Princess Elisabeth (1618-1680)

Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, Countess Palatine, Abbess of Herford

“I have so far found that only you understand perfectly all the treatises which I have published up to this time… I know of no mind but yours to which all things are equally evident, and which I therefore deservedly term incomparable.”
René Descartes, Principles of Philosophy (1644), dedication to Princess Elisabeth.

Elisabeth, Princess Palatine of Bohemia, was a remarkable woman living during remarkable times. She experienced a devastating and protracted war, years of exile, political strife, executions of family members, and a final period as a political authority and protector of religious refugees. She was known alternately as a great intellectual, a philosopher, a “Cartesian Princess,” and a political figure. With familial connection to Prussia and England, her family placed her at the very center of European political life in the 17th century. But Elisabeth was not content merely to play the role of a member of a royal household. From an early age, she took various measures to ensure that she would sit at the nexus of European intellectual life as well. As the head of Herford Abbey, she courageously used her personal influence to provide refuge for persecuted religious groups—such as the Labadists and the Quakers—who were considered too radical by many religious and political institutions in the late 17th century. She spent years building an immense intellectual network through her personal connections, her correspondence, and her own actions as the leader of the Abbey. She personally met with, corresponded with, or was known to, the following major figures from the 17th century: Descartes, Leibniz, Malebranche, Henry More, Anne Conway, Francis Mercury van Helmont, William Penn, Constantjn Huygens, and Anna Maria van Schurman. In many ways, then, to study Elisabeth’s life is to study European intellectual life in the 17th century.

For image sources and permissions see our image gallery.

1. Biography

Born in Heidelberg just after Christmas Day in 1618, Elisabeth was the oldest daughter of a family that blended Bohemian and English royalty. Her father was Frederick V, King of Bohemia, and her mother, Elisabeth Stuart, was the daughter of James I of England. Through her parents, she was connected to several of the most important events of the century. Most prominently, her family’s fortunes were intertwined with the Thirty Years War, one of the most tumultuous events in Europe during the 17th century. In his famous History of England, David Hume called that war “the most destructive in modern annals” (Hume 1850, V: chapter 61, page 454). The War upended her family’s life, sending them away from Prussia into exile in Holland, where they would remain for years. Her family also gave her intriguing connections to many key early modern figures. For instance, her father fought for King Gustav of Sweden, who was the father of Queen Christina, the patron of Descartes near the end of his life and a great inspiration to women intellectuals throughout the early modern period. Elisabeth’s maternal uncle was King Charles I of England, who was beheaded in 1649 during the Civil War and his struggles with Parliament. Elisabeth’s cousin was crowned King Charles II of England in 1660 after the Civil War had ended and the monarchy was restored. Indeed, in 1649 alone, Elisabeth and her family were involved in two of the most momentous events in the whole century: through her brother, she was connected to the eventual development of the peace treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War; and through her mother, to the execution of Charles I that same year (in February). Suffice it to say that Elisabeth lived during chaotic and difficult times.

Heidelberg Castle and Gardens, ca. 1620.

During her early years, Elisabeth had a broad education through tutors and her family connections. For instance, she learned mathematics from Jan Stampioen, who also tutored Constantijn Huygens, an important Dutch figure and the father of the great mathematician and philosopher Christiaan. Before long, Elisabeth became known as “La Grecque” for her love of philosophy and knowledge of Greek. After a childhood in Germany, largely in Heidelberg and Berlin, her family went into exile in Holland, living in The Hague in the 1630s. During this time period, in a rare and intriguing twist on the gender norms of her society, she was tutored by the great philosopher, linguist and polymath Anna Maria van Schurman (the first woman to graduate from university in Europe), who advised Elisabeth on a range of subjects and suggested numerous readings for her to consider. Happily, years later, Elisabeth was able to repay this debt by providing van Schurman and some of her colleagues with safe haven in the face of potential religious persecution.  Elisabeth demonstrated a keen interest in philosophical and intellectual controversy and discussion. Life in The Hague turned out to be the first crucial stage of Elisabeth’s intellectual development, for she used this opportunity to shape a major intellectual community of exiles in The Hague. For instance, in 1634, at the age of only sixteen, she arranged a debate between Descartes and a Protestant Scottish minister named John Dury. Over the course of the next few years, she forged personal and intellectual connections with a wide variety of figures, including Descartes, Leibniz, Constantijn Huygens, and many others.

Binnenhof, The Hague

Elisabeth’s intense intellectual life at The Hague ended in 1646, when she left the court and resettled in Berlin for a short time, before returning to her birthplace in Heidelberg. It was her last move to Herford that enabled her once again to create a rich and thriving community of intellectual and religious exiles. It seems that Descartes made Henry More aware of Elisabeth’s philosophical talents, and there is evidence that More hoped she would accompany her mother, Queen of Bohemia, on her trip to England so that they could speak in person. These details are found in a letter that John Worthington sent to Samuel Hartlib in May of 1661 (Worthington 1847—, I: 311), which means that More’s anticipation of her visit was public knowledge to some extent. Instead of moving with her mother to England in 1661, however, Elisabeth chose instead to move to Herford in Germany. This was a fateful decision, as she became the Abbess of the convent there in 1667. This meant, as Carol Pal remarks in her Republic of Women, that Elisabeth would become the Calvinist leader of an abbey in Lutheran Germany harboring religious exiles such as Quakers and Labadists. In an age of religious wars that led to massive migration of refugees in Europe and the Americas, Elisabeth used her influence to protect those who were labeled as heretics. How Elisabeth understood religion and theology, and connected them with both politics and philosophy, is a pressing question that has yet to be fully answered.

Herford Abbey

In philosophical circles, Elisabeth is best known for her correspondence with Descartes (see section 5.1). Indeed, to scholars in the 18th century, she was known as “the leader of the cartésiennes,” the women who were counted as followers of Descartes (Harth 1992, 67). But she also forged connections, both personal and intellectual, with a remarkable range of other figures, both canonical (eventually) and otherwise. For instance, Elisabeth met Leibniz in person during her visit to Hanover in the winter of 1678 (Aiton 1985, 90-1), at which point she introduced him to Malebranche’s Conversations Chrestiennes. Leibniz later wrote Elisabeth a long letter that same year expressing his reactions to Malebranche’s ideas (Leibniz 1926, 433-38). As one would expect, because Leibniz was already developing a critical attitude toward Cartesian ideas in philosophy, he did not see eye-to-eye with Malebranche on a number of issues. This event then led to an exchange of letters between Malebranche and Leibniz in 1679 (Leibniz 1926, 2-1: 472-480). Elisabeth’s connections to figures like Descartes, Leibniz, and Penn are very well known, having been covered in depth in both history of philosophy scholarship (the former) and the history of Quakerism (the latter).

Elisabeth’s connections with women intellectuals during her era are equally impressive and significant, but perhaps less well known. For instance, through Descartes she became acquainted with Henry More, the theologian and philosopher in Cambridge, who then introduced her to other influential figures, including the Viscountess Anne Conway. Having introduced van Helmont to Henry More in 1670, it seems that Conway may have sent Elisabeth some of More’s recent work the following year (Hutton & Nicholson 1992, 340). More and Conway corresponded extensively, and they mention Elisabeth on occasion (Hutton & Nicholson 1992, 498,). Elisabeth’s familial and intellectual networks intersected in this case: Elisabeth’s mother, Elizabeth Stuart, had been a friend of the first Viscount Conway (Hutton 2004, 154). In tandem, the Quaker leader Robert Barclay mentions Conway in some of his letters to Elisabeth (Hutton & Nicholson 1992, 435-36). As part of Barclay’s effort to convince Elisabeth to join the Quaker movement, he tells her of the conversion of Conway. Elisabeth apparently never met or corresponded with Anne Conway directly, but it is certainly significant that they knew of one another. Conway’s close friend Francis Mercury van Helmont, who was introduced to the Quaker movement during a visit to Elisabeth’s family’s court in Heidelberg in 1659 (Hutton 2004, 178-79), and who converted to Quakerism with Conway, also become close with Elisabeth, attending her at her deathbed (with Leibniz) in 1680. Indeed, van Helmont visited Elisabeth shortly after Conway’s death (Hutton 2004, 154).

Elisabeth’s connection to Anna Maria van Schurman, who was the first woman to graduate from any university in Europe, and who was known as “the light of Utrecht,” lasted her whole life (see especially Pal 2012). We know, at least partly through correspondence, that the young Elisabeth sought van Schurman’s advice about what to study, which classical authors to read, and in general how to fashion her own education (Pal 2012, 72-74). That fact alone, of course, is worthy of note, since it shows that Elisabeth’s inability to obtain an education through an institution of learning in some formal way was no obstacle to her obtaining a serious education – involving history, literature, philosophy, etc. – through her own means.

Through her family, Elisabeth’s connections to a remarkable group of intellectuals extended even into the 18th century in certain respects, after her death. For instance, in addition to her personal connection with Leibniz, and their correspondence, Elisabeth’s sister Sophie was tutored by Leibniz. Indeed, during the Hanoverian Succession, which involved the arrival of Sophie’s son George I in England in 1714 (Brown 2004, 263-65), there was considerable discussion in London at that time of whether Leibniz would accompany George’s move to England. Those in Isaac Newton’s famous circle in London were especially concerned that Leibniz’s connections with Sophie and her family might mean that he would not only move to England, but also wield considerable influence under the new regime. In the end, Leibniz did not move to England, but he would make an important decision that deepened his connections with Elisabeth’s extended familial world. Because Sophie’s son, George I, ended up in England alone – George’s wife Sophie-Dorothea remained in Germany at the Castle of Ahlden when he moved to England to take the throne – it turned out that Princess Caroline of Wales was the highest ranking female royal in England at the time. So in 1715, instead of trying to influence events in England directly, Leibniz wrote Princess Caroline a famous letter bemoaning the decay of religion and the emergence of dangerous philosophical ideas in England at that time. Leibniz mentioned especially the ideas of John Locke and Isaac Newton, who at that time was “Sir Isaac” and the President of the Royal Society in London. Caroline’s previous intellectual connection with Leibniz, including her admiration for his Theodicy, made her the perfect choice for his epistolary foray into combatting Newtonian philosophy. Indeed, Princess Caroline met Leibniz in Berlin in the late 17thcentury, where she was living under the protection and care of Sophie-Charlotte, Elisabeth’s niece. And when Sophie-Charlotte died in 1705, leaving Leibniz bereft after a long friendship, Caroline became perhaps his closest female interlocutor. As Leibniz expected, his letter to Princess Caroline was shared with Newton and his circle in London. In this way, the famous the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence was born. There is strong evidence that various editions of the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence, of which there are many, exclude Princess Caroline from the history in which she participated, even to the point of failing to note for readers that Leibniz’ “first letter” to Clarke was in fact written to Princess Caroline and not to Clarke at all (Bertoloni Meli 1999, 470)! Recent scholarship has begun to rectify such errors, noting the importance of Leibniz’s relation to, and discussions with, Princess Caroline (Brown 2004). In the end, Leibniz sent four more letters to Princess Caroline, who shared them with Newton’s circle, and Clarke sent replies to each of them. So, Caroline served as the intermediary for the most famous philosophical correspondence of the 18th century. Intriguingly, Sophie herself had served as the intermediary for a correspondence between Leibniz and Paul Pellisson, an assistant to Louis XIV (Bertoloni Meli 2002, 456-59).

Elisabeth’s Family, 1620

The two Princesses, Elisabeth and Caroline, have another important feature in common. Like Elisabeth before her, Princess Caroline was under considerable pressure to convert to Catholicism in order to make a marriage into an important political and royal family possible, but she ultimately refused and the marriage was called off. Notably, both Elisabeth and Princess Caroline made famous pronouncements later in life about their commitment to their religion. When pressed on the point about her conversion later in life, Elisabeth famously noted that she wouldn’t convert when she stood to gain a kingdom, so she would obviously not do so later in life when she stood to gain nothing. In an equally witty remark, Princess Caroline took offense at a comment by the Bishop of London after she arrived in England, noting: “He is very impertinent to suppose that I, who refused to be Empress for the sake of the Protestant Religion, don’t understand it fully” (cited in Bertoloni Meli 1999, 473). Both Elisabeth and Caroline made it clear that they would not tolerate anyone who underestimated their commitment and understanding of Protestantism.

Like nearly all women in early modern Europe—Anna Maria van Schurman in Utrecht and Laura Bassi in Bologna are important exceptions—Elisabeth was prevented from joining the intellectual communities of universities and scientific academies in her day. Even her immense influence as a member of a family that sat at the intersection of two major royal households did not allow her to break through those strictures. What is remarkable, then, is Elisabeth’s successful efforts at forming intellectual communities of her own, first at the exiled court at The Hague in her youth, and many years later during her time in Herford. The story of women participating in, and even shaping, political, intellectual and religious life through the famous salons of Europe is well known. But Elisabeth was much more than a salonière: she managed to create, not once but twice, a flourishing community of intellectual leaders and religious exiles through her powerful personality and influence. This meant that her exclusion from the institutions of European intellectual life was dramatically minimized: she simply created a robust intellectual life around herself. But there is one important consequence of the fact that so much of Elisabeth’s intellectual life was conducted through events in person: we often have very little trace of her many discussions in the historical record. We know that she had numerous meetings with a myriad of intriguing figures, including Descartes, Leibniz, William Penn, van Schurman, and many others. Yet we know very little about the questions that she asked, the arguments that she made, the positions that she explored, and so on. Through the documents, correspondences, manuscripts and publications that have survived and that are currently known, Elisabeth has become a great philosophical heroine to many scholars and students. Indeed, she was famous in her own lifetime for her philosophical abilities and for her protection of religious exiles. She even became an inspiration to figures in the 18th century, such as Émilie Du Châtelet. Nonetheless, for all that influence and fame, one thing seems painfully clear: her full story has yet to be written.

Bust of Elisabeth in front of Herford Abbey

References

Hayes, Julie C. 1999. Reading the French Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hutton, Sarah. 2004. Anne Conway: a woman philosopher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hume, David. 1850. History of England. Six volumes. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shapiro, Lisa. 2013. “Elisabeth, Princess of Bohemia”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition)edited by Edward Zalta. Web. Accessed July 1, 2017. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/elisabeth-bohemia/

For image sources and permissions see our image gallery.

1.2 Portraits

Given Princess Elisabeth’s royal status, it is not surprising that several portraits of her exist. Some of these have been lost, but we are fortunate that most are extant today. We include two here that have been made available for use on the Project Vox website. See the References below for other sources of Elisabeth portraiture.

Portrait of Princess Elisabeth as Diana
This portrait is dated in 1642, “shortly after the 1631 group portrait of the four children of the ‘Winter King’” (Judson and Ekkart 1999, 269-70). As indicated by its title, the painting depicts Princess Elisabeth as Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting. Typically portrayed as a young woman with a bow and arrow, Diana was known for, as a virgin and an unmarried goddess, chastity and purity.

