A royal wedding for Valentine’s Day, 1613

A romantic blog for Valentine’s day; four hundred years ago today James VI & I’s daughter Elizabeth married the Elector Palatine, Frederick V. This lavish wedding had serious consequences for British politics…

Nicholas_Hilliard_019On Valentine’s day in 1613 James I’s only surviving daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was married to the young Elector Palatine, Frederick V.  Aside from being the ruler of one of the seven key states within the Holy Roman Empire, Frederick was the leader of the Protestant Evangelical Union, a coalition of German protestant states founded by his father against the influence of the Catholic Habsburgs. This marriage was intended to strengthen the ties between Britain and the German protestant states.

The wedding celebrations were spectacular, and lasted considerably longer than recent royal weddings! The build up to the wedding day itself included a massive firework display over the Thames:

The Maister-gunner of England on the shore did performe many skilful and ingenious exploites with great bumbards, shooting up many artificial balls of fire into the ayre, which flew up in one whole fierie ball, and in their falling dispersed into divers streams like rainebowes in many innumerable fires.

Followed by a mock ‘sea battle’ on the Thames that re-enacted the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, with

six and thirty sail of great pinnacles, gallies, galleesses, carrichs, with great store of other smaller vessels, so trimmed, furnished and painted, that I believe there was never such a fleet seen.

The wedding itself took place in the Royal Chapel Palace in Whitehall and has been immortalised in John Donne’s poem ‘Epithalamion, or Marriage Song, on the Lady Elizabeth and Count Palatine being married on St Valentines Day.’ Elizabeth, ‘in her virgin robes, clothed in a gowne of white satin, richly embroidered…upon her head a crown of refined golde,’ wore so many jewels and diamonds they ‘dazzled and amazed the eies of the beholders’. The celebrations still weren’t finished, with ‘dancing, masking and revelling’ to come afterwards.

In addition to the spectacle and fittingly for a romantic story, the marriage between the two, who had only met briefly before their wedding day, was reported to be happy and successful. Elizabeth gave birth to thirteen children and after they were married Frederick added an ‘English wing’ to his castle in Heidelberg for her. (Ladies, try not to remember that and still be pleased with today’s gifts of red roses!)

The marriage was to have dramatic consequences for British politics and the British monarchy, however. In 1619 Frederick claimed the Bohemian crown after a rebellion against the Habsburgs, an act which began the Thirty Years’ War and caused a very unhappy James I to call the 1621 parliament to support his son-in-law. Even more significantly, Elizabeth and Frederick’s youngest daughter, Sophia of Hanover, became the heir to the English throne following the Act of Settlement in 1701. Her family, the Protestant Hanoverian dynasty, inherited the throne after the last Stuart monarch, Anne, died in 1714.

[All quotations from J. Nichols, The Progresses of James I, vol II (1828). Portrait of Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1605-10, thanks to The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002]


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