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Queen of Bohemia

In Bohemia discord between Habsburgs and Czechs and between Catholics and the followers of the reformed creeds erupted again into an open clash in the early seventeenth century. At that time, the Czechs were able to take advantage of the struggle between two contenders to the imperial throne, and in 1609 they extracted a Letter of Majesty from Emperor Rudolph II (1576–1612) that promised toleration of the Czech Reformed Church, gave control of Charles University to the Czech estates, and made other concessions.

Rudolph II’s successor, Matthias II (1612–17), also Holy Roman Emperor, proved to be an ardent Catholic and quickly moved against the estates. Violation of promises contained in the Letter of Majesty regarding royal and church domains and Matthias II ‘s reliance on a council composed of ardent Catholics further increased tensions.

Felipe III of Spain, who was the childless Matthias II’s nephew, acknowledged Archduke Ferdinand’s right to succeed Matthias II in Bohemia and Hungary in exchange for territorial concessions in 1617. The Diets of Bohemia and Hungary confirmed Ferdinand’s position as Matthias II’s successor only after he had promised to respect the Estates’ privileges in both realms.

In 1618 two Catholic imperial councillors were thrown out of a window of Prague Castle (one of the so-called Defenestrations of Prague), signaling an open revolt by the Bohemian estates against the Habsburgs and started the Thirty Years’ War. The Bohemian estates decided to levy an army, decreed the expulsion of the Jesuits, and proclaimed the Bohemian throne to be elective. The Bohemian rebels established a provisional government, invaded Upper Austria, and sought assistance from the Habsburgs’ opponents.

Matthias II died on March 20, 1619. The Habsburg heir apparent, Archduke Ferdinand, was a fervent Catholic who brutally persecuted Protestants in his realm of Styria. Ferdinand was elected Holy Roman Emperor on August 28, 1619 (Frankfurt), as Ferdinand II. The Bohemian nobles had to choose between “either accepting Ferdinand as their king after all or taking the ultimate step of deposing him”.

The Bohemian nobles decided on deposition, and, when others declined because of the risks involved, the Bohemians “pandered to the elector’s royalist pretensions. Two days before the Protestant Bohemian Estates deposed Ferdinand (as king of Bohemia), the Bohemia nobles offered their crown to the Calvinist Friedrich V of the Palatinate on August 26, 1619. News of Ferdinand’s deposition arrived in Frankfurt on the 28th but Ferdinand didn’t leave town until he’d been crowned.

Friedrich, although doubtful, was persuaded to accept. Elizabeth “appealed to his honour as a prince and a cavalier, and to his humanity as a Christian”, aligning herself with him completely. The family moved to Prague, where “the new King was received with genuine joy”. Friedrich was crowned officially in the St. Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle on November 4, 1619. The coronation of Elizabeth as Queen of Bohemia followed three days later.

The royal couple’s third son, Prince Rupert, was born in Prague one month after the coronation. There was great popular rejoicing. Thus, Friedrich’s reign in Bohemia had begun well, but only lasted one year. Friedrich tried to muster further support for the Bohemian cause, even attempting to convince the Ottoman Empire to provide military support in exchange for tribute.

The Bohemian crown “had always been a corner-stone of Habsburg policy” and the heir, Ferdinand, now Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, would not yield.

On November 8, 1620, the Czech estates confronted the imperial forces in the Battle of White Mountain near Prague and were decisively defeated ending Friedrich V’s riegn. This also ended the first phase of the Thirty Years’ War) on November 8, 1620.

Elizabeth is remembered as the “Winter Queen”, and Friedrich as the “Winter King”, in reference to the brevity of their reign, and to the season of the battle.