This portrait is attributed to the artist Gerard van Honthorst, a Dutch painter at the Hague. He produced many royal portraits of her family: in addition to painting Princess Elisabeth, Honthorst also painted King Charles I (Elisabeth’s uncle), Frederick V (Elisabeth’s father), Prince Rupert (Elisabeth’s brother), Queen Elizabeth (Elisabeth’s mother), and Louise Hollandine (Elisabeth’s sister). This was possible as Honthorst was recorded to be “at the court of the exiled King and Queen of Bohemia, painting portraits of the family and teaching drawing to their children” (Pal 2012, 71).

Princess Elisabeth as Diana

Elizabeth, Princess of the Palatinate
This undated portrait, currently housed at the National Portrait Gallery in the United Kingdom, was painted sometime in the mid-seventeenth century. This painting is attributed to the studio of Gerard van Honthorst, while it has an engraving in the frame by painter and engraver Crispiaen Queboren, who was active in Utrecht, dating to the same time period.

The Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery bought this work in February 1872 first under the title of “Sophia, Electress of Hanover” (Elisabeth’s sister, tutored by Leibniz). It was only in 1914 that the portrait was correctly identified as Elisabeth when its similarities to another portrait of the princess were noticed (Piper 1963, 119).

Elisabeth, Princess of the Palatinate

References

Judson, Jay Richard, and Rudolf E. O. Ekkart. 1999. Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656). Doornspijk: Davaco.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. New York/Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Piper, David. 1963. Catalogue of seventeenth-century portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, 1625-1714. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The British Museum. n.d. “Crispijn van Queborn (Biographical details).” Accessed October 23, 2018. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=110646.

1.3 Chronology

DATE EVENT
26 December 1618 Princess Elisabeth is born in Heidelberg Castle as the oldest daughter to Frederick V, the Elector of the Palatinate, and Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of James I of England.
8 November 1620 The weakly defended Bohemia is taken by the Spanish Ambrogio Spinola as part of the Thirty Years’ War. To escape the invaders, Elisabeth flees with her family to Brandenburg, then her grandmother’s charge in Krossen.
1621-1622 Elisabeth’s uncle Prince Maurice, Stadthalter of the Dutch Republic, offers the royal family refuge at the Hague. Most of Elisabeth’s family move there, but Elisabeth stays in Krossen, the residence of her cousin Princess Hedvig Sophia Augusta of Sweden. Elisabeth’s “natural gravity and dignity” is said to have been disciplined at Krossen.
1627 Elisabeth and her brother Charles Louis leave Krossen and join their siblings at The Hague.
1627-1635 Elisabeth’s education at The Hague consists of learning Latin, Greek, French, English, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, and German; being trained in logic and natural science; and being versed in the principles of Heidelberg Catechism, the latter of which formed her Protestant religious outlook for the rest of her life. Even at an early age, Elisabeth impresses everyone with her love of Greek and philosophy, earning her the nickname “la Greque.”
1633-1634 Elisabeth befriends Anna Maria van Schurman, probably when the latter visited Leiden to give a lecture or to hold a dispute in the great hall of the University.
1637 Descartes publishes his Discourse on the Method.
1639 Princess Elisabeth and Anna Maria van Schurman commence correspondence.
1640 Elisabeth and Descartes meet for the first time, when the latter visits The Hague. Elisabeth was already interested in his earlier philosophical writings.
1641 Descartes publishes Meditations on first philosophy.
1643 Correspondence between Elisabeth and Descartes begins with Elisabeth querying Descartes about the coherence of his account of the human being presented in the Sixth Meditation.
1644 Descartes’s Principles of Philosophy, dedicated to Elisabeth, is published.
1 July 1646 Leibniz is born in Leipzig.
7-17 September 1646 Princess Elisabeth moves to Berlin, Brandenburg. Elisabeth introduces Cartesianism to Berlin, then far behind in culture, thus strengthening the intellectual community there.
1649 Descartes’s The Passions of the Soul, prompted by and refined through discussions with Elisabeth, is published.
1649 Elisabeth’s uncle Charles I is executed in England, following Oliver Cromwell’s victory over Imperial troops. Hearing the news, Elisabeth falls into serious illness.
11 February 1650 Descartes passes away at the court of Queen Christina of Sweden, the daughter of King Gustav, for whom Elisabeth’s father fought earlier in the century.
1650 or 1652 Elisabeth returns to Heidelberg by invitation of her sister Sophie. At the University of Heidelberg, which her brother Charles Louise reconstructed from the ruins of the Thirty Years War, she engages with teachers and actively disseminates Cartesianism to students.
1657 or 1658 Louise Hollande converts to Catholicism and disappears from her mother at The Hague. Both the Queen and Elisabeth are greatly distressed, though Elisabeth did not bear any grudges later. Because of her departure, Elisabeth is now considered for candidacy to the Abbess of Herford Abbey.
1661 Elisabeth is appointed successor to her cousin, Elizabeth Louise, to the position of Abbess of Herford.
1667 Elisabeth is formally named Abbess of the Abbey at Herford after Elizabeth Louise’s death.
1670 Elisabeth provides Anna Maria van Schurman and her Labadists asylum at the Abbey; this is to the dismay of her family, who are not sympathetic towards “mystical doctrine.”
1676 Elisabeth provides asylum to the Quakers at the Abbey.
4 May 1676 Anna Maria van Schurman dies in Friesland.
1677 William Penn visits Elisabeth at Herford Abbey.
Winter 1678 Elisabeth meets Leibniz.
1680 Leibniz visits Elisabeth at Herford.
8 February 1680 Elisabeth dies at age 62. Her sister Sophie announces Elisabeth’s death (on February 12). Francis Mercury van Helmont, a close friend of Anne Conway’s, and Leibniz attend to Elisabeth at her deathbed.
1714 Sophie’s son, Elisabeth’s nephew, becomes George I of England as part of the famous Hanoverian Succession.
14 November 1716 Leibniz dies in Hanover.

For image sources and permissions see our image gallery.

 

2. Primary Sources Guide

Although Elisabeth was a prolific correspondent—she wrote to everyone from philosophers like Descartes and Leibniz to Quaker leaders like William Penn to various members of her extended, royal family—she never published a work of her own. In addition, scholars have not found any manuscripts of hers, so her unpublished extant writings consist entirely of correspondence and various personal items. As for her correspondence, many of her letters have gone missing or were destroyed during the course of the Thirty Years War and her family’s long exile in Holland. Enough of her correspondence with various figures did survive for Madame Blaze de Bury to compose Memoirs of Princess Palatine (1853), the first biography of Elisabeth. Then, by sheer chance in the late 1800s, an antique bookseller was rummaging through the archives of Rosendael castle near Arnheim, in the Netherlands, and found a bundle of papers. The French philosopher Alexandre Foucher de Careil recognized these papers as her responses to Descartes. Foucher de Careil’s book, Descartes, la princesse Élisabeth et la reine Christine d’après des lettres inédites (1879)thus became the first publication dedicated to their complete exchange. The most important modern edition of the Elisabeth-Descartes correspondence was published in 2007 by Professor Lisa Shapiro.

References

Broad, Jacqueline. 2002. Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shapiro, Lisa, ed. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

For image sources and permissions see our image gallery.

 

2.1 Primary Sources

Dedications to Elisabeth

Descartes, René. 1644. Principia Philosophiae. Amsterdam: Louis Elzevir.

Reynolds, Edwards. 1640. Treatise of the Passions and the Faculties of the Soule of Man. London: Robert Bostock.

Selected editions of Elisabeth-centered correspondence

Blaze de Bury, Marie Pauline Rose Stewart. 1853. Memoirs of the Princess Palatine, Princess of Bohemia including her correspondence with the great men of her day. London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street.

Descartes, René. 1989. Correspondance avec Elisabeth. Paris: Garnier-Flammarion.

—. 1955. Lettres sur la morale: corréspondence avec la princesse Elisabeth, Chanut et la reine Christine. Paris: Hatier-Boivin.

Foucher de Careil, Alexandre. 1862. Descartes et la Princesse Palatine, ou de l’influence du cartesianisme sur les femmes au XVIIe siecle. Paris: Auguste Durand.

—. 1909. Descartes, la Princesse Elisabeth et la Reine Christine. Paris and Amsterdam: Germer-Ballière/Muller, 1879. New edition. Paris: Felix Alcan.

Godfrey, Elizabeth. 1909. A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. London and New York: John Lane.

Neel, Marguerite. 1946. Descartes et la princess Elisabeth. Paris: Editions Elzevier.

Nye, Andrea. 1999. The Princess and the Philosopher: Letters of Elisabeth of the Palatine to René Descartes. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

—. 2000. Elisabeth, Princess Palatine: Letters to René Descartes. Presenting Women Philosophers. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Petit, Leon. 1969. Descartes et la Princesse Elisabeth: roman d’amour vecu. Paris: A-G Nizet.

Shapiro, Lisa. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Other primary sources

Adam, Charles. 1917. Descartes et ses amities feminines. Paris: Boivin.

Adam, Charles, and Paul Tannery. 1897-1913. Oeuvres de Descartes. Eleven volumes. Paris: Leopold Cerf.

Baker, L. M., ed. 1953. The letters of Elizabeth, queen of Bohemia. London: Bodley Head.

Barclay, Robert. 1870. Reliquiae Barclaianae: Correspondence of Colonel David Barclay and Robert Barclay of Urie. London: Winter & Bailey.

Benger, Elizabeth. 1825. Memoirs of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, Daughter of James I. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green.

Bromley, George. 1787. A Collection of Original Royal Letters. London: J. Stockdale.

Creese, Anna. 1993. “The Letters of Elisabeth, Princess Palatine: A Seventeenth Century Correspondence.” PhD diss., Princeton University.

Descartes, René. 1657-67. Lettres de Monsieur Descartes. Paris: Angot.

—. 1984–1991. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol. I–III. edited by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothof, Dugald Murdoch, and Anthony Kenny. London: Cambridge University Press.

—. 2013. Der Briefwechsel zwischen René Descartes und Elisabeth von der Pfalz. Hamburg: Meiner.

de Swarte, Victor, and Emile Boutroux. 1904. Descartes, directeur spirituel. Correspondance avec la princesse Palatine et la reine Christine de Suéde. Paris: Félix Alcan.

Gorst-Williams, Jessica. 1977. Elisabeth: The Winter Queen. London: Abelard.

Great Britain Public Record Office. 1858. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic series, of the reign of Charles I. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts.

Gummere, A. M. 1912. “Letter from William Penn to Elizabeth, Princess Palatine, Abbess of the Protestant Convent of Hereford, 1677, with an Introduction.” Bulletin of Friends’ Historical Society of Philadelphia 4(2), 82-97. Friends Historical Association. Retrieved December 2, 2017, from Project MUSE database.

Hauck, Carl. 1908. Die Briefe der Kinder des Winterkönigs, herausgegeben und mit einer Einleitung versehen von Karl Hauck. Heidelberg: G. Koester.

Hodgkin, Thomas. 1898. George Fox. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company.

Hume, David. 1850. History of England. Six volumes. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Hutton, Sarah, and Marjorie Hope Nicholson, eds. 1992. The Conway Letters. Revised edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Huygens, Constantjin. De briefwisseling van Constantijn Huygens, (1608-1687), Vols. V – 28. Edited by J.A. Worp. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Rijks Geschiedkundige Publicatiën, 1916.

Keblusek, Marika. 1997. The Bohemian Court in The Hague. Princely Display: The Court of Frederik Hendrik of Orange and Amalia van Solms. M. K. a. J. Zijlmans. The Hague: Waanders.

Klopp, Onno, ed. 1874. Correspondance de Leibniz avec l’électrice Sophie de Brunswick-Lunebourg. Hanover: Klindworth; Londres: Williams & Norgate; Paris: F. Lincksieck.

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. 1926. Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe. Zweite Reihe. Philosophischer Briefwechsel. Berlin.

Malebranche, Nicolas. 1961. Oeuvres completes de Malebranche. Paris: Vrin.

Müller, Frederick. 1876. 27 onuitgegeven brieven aan Descartes, 336-9. De Nederlandsche Spectator. ‘S Gravenhage: D. A Thieme and Martinus Nijhoff.

Penn, William. 1695. An Account of W. Penn’s travails in Holland and Germany Anno MDCLXXVII, 2nd corrected edition. London: T. Sowle.

Robinet, André. 1955. Malebranche et Leibniz: Relations personnelles, 103-5. Paris: J. Vrin.

Sophia (Electress, consort of Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover). 1888. Memoirs of Sophia, electress of Hanover, 1630-1680. London: R. Bentley & Son.

Sorbiére, Samuel. 1660. Lettres et discours de M. de Sorbiére sur diverses matieres curieuses. Paris: Chez Francois Clousier.

—. 1694. Sorberiana, ou bons mots, recontes agreables, pensees judicieuse et observations curieuses de M Sobiere. Amsterdam: George Gallet.

Strachan, Michael. 1989. Sir Thomas Roe, 1581-1644: A Life. Salisbury: Michael Russell Ltd.

Strickland, Lloyd, ed. 2011. Leibniz and the Two Sophies: The Philosophical Correspondence. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies.

Verbeek, Theo, Erik-Jan Bos and Jeroen van de Ven, eds. 2003. The Correspondence of René Descartes 1643. Utrecht: Zeno Institute for Philosophy.

Webb, Maria. 1896. The Fells of Swarthmoore Hall and Their Friends: With an Account of Their Ancestor, Annew Askew, the Martyr. A Portraiture of Religious and Family Life in the Seventeenth Century, Comp. Chiefly from Original Letters and Other Documents Never Before Published. Philadelphia: H. Longstreth.

Worthington, John. Diary and Correspondence, edited by J. Crossley and R.C. Christie. Manchester: Chetham Society Remains, 1847-86.

Schurman, Anna Maria van. 1652. Nobiliss. virginis Annae Mariae à Schurman. Opuscula Hebraea, Graeca, Latina, Gallica, prosaica & metrica. ex officina Joannis à Waesberge.

