The Wedding of Elizabeth Stuart

On Valentine’s day 1613, Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James VI & I, married Frederick, Elector Palatine. Here are 26 little-known facts about the wedding of the century:

  1. When Frederick’s ship arrived at Gravesend in October, 1612, he was accompanied by upwards of 150 craft crammed with people trying to catch a glimpse of their princess’s husband-to-be.
  2. Elizabeth paid the men who rowed her from Kew to Whitehall to meet Frederick 20 shillings.
  3. The Venetian ambassador Antonio Foscarini talked up the couple’s first meeting: ‘The guard were all in rich dresses of velvet and gold; the Hall was thronged with Lords and Ladies in the richest robes and laden with jewels; a display that this kingdom could not excel, nor was its like seen even at the coming of the King of Denmark’ in 1606.
  4. Frederick’s first meeting with his future mother-in-law almost ended in disaster when he bowed so low before Queen Anna, who was adjudged to be expecting a kiss from him, that he could barely reach her hand. Elizabeth noted his faux pas and guided him expertly when they were formally introduced … the couple got to know each other over supper, conversation and several plays. It was hardly love at first sight.
  5. Within a fortnight of Frederick’s arrival, Elizabeth’s beloved brother Henry fell gravely ill. She attempted to see him by disguising herself as a maid but to no avail. He died in November, his last words purportedly being ‘where is my deare sister?’
  6. Elizabeth didn’t eat for two days, and accounts show that she spent £145 11s. 6d. on black silks and satins for her tailor to make mourning clothes for both herself and the women who attended Henry’s funeral.
  7. To help with the mourning process, Elizabeth was presented with a dog, some parrots and a mare that had belonged to her brother. She also went hunting, killing a doe in Nonesuch great park.
  8. While the country waited for the period of mourning to end, Elizabeth attended the theatre and played cards – losing £9 18s to her father in the process.
  9. Following Prince Henry’s death, many courtiers wished for the wedding to be cancelled and for Elizabeth to stay in the country as she was considered a more viable heir than the ten-year old Charles.
  10. James responded not by cancelling or even postponing the wedding, but held the vows de presenti as soon as was viable, January 6 – the public solemnisation was brought forward from April to St. Valentine’s day.
  11. Queen Anna did not attend the January ceremony, claiming an attack of gout.
  12. James ensured the chambers prepared for foreign guests attending the public wedding ceremony in February were hung with tapestries celebrating the ‘providential’ victory of Elizabeth’s godmother and namesake over the Spanish Armada in 1588.
  13. Arbella Stuart, once pretender to the throne of England and the subject of several plots, spent almost £2,000 on her outfit for the wedding ceremony from her prison cell. She did not receive an invitation.
  14. Public celebrations before the wedding ceremony included fireworks displays on the Thames which required the service of 36 ships, 500 watermen, 1,000 musketeers and an awful lot of gunpowder.
  15. One display was loosely based on Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, while another apparently included a scene in which a firework in the form of a hart was chased across the waters of London’s great river by ‘hunting hounds made of fire’.
  16. The final display, a mock naval battle, bored James so it was called off halfway through. Decommissioning it was so dangerous that several men were maimed in the process, with one losing both his eyes, another both his hands.
  17. A theatrical performance prepared by Elizabeth called ‘The Masque of Truth’ was cancelled to save money. It had reportedly cost 12,000 crowns.
  18. On the day of the wedding both bride and groom wore white – Elizabeth also sported a black mourning band and a black locket in honour of Henry. Her veil was carried by fourteen ladies. Her ‘amber coloured haire’ hung in plaits each bearing ‘Gold-spangles, Pearles, Riche Stones, and Diamonds’, reached her waist while her sleeves were embroidered with diamonds, such that they ‘dazeled and amazed the eyes of the beholders’.
  19. Father of the bride James wore black, with one massive diamond in his hat.
  20. After the vows, Elizabeth changed attire, her hair this time woven with pearls.
  21. The jewels on display were later valued at £900,000—Elizabeth’s guardian was give £3,914 to pay for her personal jewels alone.
  22. Elizabeth and Frederick took to their marriage bed accompanied by a specially composed poem by John Donne, which included these lines:

But now Shee’s layd; What though Shee bee?

Yet there are more delays, for, where is hee?

Hee comes, and passes through Spheare after Spheare

First her Sheetes, then her Armes, then any where.

Oh let not this day but this night bee thine.

Thy day was but the Eve to this Valentine

  1. The final bill for the wedding came in at £93,278 (or £12.5 million)—it was still being paid off in 1637.
  2. The couple left England for the Dutch Republic at the beginning of May—there two feasts were laid on at the cost of 26,250 guilders (£2,625)—before Frederick left for Heidelberg to prepare their new home. Its famous gardens, at this point, were ‘nothing but bare rock’
  3. Elizabeth (and her 373-strong entourage) finally arrived in the Palatinate in June, where she was greeted by 1000 horsemen, 16 companies of infantry and a cannonade of 25 artillery pieces.
  4. Elizabeth was pregnant before she left England, and gave birth to the first of their 13 children, Frederick Henry—a name combining her husband’s and her dear brother’s—on 1 January, 1614.

Want to know more about the life of Elizabeth Stuart? Read her biography, Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Hearts.