Elisabeth of Bohemia

Portrait of Elisabeth of Bohemia, Alexander Palace

Elisabeth of Bohemia (aka Elisabeth of the Palatinate, Princess Elisabeth of Herford), née Elisabeth Simmern van Pallandt 

*December 26, 1618 (Heidelberg, Germany)
†February 11, 1680 (Herford, Germany)

Elisabeth of Bohemia, Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford, best known for her significant and influential letter exchange with the philosopher René Descartes and her vast network comprising the intellectuals of the seventeenth century in Europe was born as first child of  Elizabeth Stuart, princess of England and Frederick V of the Palatinate. Born into a royal family with powerful affiliations to many Protestant countries all over Europe, the dramatic change of the family fortune – the loss of the Kingdom of Bohemia and of the Palatinate –  and the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War brought Elisabeth and her family as exiles to The Hague. There, Elisabeth profited of the vibrating cultural climate. After the restitution of the Palatinate and as the Abbess of Herford, Elisabeth became an influential political figure, famous for her tolerance and support of persecuted religious groups, such as the Labadists and Quakers. Throughout her life, Elisabeth engaged in a widespread learned correspondence with many intellectuals of her age, including philosophers, politicians, religious leaders and family members.

  • Primary Sources

    Barclay, Robert, 1870, Reliquiae Barclaianae: Correspondence of Colonel David Barclay and Robert Barclay of Urie, London: Winter & Bailey, Lithograph.

    Blom, John, 1978, Descartes: His Moral Philosophy and Psychology, New York: New York University Press. (Includes translation of much of the Descartes-Elisabeth correspondence.)

    Descartes, René, 1996, Oeuvres. Vol. III–V, Charles Adam and Paul Tannery (eds.), Paris: Vrin (cited internally by AT followed by volume and page number).

    Descartes, René, 1984–1991, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol. I–III, John Cottingham, Robert Stoothof and Dugald Murdoch(eds.), and for Vol III, Anthony Kenny (eds.), London: Cambridge University Press (cited internally as CSM or CSMK, followed by volume and page number).

    Descartes, René, 1989, Correspondance avec Elisabeth, Jean-Marie Beyssade and Michelle Beyssade (eds.), Paris: Garnier-Flammarion.

    Descartes, René, 2013, Der Briefwechsel zwischen René Descartes und Elisabeth von der Pfalz, Benno Wirz, Isabelle Wienand and Olivier Ribordy (eds.), Hamburg: Meiner.

    Descartes, René, 1935, Lettres sur la morale: corréspondence avec la princesse Elisabeth, Chanut et la reine Christine, Jacques Chevalier (ed.), Paris: Hatier-Boivin.

    Descartes, René, 1657–67, Lettres de Monsieur Descartes, Claude Clerselier (ed.), 3 vols. Paris:Angot.

    Foucher de Careil, Alexandre, 1879, Descartes, la Princesse Elisabeth et la Reine Christine, Paris: Felix Alcan.

    Malebranche, Nicholas, 1961, Oeuvres. Vol. XVIII, André Robinet (ed.), Paris: Vrin.

    Müller, Frederick. 1876, “27 onuitgegeven brieven aan Descartes,” De Nederlandsche Spectator, 336–39.

    Nye, Andrea, 1999, The Princess and the Philosopher: Letters of Elisabeth of the Palatine to René Descartes, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Penn, William, 1695 and 1714, An Account of W. Penn’s Travails in Holland and Germany, Anno MDCLXXVII, London: T. Sowle.

    Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes, 2007, The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes, Lisa Shapiro (ed. and transl.), Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Reynolds, Edward, 1640, Treatise of the Passions and the Faculties of the Soule of Man, London: Robert Bostock, facsimile reproduction, Margaret Lee Wiley (ed.), Gainesville, FL: Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1971.

    Strickland, Lloyd (ed. and transl.), 2011, Leibniz and the Two Sophies: The Philosophical Correspondence, Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies.

    Verbeek, Theo, Erik-Jan Bos and Jeroen van de Ven (eds.), 2003, The Correspondence of René Descartes 1643, Utrecht: Zeno Institute for Philosophy.

  • Secondary Sources

    A. Biographies of Elisabeth

    laze de Bury, Marie Pauline Rose Stewart, 1853, Memoirs of the Princess Palatine, Princess of Bohemia, London: Richard Bentley.

    Creese, Anna, 1993, The letters of Elisabeth, Princess Palatine: A seventeenth century correspondence, Princeton: PhD dissertation, Ann Arbor: UMI 9328035.

