Thursday, May 9, 2019

Daughters of the Winter Queen by Nancy Gladstone

I expect most people will not know who was the Winter Queen.  Princess Elizabeth was the daughter of James I, who married Friedrich Heinrich, Count Palatine of the Rhine.   A marriage with the King of England's daughter was seen as a strong alliance that would have brought James' support for the count's position as heir to Bohemia.

James' duplicitous actions was a  betrayal for the new king and queen. Their reign lasted for one winter, hence, the name, as they fled into exile in the Netherlands and Europe was plunged into the Thirty Years War.  Elizabeth and Friedrich had 13 children,  nine of whom survived childhood.

Nancy Goldstone is the author of Daughters of the Winter Queen. 

The focus of this amazing biography is Elizabeth and her four surviving daughters, Elizabeth, Louise Hollandine,  Henrietta and Sophia, who was the 12th of the 13 children.

Elizabeth was widowed at an early age.  Money was a major problem although there was some support from the Dutch and German relatives.  The primary desire was to regain the Palatinate for her eldest son, but Elizabeth was also determined to find good husbands for her daughters.  This proved to be a difficult task, especially after Elizabeth's brother, Charles I, lost his throne (and then his head) and the royal family fled to France and the Netherlands. 

Charles I's daughter, Mary, was married to William II, Prince of Orange.

Elizabeth's four daughters were all well-educated, prepared for marriage, devout Protestants, standard-bearers to fight Catholicism.  Finding husbands proved far more difficult.  The financial situation, living in exile,  as well as politics, all of which affected Elizabeth's hopes for her daughters.

The ties to her Stuart family remained strong as several sons, including Prince Rupert joined their first cousin, Charles II's battle to regain his throne. The Stuart Restoration was finally achieved in 1660.

The eldest daughter Princess Elizabeth formed friendships with Rene Descartes and William Penn.  As the years went by and no prince came forward,  Elizabeth, a devout, open-minded Calvinist who became an Abbess of a Lutheran abbey. Louise Hollandine was a gifted artist, a woman of great faith, who, much to her mother's dismay, converted to Catholicism.  She quickly moved up the ranks at  Maubuisson, to become the abbess.  This accelerated promotion was due to her brother, Edward's marriage to Anne de Gonzaga, a member of a prominent Catholic family.  The Winter Queen turned against Edward when he converted as well.

Henrietta Maria, who was named for Charles I's wife, did find a husband, Sigismund Rákóczi, brother of the Prince of Transylvania.  Only five months after marriage,  Henrietta Marie, at the age of 25.

It was Sophia who did marry well.  Her husband was Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, the first elector of Hanover.

After the Restoration, the Winter Queen returned to England to live.  She died in 1665.  Charles II did not have any legitimate issue so when he died the throne passed to his brother, James II, who had two daughters by his first wife.  His elder daughter, Mary, was married to her first cousin, William III, Prince of Orange.  Her younger sister,  Anne, was married to George of Denmark.  James II converted to Catholicism, thus setting up a battle between the king and Parliament.  He and his second wife, and their infant son fled to France.  Parliament offered the throne to Mary and her husband, William.  As their marriage was childless,  Mary's younger sister, Anne, was the heir.

The Winter Queen's children were never far from the throne.  Her son, Rupert, created Duke of Cumberland, by Charles II, was seen as a possible dynast, but he died in 1682.   Charles' daughter, Charlotte, converted to Catholicism when she married as his second wife, Philippe, Duke of Orléans. (His first wife was Charles II's sister, Henriette).   Edward's line was not eligible as they were Catholics.

So this brings us to the 12th child and youngest daughter,  Sophia, Electress of Hanover.  William III died in 1702 and was succeeded by his sister-in-law, Anne.  She had given birth to 16 children, none of whom survived, leaving a succession crisis.   The Catholic descendants of Charles II's youngest sister, Henriette Anne, were ineligible for the succession.  This meant going back one generation to the Protestant descendants of Elizabeth, the Winter Queen.

In 1701, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement, which established Sophia and her Protestant descendants as the heir to the thrones of England and Scotland.  Six years later, an Act of Union created the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Although acutely aware of her family's destiny, Sophia maintained relations with British government officials although Queen Anne was not keen on the Hanoverian succession.

Sophia died in June 1714, several months before Queen Anne.  The succession passed to Sophia's son, Georg Ludwig (King George I), the grandson of the Winter Queen.

This is one of the best royal biographies that I have read in a long time. It is a serious, well-researched and eminently readable book.  I have read several biographies on the Winter Queen and the Electress Sophia but none of them are as good as Daughters of the Winter Queen.  

The Princesses Elizabeth, Louise Hollandine, Henrietta Maria and Sophia were all erudite, all blue-stockings, all of whom would have excelled as consorts.  Three of the four princesses remained faithful to their Protestant faith.  When Sophia visited Louise at her abbey in France,  she was not receptive to Louise Hollandine's overt discussion that was aimed at having Sophia convert to the Roman Catholic faith.

There was nothing Louise Hollandine could do to persuade her sister to abjure her faith and join the Catholic church.

Sophia had her eyes on a bigger prize.

Gladstone skillfully allows a portrayal of five women, a mother, and her daughters, the granddaughter and great-granddaughters of Mary, Queen of Scots, offering a study of marriage, politics, the arts, and religion.  I could not put this book down.

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