Elizabeth of Bohemia,Princess Palatinate
1617/18-1680
Metaphysics, Epistemology



Kate Lindemann's 

Women Philosophers

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Elizabeth of Bohemia. Born to royalty, she a multi-talented woman who enjoyed the classics and art as well asphilosophy. She was active correspondent with Descartes and she is the author of a work on on the Mind-body problem. A deeply religious woman she offered shelter to a number of persons who were being persecuted for their faith.

Chronology

1617 or 1618 - She was born on the day after Christmas (December 26) in Heidelberg to Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I, and Frederick V, Elector Palatine . She is their first daughter. Two sons had preceded her birth. Frederick V, like his father, was strongly Protestant and a defender the Protestant cause.

1619 - After the Protestant States of Bohemia rebelled against Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick and Elizabeth were appointed King and Queen of Bohemia. This act is sometimes said to have precipitated the Thirty Years war. Frederick tried to wanted to defend the Protestants but he did not receive support of the Protestant Union.

1620 Frederick is was defeated at the Battle of White Mountain. His family fled to Berlin. Elizabeth of Bohemia is put the tutelage of her Grandmother, Juliana, daughter of William of Orange. Most of the family leaves for the Hague but Elizabeth remains with her grandmother.

ca. 1627 - She leaves Berlin for the Hague, where her parents were holding court. Her education became more formal at Prinsenhof in Leiden where she was taught court etiquette, scripture, mathematics, history, the sciences, jurisprudence, French, English, German, Dutch, Latin and Greek. She excels in Greek and has a real liking for philosophy.

1629 - Her elder brother dies.

1631 - Her father, Frederick V dies. Some say he never really recovered from the death of his son. The family falls into hard economic straits.

1636 Elizabeth of Bohemia refuses to marry the King of Poland who is a Catholic, because she is strongly Protestant.

1636 She decides not to pursue marriage at all. (Some say this choice was made because she had no dowry to attract a suitable suitor.)

1642 - She reads Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy. A friend mentions her name to Descartes but he had already heard of her. There is no record of their meeting but they did engage in a correspondence from 1643 - 1646. It appears that Elizabeth of Bohemia offered Descartes the kind of criticism that every scholar needs when developing theories.

Descartes tries to encourage her and offers her some support in her periods of depressions.

1644 - She is in correspondence with Anna Maria von Schurman

1645 - Edward, her brother, converts to Catholicism and marries Anne of Gonzaga.

1646 - Her brother Philip kills a Monsieur L'Espinay, who insulted the family by bragging that he had flirted with their mother. Phillip flees the country and joins the Spanish Army. Elizabeth of Bohemia defends his intentions [but not his actions] and her mother sends her to Germany to stay with an aunt. While in Germany she tutors her cousin and is said to have introduced Descartes' work to various professors in Germany.

Elizabeth attempts to get an audience with Queen Kristina of Sweden in hopes of getting her support for the return of the family's lands in Palatine. Queen Kristina instead extends an invitation to Descartes. He accepts, in part to plead Elizabeth's cause.

1650 - Descartes dies in Sweden.

1651 She returns to Heidelberg after the end of the Thirty Years War. Her mother remains in the Hague and it falls on Elizabeth to assist her many brothers and sisters in their education and securing their financial affairs.

1667 She enters a Protestant convent at Herford in Westphalia. In the ensuing years she serves as a coadjutrix. Later she becomes abbess of the convent. During her time as abbess the convent became a refuge of persecuted Protestant. She gave refuge to Anna Maria van Schurman and other followers of Jean de LaBadie. She also worked for the freedom of a number of Quakers, William Penn, Robert Barclay and others.

1680 Elizabeth of Bohemia dies on February 8, 1680 after a long and painful illness.

Works

Letters: Her Letters to Descartes as well as those to Roberty Barclay, William Penn, Stepehn Crisp and others. Have been published.

Here is a link that analyzes some of Descartes work and Elizabeth's contribution to it.

Elizabeth of Bohemia and Descartes

Secondary sources:

Descartes Dedication to Elizabeth of Bohemia

An essay by Deborah Tollefsen, Princess Elizabeth and the Mind-Body Problem

Society for the Study of Women Philosophers

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