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To celebrate the winter solstice, Ferrebeekeeper presented a gallery of winter monarchs—icy kings, queens, and princesses who symbolically represent the frozen majesty of winter.  However European history contains a real “winter king” Frederick V (1596 – 1632), a Calvinist intellectual and mystic who was famous for building the Hortus Palatinus, one of the most renowned of Baroque gardens.  Frederick V was not called “the winter king” because he personified the savage nature of winter.  He received the nickname from enemies who derisively predicted that he would only be king of Bohemia for a single winter–and his enemies were entirely right.  The short life of Frederick V was a series of missteps, blunders, catastrophes, and regrets.  Today he is principally remembered for starting the Thirty Years War—Europe’s most destructive conflict until the age of Napoleon (or maybe until World War I).

Portrait of Frederick (Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt, 1613)

Frederick V was born as heir to the Electoral Palatinate, a powerful feudal territory whose lord was one of the hereditary electors responsible for choosing the Holy Roman Emperor.  His father, Count Palatinate Frederick IV, died young from “extravagant living” (Frederick IV was an alcoholic who left control of his lands to a regent while he sat in the palace and drank).  Thus, when Frederick V was 14 he became one of Germany’s most powerful lords—although shadows were already gathering around him.  The Golden Bull of 1356 which determined important constitutional aspects of the Holy Roman Empire stipulated that “Frederick’s closest male relative would serve as his guardian and as regent of Electoral Palatinate until Frederick reached the age of majority.”  The tangled ancestry of German nobility is evident in Frederick’s crest–so chaotically garish that it would even make Nascar proud—but it was determined that (Catholic) Count Palatine of Neuburg was his closest relative.  Frederick V’s family was traditionally Calvinist and so this solution was not acceptable.  The ensuing dispute eventually resulted in an early majority for young Ferdinand V (who became his own master at the age of 17) but it ensured a toxic legacy among the religiously divided Electors.

The Coat of Arms of Frederick V of the Palatinate...Good grief...

Frederick V also was married at the age of 16 to Elizabeth Stuart (daughter of James I) at the royal chapel at the Palace of Whitehall. In 1614, when he was 18,  Frederick attended a meeting of the Protestant Union (a group of powerful German Lords who championed the Protestant cause).  During the meeting, Frederick became ill with a fever.  Although he had displayed some initial promise as a ruler, after the illness Frederick’s character changed.  He became depressed and listless and left many critical decisions to his chancellor, Christian I, Prince of Anhalt-Bernburg (the same minister who had ruled on behalf of Frederick IV).  It was against such a background that the crown of Bohemia was thrust upon him.

Frederick V wearing the Crown of St. Wenceslas (Gerard van Honthorst, 1634, oil on canvas)

Bohemia was an elective monarchy which chose its own king, but, despite this high title, said king answered to the Holy Roman Emperor.  In fact since 1555 the Holy Roman Emperor had always also been the King of Bohemia, but thanks to religious controversy and schism sweeping Europe, Bohemia’s Protestant electors were in no mood to elect and affirm the Catholic Emperor Ferdinand II.  Frederick V, callow, melancholic, and sick, was elected as king of Bohemia in 1619 amidst the turmoil of the Bohemian revolt.  Frederick was crowned with the (magical cursed) Crown of Saint Wenceslas in St. Vitus Cathedral on 4 November 1619. At the time Bohemia was not exactly a proper kingdom (having been held for so long by the Holy Roman Emperor) and Frederick V soon found he had only very limited ability to raise funds.  This became important when Emperor Ferdinand II decided to take the field to contest Bohemia.  The Emperor’s army was ably led by Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, who seized Frederick V’s ancestral lands in the Central Palatinate before marching on Prague.  On 8 November 1620, Frederick V’s army was destroyed in the Battle of White Mountain.  Bohemia was lost, its people were cruelly ground beneath the popish & authoritarian foot of Ferdinand II, and Frederick V was forced into exile–first to Silesia and ultimately to the Hague in Holland.

