The Queen of Bohemia

I suppose this is a love story. Or two.

In Drury Lane, there was a pub. It had come down in the world rather; in its grandest days it was the home of a first earl, a very good friend to Samuel Pepys, a valiant and celebrated hero. It looked like this:

Pic source: londir.co.uk

Pic source: londir.co.uk

It became rather disreputable by its demise. Well; Drury Lane, you can imagine.

It had the strangest name: it was called The Queen Of Bohemia. And thereby hangs my tale.

There was a real Bohemia; nestling in the centre of Europe in what is today the Czech Republic. And long, long ago, it had kings and queens, and one of them was Scottish.

Her name was Elizabeth Stuart and she was beautiful. Not only that, but she was renowned as being sweet tempered and generally great company. Her connections were impeccable; she was Charles I’s sister. Reverend Brewer, the man who wrote the phrase and fable dictionary, asserted that she had another name: The Queen Of Hearts.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

If Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators had had their way, it was Elizabeth they would have compelled to sit in the throne and become the very model of a Catholic monarch. But they were thwarted, and the young lady grew to be a beautiful, tall, extremely protestant 16-year old; who met a love of her life at Whitehall.

Her mother, Anne of Denmark, thought the suitor to be beneath her daughter. But it was love at first sight, they say. Frederick V, Elector of Palantine, King of Bohemia, was enchanted  with her, and she with him. They married shortly afterwards on Valentines Day, 1613.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Oh, the pomp and the partying. In the week preceding the wedding Elizabeth went to see six plays by Shakespeare with her beloved. There were great mock-river battles on the Thames and masques and poetry at the ceremonies and celebrations. Elizabeth wore a white dress embroidered with silver, and drew a train carried by 13 bridesmaids.

John Donne wrote about the couple as phoenixes in Epithalamion; they were the talk, the very breath, of London. And their journey back to Bohemia was one long party. In 1619, the Bohemians asked Frederick to become their king, and Elizabeth became their queen.

But in doing so, they ruffled the feathers of the Holy Roman Emperor. Ferdinand II ensured the reign lasted only a year. And here we must step down a byway and leave the great main historical plot; for one of the soldiers who came to help battle was one William Craven.

Wealthy son of a former Lord Mayor of London, valiant soldier, Craven was a dashing celebrity. And some time in those 12 years between Frederick’s battle for Bohemia and his death of an infection in 1632, he and Elizabeth gained considerable regard for each other.

Frederick’s death devastated Elizabeth. She and her five children had no way to support themselves and Craven did so, financially. In her last year, when she finally returned to England, she lived near Craven’s house.

His house was named by locals as the palace of the Queen of Bohemia. And he planned and built two lavish houses for her, though she never got to see them. The talk was that she was his mistress; some say there was a secret marriage.

She died of pneumonia, a year after arriving back in England.

The traces of two great loves litter the history around these three people: Craven, Elizabeth and Frederick. Evidence is circumstantial but plentiful.

And centuries after they died and long after Craven’s house became a pub hosting women of the night and dark company, they are still the source of tittle tattle today.

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25 thoughts on “The Queen of Bohemia

  1. Riveting stuff. One of my old studios was in Bow St, a biscuit’s toss from Drury Lane, and I cannot for the life of me place the “Queen of Bohemia”.I shall have to check ito out on my next visit. Wonderful portrait of Elizabeth.

    1. I think it’s long gone, Roger, now, though I could not for the life of me find its demolition date. I’m off to London tomorrow.Might have a nosey round to find out.

  2. At so many points of this gripping tale one thirsts to know more detail, particularly on the good bits.
    Isn’t it a lovely example of how easy it is to make any true life romance into a fairy story simply by knowing when to stop?

  3. What a fabulous story! While I was enjoying it I couldn’t help but think how Hollywood couldn’t do any better with a storyline! This has all the elements of a good love story with plenty of tragedy and mystery to bolster interest–I think I’d like to trot off and learn more about the lovely Queen of Hearts. The stories connected to the Queen of Bohemia should be plentiful and interesting, too, if they’ve survived. I spend so much time researching American history, and then I find myself intrigued with your stories and I am so torn! I will have to live a long life to get it all in! 🙂

    1. She was quite a strong woman by all accounts, as well as being charming, Debra. She kept a sound political head on her shoulders throughout her life to secure a return to the Bohemian throne for her son.

  4. I sometimes stare wistfully at old maps of Europe, when there were places like Bohemia and Alsace-Lorraine and Flanders. I mean, I know those places still exist, but imagining them as distinct countries changes them somewhat. I never realized how important such places were until we visited Nancy in France, and I saw the former palace there.

    I agree with Debra. There has to be a movie or a book in this story.

    1. Old Europe is a strange old business, Andra, and even today there, as anywhere, there are conflicts over pockets of land. I often wonder what it must have been like in the 19th century when monarchies were toppling all over the place. Such a time of change, and people began to fear it could happen anywhere, even Britain. I suppose that’s where The Prisoner Of Zenda rang so true.

  5. Dear Kate, once again thanks for such an entertaining and intriguing lesson in history. Last week I purchased from Amazon the book “The Bohemian Girl.” Despite the title, I doubt if it’s about your subject matter. But the book is by Kenneth Cameron and I’m studying his writing in the hope that I can learn how to write more convincingly–more tellingly. His novel “The Frightened Man” was so well written as a mystery that I ordered both it and the second “TBGirl” so as to study all the elements of novel writing–characterization, atmosphere, and plot–that I need to really learn to do well. Peace.

  6. A long while ago, maybe ten years, I read a novel about Elizabeth. Now for the life of me I cannot think who wrote it, or what it was called. It is not the one mentioned above. I’ll be back if it comes to me.

      1. Got it! Astraea by JaneStevenson. I read it in December 2003. First volume of a trilogy. Vol 2 is The Pretender, vol 3, The Empress of the Last Days. I read those two early in 2004. From my notes, I enjoyed the first two volumes most.

  7. Elizabeth was also known as The Winter Queen, because she was only queen in Bohemia for one winter.

    Her son Rupert was the famous Cavalier general, Rupert of the Rhine,who was later the third founding member of the Royal Society, and her daughter Sophia would have been Queen of England if she had managed to live another two months. Sophia was named as the Protestant heir presumptive after the Catholic Stuarts were barred from the throne, but she died in June 1714 and it was her son George who succeeded Queen Anne and from whom our present Queen is directly descended.

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