Winter Queen

Elizabeth Stuart, age 9 (Wikimedia Commons)

During the nineteenth century, a metal plaque was embedded in the floor near the elegant tomb of Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots in the portion of the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey called the Lady Chapel.  It marks the resting place of certain of the tragic Scottish Queen's  descendants who shared her vault after the chapel became overcrowded.  Her son James, King of England, Scotland and Ireland and his wife are not among them, although they are  buried elsewhere in the Henry VII Chapel.

There was a plan to build a magnificent tomb for the first Stuart king of England, but somehow it never happened. No doubt it was due in part to the depletion of the English  treasury  attributed to the extravagances of their royals and to a rising anti-royalist sentiment which left James I's successor Charles I more problems than he could handle. Hence, the  spot where the founder of the Stuart dynasty's remains are interred is identified by a plain marker bearing only the name King James I and the date 1625.

His successor Charles I was the first Stuart king's second son whom he called Baby Charlie long after he matured. Hampered by the fiscal policies of his predecessors, his unyielding belief in the Divine Right of Kings, his abuse of Parliament and suspicion of his tendencies toward Catholicism, his reign faced problems from the onset. After the execution of Charles I, his remains were barred from burial at Westminster Abbey, but rest in august company none the less.  He shares the Henry VIII vault at Windsor with the mighty Tudor king and his third wife Jane Seymour.  At the Restoration of the Monarchy, he was succeeded by his son Charles II who left no legitimate heirs, passing the crown to his brother James II.   Due to his Catholicism James II was ousted in favor of his daughters Mary and Anne and their consorts. When the latter died without an heir surviving,  the Stuart dynasty failed, but not the bloodline, which passed to Queen Anne's kinsman George of Hanover, a grandson of Elisabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen.

The Last Stuart Sovereign

Queen Anne of the United Kingdom (Wikimedia Commons-PD)

Thus, the marker on the floor near  Marie Stuart's grave identifies the final resting place of the common ancestor of all three royal houses which held the crown from the time the Stuart male line failed with the death of Queen Anne in 1714: to wit: the  Houses of Hanover and Saxe-Coburg & Gotha, and the latter's current designation, Windsor.  The name of the present dynasty was altered to reflect its British roots at a time when having a Germanic house on the British throne did not seem politically correct.  The two great wars of the 20th century provided it to be a provident choice.

Each wearer of the crown after the death of Queen Anne is a grandchild, however many generations removed, of one loyal, pious and intelligent little Princess, Elizabeth Stuart, the tragic Winter Queen. She is among the Stuarts who share the vault in the floor of the Lady Chapel, resting alongside her beloved brother Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales, her cousin Arbella Stuart, and her flamboyant younger son Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine, who was commonly called Prince Rupert of the Rhine, and who is a Royalist hero of the English Civil Wars.  His name is inscribed on the Stuart Vault Stone below that of his mother. He was the only Anglophile among her thirteen children.

However, it was not the popular Rupert who carried the Stuart bloodline forward after the the direct dynasty  failed with the death of Anne in 1712, but the son of his sister Sophia of the Palatinate, who produced the heir when Queen Anne died.  In 1712 the throne passed to Anne's kinsman George of Hanover, Sophie's son. There were many other claimants, and he was not the first in line by virtue of blood alone.  What won him the crown of Great Britain was the Act of Succession and  the Protestant religion he inherited from his grandmother, the Winter Queen, a devout Calvinist like her brother Henry Frederick. By law, a Catholic could not inherit the British crown, a restriction not lifted until the present century.

Who was Princess Elizabeth Stuart?

Elizabeth Stuart was born at Falkland Palace in Fife, the location where her great grandfather King James V died in the throes of depression after the Scottish defeat at Solway Moss, leaving as his heir a six day old daughter, best known as Mary, Queen of Scots. During Elizabeth Stuart's early childhood, the dearest person in her life was her popular brother Henry Frederick, Duke of Rothesay, the Scottish heir apparent. She was not especially close to her sisters, both of whom died young, or her younger brother Charles, but she was joined  both heart and soul to Henry, who was two years her senior. Like Henry, she enjoyed scholarship and linguistics.  Even before the Gunpowder Treason of 1605, she had deported herself publicly as a competent and charming public speaker.

