The Hague Courts of Elizabeth of Bohemia and Mary Stuart: Theatrical and Ceremonial Cultures

Ann Hughes (Keele University) and
Julie Sanders (University of Nottingham)

Ann Hughes and Julie Sanders. "The Hague Courts of Elizabeth of Bohemia and Mary Stuart: Theatrical and Ceremonial Cultures". Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 15 (September, 2007) 3.1-23 <URL:>.

  1. In both literary and historical scholarship, there has been considerable interest in the exiled courtly communities of the mid-seventeenth century as sites of agency and resistance in political and cultural terms. Lois Potter in her pioneering study Secret Rites and Secret Writing and more recently Hero Chalmers in her Royalist Women Writers, as well as other complementary studies of specific individuals in the context of exile, such as Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, or Edward Hyde, have situated these communities firmly within a system of codified allegiances and expressions of allegiance, exploring their deployment and mobilization of specific literary genres, not least drama, as conscious acts of resistance in the face of the Cromwellian interregnum (Potter; Chalmers). We do not aim necessarily to undo those readings in what we will suggest here about the ‘courts’ of Elizabeth of Bohemia and Mary Stuart, the Princess Royal, in one specific site of English courtly exile during the 1640s and 1650s, that of the Low Countries, and The Hague in particular. Indeed, it would be foolish to discount the modes of political resistance implicit in the representations of, for example, warrior women and the codified pastoral play that shaped the dramatic and poetic output of many exilic writers who had contact with the Low Countries, among them Cavendish herself, Thomas Killigrew, and others, and which, as we will see later, found their own purchase in the cultural productions of the English royalist exiles in The Hague during these decades (Raber; Rees). But what has become increasingly clear to us through our collaborative research into women in Low Countries communities in this period (1644-1664) – work that has encompassed archival research in the Netherlands, Belgium, and the United Kingdom – is that the royalist exiled communities were neither some easily identified homogenous group that can be satisfactorily described in one set of terms, or through one set of practices – material, political, or cultural – and nor were they all, or always, necessarily radicalized by the experience of exile.[1]  Certainly in the instances of the Low Countries’ communities that we have been studying, it appears to be almost as frequently the case that both the groups and the individuals involved became deeply embedded in, sometimes creators of, local networks and practices, and that their cultural productions and political opinions must be seen as much as a product of, and at the very least inflected by, this very embeddedness as conscious acts of utterance within a wider campaign of royalist allegiance and resistance.

  2.  One helpful mode of thinking about the effects of this embedded identity is to think in terms of multiple audiences for the cultural and political self-constructions of these communities and their constituent individuals in exile, and to consider the ways in which their actions, not least literary, were read, understood, and interpreted by the indigenous cultures which they had temporarily joined or allied themselves with, as much as by their former communities and families back home in England.[2] We are, then, thinking here about multiple understandings of role and identity in the ‘collective habits’ and practices of these particular émigré communities.[3] If one of the more interesting aspects of recent developments in a number of overlapping scholarly areas of interest, in particular history, literature, biography, and geography is the revised and renewed value and emphasis placed on the idea of the ‘group’ or the concept of the ‘network’, then how might the application of these ideas to the operations of royalist exile communities – such as those which settled, either temporarily or on a longer term basis, as part of the satellite Stuart courts in The Hague – begin to offer us a model of exile that is no longer simply, or only, about the hermetically sealed expatriate community looking longingly homewards, but one that also engages with ideas of adaptation, embedding, and interaction? In The Hague the potential significance of an embryonic salon culture – itself consciously modelled on the cultural practices of Paris, site of another major cluster of English royalist exiles centred on the figure of the exiled queen Henrietta Maria at the Palais de Louvre – and of vibrant intellectual and cultural groupings, as well as the epistolary networks which often promoted their ideas in addition to the related circulation of news and gossip, all becomes clearer within this frame of understanding. This implicates the royalist expatriates in both localized and cross-continental relationships.[4] Exile from this angle or optic, then, starts to look like a far more permeable and mobile concept. Just as James Knowles, Clare McManus, and others have argued for a plural understanding of early modern courts and their operations, so we would argue that there is a need to account for many different forms, manifestations, and practices of royalist exile (Knowles, ‘Tied’ 530; McManus).

  3. In any discussion of royalist exiles in the mid-seventeenth century, The Hague proves a distinctive case, politically, socially, and geographically. In spatial and architectural terms its intimacy as a geopolitical centre was not insignificant. Much of the courtly and administrative activity was centred on the Binnenhof area, a remarkably open complex of political and noble buildings. Topographically speaking, The Hague’s socio-political life was focused around the city’s central lake, the Vijver. In this district were located the States General, States of Holland, the Court of Justice, the Audit office, the Supreme Court, and many of the offices for connected officials and administrators, let alone the trades people who serviced this world. Significant events clustered around these central spaces: the Plein, the Voorhout, and the Vijverberg. Elizabeth of Bohemia’s residence was within minutes’ walking distance of here at Kneuterdijk, in the former residence of the executed Grand Pensionary of Holland, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (so that even her residence had symbolic connotations). Additionally, she and her household occupied part of the neighbouring property, the Wassanaer Hof, which also housed one of van Oldenbarnevelt’s daughters and her husband, who was a diplomat. This overlapping world of close encounters and sheer proximity creates a very particular and heightened sense of community, and also starts to explain why social gatherings such as theatrical performances, dances, or literary salons became a means for that community to come together and cement its relationships, but also acted a site for the focus of particular tensions and rivalries. As we shall see, the factionalism, both internal and external, that beset these courtly cultures in exile came to the fore at specific moments of ceremonial in The Hague.

