She was the goddaughter of Queen Elizabeth I and grandmother to King George I, and every British monarch since 1714 has been her direct descendent. Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen, may have only held her royal title for a short time, but she was extremely powerful in European politics.
In 1619, Elizabeth was crowned Queen of Bohemia (the modern-day Czech Republic), a throne she went on to lose in 1620. She devoted the rest of her life to regaining her lands, even throwing a basket of diamonds on the floor because she'd rather have soldiers. The Thirty Years' War consumed most of Elizabeth's adult life, and she fought as hard as the other famous warrior queens in history for her title.
Even though the Winter Queen only ruled for a short time, she rivals her descendent Queen Victoria as a powerful ruler. Both had a bevvy of children – nine for Victoria, 13 for Elizabeth – and both had extravagant weddings and spent decades in mourning after their husbands died. The Winter Queen also loved exotic animals – could that be why her direct descendent Queen Elizabeth II owns England's swans and dolphins?
Elizabeth Stuart's godmother was Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. The Winter Queen often imitated her godmother, even though Queen Elizabeth once locked up Elizabeth Stuart's grandmother, Mary, Queen of Scots, for almost 20 years. By the time the Virgin Queen died in 1603, Elizabeth Stuart wanted to be associated with England's most powerful queen. She imitated Elizabeth's hairstyle and often wore jewelry inherited from her godmother. Stuart even mimicked the Virgin Queen's signature.
The imitation may have been too good. A madman named John Lambert decided that the ghost of Elizabeth I was possessing her goddaughter, and stabbed the Winter Queen's minister to death to get closer to the Virgin Queen's ghost.
In 1605, England's Catholics plotted to blow up Parliament and take over the government. It was known as the Gunpowder Plot, and it made Guy Fawkes famous. The goal was to return England to its Catholic roots, and to achieve that aim, the conspirators planned to assassinate King James I, Elizabeth Stuart's father, and his son, Henry. They planned to blow up Parliament on November 5, 1605, and kidnap Elizabeth, who was only nine years old. Once the rest of the royal family was dead, the conspirators would marry Elizabeth off to a Catholic and use her as a puppet queen to control England.
An anonymous letter uncovered the plot, and eight of the conspirators were convicted of treason. Their punishment included being drawn and quartered. And it turns out Elizabeth wouldn't have made a very good Catholic puppet – she fought her entire adult life to keep Bohemia in Protestant hands.
After being exiled from Bohemia, Elizabeth spent several decades living in The Hague, Netherlands, as the guest of the Princes of Orange. During those years, Elizabeth watched the destructive Thirty Years' War ravage Europe. She and Frederick were "the most notorious couple of the [17th] century" – exiled, no longer royalty, and without a home.
Their enemies derisively named Frederick and Elizabeth the Winter King and Queen, since their rule in Bohemia had only lasted one winter. But Elizabeth was never happy to watch the wars from the sidelines. When her father, King James, sent Elizabeth a portrait of himself set inside a casket full of diamonds, Elizabeth hurled the diamonds onto the floor and shouted that he should have sent soldiers instead.
Elizabeth Stuart might have been a queen without a throne, as well as a widow, but that didn't stop her from playing a major role in European politics. The Winter Queen wrote hundreds of letters in a special cipher code, using at least seven keys during her life. Elizabeth encrypted the letters herself, using hieroglyphics, invisible ink, and a polyphyletic substitution system.
She wrote to her brother Charles I of England, members of the English Parliament, ambassadors, and others. She was afraid that her exiled family would be forgotten by the English, a fear that became true after Charles was executed for treason, and England stopped sending Elizabeth a pension.