Princess Louise Hollandine of the Palatinate

12 May 2012

Princess Louise Hollandine, Honthorst, 1650. Photo: National Trust at Ashdown House.

I’m writing about Princess Louise Hollandine of the Palatinate’s arrival in Paris today and as she really interests me, I thought I’d chat about her on here as well. Her name’s a bit of a mouthful isn’t it – the next time I get hold of some precious vegetarian marshmallows, I’ll stuff my mouth with them and give it a whirl.

Elizabeth of England, Queen of Bohemia, studio of Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, c1623. Photo: National Portrait Gallery, London.

According to the despatches of the English Ambassador, Princess Louise was born at the Hague palace between 1am and 2am on the morning of the 8th of April (my husband’s birthday, how pleasing) 1622, the sixth child and second daughter of Elizabeth Stuart and her husband Frederick V, Elector Palatine. Unusually for royal parents of the period, Elizabeth and Frederick had wanted another daughter and the child’s names had already been decided – Louise after her paternal grandmother and Hollandine as a compliment to the State of Holland, which had taken them in after their somewhat inglorious departure from Bohemia.

The new baby princess was christened eight days later in the Klooster-Kerke, the former church of the monastery of St Vincent near the Hague. Elizabeth, as was usual at the time, was forbidden by etiquette to attend.

Despite her family’s exiled status, Louise’s christening appears to have been extremely magnificent – the procession, headed by the Prince of Orange himself and comprising the entire court as well as her family and the English ambassador, went on foot from the Hague to the church and the little princess was carried with great solemnity beneath a canopy of state. Her godmothers were Sophie of Nassau Dietz and Amalia of Nassau and among her sumptuous gifts she received a life pension of two hundred pounds a year from the States of Holland, while her godfather, Christian of Brunswick sent, rather charmingly I think, the latest large ransom he had gained from a prisoner of war.

Princess Louise Hollandine, Honthorst, 1642. Photo: Villa Schloss Ludwigshöhe – Edenkoben, Rheinland-Pfalz Germany.

Louise grew up to be a strapping, healthy and witty young girl. The Palatine children were renowned throughout Europe for their good looks, intelligence, outspoken behaviour and occasional eccentricity. Despite the shortness of money, they were certainly immensely fun loving and very fond of sport. Their mother, who had grown up at the very heart of the Jacobean court, had instilled in them all a passion for the hunt and also a deep love of masques, plays and general revelry. We’re told that when in a deputation of English Puritans arrived at the Hague on New Year’s Eve in 1635, they were utterly shocked by the ‘devilish hallooings’ of Louise and her siblings as they danced the night away and staged a hunting masque to cheer up their recently widowed mother. Another favourite pastime was dressing up in her splendid old dresses and putting on plays.

Prince Rupert, attributed to Honthorst, c1641-1642. Photo: National Portrait Gallery, London.

Amongst her entertaining, vivid family, Louise was closest to her elder brother Rupert, who shared her artistic and mercurial nature. At seventeen we are told that the Princess was the only one of Elizabeth’s daughters to love hunting and riding as much as her vibrant mother and that, according to Carole Oman: ‘her nose, had it not belonged to a princess, must have been termed impertinent, but she managed to make people think her a beauty, for her auburn hair and eager expression were highly attractive. In colouring she resembled her little brother Philip, but in gait and carriage she was very like Rupert.

Elizabeth of Bohemia and family in an allegory by Honthorst – Louise is the girl holding some sort of plant (a palm?) and gazing up a little reproachfully at her mother. You can read more about this interesting piece here.

Such a lively princess obviously attracted admirers and we know that her cousin, Frederick William of Brandenburg became completely smitten with her when she was about fifteen years old and remained so for several years. Sadly, although her mother was happy with the match, his was rather less so due to Louise’s relatively penniless state and he was forced to marry another wealthier princess, her cousin Luise Henriette of Orange. With typical aplomb, Elizabeth made all of her daughters, including the disappointed Louise attend the wedding ceremony in the Hague. As an aside, Luise Henriette wasn’t happy about this either, she was madly in love with the French prince of Talmont and had also had tender feelings for her cousin, Charles II.

The Brandenburgs looking utterly THRILLED. And a bit sunburned…

It was at around this time that Louise began her art lessons with the painter Gerard van Honthorst, who thought a great deal of her talent.

Her portrait of her younger sister, Princess Sophia, 1644.

An allegorical portrait of three ladies and a child by Princess Louise. This was sold by Christies for £34,655 in 2004. Photo: Christies.

Although Louise appears to have lived a blameless if lively life, there was a brief whiff of scandal in June 1646 when it was alleged that a certain young French exile, Jacques de l’Epinay was paying court not only to her fifty year old but still extremely striking mother but also to the twenty four year old princess and had, furthermore, been boasting far and wide about his amorous success with both ladies. Her younger brother Philip was apparently infuriated by the rumours and had a violent brawl in the street with L’Epinay and his friends on the evening of the 20th of June. The watchman broke up the ruckus but the next night when Philip encountered L’Epinay strolling through the Place d’Armes on his way home from a congenial dinner party, the results were altogether more tragic.

The young prince pulled out a hunting knife and attacked the Frenchman, who had just enough time to take out his sword and make a vague attempt to defend himself before Philip struck the fatal blow, severing his jugular vein. Philip immediately jumped into his carriage and departed post haste for the border, leaving his mother and siblings to deal with the immense scandal that his actions had occasioned.