  4. Olaf Mörke has helpfully described the competing ‘courtly’ elements to be found in the vicinity of the Binnenhof, and one salient contemporary observation on this theme derives from Secretary Edward Nicholas, who commented in a letter to Hatton: ‘there are as great factions here in the little courts as in that of the D[uke] of York. Happiest are they who have the least to do with them’ (Mörke 59; Nicholas i: 204). The remarkable (and remarked upon) presence of these competing ‘little courts’ had been occasioned by a series of political events and transitions of power that had been played out on the larger European stage. The Orange court had moved to The Hague in 1580, forced by conflict to abandon its traditional power centres in Brussels and Breda. The House of Orange was an intriguing political exception in itself, in that it was effectively a noble household, although by the seventeenth century it was developing the trappings and ceremonials of a European royal court (hence the attraction for them of a Stuart marriage). The political role of the Orange princes, however, depended on their relationship with the separate states of the young republic and particularly on the attitude of the urban elites of Holland. The theatrical and theatricalized ‘display’ of power or assumed power in this context, as we will argue later, becomes doubly important. But the House of Orange was not the only ‘displaced’ courtly community to find a base in The Hague in the seventeenth century, since in 1621 the so-called Winter King and Queen arrived there from the Palatinate. Elizabeth of Bohemia, the Winter Queen, was the sister of Charles I which made her the most senior royal female in The Hague. The potential for rivalry between these two ‘courts’, both with a heightened sense of the external challenges to their power and authenticity, seemed inevitable.

  5. The picture is further complicated after 1641, when at the age of just nine years old, Elizabeth’s niece, Princess Mary, daughter of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, was married to Willem II, son of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange. A year after her marriage in Whitehall, Mary was accompanied to The Hague by her mother and numerous members of what was to become her royal household there. This was a royal household in a republic; a contradiction in terms in itself.  It is indicative of Mary Stuart’s complex and sometimes shifting status that she is known in written texts by a variety of titles. In the register book of the Breda Magistrates, while acting to confirm appointments in her role as Princess of Orange and (precariously) guardian to her young son in this Orange-Nassau controlled town, she is described as ‘Maria by der Gratien Godis Princesse van groot Britanien Douariere van Orange’(Breda Gemeente Archief. Inv. 1-1a-14: fols. 256v, 270r). In letters of intelligence sent to John Thurloe she is sometimes the Princess Royal, the sister of the reputed king, or ‘my lady his mother’, that is to say mother of the young Prince of Orange; or even, as in one intercepted letter, ‘my Lady Stanhope’s mistress’ (Thurloe i: 371, 391, 515).[5] For Secretary Nicholas, she is invariably ‘the good princess’, usually when he is condemning her advisors (For example, Nicholas Papers i; 209).

  6. Particularly after the death of her husband in 1650, Mary held a contested and ambiguous role in the tangled affairs not only of the House of Stuart but also the House of Orange and the United Provinces. Following Willem II’s aborted coup against the States of Holland, the senior House of Orange was excluded from the Stadtholdership for a generation until 1672; the exclusion was confirmed in a secret clause of the 1654 treaty that ended the first Anglo-Dutch war. It was not at all clear where Mary’s first loyalties should lie since any help for her brother compromised her position within the polity of the United Provinces and there were some undignified tussles for her attention and influence. As our studies have evidenced, exile dislocates hierarchies and complicates notions of ideals and reality, theory and practice. Supporters of the Stuart family continued to place great hope in Mary’s liminal position and the possibility that she might secure assistance from the House of Orange for the English royalist cause. There was deep anxiety in the royalist ranks therefore about the perceived bitter divisions between Mary and her mother-in-law the Dowager Amalia van Solms over the education and governance of Mary’s son, Willem Henrik, and the damage this might do to such hopes. In 1654, for example, Nicholas is deeply disturbed when on a visit to Lord Heenvliet’s Teylingen residence the Princess ‘would not much as speak or look upon me’ (Nicholas ii:63). Royalist concerns about her role in Dutch affairs appear to confirm the relative autonomy Mary had in The Hague. There are numerous examples of worried reflections on her independent action and mind in both the Clarendon and Nicholas papers and in letters intercepted by the parliamentarian regime; for example, Daniel O’Neill, in a letter to Prince Charles on 30 November 1655, notes: ‘I believe your majesty will not be a little troubled to find hir hyghnesse royal soe passionate for hir jurney into France att a tyme, when it may be, it will bee for your majesty’s advantage to have noe commerce with that country’ (Thurloe i: 681). O’Neill in fact suggests cynically in response to this concern that Charles should manipulate Mary’s rivalry with Amalia in order to keep her resident in the Low Countries, advising he suggest to her ‘that the toune of Amsterdam does intend in March to invite hir hyghnes and the little prince thether; and that iff shee should bee absent, the princess dowager will be invited to goe along with the prince, whom, iff she once get the possessione of, sheee’ll never quit, having now gott more interest in Holland then the princess royal has’ (Thurloe i: 681). In practice, Charles relented on this particular issue and Mary travelled to France with his blessing but the incident is indicative of how her every movement and action was subject to interpretation by a range of often conflicting advisors and individuals seeking to co-opt her in support of their own factional causes and concerns. Charles in particular placed persistent pressure on Mary to cooperate with Amalia in the 1650s. It was perhaps inevitable that as a result of all this a heightened sense of performance would pertain for both Elizabeth and Mary during their residencies in the Low Countries. In recovering a sense of their political and cultural agency, both in The Hague and within the context of their own family and its complex domestic politics, however, we need simultaneously to recover the sense of a broader European context for their actions.