—. 1998. Whether a Christian Woman Should Be Educated, edited and translated by Joyce L. Irwin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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3. Secondary Sources Guide

Because of her famous correspondence with Descartes, interpreters and scholars of Elisabeth’s life and thought have often placed her into a subsidiary position vis-à-vis the canonical French philosopher. Indeed, this occurred already during her own lifetime, as figures like Samuel Hartlib and Henry More described her as the “Cartesian Princess,” and it continued into the next century, when she was labeled the leaders of the “cartésiennes.” Her correspondence with Descartes is certainly a major source for our understanding of her ideas. But there are many other aspects of her life, including her correspondence with various other figures, and her actions during her time as the primary authority over the Herford Abbey, that transcend the standard characterization of her in relation to Descartes. Happily, the scholarly literature on Elisabeth as an important intellectual figure in her own right has been expanding in recent years; it was given a substantial boost by the publication of Lisa Shapiro’s edition of the complete correspondence between Elisabeth and Descartes. Shapiro treats Elisabeth as a philosopher with views of her own, and not merely as the critic of Descartes. There are also helpful online guides to Elisabeth’s life and the literature concerning it. These include the online entries by Rainer Pape, the director of Herford’s Municipal Museum, written in German; and Lisa Shapiro’s article about Elisabeth in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

References

Broad, Jacqueline. 2002. Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pape, Rainer. 30 March 2004. “Elisabeth of Palatinate (1618-1680)”. Westfälische Lebensbilder. Web. Accessed June 30, 2017. http://www.lwl.org/westfaelische-geschichte/portal/Internet/finde/langDatensatz.php?urlID=1517&url_tabelle=tab_person

Shapiro, Lisa, ed. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

—. 2013. “Elisabeth, Princess of Bohemia”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition)edited by Edward Zalta. Web. Accessed July 1, 2017. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/elisabeth-bohemia/

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3.1 Secondary Sources

Selected secondary sources: metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind

Alanen, Lilli. 2003. Descartes’s Concept of Mind. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Alexandrescu, Vlad. 2012. “What Someone May Have Whispered in Elizabeth’s Ear”. In Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy 4. Edited by Daniel Garber and Donald Rutherford. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Apostalova, Iva. 2010. “Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia and Margaret Cavendish: The Feminine Touch in Seventeenth-Century Epistemology”. Maritain Studies 26: 83–97.

Ariew, Roger. 1983. “Mind-Body Interaction in Cartesian Philosophy: A Reply to Garber’s ‘Understanding Interaction: What Descartes Should Have Told Elisabeth’.” Southern Journal of Philosophy 21: 33-38.

Bertoloni Meli, Domenico. “Caroline, Leibniz and Clarke.” Journal of the History of Ideas 60 (1999): 469-486.

—. “Newton and the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence.” In I.B. Cohen and George Smith, editors. The Cambridge Companion to Newton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Boros, Garbor. 2003. “Love As a Guiding Principle of Descartes’s Late Philosophy.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 20: 149-163.

Broughton, Janet, and Ruth Mattern. 1978. “Reinterpreting Descartes on the Notion of the Union of Mind and Body.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 16: 23-32.

Cunning, David. 2007. “‘Semel in vita’: Descartes’ Stoic View on the Place of Philosophy in Human Life.” Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers 24: 165-184.

Franco, A. B. 2006. “Descartes’ Theory of Passions.” PhD diss., University of Pittsburgh.

Garber, Daniel. 1992. Descartes’ metaphysical physics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

—. 1983. “Understanding interaction: what Descartes should have told Elisabeth.” Southern Journal of Philosophy 21 (Supplement): 15-32.

Garber, Daniel, and Margaret Wilson. 1998. “Mind-Body Problems”. The Cambridge History of Seventeenth Century Philosophy, edited by Daniel Garber and Michael Ayers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Harth, Erica. 1992. Cartesian Women: Versions and Subversions of Rational Discourse in the Old Regime. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Hatfield, Gary. 1992. “Descartes’ physiology and its relation to his psychology”. The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, edited by John Cottingham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press335-370.

Hayes, Julie C. 1999. Reading the French Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Heil, John, and David Robb 2013. “Mental Causation”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), edited by Edward Zalta. Web. Accessed July 14, 2017. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-causation/

Hutton, Sarah, and Ted M. Schmaltz 2005. “Women Philosophers and the Early Reception of Descartes: Anne Conway and Princess Elisabeth”. In Receptions of Descartes: Cartesianism and anti-Cartesianism in Early Modern Europe. Ted M. Schmaltz, ed. London; New York: Routledge.

Jeffery, Renee. 2017. “The Origins of the Modern Emotions: Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and the Embodied Mind.” History of European Ideas 43: 547-559.

Johnstone, Albert A. 1992. “The bodily nature of the self or what Descartes should have conceded Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia”. In Giving the body its due. Edited by Maxine Sheets-Johnstone. Albany: State University of New York Presspp. 16-47.

Lee, Kyoo. 2011. “‘Cogito Interruptus’: The Epistolary Body in the Elisabeth-Descartes Correspondence, June 22, 1645-November 3, 1645.” philoSophia: A Journal of Continental Feminism 1: 173-194.

Lloyd, Genevieve. 1984. The Man of Reason: ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy. London: Methuen.

Mattern, Ruth. 1978. “Descartes’s correspondence with Elizabeth: concerning both the union and distinction of mind and body”. In Descartes: Critical and Interpretive Essays, edited by Michael Hooker. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Presspp. 212-222.

Nadler, Steven, ed. 1993. Causation in Early Modern Philosophy: Cartesianism, Occasionalism, and Preestablished Harmony. University Park: Penn State University Press.

Nye, Andrea. 1996. “Polity and Prudence: The Ethics of Elisabeth, Princess Palatine”. In Hypatia’s Daughters: Fifteen Hundred Years of Women Philosophers. Edited by Linda Lopez McAlister. Bloomington: Indiana Univ Press.

O’Neill, Eileen. 1987. “Mind-Body Interaction and Metaphysical Consistency: A defense of Descartes”. Journal of the History of Philosophy 25: 227-245.

—. 1998. “Disappearing Ink. Early Modern Women Philosophers and their Fate in History”. In Philosophy in a Feminist Voice: Critiques and Reconstructions, edited by J. A. Kourany. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

—. 1998. “Women Cartesians, ‘Feminine Philosophy’ and Historical Exclusion”. In Feminist Interpretations of René Descartes. Edited by Susan Bordo. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press232-257.

Radner, Daisie. 1971. “Descartes’ Notion of the Union of Mind and Body”. Journal of the History of Philosophy 9: 159-171.

Richardson, R. C. 1982. “The ‘Scandal’ of Cartesian Interactionism”. Mind 92: 20-37.

Rozemond, Marleen. 1998. Descartes’s Dualism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

—. 1999. “Descartes on Mind-Body Interaction: What’s the Problem?”. Journal of the History of Philosophy 37: 435-467.

Schiebinger, Londa. 1989. The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science. Cambridge, MA; London, England: Harvard University Press.

Schmitter, A. 2010. “17th and 18th Century Theories of Emotions”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), edited by Edward Zalta. Web. Accessed July 13, 2017. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/emotions-17th18th/

Shapiro, Lisa. 1999. “Princess Elizabeth and Descartes: The Union of Soul and Body and the Practice of Philosophy.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 7: 503-520.

Tollefsen, Deborah. 1999. “Princess Elisabeth and the Problem of Mind-Body Interaction.” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 14: 59-77.

Wartenburg, Thomas E. 1999. “Descartes’s Mood: The Question of Feminism in the Correspondence with Elisabeth”. In Feminist Interpretations of René Descartes. Edited by Susan Bordo. University Park: Penn State University Press.

Wilson, Margaret. 1978. Descartes. New York: Routledge.

Verbeek, Theo. 1988. Descartes and the Dutch: Early Reactions to Cartesianism (1637-1650). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Yandell, David. 1997. “What Descartes Really Told Elisabeth: Mind-Body Union as a Primitive Notion.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 5: 249-273.

Selected secondary sources: ethics and political philosophy

Brown, Gregory. “[…] et je serai tousjours la mere pour vous. Personal, Political and Philosophical Dimensions of the Leibniz-Caroline Correspondence.” In Leibniz and his Correspondents, edited by Paul Lodge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Harth, Erica. 1992. Cartesian Women: Versions and Subversions of Rational Discourse in the Old Regime. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

—. 1999. “Cartesian Women”. In Feminist Interpretations of René Descartes, edited by Susan Bordo. University Park: Penn State University Press213-231.

Levi, Anthony. 1964. French Moralists: The Theory of the Passions, 1585-1649. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Marshall, John. 1998. Descartes’s Moral Theory. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Mason, S.F. 1974. “Science and religion in seventeenth-century England.” In The Intellectual Revolution of the Seventeenth Century. Edited by Charles Webster. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Mesnard, Pierre. 1936. Essai sur la morale de Descartes. Paris: Boivin & Cie.

Rodis-Lewis, Genevieve. 1957. La morale de Descartes. Paris: PUF.

Schmaltz, Ted. (forthcoming). “Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia on the Cartesian Mind: Interaction, Happiness, Freedom”. In Feminist History of Philosophy: The Recovery and Evaluation of Women’s Philosophical Thought. Edited by Eileen O’Neill and Marcy Lascano. Dordrecht: Springer.

Shapiro, Lisa. 2013. “Elisabeth, Descartes, et la psychologie morale du regret”. In Elisabeth de Boheme face a Descartes: Deux Philosophes. Edited by M-F. Pellegrin and D. Kolesnik. Paris: Vrinpp. 155-169.

Selected secondary sources: biographical studies

Aiton, E. J. 1985. Leibniz: a Biography. Bristol: A. Hilger.

Gaukroger, Stephen. Descartes: an intellectual biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Hutton, Sarah. 2004. Anne Conway: a woman philosopher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marshall, R. K. 1998. The Winter Queen: The Life of Elizabeth of Bohemia, 1596-1662. Edinburgh: Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Morrah, Patrick. 1976. Elizabeth of Bohemia. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Goldstone, Nancy. 2018. Daughters of the Winter Queen: Four Remarkable Sisters, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Enduring Legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots. Boston: Little, Brown.

Oman, Carola. 1938. Elizabeth of Bohemia. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. New York/Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rait, Robert, Ed. 1908. Five Stuart princesses: Margaret of Scotland, Elizabeth of Bohemia, Mary of Orange, Henrietta of Orleans, Sophia of Hanover. Westminster: A. Constable.

Zedler, Beatrice. 1989. “The Three Princesses.” Hypatia 4: 28-63.

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4. Teaching & Philosophy

Elisabeth as Philosopher

The question of how one might treat Princess Elisabeth as a philosopher is especially pressing. First of all, Elisabeth did not publish philosophical works of her own—we have only her correspondence to discover her ideas textually, and she decided not to allow Clerselier to publish her side of the correspondence with Descartes when he gathered the latter’s letters for publication (Shapiro 2007, 2-8). Although early modern correspondence was usually a rather public affair – copies of letters often circulated widely, and were often published right after someone died, such as Clarke’s correspondence with Leibniz – Elisabeth decided, for whatever reason, to keep her correspondence with Descartes more or less private. This does not mean that we should not look to her correspondence to learn about her ideas; it simply means that other aspects of her life take on greater importance. We may wish to see if we can find other aspects of her life when looking for her ideas, whether philosophical or otherwise. And second, unlike many of the early modern philosophers who constitute the traditional canon, she was an important political and religious figure in her day and hailed from one of the most important royal families in all of northern Europe (including England). These two facts combine together to make her actions especially significant, and an especially intriguing place to look for her philosophical views.

Since Elisabeth did not publish anything during her lifetime, and did not write essays or manuscripts that survive, interpreters of her thought have focused primarily on her extant correspondence to determine her views on various philosophical questions. And her correspondence with Descartes is undoubtedly the most important source within that domain. The publication in 2007 of Lisa Shapiro’s complete edition of her correspondence with Descartes transformed our understanding of Elisabeth’s ideas, and helped to correct the fact that many editions of Descartes lacked her side of the correspondence altogether (Shapiro 2007). The discussion of her correspondence with Descartes can be found in section 5.1 However, there is another, less explored, avenue for understanding Elisabeth’s intellectual life and her philosophical ideas in particular. Because she was a figure of some authority during her time at Herford Abbey, she was unusually well placed to put various ideas into action. This leads us to ask: what do Elisabeth’s actions tell us about her philosophy? Answering that kind of question requires us to think about Elisabeth in an especially broad way. Suppose one has a case of a political figure, one who corresponded with various others, as one would expect, but who never published a work under his own name. We might look at the actions that the figure took, interpret them within their historical context, and see if we could derive from them a coherent political philosophy, or a coherent moral position, etc. Were the figure’s actions chaotic, or were they systematic? Did the figure explicitly or implicitly regard his own policies, actions, etc., as expressive of some coherent ideology or position? Or would the figure have simply regarded herself as making whatever decisions she could within certain constraints without seeing them as expressive of any coherent view? Of course, it is open to us, as readers of history and as readers of philosophy, to interpret things differently from the actors themselves. We might think that all things considered, the actions and policies of such a figure are in fact expressive of a coherent ideology, even if the figure herself never held that view, or even went so far as explicitly to deny it.

In order to pursue this line of thought, however, some important historical facts must first be acknowledged. Elisabeth’s time at the Abbey in Herford is well known, but it is often misunderstood. She was not merely in a position of authority in a religious institution; she was a political figure in an important sense as well. The facts are roughly as follows: For some time, there was an extensive discussion about whether Elisabeth could become effectively the second person in charge at the Abbey in Herford; it was a political as well as a religious question, and involved many important figures. With support from various parties, Elisabeth was elected to the position of second in command in May of 1661. She would eventually rise to become the Abbess herself, a position she held from March of 1667 until her death in 1680. Herford Abbey was in Lutheran territory, of course, but it was actually run by Calvinists beginning in the 17th century. It was founded in the 9th century, as a Catholic institution, and during the early years of the Reformation it was no longer affiliated with Catholicism. Beginning in the early 17th century, it became associated with Calvinism, or at any rate was run by women who were Calvinists. Most importantly, as Creese shows in detail (1993), the Abbey was in fact an independent institution: because of various political and religious changes in Prussia at that time following the end of the Thirty Year’s War, the Abbey was officially granted “imperial independence” (Reichunmittelsbarkeit) in the Peace of Westphalia. That fact meant that the Abbess reported only and directly to the Emperor himself. She was independent of any local authority. Signifying this status, the Abbess actually held the title of “Princess and Prelate of the Holy Roman Empire” (Creese 1993, 180-82). As William Penn noted, after a visit to Herford in 1671, Elisabeth governed “a small territory,” but in his view, she was suited to govern a larger one. The question is, what kind of governor was she?

Elisabeth did not use her position of authority merely to look after the Abbey and its inhabitants; she chose to take several courageous actions. After pleas from her old tutor and friend, the philosopher Anna Maria van Schurman, she agreed to provide a place of refuge for the Labadists, the followers of the radical theologian Jean de Labadie. She also provided refuge for Quakers, who were connected with William Penn, Robert Barclay and others. Elisabeth’s sister said that she was “the refuge of all the oppressed” (Pal 2012, 254-55). These acts were more courageous than is typically recognized: the followers of Labadie, for instance, had been accused of murder in the past, which resulted in a riot when they fled to Amsterdam (Creese 1993, 188). That happened despite the fact that Amsterdam was considered a free-thinking city in one of the most liberal countries in all of Europe in that time; by 1660, for instance, there were Quaker meetings in many Dutch cities, including Amsterdam. The Dutch situation contrasted sharply with the persecution faced by Quakers in England; the English parliament passed a series of anti-Quaker measures beginning in 1662. Indeed, as Barclay noted in a major work in 1678, members of his movement were called Quakers “in scorn,” so there was a kind of persecution even in the name used to describe them. Hence it was at considerable personal risk, and at some risk to her institution, that Elisabeth invited not only her old friend van Schurman, but also all of the Labadists, to take refuge in the Abbey. Elisabeth herself made it perfectly clear that what the Labadists were seeking more than anything was their own “freedom” to worship, to practice their religion without interference from the Emperor or other authorities. Word of their arrival at Herford spread quickly: it was obviously seen as a major event. Indeed, Leibniz learned of van Schurman and the Labadists’s arrival in Herford soon after it happened (Creese 1993, 190-3). But the townspeople in Herford and the environs did not support Elisabeth. They objected vociferously to the arrival of the religious refugees. After threats of violence against the community were made, and after many negotiations occurred, Elisabeth personally travelled to Berlin in early 1672 to ensure that her jurisdiction over the Abbey and all of its inhabitants would not be challenged further by the local people (Creese 1993, 195-6). This was no mean feat: Herford is roughly 375 kilometers from Berlin, and the roundtrip took her several months to complete. She prevailed.

