The National Portrait Gallery and Montacute House

Elizabeth of Bohemia

The current exhibition in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery is 'Elizabeth of Bohemia: The Winter Queen'.

Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596-1662)

Elizabeth of Bohemia was an extraordinary political and cultural figure in the networks of power that spanned seventeenth-century Europe. Born in Scotland, Elizabeth was the daughter of James VI of Scotland and I of England, the goddaughter of Elizabeth I, sister of Charles I and grandmother of George I.  

This special display in Room 4 exploring Elizabeth’s life and portraits has been developed by the National Trust and the National Portrait Gallery, in partnership with the University of Bristol, as part of the National Trust’s year of events on ‘Women and Power’.

Strikingly beautiful and highly educated, at age 16 Elizabeth was married to a German count, Frederick, Elector Palatine. Ruling from Heidelberg, the Protestant couple were drawn into the religious wars that raged across Christian Europe when Frederick was offered, and accepted, the crown of Bohemia. After little more than a year, they were expelled from Prague, the capital of Bohemia, and their German dominions by Catholic forces and forced to flee to The Netherlands where they settled in The Hague.

Elizabeth spent the rest of her life campaigning for the restitution of the German lands of the Palatinate, first to her husband, and then to her children. Hundreds of her letters survive, many written in code. Initially described in scorn as the ‘Winter Queen’ because her reign in Bohemia had lasted only a single winter, the term was adopted by her supporters as a sign of affectionate respect.

Elizabeth became a symbol of militant Protestantism in Europe whose supporters proclaimed allegiance to her as ‘Queen of Hearts’. Her descendants played a crucial role in the continuity of Protestant rule in Britain: her grandson, the eldest son of her youngest daughter Sophia, was invited to take the British throne as George I after the Stuart line ended with the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

The Exhibition

This display was inspired by an important early seventeenth-century bed associated with Elizabeth’s marriage, which is on permanent display in the Crimson Bedroom at Montacute House. The ornate carved headboard includes the Royal Arms of James I, flanked by the Prince of Wales escutcheon and the arms of the Elector Palatine. Sir Edward Phelips, the builder of Montacute House, was closely associated with the Stuart royal family and paid for a masque written in celebration of Elizabeth’s marriage in 1613.

The Long Gallery

Room One – Portrait in Focus
Elizabeth of Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (1527?-1608), known as 'Bess of Hardwick', rose from a modest gentry family to become one of the wealthiest people in Elizabethan England.

Room Two – The Court of Henry VIII
This room explores the portraiture of some of the key figures from Henry’s court including the man himself and his wife, Jane Seymour.

Room Three – Elizabethan England
The growing interest in portraiture during Elizabeth’s reign can be seen in this room

Room Four – Elizabeth of Bohemia: The Winter Queen

Room Five – The Jacobean Court
This very special portrait is directly linked to Montacute and the Phelips family. It is believed that the portrait was given by King James I to Edward Phelips in recognition of his services and support of the crown.  Edward played a key role in one of the events of the century, the trial of Guy Fawkes after the Gunpowder plot in 1604; he was a trained lawyer and led the opening argument for the prosecution.