  7. The Hague by the 1640s, then, was not only host to the House of Orange but to two complex, distinct and yet connected, English female royal households. As well as being significant political figureheads for the beleaguered English court in exile, both Elizabeth and Mary would prove central to the social and cultural life of the community they had joined, bringing with them elements of the courtly culture they had known and enjoyed in England and adapting them to their new surroundings. Elizabeth of Bohemia was well-versed in the theatrical aspects of Stuart court culture by the time that she left England with her new husband for what would become a life of double exile, severed by 1621 both from her home and her husband’s newly appropriated domain of the Palatinate. The wedding celebrations for Elizabeth and Frederick in 1613 London had been the occasion for several commissioned dances, masques, and entertainments and Elizabeth had just a few years earlier danced the part of the iconic River Thames in Samuel Daniel’s court masque, Tethys Festival (1610). She had also been an active spectator of court masques by Ben Jonson and others at Whitehall in the years leading up to her marriage. Elizabeth brought these English and Scottish masquing precedents with her to a Hague that was already adapting to the House of Orange’s increasing sense of the importance of self-presentation and self-fashioning as part of image control on the European and domestic political stages (Keblusek ‘The Bohemian Court’). Marika Keblusek, for example, discusses a range of House of Orange-sponsored theatricals and ballets that took place in the 1630s and 1640s, including a grand ballet that welcomed Queen Henrietta Maria and Princess Mary to The Hague in 1642 (Keblusek ‘A divertissement’ 195-6). What we find, then, is that both Elizabeth’s and Mary’s Stuart cultural heritage interacts and hybridizes with that of the host culture of the Netherlands (Keblusek ‘A divertissement’ 194-5).[6]

  8. Mary, although just a child when she travelled to her new home in the Netherlands, and therefore someone with a less direct experience as a court masquer than Elizabeth of Bohemia, nevertheless demonstrates the influence of her mother’s extensive involvement in masquing and entertainments as patron and performer in 1630s England, in the performance and enactment of her own theatrical tastes, preferences, and practices as she moved into adulthood in The Hague (Britland; Veevers). Correspondence between members of the Stuart Royal family in the 1650s hints at the frequent involvement by these women in theatrical pursuits, albeit in a largely private and amateur capacity. Masques and entertainments on an understandably smaller scale than those that are associated with Caroline court culture in the 1630s took place on regular occasions at both Mary’s and Elizabeth’s residences. On 27 December 1655 Elizabeth wrote that in the past week after dinner they had 'a new divertissement of little plays' both at hers and Mary's residences (Thurloe I: 672; Keblusek ‘A divertissement‘ 199). In another letter, dated 13 December 1655, she writes to Prince Charles in Cologne of his sister's health: ‘My dear neece [Mary] recovers her health and good looks extremlie by her exercises; she twice dancing with the maskers has done her much good. We had it two nights‘ (Thurloe I: 672). Another letter of the 17 January describes Mary being ‘dressed like an Amazon‘ for one performance, directly recalling her mother's predilections for such costumes in Caroline court performances, such as the William Davenant-composed masque of 1640, Salmacida Spolia (Thurloe I: 674). [7] We can, then, identify a rich matrix of continuity of action, political symbolism, and theatrical semiotics taking place in these knowing encounters by exiled royalists with the theatrical cultures of both their home and host communities.

  9. In 1655 Princess Mary herself writes to her brother that she is visiting Elizabeth’s residence where ‘we play with little plays’ (Keblusek ‘A divertissement’ 197). When overseeing her own theatrical entertainments, Mary preferred to stage them at the Honselaarsdijk and Teylingen residences which were outside the intense confines of The Hague itself. Tantalizing details in the archives hint at her active involvement in such events as alternately commissioner, audience, and even occasionally as wardrobe mistress.[8] One particular entry in the Clarendon State Papers records: ‘The Princess Royal is going on Wednesday next to Hounsler-dike, where the play of King and no King is to be acted; she bestows costly clothes on some of the actors and to one of the gentlewomen she has given a cloth of silver laid with forty gold laces before’ (Calendar Clarendon ii: 353).[9] The play performed at Mary’s behest by members of her household in 1654 was Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s 1611 tragicomedy A King and No King.[10] This particular production and the choice of play have been much cited in recent scholarship, though sometimes in contradictory fashion. Lois Potter records that it was the implications of the play’s title that occasioned most discussion among contemporaries. She notes that when in a letter of 23 April 1654 the son of Secretary Nicholas expressed his disapproval at the performance, Nicholas responded that it did look ‘As if Cromwell himself had made choice of and appointed it of purpose to have thrown scorn on the king’ (Potter 63 citing Nicholas 207).[11] He goes on to suggest that the event was a scandal in the eyes of many: ‘All good and discreet persons here, as well Dutch as English and Scots are extremely scandalised’ (Nicholas ii: 66). But as if to confirm the sense of multiple and sometimes conflicting audiences for these exilic theatrical performances, other contemporary comments suggest that it was the very title of the play, as opposed to its dramatic content, that appealed directly to the Hague royalists who were lamenting the crownless and countryless state of their wandering monarch, who was at that point temporarily ensconced in Cologne: ‘the very name of which seems to please many in her Court more than the play itself’ (Clarendon State Papers ii: 339).[12]

