Opening Up the Winter Queen’s Cabinet: The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia
2012 Seminar Series / Thursday 24 May, 2012
Dr Nadine Akkerman (Leiden University) offers an important epistolary rehabilitation of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia (1596-1662), based on her work for the OUP edition. She argues that distorted perceptions of the monarch as a frivolous, monkey-obsessed dilettante have largely arisen because historians have generally overlooked her vast correspondence. Elizabeth’s nearly 1,700 surviving letters from forty-seven archives in Europe and the US (estimated to be a mere 10% of what once existed) contain almost no information on her cultural life, and very little mention of plays, artists, or poets. They reveal instead that she was immersed in diplomacy and the political process, and was a keen follower of military affairs. Indeed, the underlying purpose of nearly all of her letters, Nadine suggests, was to regain the lost Palatinate lands for her heirs. Nadine also discusses the often ignored, though politically important, roles of royal secretaries, scribes, and letter carriers. She traces the various ways by which Elizabeth attempted to outwit her brother Charles I’s surveillance of her correspondence (by using cryptography and steganography, for example), and suggests that Elizabeth used letters as a polite instrument by which to sabotage her brother’s plans for the Thirty Years War, thus making that event last ten years longer than it might otherwise have done.