The Battle of White Mountain (Peter Snayers, 1620)

Since he maintained the pageantry and splendor of a royal court while in the Hague, Frederick V quickly lavished away the huge sums of money which foreign potentates had granted him to pursue his cause.  He was unlucky too. On a trip to view the captured Spanish treasure fleet,  his boat capsized, which caused his eldest son, Frederick Henry of the Palatinate to drown (which also drowned hopes for a marriage between Frederick Henry and a Spanish princess).  Frederick V alienated and refused Gustavus Adolphus, the one sovereign who could have regained his throne and lands for him (although Gustavus would also have demanded that Frederick V become a subject).  Frederick died in1632, of a “pestilential fever”. His internal organs were buried in Oppenheim, but his preserved body was slated for final burial elsewhere.  Unfortunately, while in transit Frederick V’s dead body somehow got caught up in the Spanish assault on Frankenthal and vanished.  His final resting place is unknown (although we do know where his internal organs are interred).

Frederick V's daughter Sophia, dressed as an Indian (Painted by her sister, Louise Hollandine of the Palatinate around 1644)

Frederick’s life was ruined by reaching for a crown which should never have been his (and which, at the time, actually conferred little royal dignity or authority anyway). Yet this troubling legacy of ruination resulted in an end he would probably never have foreseen.  Frederick V had married the daughter of James I of England.  England had its own religious sectarian problems which were ended by Parliament when it signed the Act of Settlement in 1701.  The document settled the English secession for once and all on an obscure Protestant heir—Frederick’s  youngest daughter Sophia, Electress of Hanover.  Sophia, a patroness of art, philosophy, music, and culture, died in 1714, just before Queen Anne of England passed away, but her son George inherited the crown that would have been hers.  All subsequent monarchs of Great Britain were (and are) direct descendants of the unlucky Winter King.

The Crown of Saint Wenceslas

A large number of the medieval crowns from Central Europe have gone missing over the years. These objects get snatched up and melted down by Prussians–like the crown of Bolesław–or they surreptitiously vanish from history forever like the beautiful crown of Zvonimir. Even the pieces that survive, such as the famous crown of St. Stephen, tend to go on strange adventures and end up in the hands of Jimmy Carter.

Not so the ancient crown of Saint Wenceslas, which was used in the coronation ceremonies for the kings of Bohemia.  That crown is locked up tight in a secret chamber in a secret chapel in the huge cathedral of Saint Vitus.  Seven Czech high officials possess keys—all of which must be used together.  Perhaps it is well that the crown is locked up so tightly—it is said to lie under a magic curse.

The Crown of Saint Wenceslas (a different angle)

The crown was made in 1347 for the eleventh king of Bohemia (and Holy Roman Emperor) Charles IV.  It is wrought of extremely pure gold and decorated with 19 sapphires, 44 spinels, 1 ruby, 30 emeralds and 20 pearls.  Charles dedicated the crown to Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, and it is believed the Saint cannot abide any usurper to wear the crown (Saint Wenceslas was presumed to harbor a grudge about usurpers, having been murdered for a crown by his own brother).  Allegedly the Saint will smite down any unworthy soul who dons the crown within a year after he puts it on (the usurper that is—not Saint Wenceslas).It is rumored that Reinhard Heydrich, AKA “The Hangman”, the ruthless Nazi official in charge of the annexed portions of Czechoslovakia (which included St. Vitus Cathedral) could not risk the allure of the crown and secretly placed it on his head during a conqueror’s tour of St. Wenceslas Chapel. Heydrich was a favorite of Hitler’s who was heard to remark “We will Germanize the Czech vermin.” But he didn’t have much of a chance for Germanizing anyone–he was mortally wounded by British-trained Czech commandos in the awesomely named “Operation Anthropoid” less than a year after his tour of St. Vitus—a colorful and lurid tale for a colorful and lurid treasure.

The Skull of Saint Wenceslas wearing a Premyslid Eagle Circlet--Patron Saint of Bohemia, Brewing, Fuel-giving, & Nazi-killing

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