  10. The Whitsuntide performance of the play on 23 April 1654 again suggests a certain continuity of practice with the Caroline court masquing season which followed a festive calendar of programming (despite the comment in the Clarendon State Papers that it was an ‘extravagant, unseasonable follie’ [Clarendon State Papers ii: 350, 339]). But closer attention to A King and No King suggests that the play’s resonant and suggestive title was not the sole reason for its choice for a Hague performance in 1654. Genre is certainly another motivating factor. The governing taste in the Princess Royal’s household appears to have been for French and English tragicomedies of the kind that had begun to be directly associated with Caroline court culture in the 1630s. That decade had witnessed several significant revivals of plays in this mixed mode by Beaumont and Fletcher. It should perhaps come as no surprise then that when exiled royalists looked to dramatic texts to speak to their present condition in the 1640s and 1650s, the heavily coded and allegorical possibilities of pastoral and tragicomedy proved immensely appealing, as well as enabling gestures of recollection and solidarity with the lost Caroline court. A King and No King would have been a particularly pertinent intervention in this regard. The play, although first performed in 1611 and first published in 1619, had enjoyed renewed life and relevance during the 1630s. It was reprinted in both 1631 and 1639 (the third and fourth quartos, respectively) and enjoyed performances at the court in Whitehall in both the 1630-1 and 1636-7 seasons. The play’s recent Revels editor Lee Bliss describes it as having had ‘sustained popularity through the Caroline years’ (Beaumont and Fletcher 32). Once again, while Princess Mary herself would have been too young to have direct memories of those 1630s performances, the significance of the play to royalist culture as a result would not have gone unregistered either by her or older English members of the audience. The text had been further promoted in a pro-Stuart context by Royalist printer Humphrey Moseley’s issuing in London in 1647 of the first Folio of Beaumont and Fletcher‘s works.[13] The Hague performance of the Beaumont and Fletcher tragicomedy in 1654 needs to be understood therefore within a matrix of interactions between ideas of genre and social literary codes, direct and masked political allusion and self-referentiality, and inherited Caroline and Stuart masquing and cultural practices. It was a remobilization of a very particular text and a resonant genre in the very particular context of The Hague and the performance, albeit only available to us in a series of archival fragments and glancing references, needs to be considered in this light.[14] We would argue that the audiences for these theatrical events in The Hague and elsewhere in the 1640s and 1650s were very subtle respondents to the multiple messages encoded in the event and A King and No King appealed as a text at every level, not just for its suggestive title. As Lee Bliss notes, it had been read as a political analogue even at its first performances, when its themes of political matchmaking appeared to resonate with James VI and I’s activities on behalf of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Charles in his attempt to secure high-profile European marriages for them both (Beaumont and Fletcher 18; Lesser). The ending of the play where ‘To ensure a happy ending, the whole royal household needs reconstituting’ could not have gone unremarked in 1654 (Beaumont and Fletcher 25). The Hague audiences on that occasion would have easily registered the ‘Janus-faced qualities’ of the text and that as a play it ‘partakes of the nostalgia associated with its genre, yet . . . looks ahead toward the new world rather than back to a stable social order’ (Beaumont and Fletcher 28). In recuperating a fuller understanding of the theatrical culture of the Hague courts of Elizabeth and Mary we need to credit the audiences for these events with a mobile and subtle capacity for understanding the works being performed.

  11. A further rich example of the complex operation of reception and interpretation among royalist exile communities can be found in the dramatic output of William Lower on behalf of both Elizabeth and Mary in The Hague in the 1650s. Lower, who had been a very minor Caroline dramatist in 1630s London, found a more prominent role in exile (Lower A3v, 6). He not only translated dramatic works by Pierre Corneille and Philippe Quinault for performance but he also wrote and published original plays. The Noble Ingratitude was dedicated to Elizabeth of Bohemia in 1659 and in 1658 he had produced a pastoral drama, The Enchanted Lovers, which was simultaneously published in The Hague and London, and which appeared to make allegorical capital from the situation of the English royalist exiles in The Hague and in particular the precarious position of ‘contained power’ in which both Elizabeth and Mary found themselves.