    Godfrey, Elizabeth, 1909, A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford, London and New York: John Lane.

    Zendler, Beatrice, 1989, “The Three Princesses,” Hypatia, 4.1, 28–63.

    B. The Intellectual Historical Context

    Adam, Charles, 1917, Descartes et ses amities féminines, Paris: Boivin.

    Foucher de Careil, Alexandre, 1862, Descartes et la Princesse Palatine, ou de l’influence du cartésianisme sur les femmes au XVIIe siècle, Paris: Auguste Durand.

    Harth, Erica, 1992, Cartesian Women: Versions and Subversions of Rational Discourse in the Old Regime, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    O’Neill, Eileen, 1998, “Disappearing Ink: Early Modern Women Philosophers and Their Fate in History,” in Philosophy in a Feminist Voice, Janet A Kourany (ed.), Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    O’Neill, Eileen, 1999, “Women Cartesians, ‘Feminine Philosophy’ and Historical Exclusion” in Feminist Interpretations of René Descartes, Susan Bordo (ed.), University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

    Pal, Carol, 2012, Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century, New York/Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Scheibinger, Londa, 1989, The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    C. Seventeenth-Century Accounts of Causation and Conceptions of the Physical World

    Clatterbaugh, Kenneth, 1999, The Causation Debate in Modern Philosophy 1637–1739, New York: Routledge.

    Gabbey, Alan, 1990, “The Case of Mechanics: One revolution or many?”, in Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution, David C. Lindberg and Robert S. Westman (eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Garber, Daniel, 1992, Descartes’ Metaphysical Physics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Garber, Daniel, 1992, “Descartes’ Physics” in The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, John Cottingham (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Garber, Daniel, John Henry, Lynn Joy and Alan Gabbey, 1998, “New Doctrines of body and its powers, place and space” in The Cambridge History of Seventeenth Century Philosophy, Daniel Garber and Michael Ayers (eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Nadler, Steven (ed.), 1993, Causation in Early Modern Philosophy, University Park: Penn State University Press.

    D. Interpretations of the Descartes-Elisabeth Correspondence

    Alanen, Lilli, 2004, “Descartes and Elisabeth: A Philosophical Dialogue?” in Feminist Reflections on the History of Philosophy, Lilli Alanen and Charlotte Witt (eds.), New York/Dordrecht: Kluwer, 193–218.

    Broad, Jacqueline, 2002, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Néel, Marguerite, 1946, Descartes et la princess Elisabeth, Paris: Editions Elzévier.

    Pellegrin, M-F and D Kolesnik (eds.), 2012, Elisabeth de Boheme face a Descartes: Deux Philosophes, Paris: Vrin.

    Petit, Léon, 1969, Descartes et Princesse Elisabeth: roman d’amour vécu, Paris: A-G Nizet.

    Rodis-Lewis, Genevieve, 1999, “Descartes et les femmes: l’exceptionnel rapport de la princesse Elisabeth” in Donna Filosofia e cultura nel seicento, Pina Totaro (ed.), Rome: Consiglio Nazionale delle recherche, 155–72.

    Wartenburg, Thomas, 1999, “Descartes’s Mood: The Question of Feminism in the Correspondence with Elisabeth” in Feminist Interpretations of René Descartes, Susan Bordo (ed.), University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

    E. The Real Distinction, Mind-Body Interaction and the Union of Mind and Body in the Correspondence

    Alanen, Lilli, 2003, Descartes’s Concept of Mind, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Broughton, Janet and Ruth Mattern, 1978: “Reinterpreting Descartes on the Notion of the Union of Mind and Body”, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 16(1): 23–32.

    Garber, Daniel, 1983, “Understanding Interaction: What Descartes Should Have Told Elisabeth, ” Southern Journal of Philosophy (Supplement), 21: 15–37.

    Garber, Daniel and Margaret Wilson, 1998, “Mind-body problems” in The Cambridge History of Seventeenth Century Philosophy, Daniel Garber and Michael Ayers (eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Hatfield, Gary, 1992, “Descartes’ physiology and its relation to his psychology”, in The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, John Cottingham, (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 335–370.

    Mattern, Ruth, 1978, “Descartes’s Correspondence with Elizabeth: Concerning Both the Union and Distinction of Mind and Body, ” in Descartes: Critical and Interpretative Essays, Michael Hooker (ed.), Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    O’Neill, Eileen, 1987, “Mind-Body Interaction and Metaphysical Consistency: A defense of Descartes,” Journal of the History of Philosophy, 25(2): 227–45.