Elizabeth was devastated – she was already disappointed enough with the wayward behaviour of her sons but this was far worse than anything that even Rupert, who had earned his nickname of ‘Robert the Devil’ while he was still in the nursery, or the equally rambunctious Maurice had managed to cook up. As for Louise, who had all the honourable spirit of her brother Rupert, we can only imagine her feelings on being made the unlikely heroine of such a sordid tale.

A self portrait in a most peculiar hat, 1650. Photo: Sotheby’s.

There has been speculation that Louise would later have a bittersweet and short lived romance with James Graham, the Earl of Montrose, who travelled from Scotland to the Hague in February 1649, shortly after the execution of Charles I to offer his loyalty to the new king, Charles II who was then residing there. Sophie, the youngest of the Palatinate princess would later write in her memoirs that when James Graham left the Hague a month later as Lieutenant-General of Scotland, he demanded the hand of her elder sister Louise as his reward for victory. Sadly it would all come to nothing as Montrose was horribly executed in Edinburgh on the 21st of May 1650.

Princess Louise Hollandine, Honthorst, 1642. Photo: Sotheby’s.

The next big drama in Louise’s life, which occurred when she was thirty six years old was to be pretty huge. I’ll let Carole Oman set the scene:

On Wednesday, December 19th 1657, a cover was laid in vain in the hall hung with tarnished gilt leather where the Queen of Bohemia was accustomed to dine at noon. The failure of the artist-princess Louise to appear for the midday meal did not at first cause alarm. She had vaguely mentioned some scheme of visiting acquaintances at Scheveningen. The results of enquiries made in the household as to her expedition, however, were disquieting. No carriage was missing from the stables, no attendant were absent. Neither halberdier, footman, page, lady in waiting nor fille de chambre had seen anything of the princess since last night. She had apparently left the house in darkness, on foot, alone and without money. Her bed chamber was searched, and a note addressed to her mother was found. The gist of this entirely formal document was that when the princess arrived at a destination which was not yet at liberty to disclose, she hoped to inform her Majesty of her reasons for taking the veil in a Catholic nunnery.’

Elizabeth’s household was thrown into absolute uproar as they tried in vain to discover where the errant and always headstrong princess had gone. Despatches were sent forth instructing that the princess be arrested with ‘all civility and respect’ and returned to the Hague but it was too late, she was long gone.

Another search of her room turned up letters between herself and a Catholic friend of her mothers, the Princess of Zollern. These letters revealed that Louise’s plan, long ago made, was to leave the Hague in the early hours of the morning and make her way alone to the port of Delfshaven, where she was to be met by friends and taken by ship to Bergen op Zoom and then on to Paris, where she planned to stay with her aunt, Henrietta Maria of England.

Louise arrived in Paris at the end of December and was received with delight by her aunt and the French court. Henrietta Maria must have felt a great deal of satisfaction when she wrote to Elizabeth to let her know her daughter’s whereabouts and reassure her that she would be well taken care of. The staunchly Protestant Elizabeth had infuriated her sister in law on more than one occasion by condemning her actions during the English Civil War and by continually taking the part of her children, in particular Prince Henry when she attempted her ill fated conversion of him. Elizabeth replied to Henrietta Maria’s pleas for forgiveness by snappily asking how she, Henrietta Maria, would like it if her adored little daughter Henriette Anne, the only one of the English royal children to have been raised as a Catholic, ran away to the Hague with the intention of being converted to Protestantism.

Families, eh?

Princess Louise Hollandine. Photo: Royal Collection.

Meanwhile in Holland, rumours were gleefully spreading that Louise had in fact taken herself off to a convent in order to give birth to an illegitimate child. This was all fanned by her partner in crime, the Princess of Zollern who had found herself a persona non grata at the Hague and in her rancour resorted to spreading lies about the absent princess in order to excuse herself. Louise shrugged the rumours off, although letters went to and fro letting everyone know that she was just as thin as always, but her mother was mortified.

Despite this estrangement with her mother, the rebel princess Louise was perfectly happy in Paris and after a spell living with her aunt and cousin at the Palais Royal, during which time she was converted to the Catholic faith, she moved to Henrietta Maria’s convent at Chaillot as a novice before going on to her final destination, the convent of Maubuisson, near Pontoise, where she took the veil and became a Cistercian nun on the 19th of September 1660.

Liselotte van der Pfalz, c1670. Photo: Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim.

Louise’s niece Liselotte, who would become Duchesse d’Orléans and add a dash of her family’s signature dark and cynical wit to the court of Louis XIV.

Thanks to the interest of Louis XIV, who seems to have had a great liking for this errant relative of his aunt Henrietta Maria, she would become Abbess of Maubuisson in the summer of 1664 and lived out her days there in great contentment, still painting and making an extremely cheerful nun until her death at the age of eighty eight in February 1709. She would never see her mother again and was the only one of Elizabeth’s children not to get a mention in her will, but we know that other members of her family including Charles II and his siblings and also her niece Liselotte, the daughter of her brother Carl and great favourite of her mother Elizabeth who would marry Philippe d’Orleans after the death of their cousin Henriette Anne, who went often to visit her in her convent.

Further reading:

The Winter Queen: Elizabeth Of Bohemia (Women in History (Sterling))

The Bride: The Story of Louise and Montrose (Excellent novel by Margaret Irwin about the romance between Louise and the ill fated Montrose.)

The Stranger Prince (Irwin also wrote this fantastic novel about Prince Rupert of the Rhine.)

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