Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia (1618-1680)

And I admit it would be easier for me to concede matter and extension to the soul, than the capacity of moving a body and of being moved, to an immaterial being. For, if the first occurred through 'information; the spirits that perform the movement would have to be intelligent, which you accord to nothing corporeal. And although in your metaphysical meditations you show the possibility of the second, it is, however, very difficult to comprehend that a soul, as you have described it, after having had the faculty and habit of reasoning well, can lose all of it on account of some vapors, and that, although it can subsist without the body and has nothing in common with it, is yet so ruled by it.
--from a letter to Descartes, June 1643

Elizabeth Timeline

1618 26, December Princess Elizabeth is born at Heidelberg to Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I of England and Elector Palatine Frederick V. She was the third child and eldest girl of the couple's thirteen children. For the first nine years of her life, she lives with her grandmother and her father's sister Elizabeth-Charlotte in Silesia

1619 Frederick becomes King of Bohemia. Before Elizabeth turns two, he loses his throne, his Palatine lands and the majority of his possessions. He and Elizabeth Stuart flee to Germany, leaving Elizabeth with her grandmother.

1627 (aprox.) Elizabeth rejoins her parents who are exiled in Holland. She is tutored with her siblings at the Prinsenhof in Leiden in court etiquette, scripture, mathematics, history, the sciences, jurisprudence, French, English, German, Dutch, Latin , and Greek. She earns the nickname "La Grecque" for her impressive knowledge of classical languages.

1629 Elizabeth's oldest brother drowns in a boating accident. King Frederick is devastated and never quit recovers his spirits.

1630 14, October. Princess Sophie is born at The Hague. She is the twelfth child and the youngest sister of Princess Elizabeth.

1631 Frederick, Elizabeth's father, dies.

1636 Due to the poverty of her family and her Protestant beliefs, Elizabeth gives up any thought of marriage. According to Beatrice Zedler, this was not distressing to Elizabeth, because "she was more interested in the life of study than marriage." (Hyp . 30)

1642 Elizabeth reads Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy. A family friend tells Descartes, who is also residing in Holland. Descartes has already heard of her mental abilities and wishes to meet her. Althou gh it is certain the meeting took place, there is no record of it.

1643 Elizabeth writes to Descartes to express regret that they are unable to meet and poses some questions regarding his theory of the dualism of the body and soul. This begins their correspondence which lasts until Descartes death in 1650.

1645 Elizabeth's brother, Edward, renounces the Protestant faith, becomes a Catholic and marries Anne of Gonzaga. Elizabeth unhappily writes of the conversion to Descartes, evidently forgetting he is a Catholic. Descartes replies that God uses differe nt means to draw souls to himself.

1646 Another brother, Philip stabs Monsieur L'Espinay to death in public. L'Espinay had offended the family by bragging of flirting with Elizabeth's mother and sister. Philip flees the country and joins the Spanish army. Although she disagrees with his actions, Elizabeth defends her brother's intentions. In doing so, she angers her mother, who sends her to Germany to stay with her aunt. During her stay, Elizabeth tutors her cousin Hedwig and introduced Descartes work to German professors. She attempts to arrange a visit to Queen Kristina of Sweden to request support for the return of her late father's Palatinate lands. Queen Kristina invites Descartes instead.

1649 Descartes accepts Kristina's invitation, in part to plead the case for Elizabeth's family.

1650 February. Descartes dies in Sweden.

1667 Elizabeth enters a Protestant convent at Herford in Westphalia. She serves as a coadjutrix, or assistant to the abbess, then as abbess. During her reign as abbess, she oversees the principality of the abby, which includes about seven thousand people, and the abby farms, vineyards, mills and factories. She also offers refuge to people whose religion is much different than hers, such as the followers of Jean de LaBadie, william Penn, Robert Barclay and other Quakers.

1680 8, February. Elizabeth dies after a long and painful illness. Before death, she orders her coffin, makes her will and writes a farewell letter to her sister, Louise.

Elisabeth Timeline Sources