This first aspect of Elisabeth’s life leads to an initial conclusion. She was not merely open minded about religion – a very sensitive topic, of course, in a century in which religious strife, and religious wars, were rampant – but chose actively to promote religious freedom.  She put her institution and even herself at considerable political risk in order to protect the religious freedom of a radical, hated minority. One can imagine that a figure like Elisabeth did more for religious freedom during her life than many a philosopher who wrote a treatise promoting it. This is not to denigrate more purely intellectual pursuits, it is merely to emphasize the importance of the actions she took during her time as the Abbess.

There is a second aspect of Elisabeth’s life that enriches our understanding of her attitude toward religious freedom. Her life was marked by an intense and intellectually rich relationship with religion in another way. She was born into a very prominent Protestant family. Both early in her life and towards its end, she came under significant pressure to convert to another strand of Christianity. In each case she refused, despite the immense pressure. As a young woman, she had the opportunity to become a member of the Polish royalty through marriage, if only she would convert to Catholicism. She refused to convert, despite the potential personal benefit she would have derived from a conversion (Pal 2012, 50-1). The pressure to convert to Catholicism resumed later in her life: no less a figure than Father Malebranche himself seems to have urged her to convert to Catholicism (Creese 1993, 206). Late in life, she came under significant pressure once again, this time to convert to Quakerism, which was a young, radical movement at the time. Quakers were sometimes considered as radical politically as other English groups, such as the Diggers, because they each advocated an end to religious and social hierarchies (Mason 1974, 211). The husband of Anne Conway, who bemoaned her conversion to the Quaker faith, said that their leaders’ main goal was to “turn out the landlords” (Hutton 2004, 178). With respect to the Quaker faith, Elisabeth was under pressure from one of the most prominent British Quaker leaders, Robert Barclay. Once again, she refused to convert, despite her decision to provide refuge to Quakers fleeing persecution in England. She clearly thought from an early age that a conversion should reflect one’s personal conviction – perhaps one can see this notion as a Protestant trope – and should not be undertaken merely to benefit oneself or one’s family, even when the fate of empires is at stake, as it was in her case. This attitude is apparent in her correspondence with Barclay who, like William Penn, sought Elisabeth’s endorsement of their new Quaker movement. Barclay tried to persuade Elisabeth to join their group by noting that Anne Conway had recently begun to adopt Quaker ways (see Pal 2012, 262). Elisabeth replied sharply that she respected Conway’s decision, but could not follow it: “The Countess of Conoway doth well to go on the way she thinks best, but I should not do well to follow her, unless I had the same conviction” (quoted by Creese 1993, 236, who corrects a misprinted date in the Barclay correspondence). Barclay’s attempt to convert Elisabeth to Quakerism was problematic on a number of fronts. For one thing, like Elisabeth, the leaders of the Abbey had been Calvinists for some time, and he obviously did not have a high opinion of Calvinism: he proclaimed in his treatise An apology for the true Christian divinity that Calvinists, along with “Papists, Socinians and Arminians,” have slighted the “light of nature.” He regarded the latter as the sole means of achieving salvation. It is bad enough for Barclay to list the Calvinists along with the followers of the Pope, but the Socinians were widely considered to be heretics (Barclay 1678, entry for “light of nature” in the volume’s alphabetical “table of the chief things” at its end; an earlier version was published in 1676 and known to Elisabeth). Barclay may have underestimated the extent to which Elisabeth would have been wary of attempts to convert her with an eye towards providing a political or civil advantage for some fledging movement. She was willing to provide refuge to persecuted religious figures, but not to convert to their cause. In the end, although Elisabeth sought to provide both the Labadists and the Quakers with a refuge from persecution, and although she used her authority to promote tolerance and religious freedom, even at considerable personal risk, Barclay, Malebranche, and all others failed to convince her to convert. Unlike tolerance and freedom, conversion in her mind required a certain kind of conviction that she lacked.

These two aspects of Elisabeth’s life combine to form a compelling picture of her conception of, and support for, religious freedom. She did not merely trumpet the common early modern principle, for instance, that the members of the various Protestant sects ought to be free to practice their religion, and not face persecution for failing to adhere to the older and more powerful Catholic tradition emanating from Rome. She also extended this principle to cover the members of a number of much more radical sects. Many early modern thinkers would not have extended the principle so far. In addition, there is an important sense in which Elisabeth sought to protect her own freedom in the religious realm by refusing to convert to Catholicism on several occasions, and later, refusing to convert into the Quaker movement. In each case, she sought to protect her view that one’s religious faith must be a matter of one’s convictions. One might take the intersection of these two ideas and state a more general principle: for Elisabeth, one’s religion ought to be an expression not merely of one’s own tradition and heritage—it ought to be a considered expression of one’s personal convictions, even if those convictions contravene prevailing ideas amongst one’s family members or compatriots, and even if those convictions put one at a considerable social, political or economic disadvantage. In tandem, Elisabeth’s actions to protect religious freedom at Herford Abbey indicate that she had a political philosophy according to which institutions with the relevant authority ought to protect religious freedom, even if it means risking their relatively peaceful existence under the prevailing authorities at the national or imperial level. Given that Elisabeth lived in an age where religious strife and war were rampant, it is not a stretch to say that the broad question of religious freedom was one of the dominant issues in political philosophy at that time, perhaps even the dominant issue. In that sense, even if Elisabeth never wrote a treatise on religion, as Spinoza did, or one on political philosophy, as Locke and Hobbes did, she spent her entire life expressing her strong views concerning the way in which political institutions ought to stand for religious freedom, and indeed, the freedom of even the most radical thinkers of the day.

Scholars and students alike are not accustomed to investigating the lives of the philosophers they study. After all, the lives of most early modern philosophers tell us little about their ideas. A classic example would be Kant, who never strayed far from Konigsberg – he may have left town on occasion and entered the surrounding forest – and who led a rather simple life as a bachelor, tutor and professor in a coastal town on the far reaches of the Prussian empire. It can be amusing to think of him taking his daily constitutional at a particular hour – except for once, supposedly, when he received Rousseau’s Émile in the post – but his life and the personal choices he made shed almost no light at all on his philosophical views. If only one could understand the Critique of Pure Reason by studying daily life in Konigsberg! This example is rather extreme, but something similar can be said of many of the early moderns. Consider Descartes: unlike Kant, he left his home in France and actually lived much of his life in Holland; he met many intriguing people throughout his travels, and in his early years, he may have seen several battles as part of the fighting happening then. He ended up in Sweden, where he famously died in the care of Queen Christina, probably of a pneumonia caused in part by the rigorous schedule he was asked to keep. These events give us a picture of Descartes the person, but they tell us little about his philosophical views. Princess Elisabeth is importantly different from these figures. That is not merely because she never published a text like the Meditations or the Critique, but because she was in a position to express her own views about such crucial topics as religious freedom through her actions on behalf of an independent religious and political institution. In the very least, one hopes that the discussion above is sufficient to show students and scholars that Elisabeth’s actions as Abbess merit further study.

But that idea leaves us with an important question. How should we categorize Elisabeth? She was a member of European royalty, a political figure, a writer, an intellectual, a philosopher, etc. Which category fits her best? It is pretty clear that she does not sit happily in the category princess because unlike most people who fit that role in the early modern period, she was also an intellectual of considerable stature. Calling her the “Cartesian Princess,” as Henry More did, makes her subordinate to Descartes of course, but also misses many of the key events in her life. She doesn’t really fit the category of the learned woman – they were called “gelehrte Frauen” in German-speaking Europe – all that well, because unlike women in that category, she wasn’t merely learned in various sciences and in philosophy, she was also in a position of political and religious authority, and therefore able to put some of her ideas into action. She also doesn’t really fit the category of the philosopher, because unlike most of the early moderns, she was not merely in a position to develop her ideas, but actually to implement them through her own authority and actions on behalf of others. Perhaps the category for Elisabeth doesn’t quite exist. It does not seem like a stretch to say that she was unique. Plato famously wrote of Philosopher Kings; we cannot quite say that Elisabeth was a Philosopher Queen, but she was close.

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5. Correspondence Guide

In the early modern period, correspondence between philosophers and intellectuals was a primary means of communicating ideas and engaging in debates. Although many philosophers also chose to write essays, publish treatises, etc., nearly every major thinker in the period also engaged in correspondence. Whereas some figures were extremely prolific correspondents—one thinks of Leibniz or of Voltaire—others were less concerned with writing letters, but correspondence played an important role for every early modern intellectual. For intellectual women, letters often played an outsized role in their lives because they were typically excluded from institutions of learning, including colleges, universities and scientific academies, and were often not in a position to publish works under their own name. Due to the importance of correspondence, however, it was possible for an intellectual woman to have a significant influence on philosophy and science solely through her personal connections and her letters. Elisabeth was such a figure. Because she never published a work of her own, Elisabeth’s correspondence is unusually important for understanding her philosophical views and her intellectual life more broadly. Happily, she corresponded with a very wide range of figures, from religious leaders like William Penn to philosophers like Descartes to fellow intellectual women like Anna Maria van Schurman. Indeed, Elisabeth’s intellectual network, which she fashioned throughout her adult life through careful maintenance of various kinds of relationships, was vast. It is not an exaggeration to say that this network included a veritable “who’s who” of European intellectual life in the late 17th century. In this section, we catalogue all of her known correspondents.

Spreadsheet overview: Excel file

References

Broad, Jacqueline. 2002. Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Godfrey, Elizabeth. 1909. A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. London: John Lane.

Nye, Andrea. 1996. “Polity and Prudence: The Ethics of Elisabeth, Princess Palatine”. In Hypatia’s Daughters, edited by Linda Lopez McAlister. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shapiro, Lisa, ed. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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5.1 Elisabeth-Descartes Correspondence

Elisabeth’s most famous correspondent is certainly Descartes. Her correspondence with him is extremely wide ranging. Although it is most famous for her criticisms of mind body dualism and her formulation of the mind-body problem, the parties also discuss a huge range of other issues, including Machiavelli’s The Prince; Elisabeth’s health; Descartes’s understanding of the passions; questions in political philosophy; the views of Descartes’s former disciple Regius, who had recently published Fundamenta physica when they corresponded; and so on. Descartes’s correspondence with Elisabeth was especially personal, even intimate, involving not only unusually detailed explanations of his views, but also the only known reference to his mother (Gaukroger 1995, 385) in all of Descartes’s letters, which take up several volumes of the Oeuvres complètes edited by Adam and Tannery. For the first time, Elisabeth’s letters to Descartes have been digitized and are now available at the New Narratives website.

Elisabeth told Descartes that she wished for her letters to be private. But we have to be cautious with that notion. Even if the letters were not published, that does not mean that no one else besides the two correspondents had any notion of what they were discussing over those years. Indeed, at least some of the letters were sent via a third party, a man named Pollot, and on at least one occasion, Descartes even sent a letter to Elisabeth to Pollot with a separate cover letter discussing the question of whether he had provided a geometrical problem to Elisabeth that was too difficult (Creese 1993, 78-80); he needn’t have worried, because she solved the problem elegantly soon thereafter, as Descartes himself recognized. Later on, after Elisabeth had left the Hague to return home to Germany, her sister Sophie acted as an intermediary for some of her exchanges with Descartes. So, although the correspondence was not public, it was not entirely private either, at least in the sense that it was not carried out in strict secrecy. There is also the question of whether Elisabeth or Descartes discussed their letters with anyone else during or after the correspondence. Finally, both Elisabeth and Descartes seem to have been aware that their letters might have been subjected to scrutiny by outside parties, as evidenced by their discussion of whether they should write to one another in code. Given that Elisabeth was at the heart of a very important political family in northern Europe, one can imagine that spies may have wished to see if her correspondence could shed any light on her or her family’s plans – for instance, during the long negotiations that led to the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the thirty years of war and left many German lands in ruins and poverty. Right after Descartes’s death in Sweden in 1650, Chanut wrote to Elisabeth with the news, and requested that she allow him to publish her correspondence with the now deceased philosopher. Despite his entreaties, she never gave permission for her side of the correspondence to be published and thereby made completely public. This may have reflected the fact that by the time of Descartes’s death, she was no longer in exile – she returned to Heidelberg in 1651 – and was well aware that her views about such things as political authority and the ideas of Machiavelli might interest opponents of her family and their return to the Palatinate after the end of the Thirty Year’s War.

Her philosophical disputes and discussions with Descartes interact in certain respects with her religious faith, which latter was important throughout her life in myriad ways. For instance, as a Calvinist, she would not necessarily have believed in free will in any obvious sense; she would have thought presumably that each person is subject to the Calvinist doctrine of “predestination,” according to which God has chosen a future path for each human soul, ensuring that each of us will eventually be sent to heaven or to eternal damnation. And that predestination does not reflect the actions that we take during our lives, since it is predetermined by God before that life takes place. So there is at least one sense in which free will is a foreign concept in this context: our decisions and choices and actions do not have any bearing on our moral futures. Of course, we might still have free will in a more technical or limited sense: it might still be the case that our will is not determined, for instance, by anything external; but one of the primary motivations for thinking about free will, namely, that our choices and decisions and actions will have at least some bearing on our moral future, is removed. And Elisabeth was aware of these nuances, discussing them with Descartes in some depth.

