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In the research for her upcoming book, Elizabeth Stuart: Queen of Hearts (due to be published by Oxford University Press in October), author and academic Nadine Akkerman stumbled upon a little-known portrait of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia and grandmother of King George I, which she believes would have been considered treasonous at the time it was painted.
Elizabeth Stuart had built up a considerable mythos by the early 1620s. To many, she was the virtual reincarnation of her famous godmother and namesake Elizabeth I, and they longed to see her replace her father James on the throne. So intense was the excitement around this “second Elizabeth” that there were imagined sightings of her in London.
While working on an exhibition on Elizabeth Stuart with the Markiezenhof palace in Bergen op Zoom in the Netherlands roughly ten years ago, curator Jan Peeters showed Nadine Akkerman a reproduction of a portrait entitled “Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia”, painted by M. Mierevelt. Peeters explained his belief that the crown depicted in the portrait is the so-called Tudor Crown lost by her brother Charles I during the Civil Wars.
At a time when to even consider the death of the king was technically treason, to own a painting in which another living person wore his crown would have been seen as expressing that same wish, and was thus very dangerous indeed. The fact that the person depicted in this portrait was the king’s daughter made it more, rather than less, seditious, given the support for her as a potential replacement for her father (and later for her brother, Charles I).
This is a portrait of a woman who was at the centre of the bloodiest decades of the seventeenth century. The painting – which is now part of a private collection in Scotland – was a powerful, and dangerous, statement. Nadine Akkerman says: “I didn’t grasp the potentially explosive nature of this painting until my research revealed how serious the movement to have Elizabeth replace her father in the 1620s truly was.”
Dr Akkerman, who is Reader in early modern English Literature at Leiden University, is the foremost authority on Elizabeth Stuart, having spent over a decade researching her. As well as being the author of the critically acclaimed Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain, she is the editor of the three volume edition of the seventeenth-century monarch’s letters, The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart.
Akkerman’s new biography, Elizabeth Stuart: Queen of Hearts reveals a remarkable, fiesty and humorous woman who was a true politique – very different to the woman long-pitied as ‘The Winter Queen’, the mocking sobriquet by which she is often known. Rather than showing a spendthrift who was more interested in theatre and her pet monkeys than politics or her children, this is the story of a woman who survived her brother, her husband, six of her children, all her opponents, and every one of her warring champions as she negotiated her family’s way through the Thirty Years’ War. As it promises to disrupt long-held views of Elizabeth Stuart, it seems appropriate that her biography should have an image steeped in intrigue on the cover.
Nadine Akkerman says: “I knew that the painting would make a dramatic cover for my new biography. Thankfully, tracking it down was relatively easy – it was realising it needed tracking down that took the time. That said, I know nothing of its journey to Scotland. That’s a job for another day!”