Sunday, February 18, 2024

Cover story: "The Palatine Family and the Thirty Years' War"

Thomas Pert is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick.

His new book is The Palatine Family and the Thirty Years' War: Experiences of Exile in Early Modern Europe, 1632-1648.

Here Pert explains the connection of the book's cover to the pages within:
The cover of my book The Palatine Family and the Thirty Years’ War is part of the painting The Triumph of the Winter Queen: Allegory of the Just by the Dutch artist Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656). Honthorst was the favourite portraitist of Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662) - the daughter of King James VI and I of Scotland and England - and he would paint many depictions of Elizabeth, her husband Frederick the ‘Winter King’ of Bohemia, and their thirteen children during their exile at The Hague.

Following the Defenestration of Prague in 1618 and the outbreak of the Bohemian Revolt, Elector Frederick V of the Palatinate (1596-1632) accepted the crown of Bohemia from the rebels – a decision which widened a localised insurrection into a conflict which would devastate the lands of the Holy Roman Empire for three decades. In November 1620, Frederick’s army was crushed by imperial and Bavarian forces at the Battle of the White Mountain near Prague and he, Elizabeth, and their children had to abandon their new kingdom. In the months that followed, Frederick not only lost Bohemia, but Emperor Ferdinand II declared him an outlaw and stripped him of his hereditary lands, titles, and offices within the Empire. The exiled ‘Palatine Family’ would spend the rest of the Thirty Years’ War trying to recover their lost territories and titles, and this painting could be viewed as a statement of intent.

Elizabeth is depicted wearing a crown and holding a sceptre to demonstrate her (much-disputed) status as Queen of Bohemia. To the right of the image we see Elizabeth and Frederick’s eldest surviving son, Charles Louis (1618-80), wearing the ermine-trimmed robes and cap of a Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire signifying his claim to his dynasty’s confiscated lands and prestigious electoral title. One of Elizabeth’s other sons, Rupert (1619-82) is also shown in classical armour to signify an intent to fight for his family’s cause, and four of Elizabeth’s daughters are depicted either wearing or carrying laurel wreaths or palm branches, both of which were associated with victory and triumph. The wider painting contains even more symbolism. Elizabeth’s chariot is being drawn by three lions (such as those on the arms of the Kingdom of England), and she is shown riding over the body of Neptune - the Roman God of water and the sea. This could be a demonstration of her aim to seek help from her British homeland across the English Channel to bring about her family’s restoration, but it has also been suggested that it is a reference to the death of her eldest son Frederick Henry in a boating accident in 1629. Indeed, Frederick, Frederick Henry, and two other children who had died in 1625 and 1631 are shown bathed in a golden heavenly light looking down approvingly at Elizabeth and her ten surviving children.

The Triumph of the Winter Queen was produced at a very difficult time for the Palatine Family. Effective military and financial aid from England had not been forthcoming; their allies had suffered a string of defeats on the battlefield; they had been excluded from the 1635 Peace of Prague which aimed to bring the war to an end; and the childless Duke of Bavaria (to whom Emperor Ferdinand II had transferred Frederick’s lands and titles) had remarried and sired a son. In addition, the young and inexperienced Charles Louis was about to turn eighteen, meaning that he would be expected to shoulder the burdens of his exiled dynasty himself. As a result, by 1636, the Palatine Family risked becoming irrelevant on the European political-military stage. However, through the actions of various members of the dynasty, they were not sidelined by more powerful states, and some manner of restitution for the Palatine Family was ultimately deemed an essential component for any lasting peace treaty by the war’s end in 1648.

This painting demonstrates the commitment of Elizabeth and her children to obtaining their restoration at this tumultuous time when the Palatine Family had to counter the very real risk of permanent exclusion from their lost lands and titles, making it an ideal cover image for my book.
Learn more about The Palatine Family and the Thirty Years' War at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Palatine Family and the Thirty Years' War.

--Marshal Zeringue