Mind-Body relation

One of the most important aspects of Elisabeth’s famous objections to Descartes is that she helped to formulate the mind-body problem, not by using some general philosophical move, but by specifically reflecting the kind of mechanist thinking about causation within nature that was championed by Descartes, and with which she herself agreed. For a mechanist philosopher, all natural change involves contact between material bodies, whether macroscopic bodies like the earth or the moon, or the microscopic constituents of those bodies, the particles that make up everything in the material universe. If nothing can occur within nature unless such contact between bodies occurs, Elisabeth infers, then Descartes has a rather specific problem. For Descartes, the body can of course be in contact with things, since it is material – he would say, it is a res extensa, an extended thing, a substance whose essence is extension – and so there is no problem in understanding how the body might cause things to happen, as when, e.g., I hold a pencil and move it across the page. So far, the mechanist theory of causation within nature is satisfied. But according to Descartes, the mind is radically different from the body: whereas the body is essentially extended, the mind is essentially thinking – it is a res cogitans, a thinking thing or substance with the essence of thought – and what is more, the mind is not extended at all. The mind is not material. Since the mind is not extended or material, that is, since the mind is not a spatial thing like the body is, the problem is that we cannot conceive of how the mind could be in contact with anything. That is a general problem. The specific version of that problem is that we cannot conceive of how the mind can be in contact with the body. How can the mind causally influence the body – as it certainly seems to do all the time, at least as we experience things – without being in contact with it? To make matters worse, it is not as if the mind is simply a bit too far away from the body, as when my pencil is lying on the table across the room and I can’t quite reach it. Instead, from Descartes’s point of view, the mind isn’t located anywhere. So the mind isn’t close or far away from the body – those predicates don’t apply to the mind at all, they apply only to material things. So Elisabeth concludes: it is entirely mysterious how any kind of mechanical causal relation could occur between the body and the mind, since they cannot, even in principle, be in contact with one another. This is important, because as Elisabeth and Descartes knew perfectly well, there were all sorts of other concepts and theories of causation in the period that could be relied on in this instance (for instance, Aristotelian-inspired theories of the four causes). But what Elisabeth very effectively shows is that for Descartes, who was a committed mechanist, and who thought that all causation within nature was some kind of efficient causation, which had to involve contact between the causal relata, the result of saying that the mind is a non-extended thing and therefore located nowhere is that it now looks like the mind is causally excluded from the world. The mind cannot be in contact with anything, so it cannot cause anything to happen in nature, whether to the body or to anything else! In a way, we can see that Elisabeth is posing a kind of dilemma for Descartes here: either one can give up on the idea that the mind is non-extended and located nowhere, or else one can give up on the mechanical philosophy. Neither Elisabeth nor Descartes wanted to give up on the mechanical philosophy, for it was one of the most fundamental developments of the new science. Moreover, that perspective would eventually find support from nearly every major philosophical figure in the period, from Galileo to Boyle to Descartes to Locke to Leibniz to Huygens, etc. The sensible way out of the dilemma, then, would be to rethink the notion of the mind. What minimal reconstruction would be required in order to solve at least Elisabeth’s formulation of the mind-body problem? One would have to say at least that the mind is in fact located somewhere, that it is extended. (As it turns out, that is precisely the view that Henry More develops in some depth after a rigorous correspondence with Descartes in 1648-49, and More’s view, in turn, had a profound influence on a young Isaac Newton.) As Lisa Shapiro helpfully notes, it looks like Elisabeth is beginning to embrace that philosophical position in her correspondence with Descartes, arguing that the mind ought to be conceive of differently than the picture we find in Descartes’s Meditations (1641) and in his other works (Shapiro 2007, 41ff). Of course, merely saying that the mind is extended and therefore located somewhere doesn’t explain exactly how it causally interacts with the body. But it does remove one mystery: at least a mechanical philosopher does not need to contend that such a causal interaction is impossible because there is a lack of contact. Two extended things with locations can be in contact, at least in principle, even if we still do not really understand the details of that contact.

Elisabeth’s and Descartes’s attitudes towards the mechanical philosophy arise in another way in their correspondence. In reaction to Elisabeth’s criticisms, Descartes famously argues that the interactions between the mind and the body are involved in what he calls the “mind-body union.” He says that we ought to realize that we are operating with what we might call a primitive concept of that union. That is, although we cannot doubt the union, especially in our own case, because the interactions between our mind and our body seem so pervasive and so constant, nonetheless, we have a merely primitive concept of that union in the sense that we cannot much hope to analyze it further. We cannot reduce the union to something more basic, an that sense, we cannot really hope to understand the union. Descartes goes so far as to say that mind-body interactions ought to be understood on the Scholastic model of heaviness. He clearly does not endorse the Scholastic notion that bodies are heavy in virtue of the fact that they have a primitive power of heaviness that renders them heavy. Instead, he would endorse a mechanist understanding of heaviness, which would reduce that feature to particles pushing objects toward the ground, or at least, would involve contact action amongst material bodies and no primitive qualities or powers of any kind. However, he tells Elisabeth that the Scholastic notion of heaviness gives us, as it were, a kind of model for thinking about the union or about mind-body interactions. Hence he is suggesting that we have a kind of primitive concept of the union, and that mind-body interactions result from a kind of basic feature, like the Scholastic feature called heaviness, that cannot be understood any further, and that we cannot be reduced to some more fundamental feature, power or interaction. In reaction, Elisabeth shows herself to be more of a mechanist – indeed, in the language of the day, more of a “modern”—then Descartes himself. Remarkably, she rejects this analogy on the grounds that any good mechanist, including Descartes himself, ought to reject the Scholastic notion of heaviness thoroughly, jettisoning it even in cases of analogical reasoning or the construction of a model. That is, a mechanist ought not to say that the Scholastic theory of heavy bodies is false, or inaccurate in some specific respect; rather, she ought to say that it is not even coherent or intelligible. After all, mechanists ought to stand for the philosophical proposition that all the features of bodies are mechanical – they involve matter and motion, something like size, shape and motion, and maybe impenetrability – and that any idea of a primitive quality or power that is not mechanical, or that cannot be reduced to mechanical properties, is not even intelligible. Since one side of the analogy isn’t intelligible, says Elisabeth, then we must conclude that Descartes hasn’t helped us to understand mind-body interactions at all. In fact, a strong mechanist reader ought to conclude that Descartes is really saying that mind-body interactions are not intelligible to us, and in a way, that is what Elisabeth herself has been arguing, at least, as a mechanist reader of what would later be called Cartesian dualism.

This famous exchange between these two figures is important for two reasons. One can see that there is considerable merit to Shapiro’s idea (Shapiro 2007, 23) that Elisabeth helps to invent the mind-body problem. That is, she is plausibly the first person to articulate what came to be known as the mind-body problem in the wake of the development of Cartesian dualism. That fact alone helps to secure Elisabeth’s place in the history of early modern philosophy. But the exchange is important for another reason: it clearly shows us that Elisabeth is a fully “modern” philosopher. She does not accept Descartes’s attempt to get out of a tight philosophical corner by reverting to old, well-worn Scholastic ideas. And the fact that the exchange is private makes this point all the more important. Even in this private exchange, which Elisabeth prevented from being published in full during her lifetime, she was not willing to temper her modern, mechanist attitude toward philosophy even a little bit. She remained fully committed to a modern view, so much so that she rejects Descartes’s attempt to employ a Scholastic notion to get out of a jam.

Ethics and political philosophy

Although the correspondence is justly famous for Elisabeth’s criticisms of Cartesian dualism and related topics, it also contains discussions of a number of other philosophical issues. These issues fall broadly into what we would call ethics and political philosophy today. With respect to some of these issues, Elisabeth was not merely an interested interlocutor in a philosophical conversation, but also a keenly self-aware patient seeking medical advice from Descartes. As noted by Lisa Shapiro, the early 17th century marks two parallel trends to study the passions. The first tackled the subject matter from a medical standpoint with the aim to find therapeutic means to treat the disorders of the passions. The second, by contrast, was driven by a revival of interest in Stoicism, which advocates the elimination of passions in daily life. In the correspondence, we can see these two lines nicely woven together vis-à-vis Descartes’ diagnosis of and advice for Elisabeth’s illness. In her letters to Descartes, we learn that Elisabeth had long suffered from anxiety and melancholy due to her many years of exile in the Hague and the political and religious strife that engulfed Europe at the time, including many members of her extended family. In one instance, Descartes wrote to Elisabeth that she could “make an effort to consider the benefits from … (that which was taken) for a great mishap, (and turn the) attention away from the evils …” (Shapiro 2007, 94). Seeing things differently, according to Descartes, could help Elisabeth ease her condition and even make her appreciate the hardship that would otherwise worsen her condition. Having acknowledged Descartes’ good intent, Elisabeth described to him why this might not be as straightforward as it seemed. For it was precisely the illness she suffered that prevented her from seeing things the way she would otherwise do, and taming the excessive passions she experienced seemed to require more than just changing one’s attention.

From their exchange in that period, it is easy to see that Elisabeth had long been keenly aware of her illness and frequently sought treatment. While she seemed willing enough to share her condition with Descartes, she was not merely interested in receiving Descartes’ diagnosis, she often posed tough challenges to him. Descartes advocated a strict and thorough-going mechanical program for medicine—in the Principles of Philosophy, Descartes famously described the branches of the tree of knowledge as including medicine, which sit on the trunk of physics and the roots of metaphysics. When it comes to Elisabeth’s questions about the passions, Descartes proposed that they were to be explained by movements of the blood in a way that was consistent with his “principles of physics”, but he had yet to work out a complete theory (Shapiro 2007, 135). Elisabeth voiced three major concerns about this approach. In his dissertation, Franco paraphrased her concerns as follows: (1) “how we can know the different motions of the blood which cause the five primitive passions since they [the passions] never occur by themselves; (2) why the same passion has different consequences in different people; and (3) in which way admiration can, when accompanied by joy, make the lungs inflate given that it “seems to be operate only on the brain” (Franco 2006, 78). In hindsight, it is easy for us to see that lurking underneath Elisabeth’s concerns is her interrogation of mind-body interactions. But as we have seen above, her criticisms should not be read as raising objections only to Descartes; they also underscore a difficult problem facing every mechanical theory.

Because neither figure spent substantial time writing about or discussing political philosophy, their brief exchange on Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince in 1646 is a distinctly valuable source. It is reported that the proposal to read and discuss the Prince was initiated by Elisabeth, to which Descartes replied with a lengthy response raising several criticisms of the book. In particular, he found the author amiss for offering his political guidelines to usurpers and justly-crowned princes alike. In her reply to Descartes, Elizabeth gave an entirely different assessment of the Prince. First, Elizabeth gave a general approval of Machiavelli’s views not because “they are good in themselves, but because they bring about less evil than those used by a number of ambitious imprudent persons I know” (Shapiro 2007, 145). Most interestingly, she observed that the aim of Machiavelli’s maxims is to create stability, which can justify the use of great violence sometimes. Second, with regard to Descartes’ objection that the author should only advise those who acquired the state by just means, Elizabeth gave a defense on behalf of Machiavelli. Leaving aside justice, she held that as a teaching concerning governance, the book remained neutral with the means of power acquisition because the author meant to deal with the worse-case scenario. Third, Elizabeth showed no reservation with Machiavelli’s use of Pope Alexander as an example of a “perfect politician” (Shapiro 2007, 145), who significantly extended the power of the Catholic Church via warfare and diplomatic means despite the moral infamies surrounding him. Elizabeth also found fault with Descartes’ interpretation of Machiavelli’s text several times. Overall, her sympathy with Machiavelli was pronounced and well-formulated. Given her political status and influence, this may be part of the reason why she insisted that her letters be kept private upon the request of publication.

Elisabeth’s views on ethics constitute an important portion of her extant philosophical writing, and they stand out in her discussion with Descartes on De Vita Beata, a dialogue written by the Greek philosopher Seneca the Younger around the year 58 (CE). In a 1645 letter, Descartes puts forward three rules one must keenly observe in order to live happily: first, one should always use the mind as well as one can to know what must be done; second, one must have “a firm and constant resolution to execute all that reason advises him to do, without having the passions or appetites turn him away from it”; and, third, one should refrain from desiring goods that are outside of one’s power (Shapiro 2007, 98). Elisabeth’s initial response to Descartes is mostly a demand to elaborate. She questions the sufficiency of Descartes’ account, pointing out that there may be factors that are independent of the will but are nonetheless critical to arriving at true happiness. Diseases and bad moods, she holds, can always impact one’s faculty of reasoning and subject one to the influence of the passions. Given Elisabeth’s often ill health and the variety of practical affairs that troubled her, it is easy to see the personal issues underlying her dissatisfaction with Descartes’ account. In addition, the finitude of human knowledge also seems to get in the way of always making the best judgment for all actions of life. If, according to Elisabeth in a later letter, one must know all goods perfectly beforehand in order properly to measure them in accordance with contentment, it is unlikely that such contentment is ever reachable as it requires an “infinite science” (Shapiro 2007, p. 110). For his part, Descartes was famously averse to discussing infinity if it could be avoided at all.

The famous correspondence between these two figures raises one last question, one which may seem straightforward, but is in fact somewhat complex. What precisely was the relation between Descartes and Elisabeth? Of course, they were interlocutors, and certainly friends. Their letters indicate considerable respect for one another. But their radical difference in social status does indicate the importance of delving deeper into their relation. Descartes’s treatise in natural philosophy, Principia philosophiae, was published in July of 1644, with a long dedication to Elisabeth. This has led some commentators to assume that Elisabeth served as Descartes’s patron. Certainly, during the early modern period, it would be reasonably common for a philosopher or mathematician to dedicate a discovery, a volume, or the like, to a patron, where the latter would often be a member of a European royal family or someone with significant political or religious authority. The patron would often fund the scholar in one way or another, or promote his (almost always his) career in various ways, and in return, the scholar would praise the patron and dedicate something to him or her (often him, sometimes her). A classic case would be the Medici’s patronage of Galileo, who then named the moons of Jupiter, which he discovered in 1610, the Medicean stars in their honor. But Elisabeth never funded Descartes’s activities and research, nor, it seems, did she act on his behalf to promote his career. She has been called the “patroness of Descartes” on occasion (Hutton & Nicholson 1992, 323 note 4), but the term seems inapt. Although Descartes may have wished for her to act as his patron, she had another role in mind for herself (cf. Harth 1992, 71). She was, first and foremost, an intellectual interlocutor. When they met in the Hague in March of 1646, Descartes left a draft of Les Passions de l’ame (Passions of the Soul) with her, a text that may have been prompted in the first place by her questions (Shapiro 2007, 32) in their epistolary exchanges. She sent her reactions to him in a letter the next month. She was especially interested in the physical aspect of the passions. Once again, she showed a strong interest in Descartes’s ideas about the relation not only between the mind and the body in a general way, but more specifically, the relation between specific kinds of mental states, or states of awareness, which might include one or more of the passions, and specific physical states, or states of the body. Hence from Elisabeth’s point of view, she did not maintain a long-term connection with Descartes – in person and through correspondence – in order to act as his patron, much as he may have hoped that she would; she did so in order to pursue her own intellectual interests. Because these interests were her own, and because the correspondence indicates that she very frequently disagreed with Descartes, sometimes sharply, it is also inapt to call her the “Cartesian Princess.”

Primary sources

Adam, Charles. 1917. Descartes et ses amities feminines. Paris: Boivin.

Descartes, René. 1989. Correspondance avec Elisabeth. Ed. Jean-Marie Beyssade and Michelle Beyssade. Paris: Garnier-Flammarion.