Princess Elisabeth was the second eldest child of the first Stuart King James I and his colorful consort Queen Anne of Denmark. The first of the Stuart children were born in Scotland when their father was James VI, King of Scots. Henry Frederick had been the firstborn, with a miscarriage of a daughter intervening between his birth and that of his beloved sister. Another sister, Margaret, was born in December 1598 and lived to be fifteen months old.  She was buried at Holyrood. The future Charles I of England came next in 1600, followed by a brother Robert, who died in infancy. Queen Anne miscarried again in the May 1603 following her husband's ascension, presumably because he had upset her so over the custody of the Prince of Wales.  Ever since Henry's birth Anne had  protested placing his custody with the Earl and Lady Mar, although it was the established tradition in Scotland. When James rode south to claim his crown, Mar accompanied him, but the royal family was left behind.. Queen Anne seized the opportunity and rode to Stirling to claim her son, but Mars' relatives resisted the attempt. A disappointed, disgruntled Anne miscarried soon afterward.  King James blamed the miscarriage on his refusal to let her take custody of Henry, and to appease his conscience and make the Queen, his often called "My Annie', happy he allowed Henry Frederick to travel south in his mother's entourage.  Whether it was then or earlier that he and Elizabeth established their bond, by the time they reached the English north, they were best friends.

They were  the only royal children in the cavalcade.  Charles, who showed the symptoms of a failure to thrive, neither walked nor talked at age three and stayed behind in the custody of Alexander Seton at Dunfermline.

The Princess did not remain with the entourage during the entire journey.  Before it  rendezvoused with the King, she was taken to Coombes Abbey to establish a household under the guardianship of Lord and Lady Harrington. The purpose for the  interruption in her journey to London was to spare her the constant fanfare held in honor of the royal family as it journeyed south. At six, she was exhausted by the pageants and the feasting.  She rejoined the troop before it reached London, and she and Henry Frederick briefly lived together at Oaklands Palace before she returned to Coombes.

Her guardian Lord Harington was the father of Henry Frederick's favorite, Lord John Harington, which facilitated the close friendship of the royal siblings. Their days together were among Elizabeth's  happiest times. From that time forward, whenever there was an opportunity, although they each had separate households, she and Henry sought one another's company in a bond neither  shared with their other siblings.

She makes her first widespread appearance in history during the Gunpowder Treason of 1605 when she was nine years old. The foolish group of ultra-Catholic aristocrats who hatched the plot had planned to blow up Parliament with King James, Queen Anne and Prince Henry Frederick inside. One of their number was to kidnap Elisabeth from Coombe's Abbey near Warwick Castle and place her as their puppet on the throne.  Why they settled on Elisabeth, a staunch protestant, rather than her younger brother Charles, who had acquired his mother's attraction to Catholicism, is  unknown but probably due to his questionable health and the fact he was only five years old, and the fact that Elizabeth's household was near to the Catholic strongholds of the aristocrats among the conspirators. When the Princess later learned  what the conspirators had in store for her, she stated she would rather have died with her brother Henry and her parents than lived as a puppet queen in an England restored to Catholicism.

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales
The  great tragedy of her life in England  occurred when Henry Frederick died of typhoid fever in November 1612.  During her childhood, she had availed herself of every possible opportunity to share his company, and Henry himself was a confident and outspoken heir-apparent.  By the time of his death, he had become an international celebrity of sorts and had many friends in European courts, including the King of France. He was instrumental in selecting German Frederick V, Elector of the Palatinate as her prospective bridegroom, a contemporary who shared their protestant faith. In doing so, he defied his mother  Anne of Denmark, who thought marrying her daughter to a German count was beneath her station as an English princess. When November came, Elizabeth had been preparing for her wedding to Count Frederick who had traveled to England for the wedding. Just days before Henry Frederick's dramatic decline in health, he played tennis with his friend the bridegroom.  A few days later when his illness became critical, Elizabeth traveled to his bedside, but due to the fear of contagion, she was not admitted to his sickroom. Her brother repeatedly asked those in attendance at his death watch, "Where is my dear sister?"  He is said to have called out for her shortly before he died.

Because of Henry Frederick's  death, the royal wedding was postponed.  Elizabeth was first mourner at his funeral in December, and spoke often of their shared affection to her several children. Elisabeth and Frederick were married on Valentines' Day, 1613.  It was a fitting date, because their marriage was apparently a love match from the onset. However, it was also  fraught with political misadventure and family tragedy.

Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia

As Elector of the Palatine, Frederick was the equivalent of a German count.  After the festivities in England, the newlyweds  made their home in Heidelberg, and their first children were born there. However, in 1618, the protestant Czechs rebelled against their Catholic king, and in 1619, Frederick was chose King of Bohemia, which had its court in Prague.  His selection as King was largely based on an assumption he would have the support of the Protestant Union of which he was the elected leader and the moral and military support of his father-in-law King James. However, his own power base was not as extensive as believed, and James was looking to the Hapsburgs to supply a bride for his heir-apparent Charles who succeeded his brother as Prince of Wales. After a decisive defeat  at White Mountain and the opening salvos of the Thirty Years War, the King and Queen of Bohemia were forced to live in  exile in the Netherlands. Their stay in Bohemia lasted a year.