  12. The play concerns a group of exiled nobles who find themselves in the kingdom of Portugal. Early on in the text, a character called Mercator observes
    I saw among them
    Some noble strangers clad in pastoral weeds
    That for the honour of this Island chose it
    Their sanctuary and repose (Lower A3v, 6).
    It is the relationship of this group of exiles with their host community and territory as it is described and enacted in the play that is most intriguing in the light of the political situation of The Hague in the 1650s. These ‘noble strangers’ live by their own rules but are rendered politically inactive or passive. They sigh merely for love because in political reality they can have no ambition in this foreign territory. There is, then, very much the sense of a court within a court, an idea that would have resonated intimately with Mary and Elizabeth should they have formed any direct audience for the performance of Lower’s playtext, and certainly as readers and receivers of the work in print:
    though this Island be
    A part of Portugal, we have our laws
    And Empire to our selves; she that rules here
    Hath not the name of Queen, we subjects are
    Our Sovereigns companions, and her virtue
    Makes us taste so much repose, that she
    Hath put the Sheephook into the hands of
    A hundred Hero’s who wearied with the Lawrels
    And the noise of war (Lower A3v-A4r, 6-7).
    We can register here some by-now-familiar generic moves in terms of pastoral and theatrical displacement and substitution for real-life, contemporaneous equivalents. The text, as well as offering consolation to the exiled community that was presumably its chief intended audience, is quick to reassure the host community that these incomers represent no threat. We are told of this queen in all but name (the role could be assigned or ascribed to both Mary and Elizabeth at different moments, again suggesting a flexibility of application and interpretation with regard to how these texts operated in the 1650s) that: ‘she rules/ So sweetly here, the crime onely feels her anger’ and that there is no attempt in her ‘court within a court’ at usurping the local monarchy or rule: ‘this . . . charming residence looks not with envy / Upon the Court o’ th’ King of Portugal’ (Lower A4r, 7). The apparent nervousness about the reception of self-asserting theatrical performances and publications by the royalist community in exile in The Hague which can be registered here suggests that there were perceived tensions between host and visiting communities and that the relationship while often tolerant was not always exactly a sympathetic one. Such perceptions were only heightened by Prince Charles’s clear intention, albeit ostensibly a failed attempt, that he use his sister Mary’s presence and position in The Hague as a convenient mask for his own activities in wooing the House of Orange to support his cause in England.

  13. What a closer reading of the theatrical productions fostered and hosted by both Elizabeth and Mary in the 1650s in The Hague confirms then is the sense of multiple audiences for the cultural demonstrations, displays, and output of exile communities. These activities, literary and political, operate both as acts and enactments of consolation and nostalgia, and they speak not only to the present moment and the exiled community in the audience, but also to their hosts; and they are both articulate and reassuring about the necessary limits and parameters to their claim to ‘rule’ in these territories.

  14. It is perhaps because of these subtle negotiations of the situation in which the courts of Elizabeth and Mary found themselves at this time that the theatrical events associated with their residences and entourages become the site of obvious tensions and concerns, both internal and external to the community, including members of local Protestant churches (Israel 694). When on 13 December 1655, Elizabeth wrote to Prince Charles about Mary’s participation in masquing and dancing, she added: ‘Our Dutch ministers sayde nothing against it in the pulpet; but a little French preacher Carre, saide in his sermon, we had committed as great a sinne as that of Sodome and Gomora, which sett all the church a laughing’ (Thurloe i: 672). Another way in which The Hague differed from Paris was its Protestant identity and Elizabeth is surprisingly open in her correspondence about her conscious provocation of the more extreme wings of the local church. As further proof of her awareness about the public statements these amateur dramatic evenings constituted, she added to her letter of 27 December 1655 on their ‘new divertissement of little plays’ the knowing comment: ‘it was heere the last weeke, and now this weeke at your sister‘s. i hope the godlie will preach against it also’ (Thurloe i: 672).

  15. As well as negotiating these difficult relationships with the external communities of The Hague, religious and political, neither of the circles surrounding Elizabeth or Mary was free from internal disagreements and factionalism. Indeed, Mary herself would write to her brother remarking on the volatility of the ‘hot heads’ around her, including in that grouping members of her own family, for we should recall that the political drama being played out by these women on the European stage was also a family drama.[15] But as well as tensions existing within Mary’s and Elizabeth’s households over appointments and finances as well as the wider political situation, they were exacerbated by the competing demands in The Hague of both the Estates General and the House of Orange itself. Where the pressures between ‘these courts within a court’, that is to say, in the presence of the ruling House of Orange in The Hague, those previously mentioned ‘competing courtly elements’, become most legible in political and social terms is less in the theatrical events staged at Elizabeth’s and Mary’s residences, spaces which might after all be readily accounted for as being in their ownership or control, than in contemporary accounts of ceremonial culture in The Hague: alternative theatricalized public events and moments of display such as weddings, baptisms, processions, and feasts.

  16. Encountering contemporary descriptions of those ceremonial events involving Mary and Elizabeth, the reader in the archive is persistently struck by the sense of tension surrounding the formal codes of etiquette that pertain to them and by the precedence that Elizabeth of Bohemia seems always takes in the order of things. She was an émigré, an exile, a refugee, and yet she was surrounded by pomp and ceremony of the highest order. She was also highly influential, acting as a skilful mediator between the English court and various European contacts and therefore proving central to those networks we invoked earlier as crucial to the operations of exiled communities. Elizabeth was consulted on many subjects and matters by members of the Dutch royal family and negotiated with the States General and the wider community.[16]