—. 1984–1991. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol. I–III. edited by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothof, Dugald Murdoch, and Anthony Kenny. London: Cambridge University Press.

—. 1955. Lettres sur la morale: corréspondence avec la princesse Elisabeth, Chanut et la reine Christine. Ed. Jacques Chevalier. Paris: Hatier-Boivin.

Foucher de Careil, Alexandre. 1872. Descartes, la Princesse Elisabeth et la Reine Christine. Paris and Amsterdam: Germer-Ballière/Muller, 1879. New edition, Paris: Felix Alcan.

Shapiro, Lisa, ed. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Relevant secondary sources

Ariew, Roger. 1983. “Mind-Body Interaction in Cartesian Philosophy: A Reply to Garber’s ‘Understanding Interaction: What Descartes Should Have Told Elisabeth'”. Southern Journal of Philosophy 21: 33-38.

Broad, Jacqueline. 2002. Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Creese, Anna. 1993. “The Letters of Elisabeth, Princess Palatine: A Seventeenth Century Correspondence.” PhD diss., Princeton University.

Foucher de Careil, Alexandre. 1862. Descartes et la Princesse Palatine, ou de l’influence du cartésianisme sur les femmes au XVIIe siécle. Paris: Au guste Durand.

Franco, A. B. 2006. “Descartes’ Theory of Passions.” PhD diss., University of Pittsburgh.

Godfrey, Elizabeth. 1909. A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. London: John Lane.

Mattern, Ruth. 1978. “Descartes’s Correspondence with Elizabeth: Concerning Both the Union and Distinction of Mind and Body”. In Descartes: Critical and Interpretative Essays, edited by Michael Hooker. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Nye, Andrea. 1996. “Polity and Prudence: The Ethics of Elisabeth, Princess Palatine”. In Hypatia’s Daughters, edited by Linda Lopez McAlister. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shapiro, Lisa. 1999. “Princess Elizabeth and Descartes: The Union of Mind and Body and the Practice of Philosophy”. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 7(3): 503–520.

—. “Elisabeth, Princess of Bohemia”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =  <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2014/entries/elisabeth-bohemia/>.

Tollefsen, D. 1999. “Princess Elisabeth and the Problem of Mind-Body Interaction”. Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 14(3): 59-77.

Wartenburg, Thomas. 1999. “Descartes’s Mood: The Question of Feminism in the Correspondence with Elisabeth”. In Feminist Interpretations of René Descartes, edited by Susan Bordo. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Spreadsheet overview: Excel file (“Elisabeth-Descartes Correspondence”)

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5.2 Elisabeth-van Schurman Correspondence

Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678) was a Dutch polymath who was considered by many to be the most learned woman of her time. Having attended the University in Utrecht, she may have been the first woman to graduate from university in European history. Expert in many fields, and able to read 14 languages, van Schurman commanded such a reputation for erudition that scores of leading intellectuals corresponded with her and thousands visited her in her lectures, one of whom was the young Princess Elisabeth, whose family was in exile at the Hague. Van Schurman was also an influential author across the genres, with texts written in different languages. Her most famous publication, Nobiliss. Virginis Anne Mariae Schurman Opuscula Hebraea Graeca Latina et Gallica, prosaica et metrica (1648), was quickly reprinted four times, even as it contained a logical defense of women’s right to education. In 1664, she decided to joining a radical Protestant group called the Labadists, named after their founder, Jean Labadie. This sect wandered from city to city, each time facing persecution for their views and being forced to leave. During this nomadic period, van Schurman decided to contact Princess Elisabeth, who was now Abbess of Herford, to ask for asylum at the Abbey.

Self-Portrait of Anna Maria van Schurman

The decades-long friendship between Elisabeth and Anna Maria van Schurman was first facilitated by Andre Rivet, a French theologian, in 1632. Some notes suggest that Elisabeth knew of van Schurman long before, in 1620, when the latter had lectured at Krossen, the city Elisabeth had fled to with her grandmother, Louise Juliana of Nassau, after the Thirty Years War. Unfortunately, only a few of the letters between Elisabeth and van Schurman are extant. However, they corresponded heavily in two separate periods: when Elisabeth was participating in the intellectual discussions at the Hague from late 1630s to early 1640s, and when Elisabeth was the Abbess of Herford from 1667 until her death. In the first period, their correspondence was intellectual and concerned a wide range of topics, including issues in philosophy, literature, science, and theology. Interestingly (perhaps for them, too), they found their philosophical orientations to be nearly opposite from one another. Whereas Elisabeth defended Cartesian views on occasion and other modern ideas, van Schurman retained a scholastic worldview from her days as the tutee of the Aristotelian philosopher Gisbertus Voetius. In a letter to Elisabeth from January 1644, van Schurman confirms the fact that she has “great respect for the scholastic doctors,” who she takes to have been guided by the works of St. Augustine and Aristotle, despite the many criticisms they have faced by the moderns (Clarke 2013, 109). In this moving letter, van Schurman adds to the usual pleasantries and diplomatic phrases that she plans to be Elisabeth’s faithful servant “for the rest of my life;” indeed, she came to seek Elisabeth’s help many years later. In the second period, the letters concerned van Schurman’s desire for asylum at Elisabeth’s abbey when her Labadist group was exiled from Amsterdam in 1670. Elisabeth did shelter them, and during van Schurman’s stay, her mystic tendencies influenced Elisabeth’s personal and Protestant views. This might have contributed to Elisabeth’s decision to welcome the Quakers in 1676. By then, van Schurman had moved to Friesland, a province in the northwest of the Netherlands, where she passed away that May.

References

Blaze de Bury, Marie Pauline Rose Stewart. 1853. Memoirs of the Princess Palatine, Princess of Bohemia including her correspondence with the great men of her day. London: Richard Bentley.

Clarke, Desmond, editor and translator. 2013. The Equality of the Sexes: Three Feminist Texts of the Seventeenth Century. Includes van Schurman, “A dissertation on the natural capacity of women for study and learning.” Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Godfrey, Elizabeth. 1909. A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. London: John Lane.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schurman, Anna Maria van. 1652. Nobiliss. virginis Annae Mariae à Schurman. Opuscula Hebraea, Graeca, Latina, Gallica, prosaica & metrica. ex officina Joannis à Waesberge.

—. 1998. Whether a Christian Woman Should Be Educated, edited and translated by Joyce L. Irwin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Spreadsheet overview: Excel file (“Elisabeth-van Schurman Correspondence”)

For image sources and permissions see our image gallery.

 

5.3 Elisabeth-Penn Correspondence

William Penn (1644-1718) is most renowned today for his political career as the founder and governor of the American colony of Pennsylvania (1681). However, before he sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, he was one of the leading Quakers in England and a promoter of the Quaker movement in Continental Europe. He was an ardent disseminator of the Quaker doctrine, which put him and his sect at odds with the Church of England. The British Parliament passed a series of anti-Quaker measures beginning in 1662. It was during a period of constant persecution of Quakers that he became acquainted with Princess Elisabeth, the Abbess of Herford, who used her authority to provide asylum and refuge to various persecuted sects.

Sketch of William Penn

It is unknown why Penn first contacted with Elisabeth in 1677, the date of their first letters. One possibility is that the Quaker community had established connections with the Labadists, the followers of the radical leader Jean Labadie, and that Elisabeth’s sheltering of the Labadists inspired Penn to contact her. It is also possible that when Elisabeth sheltered the Quakers in 1676, he was either there at Herford Abbey in person, or compelled to thank her for her generosity. In any event, their friendship grew and Penn eventually made at least three personal visits to the Abbey.

The relationship between Penn and Elisabeth exhibits the ways in which politics and religion were intertwined throughout her life. Just as her potential conversion to Catholicism as a young woman would have had major political effects by allowing her to marry into Polish royalty, her potential conversion to the Quaker movement would have had both religious and political aspects. Penn sought Elisabeth’s protection, but also her endorsement of his fledging movement because she hailed from a powerful political dynasty. For her part, Elisabeth was aware that the Quakers may have been sympathetic to the royalist cause in England after the brutal Civil War, a fact of obvious importance since the new King, Charlies II, was her cousin, and since Elisabeth was known to be a royalist throughout her life. Penn was also involved politically with Elisabeth’s family members, and he discussed these matters with her. At one point, he accepted her commission to convince her brother Rupert to take certain actions in London to ensure that their royal lineage would be continued not just in England but in Prussia. The correspondence between Elisabeth and Penn ended when she passed away in 1680. Soon thereafter, Penn embarked on what Elisabeth called a “distant” journey that would eventually bring him to America (Shapiro 2007, 216).

Primary sources

Foucher de Careil, Alexandre. 1909. Descartes, la Princesse Elisabeth et la Reine Christine. Paris and Amsterdam: Germer-Ballière/Muller, 1879. New edition, Paris: Felix Alcan.

Godfrey, Elizabeth. 1909. A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. London: John Lane.

Gummere, A. M. 1912. “Letter from William Penn to Elizabeth, Princess Palatine, Abbess of the Protestant Convent of Hereford, 1677, with an Introduction”. Bulletin of Friends’ Historical Society of Philadelphia 4(2), 82-97. Friends Historical Association. Retrieved December 2, 2017, from Project MUSE database.

Penn, William. 1695. An Account of W. Penn’s travails in Holland and Germany Anno MDCLXXVII. 2nd corrected edition, London: T. Sowle.

Modern editions of the letters

Shapiro, Lisa, ed. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

References

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spreadsheet overview: Excel file (“Elisabeth-Penn Correspondence”)

For image sources and permissions see our image gallery.

 

5.4 Elisabeth-Barclay Correspondence

In addition to William Penn, Elisabeth also forged an important relationship with Robert Barclay (1648-1690), another prominent Quaker. Barclay was a friend of Penn’s, an author of an important work promoting Quaker ideas, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity (1676), and eventually, the absentee governor of East New Jersey (he was appointed by James II). As it turned out, he never stepped foot in the Americas, staying in Europe his entire life, where he vigorously spread Quakerism.

Elisabeth and Barclay started exchanging letters in early 1676, which would have been during the Quaker’s stay at Herford Abbey. It is unlikely that Barclay also stayed at the Abbey, as he wrote to Elisabeth from London and Edinburgh throughout 1676. He could have connected with Elisabeth through her younger brother, Prince Rupert (1619-1682), who at the time was a senior English naval commander for the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674). The early series of correspondence between Elisabeth and Barclay suggests that Barclay initially approached Elisabeth with a political motivation related to Rupert. Among other things, Barclay sought pardons from Rupert for prisoners in Scotland, including his Barclay’s father, and asked Elisabeth to encourage her brother on that matter. She promised to do so in her letter to him of late July 1671 (Shapiro 2007, 188). In their other letters, Barclay brought up his desire to begin a correspondence with Anna Maria van Schurman, and expressed his worry that he will be re-imprisoned upon his return to Scotland.

Barclay sought to convert Elisabeth to the Quaker cause, which would have had obvious political and religious benefits for him and his movement. It is not clear whether this plan had any real chance of success—Elisabeth was a Calvinist, and in his Apology, Barclay makes it plain that he held Calvinism in low esteem, placing it on a par in some respects with heretical movements like Socinianism. Elisabeth refers to an early version of this work in a letter to William Penn in September of 1677 (Shapiro 2007, 214); another version was published the next year. For her part, Elisabeth used her influence and authority to provide refuge for persecuted groups like the Quakers, often at considerable personal risk and with some risk to her Abbey, but throughout her life, she refused to convert to another strand of Christianity, even if she stood to benefit personally from a conversion. She insisted that conversion to a faith must express a deep conviction, and although she believed strongly that the Quakers must have religious freedom, she never held the conviction that their faith was the right one for her personally. As she writes to Barclay in February 1676: “Faith and obedience are two precious gifts. I cannot say that I have them, though I long and pray for them. But this I am certain, that any action that comes not from thence would be sinful though it was materially good” (Shapiro 2007, 196).

Primary sources

Barclay, Robert. 1678. An Apology for the True Christian Divinity. London.

Barclay, Robert. 1870. Reliquiae Barclaianae: Correspondence of Colonel David Barclay and Robert Barclay of Urie and his son Robert, including letters from Princess Elisabeth of the Rhine, William Penn, George Fox and others, etc. London: Winter and Bailey.

Hodgkin, Thomas. 1898. George Fox. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company.

Webb, Maria. 1896. The Fells of Swarthmoore Hall and Their Friends: With an Account of Their Ancestor, Annew Askew, the Martyr. A Portraiture of Religious and Family Life in the Seventeenth Century, Comp. Chiefly from Original Letters and Other Documents Never Before Published. Philadelphia: H. Longstreth.

Modern editions of the letters

Shapiro, Lisa, ed. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

References

Blaze de Bury, Marie Pauline Rose Stewart. 1853. Memoirs of the Princess Palatine, Princess of Bohemia including her correspondence with the great men of her day. London: Richard Bentley.

Creese, Anna. 1993. “The Letters of Elisabeth, Princess Palatine: A Seventeenth Century Correspondence.” PhD diss., Princeton University).

Godfrey, Elizabeth. 1909. A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. London: John Lane.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spreadsheet overview: Excel file (“Elisabeth-Barclay”)

For image sources and permissions see our image gallery.

 

5.5 Correspondence with Leibniz, Malebranche, and Others

Beginning in her early years in the Hague, and continuing throughout her life, Elisabeth forged an extensive intellectual network consisting of important philosophers, theologians and political figures. Some of her most prominent correspondents are discussed below.

Leibniz

The German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) is famous for his co-discovery (with Newton) of what we now call the differential and integral calculus and for his extremely extensive philosophical and mathematical oeuvre (it runs to dozens of volumes in the modern Akademie edition). Leibniz was also famous for two other reasons that are relevant for understanding his relationship with Elisabeth: first, he became a prominent and public critic of Cartesian philosophy—especially with his “Brief Demonstration of a Notable Error of Descartes” article published in the Acta Eruditorum in 1686—and second, he was known for his extensive efforts at Church reunification. Leibniz first met Elizabeth on a visit to Hanover, her sister Sophia’s court, in the winter of 1678. We only have a few extant letters, but fortunately, they are philosophically rich. Their letters demonstrate great mutual respect for each other as philosophers, as they wrote at length about mathematics and aesthetics. Elisabeth also made Leibniz aware of Malebranche’s work, especially his Conversations Chrestiennes (1677), which led to a correspondence between Leibniz and Malebranche. The friendship between Leibniz and Elisabeth, however, went beyond the letters. It is recorded that he, along with Francis Mercury van Helmont, was present at Elisabeth’s bedside in 1680, near her passing.

Statue of Leibniz

Primary sources

Leibniz, G.W.1923. Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe. Zeite Reihe. Philosophischer Briefwechsel. Darmstadt and Berlin: Berlin Academy.

Relevant secondary sources

Adams, Robert Merrihew. 1994. Leibniz: Determinist, Theist, Idealist. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 192-3.