For the remainder of her life, Elizabeth  was referred to as the Queen of Bohemia, or the Winter Queen, a reminder of the single season of her rule. She and her husband had received little in the way of military aid or succor from their families after they were ousted from Bohemia. When her husband died, her brother Charles I somewhat begrudgingly invited her to return to England, but she declined, fearful it would damage her oldest surviving son Charles's claim to the Palatinate, which eventually was restored to him.  While she and her children lived comfortably in the Netherlands, they soon found themselves surrounded by a horde of English exiles after Charles I was beheaded, including her nephew Charles II.  Her younger son Rupert was a flamboyant  Anglophile who fought bravely for the Royalists in the English Civil War. His sister Sophia married George of Hanover, and we all know where that lead.

Charles II's court at the Hague, his aunt Elizabeth at the right
During her years in the Netherlands, Elisabeth endured the execution of her brother Charles I, the defeat of the Royalists in the Civil War, and the death of her husband Frederick and several of her children.  With the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, she at last returned to England where she established a small and pleasant salon. The marriages she had arranged for her daughters and the political aspirations she had for her oldest son had estranged her in distance and practice from all of her children except Rupert. When she died of pneumonia at Leicester House in London, Rupert was the only one of her surviving children who marched behind her coffin as it made its way to the vault in the Lady Chapel where she rests beside Henry Frederick, the brother she adored.

The Winter Queen
It is through this unhappy lovely woman that the House of Windsor makes claim to the British throne.
In addition to Great Britain, she is the ancestor of the sovereigns of Spain, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden, as well as the former sovereigns of Greece, Romania, Germany and Russia.  The care she gave to planning the marriages of her children made her the Great Grand Dame of European aristocracy, yet she remains relatively unknown. Her legacy, however, continues in the present House of Windsor.

Prince George of Cambridge, a 13th or 14th great grandson. 

 Author's notes:  Photographs not specifically credited are the courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, as is the photograph of Harald of Norway
 Photo credits of the other royals are as follows: 
Spain.  King Felipe VI-14.07.11 -Escuela Marina-1-SanFernando
Denmark: Drottning Margrethe avDanmarkLicensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Denmark.
Sweden: Carl Gustav XVIof Sweden  Holger Motzkau 2010, Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons (cc-by-sa-3.0)
The Netherlands: Willhem Alexander der nederlanden [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Belgium:King of Belgium:'Entry into Antwerpen - By Lars Koopmans (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons


Linda Root is an author of historical fiction set in Sixteenth and Seventeen Century Scotland, with excursions to England, France and the Low Countries.  She lives in the high desert community of Yucca Valley above Palm Springs with her husband Chris, two giant woolly Alaskan Malamutes Maxx and Maya, and assorted backyard chickens including one rooster named Henry who is living on borrowed time.  Her current work in progress, In the Shadow of the Gallows, the fourth book in the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series is in final edits and due to launch this summer.  Nine year old Princess Elizabeth Stuart makes a cameo appearance in the novel, which is based upon the politics behind the Gunpowder Treason. Visit Linda's author page on Amazon with links to her books at


  1. Your post is a great example of how to present a list that keeps one on the edge of the seat , as it's embedded in a great story... I now understand about who begot who more than before . Fine writing, thank you .... and I think the group looks more alike than not !

    Sometimes marrying beneath oneself is a smart move as your off spring are royal , but their subsequent marriages are less likely to upset the balance power and they often land in good places... I imagine this had a hand in her success when placing her children as well as her wisdom

  2. The care she took in the selection of spouses for her children certainly paid off in the long run. It certainly is a widespread demographic. I, too, have had a difficult time understanding how the current Windsors traced themselves back to the Stuarts. When I wrote the novel 1603: The Queen's Revenge, a theme which is born of Marie Stuart's son succeeding to the English throne, I had no idea just how far and in both directions--from Henry VII to wee Prince George of Cambridge.

  3. I really enjoyed this, and yes it helped me understand current genealogy. However, I felt Prince Maurice was unfairly omitted. Sadly he drowned in the West Indies so he had no body to be buried in the family vault. But doesn't his service to the Crown in the Civil War, Interregnum and beyond qualify him as an Anglophile as well?

  4. Any details on the release of the 4th book in the series? I just finished 1603 and need more of Will and Daisy! :)

    1. Erica, you can contact Linda Root here:


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.