  17. Records from the early 1620s suggest that Frederick and Elizabeth had a retinue and entourage of over two hundred staff. Her household, even in decline after his death, would therefore have constituted a considerable presence in the intimate setting of The Hague. Elizabeth’s significance as a political player further complicates our understanding of the poverty and indebtedness of exile in this particular geographical venue. It has become something of a commonplace to talk of the penury of exile, and undoubtedly specific examples can be found in letters included in the Clarendon State Papers and elsewhere of individuals who complain that their wardrobe is threadbare or that they are in serious trouble over rent arrears (Smith). One much-quoted account is Endymion Porter’s, who, writing to Secretary Nicholas from St Germain en Laye, claimed:
    I am in so much necessity, that were it not for an Irish barber that once was my servant, I might have starved for want of bread. He hath lent me some money that will last me for a fortnight longer . . . I am so retired into the streets of a suburb that I scarce know what they do at the Louvre, and I want clothes for a Court, having but that poor riding suit I came out of England in (Nethercot 222-3; Edmond 97). 
    There are several things of note here: Porter’s statement emphasizes the importance to the exiled courtly communities of appearance, of having ‘clothes for a Court’ and the significance of ritual and display. A close reading can also reveal the telling shifts of status affected by exile, indicated in Porter’s odd reliance on his former servant for financial assistance. The opportunity for employment in exile communities for non-noble members of royalist circles, not least women, was a crucial factor in the make-up and day-to-day operations of these societies. These were, importantly, courts of patronage even throughout their periods of exile (Hughes and Sanders). Also worthy of mention in the quotation is Porter’s heightened geopolitical sense of living out of the mainstream, in a suburb far removed from the heart of courtly news and intrigue. That is, of course, a very specific response to an exilic existence in 1650s Paris, where the exile community around Henrietta Maria was a particularly diffuse grouping of factions and counter-factions and where her exile could be figured as much as a return to the French court as a displacement.

  18. The geographical intimacy of The Hague was a world away from Paris, as indeed was Antwerp, which was another community almost entirely separate in its operational identities and discursive practices. We might also add to the frame Breda and Cologne, further competing versions of exiled expatriate royalist community. By comparison with Porter’s sense of isolation and disinformation in a Parisian context, no-one in The Hague could have failed to know what was going on. In certain respects, that makes the infamously huge debts incurred by the Bohemian court with all its material and theatrical extravagances – in 1628 Frederick and Elizabeth are recorded as owing over £12,000 – less problematic than they might seem on a daily basis.[17] The Bohemian court was going nowhere, after all; and the Estates General by showing a welcome to them was to some extent purchasing the indebtedness of the English Crown. Unexpected deaths undoubtedly made these debts more problematic; Frederick the Winter King died in 1632 and at that point Charles I took on his sister’s debts but by the 1640s, when the English civil wars were in full swing, and certainly following Charles’s execution, Elizabeth looked to be in a far more vulnerable and volatile position. There was an attendant renegotiation of her status. Elizabeth did, however, continue to participate in those cultural events detailed previously that were sponsored by her niece, and certainly her status at public events was not downgraded in any way after Frederick’s death. Elizabeth remained the chief noble female in The Hague and continued to take precedence in processions and at feasts. Carefully placed in the fixed geopolitical space of The Hague, she retained her symbolic if not quite her financial potential throughout the period of our study.

  19. Elizabeth’s ongoing significance in the context of The Hague courts is evident as late as 1660 when her nephew Prince Charles, about to return to England to accept the restored crown, conducts a highly symbolic visit to the city and to the residences of his aunt and sister, as well as performing a very publicly staged ritual leave-taking of his relatives at Scheveningen when he embarked for England. The visit is recounted in detail by William Lower himself in a 1660 text, first published in The Hague: A Relation in form of Journal, of the Voiage and Residence which the most excellent and most mighty Prince Charles II King of Great Britain, &c, hath made in Holland, from the 25 of May to the 29 June 1660. Lower’s work in the wider context of the theatrical and publishing culture of The Hague is proof of the established and embedded structures enjoyed by this particular grouping of exiles and courtiers around Mary and Elizabeth.[18] It is important, however, to stress that not all of those surrounding Mary and Elizabeth can be classified as ‘exiles’ per se; many had been operating and working in The Hague long before the civil wars necessitated the removal of some individuals to the relative safety of the Continent. Lower’s 1660 ‘journal’ is significant, however, for providing evidence of the continued status held by Elizabeth of Bohemia and Mary Stuart throughout the 1650s despite the changes and respective downturns in their fortunes.

  20. It should be recalled that both women were widows by the 1650s, interesting in itself in terms of their status, and the Dowager Amalia van Solms of the House of Orange joins them in a tense triad of power at this time. In his journal Lower gives a very detailed account of Charles II’s movements and meetings during the month prior to his departure for England and the formal restoration of the Stuart monarchy. There is much interesting detail about issues of status and precedent (Charles tellingly rejecting barges and coaches traditionally used by the House of Orange and the Dowager Amalia as unsuitable for one of his regal status), not least structured around several public dinners and feasts that were held. The seating plan on these occasions is revealing, according as it does chief female status to Elizabeth of Bohemia, positioned as she always is on Charles’s right, with his sister Mary on his left. Elizabeth is always first in the order of visitation too, suggesting the iconic and symbolic importance of her ‘court’ however impoverished and powerless it was in reality by the late 1650s.