Aiton, E. J. 1985. Leibniz: A Biography. Bristol: Adam Hilger. pp. 90-1.

Leibniz, G.W. 1875. Die philosophischen Schriften. Edited by C.G. Gerhardt. Berlin. Vol. IV, pp. 290-96.

References

Broad, Jacqueline. 2002. Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spreadsheet overview: Excel file(“Elisabeth-Leibniz”)

 

Nicolas Malebranche

The French philosopher and priest Father Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715) was influential in reconciling the newly developed Cartesianism with Augustinian theology. He became friends with Elisabeth. Their direct correspondence is not extant, but we do know that they debated different points concerning Cartesian philosophy. Elisabeth found Malebranche’s own works also interesting, as she had sent Leibniz a copy of Malebranche’s Conversations Chrétiennes (1677). At one stage of their relationship, Malebranche tried to convince Elisabeth to convert to Catholicism, something she had already rejected earlier in her life when she would have gained immensely from such a conversion. We do not know precisely how Malebranche reacted to her rejection of a conversion.

Primary sources

Malebranche, Nicolas. 1958-84. Oeuvres Complètes de Malebranche, edited by A. Robinet. Paris: J. Vrin. Vols. 18-19.

Relevant secondary sources

Creese, Anna. 1993. “The Letters of Elisabeth, Princess Palatine: A Seventeenth Century Correspondence.” PhD diss., Princeton University.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Robinet, André. 1955. Malebranche et Leibniz: Relations personnelles. Paris: J. Vrin. pp. 103-5.

Spreadsheet overview: Excel file(“Elisabeth-Malebranche”)

 

Constantijn Huygens

As a politician, poet, and composer of the Dutch Golden Age, Sir Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687) was a regular participant in meetings at The Hague since the early 1630s. He was also a friend of Descartes and the father of the famous mathematician and philosopher Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), who influenced many other figures in the late 17th century (including Leibniz and Newton). Three letters from Huygens to Elisabeth exist today, with none from Elisabeth. Written in the early 1650s, their correspondence suggests that their relations were based on fellow enthusiasm for philosophy; some record Huygens sending a copy of his own treatise for her to review or enjoy. They certainly maintained an intellectual friendship after their departure from the area, as the letters show.

Primary sources

Worp, J. A., ed. 1916. De briefwisseling van Constantijn Huygens, (1608-1687), Vols. V – 28. The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff Rijks Geschiedkundige Publicatiën.

References

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spreadsheet overview: Excel file(“Elisabeth-Philosophers”)

 

Edward Reynolds

The bishop of Norwich in the Church of England, Edward Reynolds (1599-1676) dedicated his A Treatise of the Passions and Faculties of the Soule of Man (1640) to Elisabeth after she encouraged him to publish it. This makes it apparent that the two enjoyed some kind of friendship. Though there are no existing letters between them to know any more about their relationship, one might suspect that he visited the philosophical hub at The Hague and engaged with Elisabeth there.

Primary sources

Reynolds, E. 1640. Treatise of the Passions and the Faculties of the Soule of Man. London: Robert Bostock.

References

Shapiro, Lisa, ed. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

 

George Fox

George Fox (1624-1691) was the founder of Religious Society of Friends, or the Quakers, of which William Penn and Robert Barclay were leading members. He likely reached out to Elisabeth because she provided asylum to his fellow Quakers. Their three extant letters show Elisabeth’s rather cautious acceptance of his friendliness, for reasons that are unknown. The nature of their relationship beyond this is also unknown, due to the missing letters thereafter.

Primary sources

Blaze de Bury, Marie Pauline Rose Stewart. 1853. Memoirs of the Princess Palatine, Princess of Bohemia including her correspondence with the great men of her day. London: Richard Bentley.

Foucher de Careil, Alexandre. 1909. Descartes, la Princesse Elisabeth et la Reine Christine. Paris and Amsterdam: Germer-Ballière/Muller, 1879. New edition, Paris: Felix Alcan.

Godfrey, Elizabeth. 1909. A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. London: John Lane.

Hodgkin, Thomas. 1898. George Fox. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company.

 

Elisabeth’s Family

As her title shows, Princess Elisabeth came from a family of exiled Bohemian royalty. Her father was Frederick V, Elector Palatine, who was the King of Bohemia for only one winter between 1619 and 1620—hence his nickname the “Winter King.” Her mother was Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of King James VI and the grandmother of King George I. Being part of the Stuart dynasty through her mother and the House of Palatinate-Simmern, briefly the Bohemian royalty, through her father, Elisabeth was born deeply embedded in a political network that connected different houses of royalties in Bohemia, England, and their allies. Her active presence in the political sphere—as much as her scholarly disposition allowed her—is easily discernible in her letters to her family, especially her correspondence with her many siblings, who were enmeshed in various political events throughout Elisabeth’s life. Her younger brother Charles Louis took up his father’s position as Elector Palatine; her brother Prince Rupert rose up through the ranks in the English military to ultimately head the Royal Navy by the time of the later Anglo-Dutch wars; her younger sister Sophie became the Electress of Hanover; her other sister Louise Hollandine, though a painter at first, became the Abbess of Maubuisson; her cousin Frederick William became the ruler of Brandenburg-Prussia; and, her cousin Elisabeth Louise preceded Elisabeth as the Abbess of Herford.

Elisabeth kept up correspondence with each of her family members throughout her life, and the members of her network informed each other of different family affairs that were both personal and political. During each of her sibling’s promotions, the letters within the family would go around discussing how to situate the new political status alongside everyone else’s positions. Or, the siblings and cousins would ask each other for various favors, appealing to each other’s governing powers. Some letters also circulated gossip-like rumors about each other and their friends. Elisabeth was the subject of such gossip, too, relating to marriage or romantic interests, possible religious conversions, and political alliances. Some of her letters record her complaints about such frivolities, having to write to prying and appalled aunts and uncles to dispel upsetting rumors.

Primary sources

Blaze de Bury, Marie Pauline Rose Stewart. 1853. Memoirs of the Princess Palatine, Princess of Bohemia including her correspondence with the great men of her day. London: Richard Bentley.

Foucher de Careil, Alexandre. 1909. Descartes, la Princesse Elisabeth et la Reine Christine. Paris and Amsterdam: Germer-Ballière/Muller, 1879. New edition, Paris: Felix Alcan.

Godfrey, Elizabeth. 1909. A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. London: John Lane.

References

Shapiro, Lisa, ed. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Spreadsheet overview: Excel file(“Elisabeth-Elisabeth Louise”, “Elisabeth-Charles Louis”, “Elisabeth-Frederick William”, “Elisabeth-Other Family”, “Elisabeth-Political Connections”)

For image sources and permissions see our image gallery.

 

6. Connections

As is evident in the Biography section, Elisabeth’s family gave her a number of important connections to political figures in both the 17th century and even some posthumous connections in the 18th. For instance, through her mother she had connections to many important British royal figures, including Mary Stuart, Charles I, and Charles II. Through her father, she had connections to the rulers of Bohemia and also, less obviously, to King Gustav of Sweden, and through him, in turn, to Queen Christina (Gustav’s daughter), who is known for her importance to early modern philosophy. Her sister Sophie had a son who became George I of England in the so-called Hanoverian Succession, which took place in 1714 and ultimately involved connections between Princess Caroline of Wales and Leibniz. In this sense, Elisabeth was born into the middle of a nexus of political connections that crossed much of Northern Europe. But she was not content to rest on these laurels, as it were. She decided, from an early age, to forge many of her own connections by joining, or in some cases creating, intellectual networks that included theologians, mathematicians, philosophers, artists, and others. During her early life, while residing in the royal court at The Hague, she forged connections with Descartes, Pierre Gassendi, Anna Maria van Schurman, Constantijn Huygens, and Marie du Moulin. Later in her life, as the Abbess of Herford, she corresponded or conversed with Robert Barclay, William Penn, George Fox, Nicolas Malebranche, Francis Mercury van Helmont, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz—the last two were actually present at her bedside near Elisabeth’s death in 1680. Through various means, she also forged connections with Henry More, the Cambridge theologian and philosopher who learned of Elisabeth through his correspondent Descartes, and with the British philosopher Anne Conway, a friend of More’s and Van Helmont’s who adopted Quaker ways late in life. In sum, through her familial relations and through her own deliberate actions across many decades, Elisabeth’s network included a veritable “who’s who” of European intellectual and political life in the 17th century.

Elisabeth’s network is especially striking for another reason. Scholars often note all of Elisabeth’s connections to various canonical figures, from More to Leibniz to Descartes to Malebranche. These connections are obviously important and help to indicate how Elisabeth was deeply connected to the development of early modern philosophy in the 17th century. It was very common for various canonical figures to serve as tutors to women in the aristocracy or perhaps even royalty. One thinks of Descartes tutoring Queen Christina, or Leibniz tutoring Sophie (Elisabeth’s sister), etc. Similarly, many women of high rank were sought after as patrons of various intellectuals and philosophers. But Elisabeth was different. She sought out the companionship of other women, not just for personal or political or religious reasons, but also, or perhaps even primarily, for intellectual and philosophical ones. Unusually for that time, Elisabeth was tutored by another woman, namely, the famous Dutch polymath Anna Maria van Schurman, the author of a number of works in many languages and a philosopher and portraitist herself. Van Schurman famously sent Elisabeth instructions for which authors to read and which texts to think about. Later in life, when she served as the leader of the Herford Abbey, Elisabeth not only paid this debt to Van Schurman by providing her and her fellow Labadists with some much needed refuge, she created an intellectual community of her own in her institution. In addition, although Descartes may have wished for Elisabeth to serve in a patronage role for him, she never adopted that role. Instead, she chose to maintain a purely intellectual relationship with him; she chose not to use her political influence and royal status to help Descartes’s career. Once again, her choices make her especially interesting and unusual.

Primary sources

Blaze de Bury, Marie Pauline Rose Stewart. 1853. Memoirs of the Princess Palatine, Princess of Bohemia including her correspondence with the great men of her day. London: Richard Bentley.

Foucher de Careil, Alexandre. 1909. Descartes, la Princesse Elisabeth et la Reine Christine. Paris and Amsterdam: Germer-Ballière/Muller, 1879. New edition, Paris: Felix Alcan.

Godfrey, Elizabeth. 1909. A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. London: John Lane.

Sophia (Electress, consort of Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover). 1888. Memoirs of Sophia: Electress of Hanover, 1630-1680. Hanover: R. Bentley & sons.

References

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shapiro, Lisa, ed. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

For image sources and permissions see our image gallery.

 

6.1 At The Hague

This colorful list of figures represents the wide range of intellectuals and political figures who connected with Elisabeth during the heyday of her time in exile at the Hague. They gathered under the influence of Frederick V and Elisabeth Stuart’s royal power, as well as (later) Elisabeth and Rupert’s fame for their intellectual curiosity. These were the people she learned from during her formative years, as this was where Elisabeth spent her youth until her family’s move to Berlin in 1646.

Name Description and Connection
René Descartes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1596-1650)

This French philosopher is dubbed a founder of “modern” philosophy for his famous break from the Aristotelian tradition in philosophical method, epistemology, and sciences. Descartes was a regular at the exiled court in the Hague, where he mentored Elisabeth as a young girl, then became her lifelong friend and philosophical interlocutor. Centuries after Elisabeth’s passing, she was rediscovered through her extensive correspondence with Descartes.
John Dury

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1596-1680)

This Calvinist minister called for a unification among Protestants and for religious toleration in England. He was a regular at the Hague, where started a friendship with Elisabeth that would last decades.
Samuel Hartlib

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1600-1662)

This German-British mathematician and scientist was one of the most well-connected intellectuals in 17th century Europe, building an enormous collection of correspondence with other leading figures of the era on matters ranging from agricultural machineries to medicine. He was an active participant in the discussions held in the Hague, and kept up intellectual correspondence with Elisabeth thereafter.
Anna Maria van Schurman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1607-1678)

This Dutch polymath is known today to be one of the most learned women in Europe at a time when women were barred from academic life—she broke through that restriction to give many lectures in universities. As a young girl, Elisabeth first saw her during one of her lectures, after which she became Elisabeth’s mentor and friend. She frequented the Hague and was responsible for creating a network of scholars that facilitated the spread of Elisabeth’s fame. They continued a highly intellectual correspondence, until van Schurman, who later joined a persecuted group called the Labadists, asked Elisabeth for asylum at the Herford Abbey in Germany that she led.
Dorothy Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1612-1664)

This Anglo-Irish scholar was part of what Carol Pal calls a “republic of women,” a community of women scholars actively participating in the republic of letters in 17th century Europe. She visited the exiled court at the Hague many times, where she met Elisabeth and other intellectual leaders of the time, including other female figures. Moore later married John Dury (above) in 1645; he was her second husband.
Samson Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1603-1661)

He was the chaplain to Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, who was responsible for initially inviting different philosophers to the court at the Hague—one of which included Descartes. Part of his outreach efforts included sending word about Princess Elisabeth’s intellectual gifts to other figures.
Marie du Moulin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1622-1699)

This Dutch scholar and schoolmaster became connected with van Schurman when young, then eventually brought her to the court at the Hague and established connections with the leading philosophers present there, including Elisabeth.
Constantijn Huygens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1596-1687)

The poet and composer belonging to the Dutch Golden Age frequented the Hague for his interest in the sciences. He became close friends with Elisabeth there—some sources say that he may have been her tutor—as well as with other figures. The friends he made there became mentors to his son, the philosopher and mathematician Christiaan Huygens.
Samuel Sorbiére

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1615-1670)

This French physician and philosopher promoted the works of his slightly older contemporary Pierre Gassendi, in addition to doing his own writing. During his visits to the Hague, he would enjoy hours-long debates with Elisabeth on Descartes and Gassendi. He is suspected by modern scholars (see Alexandrescu) to have influenced Elisabeth into incorporating touches of Gassendism in her later thoughts. Johnson (above) was responsible for connecting him to Elisabeth.
André Rivet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1572-1651)

This French theologian was a court chaplain and tutor to Prince William of Orange, the son of his appointer, Frederick Henry Prince of Orange. Being active in the Dutch political scene, his attendance at the exiled court of the Hague was regular, and so was his acting as a mediator between figures. He is responsible for introducing Elisabeth to van Schurman.
Jan Jansz de Jonge Stampioen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1610-1653)

This Dutch mathematician is renowned for his work on spherical trigonometry. He also tutored Elisabeth on mathematics beginning in 1638 at the Hague, in addition to tutoring Prince William of Orange and Christiaan Huygens.
John Pell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1611-1685)

This English mathematician and diplomat worked on many different areas, from pedagogy to linguistics, collaboratively with his contemporaries at the Hague. He kept up correspondence with Elisabeth on similar matters since their meeting at the exile court.
Andreas Colvius

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1594-1671)

This Dutch philosopher was a close friend and a critic of Descartes. He and Elisabeth shared similar philosophical positions about Cartesian thought ever since their meeting at the Hague. During the mathematical quarrel between Descartes and Voetius, he and Elisabeth both wrote to Descartes urging him to call a truce.
Pierre Gassendi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1592-1655)

This highly influential French philosopher disputed various questions with Descartes, Kepler, Galileo, and Hobbes on the natural world and epistemology. His works were often the subject of Elisabeth’s conversations with other philosophers, including Descartes.
Utricia Swann-Ogle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1611-1674)

She was a singer famed for her beauty who reportedly served as the muse for Constantijn Huygens. The nature of her friendship with Elisabeth is unknown, except that it was deep enough for Elisabeth to visit her in 1673 despite her duties as Abbess of Herford.
Achatius Dhona / Achates de Dohna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1581-1647)

Along with his brother, Christopher, he was an old friend of the Palatinate House that followed them into exile, as well as a friend of Descartes. He often discussed philosophy with Elisabeth at the exiled court.
Edward Reynolds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1599-1676)

Bishop of Norwich, he dedicated his A Treatise of the Passions and Faculties of the Soule of Man (1640) to Elisabeth after she encouraged him to publish it. They met at the exiled court in the Hague.
Władysław IV Vasa of Poland / Ladislaus IV Vasa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1595-1648)

He was the King of Poland, in the royal house of Vasa, from 1632 until his death. He was Catholic, but sympathetic to the Protestant cause. Elisabeth Stuart engineered a potential marriage between him and Princess Elisabeth–but Elisabeth refused because she did not want to convert to Catholicism or to marry a Catholic. This caused a complete cessation of contact between the Polish and the Palatine court, humiliating Sir Thomas Roe, who had influenced this match.
Pierre Chanut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1601-1662)

This civil servant was the French ambassador in Sweden and the Dutch Republic. His position in Sweden required him to be at Queen Christina of Sweden’s court, where he was instrumental in making her interested in Descartes enough to sponsor him at her castle. When Descartes died in 1650, Chanut was made responsible for Descartes’ estate, which prompted Elisabeth to ask him to return all of the letters she had written to Descartes. Chanut did so.