    Radner, Daisie, 1971, “Descartes’ Notion of the Union of Mind and Body,” Journal of the History of Philosophy, 9: 159–71.

    Richardson, RC, 1982, “The ‘Scandal’ of Cartesian Interactionism,” Mind, 92: 20–37.

    Rozemond, Marleen, 1998, Descartes’s Dualism, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Rozemond, Marleen, 1999, “Descartes on Mind-Body Interaction: What’s the Problem?”, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 37(3): 435–467.

    Shapiro, Lisa, 1999, “Princess Elizabeth and Descartes: The Union of Mind and Body and the Practice of Philosophy”, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 7(3): 503–520.

    Tollefson, Deborah, 1999, “Princess Elisabeth and the Problem of Mind-Body Interaction,” Hypatia, 14(3): 59–77.

    Wilson, Margaret, 1978, Descartes. New York: Routledge.

    Yandell, David, 1997, “What Descartes Really Told Elisabeth: Mind-Body Union as a Primitive Notion,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 5(2): 249–73.

    F. Descartes’s and Elisabeth’s Moral Philosophy

    Marshall, John, 1998, Descartes’s Moral Theory, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Mesnard, Pierre, 1936, Essai sur la morale de Descartes, Paris: Boivin & Cie.

    Nye, Andrea, 1996, “Polity and Prudence: The Ethics of Elisabeth, Princess Palatine” in Hypatia’s Daughters, Linda Lopez McAlister (ed.), Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Rodis-Lewis, Genevieve, 1957, La morale de Descartes, Paris: PUF.

    Schmaltz, Tad, forthcoming, “Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia on the Cartesian Mind: Interaction, Happiness, Freedom,” in Feminist History of Philosophy: The Recovery and Evaluation of Women’s Philosophical Thought, E. O’Neill and M. Lascano (eds.), Dordrecht: Springer.

    Shapiro, Lisa, 2013, “Elisabeth, Descartes, et la psychologie morale du regret”, in Élisabeth de Bohème face à Descartes: Deux Philosophes, M-F Pellegrin and D Kolesnik (eds.), Paris: Vrin, 155–169.

  • Online Sources
  • Elisabeth of Bohemia Herford at the Center
  • Von Diana zu Minerva


    Elisabeth von Böhmen zählt heute zu den wichtigen Referenzen der Kritik an dem Philosophen Descartes. Als intime Freundin dieses großen Philosophen nahm sie erheblichen Einfluss auf die Ausgestaltung seines Werks. Ihre Seelenzustände und Erfahrungen stellt sie seiner Theorie entgegen, der sie nicht in allen Punkten folgen will. Anne Conway formulierte Überlegungen zur Monade, die Leibniz mehrfach als wichtige Inspiration seiner Philosophie testiert. Emilie du Châtelet stand im Zentrum der französischen Aufklärung und im Zentrum jener Männer und Wissenschaftler, die nach ihrem Tod die Tischgesellschaft Friedrich des Großen stellte. Die nähere Beschäftigung mit diesen Frauen zeigt, dass sie keine einzelnen Figuren, nicht Solitäre sind und nicht nur zufällig in ihrer Zeit wirkten, wie sie es taten. Zwischen ihnen entfaltet sich ein Netzwerk von Anregungen, Verweisen und Zitationen, die in ihrer untergründigen Wirksamkeit verkannt werden. So zeigen sich auf einmal Verbindungen von Hannover nach Berlin, von Herford nach England und nach Paris. Vor unseren Augen entsteht ein Beziehungsgeflecht, in dem sich mehr als hundert Jahre Philosophiegeschichte spiegeln. Die Göttinnen Diana und Minerva werden zum Symbol dieser Frauen. Diese römischen Göttinnen, aus der Symbolwelt der griechischen Antike entlehnt, symbolisieren als Diana/Artemis die Tradition der Unschuld und Unabhängigkeit von der Männerwelt, die andere beansprucht für sich die Allegorie zur Zeus gleichen Tochter Athene/Minerva, Göttin der Weisheit und des Krieges. Bereits Elisabeth von Böhmen wird als junges Mädchen als Diana gemalt …
    Quoted from: Von Diana zu Minerva, p. 11.


    Hagengruber, Ruth/  Rodrigues, Ana:  Von Diana zu Minerva. Philosophierende Aristokratinnen des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts und ihre Netzwerke. Paderborn: Akademie Verlag 2010.

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