  21. One highly indicative ceremonial event where these issues of status and precedent came visibly into play and were noted by contemporary observers was the baptism of Willem Henrik, Prince of Orange and Mary Stuart’s son, in 1651. There were complicated diplomatic tussles between the House of Orange and the House of Stuart surrounding both the education of this boy and his naming (‘Men seide dat het de Princesse Röyale geern genoemt haddr Carel Willem’, Royal Palace, Den Haag. Archief Prins Willem III. A 16. I.3: D1r). His baptism, and indeed his every move, became the subject of legible anxiety and assertions of control on the part of his feuding relatives. The Archief Prins Willem III in the Royal Palace Archives in The Hague contains an account of the baptismal ceremony and procession that includes several cogent observations about the socio-political, as well as religious, semiotics of the event. The order of coaches and on which of these halberdiers ride occasions comment, as does the costume Willem is dressed in for the occasion: he is attired in ermine trim, a recognized part of the visual discourse of kingship and this assertion of his European royal lineage is clearly a cause of some anxiety.[19] There is also demonstrative concern in the document about the order in which the female members of the family participate in the church service – and where Princess Mary and the Dowager Amalia are placed in relation to one another. What these occasions bring into the foreground with striking clarity, then, are the quotidian tensions around status, political autonomy, and family loyalty that our research has identified at every level of the operations of the courts of Elizabeth of Bohemia and Princess Mary in The Hague in the 1640s and 1650s. They confirm that the experience of exile was actually an ongoing process of negotiation and redefinition, not least within the communities and political and geopolitical infrastructures in which these royalist groupings found themselves.

  22. Both the experience of exile and the identity of courts and their attendant cultural practices have a definite chronology, and we need to think of both Elizabeth of Bohemia’s and Princess Mary’s Hague courts as shifting entities in terms of status and patronage throughout our focus period. This becomes even more the case post-1656, by which time Charles II and James, Duke of York were in Brussels and another major gear-change in tenor and timbre can be registered in terms of Stuart courtly culture in exile (a shift in mood and focus surely also affected by increased hopes of the restoration of the English monarchy).[20] As Lower’s ‘journal’ indicates, both Elizabeth and Mary’s status remained significant to the establishment of Charles’s regal identity on Dutch territory, but whereas prior to 1656 both Charles and James were highly mobile figures and as a result a far less secure focus of allegiance than they might have been for expatriate royalists, after 1656 the ground shifted. Until then, with temporary residences in Cologne and Breda, Charles and James were the focus of visitations to and public receptions in Paris and Antwerp, but the only actual stable English courtly focuses on the continent had orbited around the queen mother’s circle in St Germain en Laye and Paris, and in The Hague in the overlapping circles and groupings that surrounded, and indeed consciously attached themselves to, Elizabeth and Mary (Britland 192-215).

  23. In paying detailed attention to the political, material, theatrical, and, indeed, ceremonial cultures of the courts of Elizabeth and Mary in The Hague in the mid-seventeenth century, we discover an interesting continuity with the kind of female agency we have become accustomed to according elite women at the Stuart courts of the early 1600s. In their self-conscious ‘divertissements’ perhaps we also find an equivalent to the masquing culture that clearly propelled individuals such as Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford, Lady Mary Wroth, Lady Frances Howard, Lady Anne Clifford, and others, into a conscious manipulation of and intervention into cultural politics in their own regions, networks, and communities. In turn, by thinking about and accounting for the multiple audiences for these occasions – royalist exiles both in The Hague and elsewhere, the host community, and the estranged ‘home’ territory of England – and their competing demands and sometimes contradictory interpretations of the same events and actions, we begin to contextualize that female agency in the highly complex and shifting world of royal, religious, and family diplomacy and politics in the condition of exile.

[1] The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of a British Academy Small Research Grant between 2004 and 2006, which made the archival research for this project possible. They would also like to thank the following libraries and archives for assistance: Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag [The Hague]; Royal Archiefs, Den Haag, and in particular the archivist Charlotte Eymael; National Archiefs, Den Haag; the Gemeentearchief, Den Haag; the Bodleian Library, Oxford; the National Archives, London; the British Library, London; and the Breda Gemeentearchief. They are also grateful to Marika Keblusek and James Knowles for sharing related work in this field.

[2] For a parallel argument about the multiple audiences for the performances sponsored by William Cavendish and his wife Margaret in Antwerp in the 1650s see Knowles, ‘We’ve Lost’.

[3] The phrase is Robert C. Williams’s (140). This is a wider rumination on the theme of exile which touches on experiences in the 1650s.

[4] On the possible existence of embryonic literary salons in The Hague from the 1620s onwards, see Zijlmans. On the Antwerp social network in the 1650s, see Härting.

[5] Lady Katherine Stanhope was a significant female member of Mary’s household and one whose own appointment was not without controversy, occasioning as it did the removal of Lady Roxburgh from her position as Mary’s governess in The Hague. Stanhope had married the Dutch diplomat, Jehan van der Kerckhove, Lord Heenvliet, who had been active in the marriage negotiations between the House of Orange and the House of Stuart that led to Mary’s marriage to Willem, thereby further enhancing and complicating the interrelationships between the English royalists and their host community. For a fuller discussion of Stanhope’s role, see Poynting; Hughes and Sanders.