Primary Sources

Alexandrescu, Vlad. 2012. “What Someone May Have Whispered in Elizabeth’s Ear”. Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy, volume 4. Edited by Daniel Garber, and Donald Rutherford. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Blaze de Bury, Marie Pauline Rose Stewart. 1853. Memoirs of the Princess Palatine, Princess of Bohemia including her correspondence with the great men of her day. London: Richard Bentley.

Foucher de Careil, Alexandre. 1909. Descartes, la Princesse Elisabeth et la Reine Christine. Paris and Amsterdam: Germer-Ballière/Muller, 1879. New edition, Paris: Felix Alcan.

Godfrey, Elizabeth. 1909. A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. London: John Lane.

Worp, J. A., ed. 1916. De briefwisseling van Constantijn Huygens, (1608-1687), Vols. V – 28. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Rijks Geschiedkundige Publicatiën.

References

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shapiro, Lisa, ed. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

For image sources and permissions see our image gallery.

 

6.2 At Herford Abbey

This list features connections that Elisabeth forged during her time as the Abbess of Herford. During her tenure, she provided asylum to radical Christian sects facing persecution, whose leaders she befriended. During this period, she also met Leibniz and developed a relationship with Francis Mercury van Helmont, who was a close friend and confidant of Anne Conway and a recent convert to the Quaker faith.

Name Description and Connection
William Penn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1644-1718)

This prominent English Quaker later founded the colony and commonwealth of Pennsylvania in America. He and Elisabeth started a correspondence after she provided asylum for the Quakers at her Herford Abbey.
George Fox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1624-1691)

Commonly attributed as the founder of Quakerism, he sent letters to Elisabeth requesting her friendship. Elisabeth seemed to have accepted it rather formally, and this is the extent of which we know about their relationship.
Robert Barclay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1648-1690)

Another prominent Quaker but from Scotland, he contacted Elisabeth during the Quaker’s stay at Herford Abbey. Barclay and Elisabeth corresponded extensively, covering a wide range of personal, political and religious topics.
Jean Labadie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1610-1674)

Founder of Labadism, this French pietist led his followers around Europe as they fled from city to city. He found asylum in Herford Abbey through the friendship of van Schurman and Elisabeth. He and Elisabeth did not have any correspondence as far as we know, but one can surmise that they were in contact during his stay at the Abbey.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1646-1716)

The canonical German philosopher and mathematician met Elisabeth personally and also seems to have corresponded with her near the end of her life in 1678 (Leibniz 1926, second series, vol. I: 433-38). Elisabeth also introduced Leibniz to some of Malebranche’s work (see below). The depth of their friendship extended beyond academic matters, however. Leibniz is noted to have been at her bedside shortly before her death, along with van Helmont. It was through Elisabeth that Leibniz met her sister Sophie (Aiton 1985, 100), with whom he went on to develop a close relationship; Sophie served as Leibniz’s patron.
Nicolas Malebranche

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1638-1715)

This highly influential French philosopher consulted Elisabeth at the end of her life. He sent her his Conversations Chrestiennes (1677) for review, news of which she shared with Leibniz. Malebranche and Leibniz corresponded soon thereafter.
Benjamin Furley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1636-1714)

This English Quaker was considered to be very close to Robert Barclay. When the latter was imprisoned for his dissenting views of Quakerism, Furley enabled the continuation of correspondence between Barclay and Elisabeth. Her correspondence with Furley was mostly political.
Henry Coventry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1619-1686)

This English politician was the Secretary of State for Great Britain. His relationship with Elisabeth was mostly political.
Theodore Haak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1605-1690)

This German scholar produced significant works in natural philosophy and linguistics, including translations. His wide array of interests also included Cartesian mathematics, which led to his reaching out to Elisabeth. She kept strict control over her letters to Descartes, so Haak requested a copy of his letters concerning the problem of three circles for research. He presented her various new journals in exchange.
Francis Mercury van Helmont

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1614-1698/1699)

This Flemish physician was well connected with figures such as Furley (above), Leibniz (above), John Locke, and Anne Conway. He served as Elisabeth’s physician at the end of her life. Having met Leibniz earlier in his life, he became reacquainted with him when the two men attended Elisabeth on her deathbed in 1680 (Aiton 1985, 100). His relationship with Elisabeth seems to have had a political aspect as well, as he is noted to have gone on a diplomatic mission to Charles II in 1670 on her behalf.

Primary Sources

Aiton, E. J. 1985. Leibniz: a Biography. Bristol: A. Hilger.

Blaze de Bury, Marie Pauline Rose Stewart. 1853. Memoirs of the Princess Palatine, Princess of Bohemia including her correspondence with the great men of her day. London: Richard Bentley.

Foucher de Careil, Alexandre. 1909. Descartes, la Princesse Elisabeth et la Reine Christine. Paris and Amsterdam: Germer-Ballière/Muller, 1879. New edition, Paris: Felix Alcan.

Godfrey, Elizabeth. 1909. A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. London: John Lane.

Leibniz, G.W. Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe. Zweite Reihe. Philosophischer Briefwechsel. Akademie edition. Darmstadt: Otto Reichl Verlag.

Malebranche, Nicolas. 1961. Correspondance, actes et documents 1638-1689. Paris: J. Vrin.

References

Aiton, Eric. 1985. Leibniz: a biography. Bristol and Boston: Hilger.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shapiro, Lisa, ed. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

For image sources and permissions see our image gallery.

 

6.3 Family Connections

Elisabeth was born into the House of Palatine-Simmern, which became a Bohemian Royalty for a single winter in 1619-1620, as well as part of the Stuart dynasty through her mother. She was therefore born into a family whose extensive members all had significant political prominence across Europe. Elisabeth would also frequently correspond with other political figures that her family was connected to, either by employment or alliance.

Name Family Connection Description
Frederick V, the Elector Palatine, “Winter King”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1596-1632)

Father Head of the Calvinist house of Palatine-Simmerns and Elector Palatine. During the Protestant uprising against the Catholic ruler of Bohemia, Ferdinand, the elector Frederick V assumed the throne of Bohemia for a single winter between 1619 and 1620, hence his nickname “the Winter King.” Not long after, he fled to Brandenburg and later the Hague, where his family remained in exile for an extended period of time.
Elizabeth Stuart of England, Queen of Bohemia, “Winter Queen”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1596-1662)

Mother The daughter of King James I, she married Frederick V, becoming the Electress, and later the Queen, of Bohemia. Due to the Thirty Years War, she brought her family to The Hague, where she created a court-in-exile that welcomed leading intellectuals from across Europe. It is in this environment that Elisabeth and her siblings grew up, so Elizabeth Stuart laid the foundation for her daughter Elisabeth’s development as an intellectual.
Louise Juliana of Orange-Nassau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1576-1644)

Paternal Grandmother The mother of Frederick V, the grandmother of Elisabeth, Louise was the eldest daughter of William of Nassau, Prince of Orange. When Elisabeth’s family was forced into exile, she took the infant Elisabeth and Frederick Henry (Elisabeth’s older brother) to refuge in Berlin and Krossen.
Frederick Henry, Electoral Prince Palatine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1614-1629)

Brother He was one of Elisabeth’s two older siblings.
Charles Louis, Elector Palatine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1617-1680)

Brother He was the second son of Frederick V and Elizabeth Stuart, and Princess Elisabeth’s older brother. Known for his political prowess, he succeeded his father to be Elector Palatine in 1632. He dedicated part of his career to rebuilding the University of Heidelberg, which had been devastated by the Thirty Years War. His nickname, given at the nursery by his siblings and used in sibling correspondence thereafter, was “Timon.”
Rupert, Duke of Cumberland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1619-1682)

Brother Princess Elisabeth’s younger brother, Rupert, was particularly noted for his military achievements for England. He shared his particular interest for the sciences and the arts with his two intellectually inclined sisters, Elizabeth and Louise. He was a founder of the Hudson Bay Company in Canada, which was given a royal charter by Charles II (Elisabeth’s cousin) in 1670; the company was once one of the largest land owners in the world.
Maurice, Count Palatine of the Rhine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1620-1652)

Brother One of Elisabeth’s younger brothers, he participated in many battles for England under the leadership of Rupert, his older brother. He was not able to enjoy a stellar military reputation before his early death as a 32-year-old in shipwreck.
Louise Hollandine, Abbess of Maubuisson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1622-1709)

Sister The second oldest of Elisabeth’s four sisters (Elisabeth is the oldest), she trained under the Dutch portraitist Gerard Honthorst to become an accomplished painter. As a testimony to her skills, some of her paintings have been attributed to Honthorst. In 1657, she converted to Catholicism, and with the influence of Louis XIV, she was appointed an Abbess of Maubuisson in 1664.
Edward, Count Palatine of Simmern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1625-1663)

Brother One of Elisabeth’s younger brothers, he caused a stir within the family by converting to Catholicism. He married Anna Gonzaga (1616-1684), a French princess.
Philip Frederick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1627-1650)

Brother As Elizabeth Stuart’s son and Louise’s younger brother, he tried to defend their honor when a suitor boasted publicly about receiving their favors. This led to a duel between them, which killed the suitor, and this resulted in his exile from the Hague. After that, he became a soldier of fortune and was killed in battle.
Charlotte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1628-1631)

Sister Born in the exile court at The Hague, she died in infancy.
Henrietta Marie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1626-1651)

Sister Third sister of Elisabeth’s four younger sisters, she married a prince from Transylvania but died shortly after the marriage.
Sophia, Electress of Hanover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1630-1714)

Sister The youngest sister of Elisabeth, she was one of the more well-read members of her family. In 1658, she married Ernest August, the Elector of Hanover. Through this arrangement, she was able to befriend the librarian at the Court of Hanover, the mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. The correspondence between them reveals her intellectual interests and talents—a collection of the letters was later published (see Klopp 1874). On the political side, she was in line to become Queen of Great Britain, but that was passed on to her eldest son when she died. Her son became King George I.
Gustavus Adolphus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1632-1641)

Brother Born in the exile court at The Hague, he died of epilepsy at the age of eight.
Elisabeth Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1597-1660)

Aunt Sister of Frederick V, she raised Elisabeth and Karl Ludwig when they fled to Berlin from their parents’ deposition. She married George William, Elector of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia in 1616.
Katharina Sophie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1595-1626)

Aunt Sister of Frederick V, she stayed close to Elisabeth’s family’s affairs, as indicated by Elisabeth’s letters about her.
Elisabeth Louise Juliana of Zweibrücken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1613-1667)

Cousin She was the daughter of Louise Juliana, who was Frederick V’s sister. She and Elisabeth shared a deep friendship since they were little. She preceded Elisabeth as Abbess of Herford, having been appointed in 1649. She enabled Elisabeth’s successorship by introducing her to the city council of Herford and gradually enlarging her presence there.
Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, “Great Elector”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1620-1688)

Cousin Son of Elisabeth Charlotte (Elisabeth’s aunt) and George William, he ruled Brandenburg Prussia from 1640 until his death in 1688. He was known as the “Great Elector” because of his political and military successes, most notably for his revitalization of trade and defeat of the famed Swedish military at the Battle of Fehrbellin. He also resurrected the University of Duisberg by influence of Elisabeth. She was able to actively teach Cartesianism there. Married to Luise Henriette of Nassau (1627-1667), he had children that included Frederick I of Prussia (1657-1713), his successor.

Primary Sources

Benger, Elizabeth. 1825. Memoirs of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, Daughter of James I. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green.

Blaze de Bury, Marie Pauline Rose Stewart. 1853. Memoirs of the Princess Palatine, Princess of Bohemia including her correspondence with the great men of her day. London: Richard Bentley.

Bromley, George. 1787. A Collection of Original Royal Letters. London, J. Stockdale.

Foucher de Careil, Alexandre. 1909. Descartes, la Princesse Elisabeth et la Reine Christine. Paris and Amsterdam: Germer-Ballière/Muller, 1879. New edition, Paris: Felix Alcan.

Godfrey, Elizabeth. 1909. A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. London: John Lane.

Klopp, Onno, ed. 1874. Correspondance de Leibniz avec l’électrice Sophie de Brunswick-Lunebourg. Hanover: Klindworth; Londres: Williams & Norgate; Paris: F. Lincksieck.

References

Hauck, Carl. 1908. Die Briefe der Kinder des Winterkönigs, herausgegeben und mit einer Einleitung versehen von Karl Hauck. G. Koester.

Marshall, R. K. 1998. The Winter Queen: The Life of Elizabeth of Bohemia, 1596-1662. Edinburgh: Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Oman, Carola. 1938. Elizabeth of Bohemia. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Pal, Carol. 2012. Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rait, Robert, ed. 1908. Five Stuart princesses: Margaret of Scotland, Elizabeth of Bohemia, Mary of Orange, Henrietta of Orleans, Sophia of Hanover. Westminster: A. Constable.

Shapiro, Lisa, ed. 2007. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Zendler, Beatrice H. 1989. “The Three Princesses.” Hypatia 4: 28-63.

For image sources and permissions see our image gallery.