Monday, September 09, 2019

Review of Elizabeth of Bohemia: A Novel about Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen by David Elias

Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I of England, narrates her own story in Elias’s wide-ranging novel. Her life encompasses many seismic events, from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which was meant to kill her father and install her as a puppet queen for the Catholics, to the origins of the devastating Thirty Years’ War, followed by years of strain and exile in the Netherlands. In short, her dramatic story is ripe for fictional treatment. However, the result is an uneven gallop through 17th-century European history rather than a sweeping biographical epic of a strong-willed woman’s life.

The story begins as her father arranges her marriage to Frederick, Count Palatine of the Rhine, a Protestant prince of her own age. A young woman with a flair for the dramatic, Elizabeth is unrealistically upset with her parents for not letting her choose her own husband, and later causes a scene by kissing Frederick before a large crowd. The couple settles in Heidelberg; she later goads him into taking the crown of Bohemia and bears him thirteen children. Their short reign in Bohemia gives her the famous nickname of the “Winter Queen.”

Periods of overwrought emotion (she lusts after the English statesman and explorer incorrectly referred to many times as “Sir Raleigh”) alternate with more realistic, lively scenes and staid recitations of events. Elizabeth’s defining motive seems to be rebellion, and the era’s complicated political scene doesn’t come into clear view. Frederick is called a “Bohemian prince” years too early, and a strange subplot involving Elizabeth’s cousin, Arabella Stuart, serves no real purpose. The descriptions of fashion and décor are well done, however. Unfortunately, despite evocative period language and some truly moving moments as Elizabeth reflects on her family’s tragedies, readers interested in her life may not find this novel sufficiently satisfying.

Elizabeth of Bohemia was published by ECW Press (a Canadian small press) in June, and I'd reviewed it from NetGalley for the Historical Novels Review. This was a disappointing read, unfortunately. The later part of Elizabeth Stuart's life is well presented in Nicola Cornick's timeslip novel House of Shadows. She also appears in Jane Stevenson's The Winter Queen, which imagines a relationship between Elizabeth and an African prince.


  1. I loved that whole trilogy by Stevenson!

  2. I've been meaning to read those books for the longest time. Glad to hear your recommendation!

  3. I recently finished "The Phantom Tree" by Cornick and enjoyed it - I'll have to add "House of Shadows" to my TBR list.

  4. I really enjoy Cornick's timeslip novels.

  5. Anonymous1:03 PM

    Hers is one of those lives which, had it not occurred, would have been invented. What a wide net it cast.

    Sarah OL

    1. Yes. I'm still waiting for a novel that does justice to the full range of her life experiences.