[6] A key figure in the cultural exchanges and events of The Hague was undoubtedly Constantijn Huygens, Secretary to the Prince of Orange. Not only does his considerable extant correspondence indicate his personal interest in literary, intellectual, musical, and scientific networks both locally and in Europe more generally, but his range of correspondents, many of them female, including English noblewomen such as Lady Utricia Swann and Margaret Cavendish herself, afford us insight into the cultural pursuits of this network during the decades in question. See Letterbook of Constantijn Huygens (1641-66). Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag. KB 49 2. As well as providing some of the scenic designs for the House of Orange-sponsored theatricals mentioned above, Huygens was particularly interested in music and attended musical events both in The Hague and Antwerp, the latter involving the Portuguese Duarte family who were significant members of the Antwerp cultural grouping within which the Cavendishes moved during their time at the Rubenshuis in the 1650s. On the musical interests of this grouping, see Knowles, ‘Cavendish’s Antwerp Entertainments’. On Huygen’s poetic practice and his Low Countries socio-political context, see Davidson and van de Weel.

[7] On the influence of this masquing role-play on Henrietta's self-constructions as a warrior woman in her correspondence with Charles I in the 1640s, see Potter 79.

[8] For example, Everett Green suggests that in 1656 Mary organised a masque at her palace in The Hague, vi: 233-4.

[9] Mary was clearly also involved in sourcing and paying for properties and materials for other theatrical productions at Honslaarsdijk. At her death in 1660, a Hague joiner finally received payment out of her estate for properties and work commissioned for a performance: ‘Corn. Van Weldstran for a Crowne & other worck at the Comedy acted at Honslarduck. 34 [guilders]’, The National Archives. State Papers Holland SP84/164: fol. 123r.

[10] Nicholas describes the play as being acted by ‘the gentlemen and maides of honour to the Princess Royal’ in a letter to Clarendon, Clarendon State Papers, ii: 339, 1845.

[11] Zachary Lesser offers an alternative interpretation of Nicholas’s reading of the title of the play in the letter to Clarendon cited earlier in this article, suggesting that Nicholas infers a reference to Cromwell, but this exchange of letters with his son suggests otherwise (947).

[12] Potter remarks that the play’s title alone was remarkable for its adaptability to historical circumstance, relevant as it was to both Charles I in the 1640s and Charles II in the 1650s (116). The title of the play and its potential applications to contemporary issues was clearly co-opted by both sides in the English civil wars. John Adamson notes that in May 1641 during the trial of the Earl of Strafford, a spoof playbill was distributed in London which declared that ‘On the morrow next there was to be acted in the House of Peers a famous Tragi-Comedy called A King and No King’ (300).

[13] The edition included copious dedicatory poems by Cavalier writers and has been described as ‘both a plea for the reopening of the theatres and a gesture of royalist solidarity by the Cavalier poets who contributed’ (Beaumont and Fletcher 31). On Moseley’s publishing acts more generally, see Potter. A King and No King was also clandestinely performed in London during the 1640s. One particular performance was announced at the Red Bull Theatre for 6 October 1647 (Beaumont and Fletcher 32). On clandestine London performances more generally, see Wiseman. Francis Beaumont’s work, of course, had another long-standing connection to the English Royalist women in The Hague in that it was his masque for the Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn in 1613 that had formed part of the extensive wedding celebrations for the union of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick of the Palatinate.

[14] Nancy Klein Maguire, for example, has suggested that ‘the major serious genre of post-regicide England is tragicomedy’ but that would seem to hold true also for the exiled communities which are the focus of our study (221). For further pertinent discussions of tragicomedy as a genre, see McMullan and Hope; Potter 82-3.

[15] The statement comes in a letter to Charles written on 24 June 1655, where Mary is reporting on a letter from their mother in Paris, Thurloe i: 655.

[16] The obvious source for that information is Elizabeth’s correspondence. A complete edition of Elizabeth’s letters is in preparation by Nadine Akkerman. For examples of her dealings with the States General, see Thurloe i: 185, 189-90.

[17] On the mounting debts of the Bohemian Court in The Hague, see Keblusek, ‘The Bohemian Court at The Hague’ 48.  As Keblusek notes, Frederik and Elizabeth had debts of more than £12,000 in 1628, for which Charles I assumed responsibility. After 1642, however, subsidies from the English court became increasingly sporadic and Elizabeth’s personal debts soared. The final bills are in The National Archives, Audit Office, Declared Accounts, 1/5/3;1/5/4 and 1/5/5. Individual bills for items and services provided to the ‘Queen of Bohemia’ can be located in the Gemeentearchief, Den Haag: Notarial Archives. inv. No. 15, 1649: fol. 311; inv. No. 83, 2 April 1655: fol. 329; inv. no. 253, 20 February 1659: fol. 306; inv. no. 127, 6 November 1652: fol. 336. References cited in Keblusek, ‘The Bohemian Court at The Hague’ and verified against the microfilms in the Gemeentearchief.

[18] On the publishing and book culture of The Hague in this period, see Keblusek, Boeken and her entry on printer ‘Samuel Browne’.

[19] ‘zynde koninglyk’ is the phrase, Archief Prins Willem III. A 16.I.3: E1r (January 1651).

[20] Hutton has written about the distinct (and distinctly masculine) ambience of the Brussels court around Charles at this time in his biography 122-3. See also Smith 115-23.

Works Cited

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