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Elisabeth of Bohemia, Princess Palatine (1618–1680)

The eldest daughter of Frederick V and Elizabeth Stuart, Princess Elisabeth was a descendent of William of Orange and a major figure in the Protestant cause during and after the Thirty Years War. Noted for her remarkable intelligence and intellectual independence, Elisabeth refused marriage to the king of Poland due to his Catholicism. She spent her formative years in The Hague, where she established connections with many learned circles in the Netherlands, before returning to northern Germany in 1646. She was appointed Abbess of Herford in North Rhine-Westphalia in 1667, the execution of which resulted in her historical reputation for charity and kindness. In 1642, she began a correspondence with Descartes, which lasted until the latter’s death in 1650. Historians speculate as to the romantic nature of her relationship with Descartes; what their letters makes clear is the high esteem the correspondents held for one another. The excerpts from this correspondence reproduced in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse concern Descartes’ and Elisabeth’s contending assessments of the virtues, and demerits, of Machiavelli’s The Prince.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

François Regnault, ‘La pensée du prince (Descartes et Machiavel)’, CpA 6.2 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Descartes et Elisabeth, ‘Quatre lettres sur Machiavel’, CpA 6.3 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Machiavelli, ‘Le retour aux origins (Pour qu’une religion et un état obtiennent une longue existence, ils doivent souvent être ramènes à leur principe, Discorsi, III, 1)’, CpA 6.4 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

Select bibliography

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