Elizabeth of Bohemia (1618–1680)

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Elizabeth of Bohemia (1618–1680)

German philosopher, Princess Palatine, and abbess of Hervorden. Name variations: Elisabeth; Elizabeth of Hervorden; Elizabeth of the Palatinate; Elizabeth Simmern; "La Greque." Born on December 26, 1618, in Heidelberg, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany; died on February 8, 1680 (some sources cite February 11, 1681), in Herford, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany; daughter of Frederic V, king of Bohemia (Elector Palatine, also known as The Winter King) and Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596–1662); 13 brothers and sisters, including Sophia, electress of Hanover (1630–1714); educated by tutors. Was abbess of Hervorden Convent in Herford, Westphalia, Germany.

Selected works:

Die Briefe der Kinder des Winterkönigs. Hrsg. und mit einer Einleitung versehen von Karl Hauck (1908); Descartes, la princesse Elisabeth, et la reine Christine, d'apres des lettres inédites, par le comte Foucher de Careil (1909); Lettres sur la morale: correspondance avec la princess Elisabeth, Chanut et la reine Christine (1935).

Elizabeth of Bohemia's parents, Frederic V and Elizabeth Stuart (also known as Elizabeth of Bohemia [1596–1662]), were deposed as king and queen of Bohemia while she was still a child. In exile, Elizabeth was raised by her grandmother Louisa Juliana and an aunt in Silesia until the age of nine, when she joined her parents in Holland at the Hague Court. At the age of 20, she was offered the Bohemian throne but chose to remain at court in the Hague.

Elizabeth learned music, dancing, art, Latin, as well as sciences, and she took to Greek so well that she received the family nickname of "La Greque." In Holland, she met and became the disciple of the philosopher René Descartes, who is considered the father of modern philosophy for his move away from religious contemplation to a concentration on the way in which we experience the world. Of her 13 brothers and sisters, her sister Sophia, electress of Hanover , also became a philosophical disciple, following Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

As the disciple of Descartes, Elizabeth became known as a femme philosophe. But she was more than his pupil. Their long friendship and extensive correspondence, which was the primary medium of philosophical discourse at the time, influenced him greatly. In his introduction to Principles of Philosophy (1644), Descartes commends the intelligence of Elizabeth, whom he believed understood his writings better than anyone else, and who had an ease of understanding in both mathematics and philosophy that was like his own. He dedicated this, his largest work, to her. Her questions and criticisms were so provoking that his letters back to her became part of the content of his book Passions of the Soul (1646).

Elizabeth, a sufferer of recurring depression, was a single woman who spent most of her early adult life at the homes of various relatives. Around 1661, she joined the Protestant Convent at Hervorden, in Herford, Westphalia, as a coadjutor. In 1661, she acquired the important position of abbess at Hervorden, which provided her both independence and stature. Anna Maria van Schurmann , a disciple of Descartes with whom Elizabeth had corresponded, took refuge in the Convent from religious persecution. During this time, they became good friends. Elizabeth retained her position as abbess until her death in 1680 after a long illness.


Atherton, Margaret. Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994.

Kersey, Ethel M. Women Philosophers: a Bio-critical Source Book. NY: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Waithe, Mary Ellen, ed. A History of Women Philosophers. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publications, 1987–1995.

Catherine Hundleby , M.A. Philosophy, University of Guelph

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Elizabeth of Bohemia (1618–1680)

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Elizabeth of Bohemia (1618–1680)