Prince Edward of the Palatine, rebel prince charming?

17 May 2012

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

I honestly love writing about Elizabeth of Bohemia and her children and am seriously considering writing a novel just about her when I’ve finished this current book about Henrietta Stuart and the Ripper Novel Of Doom. I have a massive list of books that I want to write though so we shall see.

Today’s tale of seventeenth century romance and shenanigans is brought to you by one of Elizabeth’s sons – allegedly the handsomest and most charming of all. Yes, that’s right, he was even better looking than the rather ridiculously lovely Prince Rupert.

Prince Edward of the Palatine, Honthorst.

According to embassy despatches to his uncle Charles I, Prince Edward of the Palatine was born at the Hague palace on the 6th of October 1625 to Elizabeth Stuart and her husband Frederick, Elector Palatine. He was their fifth surviving son (another had died in infancy but on the whole the Palatine brood was remarkably healthy – with only three of Elizabeth and Frederick’s thirteen children dying in early childhood) after Henry, Carl, Rupert and Maurice.

Prince Edward of the Palatine. Photo: Royal Collection.

The young prince Edward, known as Ed within his rambunctious family, was a charming, high spirited but good natured boy who was not quite so difficult and quarrelsome as his elder brothers Rupert and Maurice. Nonetheless in around 1638, his mother, fatigued by the brawling and occasionally scandalously bad behaviour of her younger sons decided to pack Maurice, Edward and their younger brother Philip off to Paris for a couple of years to learn some manners and how to conduct themselves as gentlemen.

Prince Edward of the Palatine.

It doesn’t appear to have had much effect on Maurice, who would later become a privateer after the end of the civil war or Philip, who would kill a man in a duel and be forced to flee his homeland but Edward seems to have embraced the Parisian lifestyle wholeheartedly – so much so that aged twenty, he returned to Paris in 1645, converted to Catholicism and secretly married the daughter of the Duc de Nevers.

His new bride, Anne de Gonzague was nine years older than him, blonde, witty in an indolent sort of way and absolutely infatuated with this ridiculously handsome but penniless young prince. Luckily she was as fabulously wealthy as he was church mouse poor and so the couple, who were known at the court of Louis XIV as the Prince and Princesse Palatine lived it up in high style after their marriage. Anne is an intriguing character – it appears that she was intended from an early age to become a nun but instead rebelled against this and fell madly in love with her cousin, the Duc de Guise who had also been destined for a religious career and had in fact been Archbishop of Rheims at one point before having to ditch this in order to succeed his father and elder brother to the dukedom.

Anne Gonzaga, Beaubrun. Photo: Chateau de Versailles.

It’s believed that Anne and the Duc de Guise married in secret in 1639 and she subsequently disguised herself as a man in order to travel with him. Certainly the two were well known to be having some sort of liaison, either legally or otherwise. Whatever happened, it all went awry in 1641 and the pair went their separate ways, leaving Anne free to marry her handsome prince four years later, apparently untroubled by the continued existence and rude health of what was rumoured to be her first husband.

Her new husband’s formidable and very Protestant mother was predictably FURIOUS when she heard not just about her son’s conversion to Catholicism but also his precipitous marriage to a bride not of her choosing. Her children may have been rapidly gaining a name for themselves throughout Europe as brilliant, independent, hot headed and unconventional eccentrics but this was Going Too Far in Elizabeth’s book and she announced in high dudgeon that she wished that he was dead.

Anne Gonzaga, Beaubrun, c1650.

However, to quote her best beloved Shakespeare, all’s well that ends well and in time Elizabeth and her son were reconciled – partially because he seems to have been just too darned charming to remain angry with for very long; partially because unlike the rest of her sons he never ever asked her for money and also because unlike the rest of their children at that point he very obligingly provided her at regular intervals with three pretty little granddaughters. We know that he and his wife visited Elizabeth at the Hague at least once and that she commissioned portraits of them both by Honthorst to hang alongside the rest of her family portraits there. We also have accounts of Edward very cheerfully going on shopping trips around Paris for his mother, acquiring all the most modish and fanciful trinkets for her delight.

Edward was to die in March 1663 after which Anne renounced her previously giddy and somewhat dissipated lifestyle and became really quite devout, in the manner of rather a lot of noblewomen of the time – devoting herself to good works and marrying her daughters off to suitably well connected gentlemen. In the scramble to secure the succession after the end of the Stuart dynasty, the daughters of Edward and Anne were better placed to succeed than the children of his younger sister Sophia but were unable to act on their superior claim and save us from the pudding faced Hanoverians due to the fact that Catholics are barred from the succession.

Anne Henriette Julie of Bavaria, Gobert, c1686.

Their eldest daughter, Louise Marie was married in 1670 to the Prince of Salm. The second girl, Anne Henriette Julie, pictured above in a gorgeous portrait by my beloved and under appreciated Gobert, made the most splendid match of all when she married the Prince de Condé in 1663 and Bénédicte Henriette, the youngest of Edward and Anne’s daughters married the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg in 1668 and was mother of Wilhelmine Amalia of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who would marry the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I in 1699.

Further reading:

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

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