Friday, 14 March 2014

The Mystery of the "lost King."

First it was King Richard III who was discovered under a car park in Leicester. Then part of King Alfred’s pelvis (or possibly that of his son Edward) was found in a box in a museum in Winchester. There is a sudden interest in “lost” kings.

Here at Ashdown we have a connection to two “lost kings,” Alfred himself, who fought at the Battle of Ashdown, and also the unfortunate Frederick, King of Bohemia.

There is something intriguing about the idea that the burial place of a historical figure is not known. In the case of Richard III the contested nature of his reputation gave the discovery of his burial site an extra dimension. Perhaps that is why it seems no one has gone looking for Frederick of Bohemia; his was a tragic and unsuccessful role in a bigger history. Perhaps it was felt he was best forgotten.

Frederick was born in 1596, and from 1614 ruled over the County Palatinate of the Rhine, a historical territory of the Holy Roman Empire. Frederick married Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I in 1613 and they made their home in Heidelberg where Frederick transformed the castle and its gardens into a palace worthy of the daughter of a king. In 1618 the kingdom of Bohemia rebelled against its catholic ruler and invited Frederick to take the throne. Perceiving it to be his holy duty, Frederick did so, putting himself in opposition to the Holy Roman Empire and losing his throne a scant year and four days later at the Battle of the White Mountain. He, Elizabeth and their young family forced to flee into exile in Holland.

In 1632 Frederick had his best chance of regaining his ancestral Palatine lands. The Swedish King Gustavus
Adolphus had entered the Thirty Years War with significant success. In January 1632 Frederick travelled to Mainz to join the Swedish king’s forces. William Craven of Ashdown went with him and shortly after his arrival fought alongside the Swedish forces at the taking of Kreuznach Castle. This was the famous occasion on which Gustavus praised Craven for his courage in battle. Sadly Gustavus had less of a good opinion of Frederick’s abilities and refused to give him a command.  Instead, Frederick went to visit his Palatinate lands, which had been devastated during the ongoing conflict, with towns burned and ruined.

It was still Frederick’s hope that the Swedes would take the rest of the German lands from the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor and that after this he would be restored as ruler of the Palatine. In November Gustavus Adolphus won the decisive victory at Lutzen, but it was at the cost of his own life. Frederick wrote to Elizabeth telling her that he would be coming to fetch her now that his German lands would be restored to him. Alas it never happened. On November 19th 1632 Frederick died of plague in Mainz in Germany.

It was another sixteen years before Charles Louis, Frederick’s heir, finally succeeded to the Palatinate. In 1632 he was only 15 and his uncle, the Duke of Simmern, was appointed administrator of the Palatine lands on his behalf. Meanwhile Elizabeth corresponded with her brother Charles I about a suitable place for Frederick to be buried. His embalmed body lay in Mainz for many months before it was taken to the town of Frankenthal and interred.

Peace did not last long.  In 1635 Frankenthal was threatened by enemy troops and the Duke of Simmern felt it would be wise to move Frederick’s body for fear it might be dug up and desecrated. Simmern fled to Metz, in France, taking Frederick’s coffin with him. From there the intention was to take him to Sedan for reburial in the mausoleum of his uncle, the Duke de Bouillon.  With an increase in hostilities, however, it was deemed to dangerous to travel.

Reports vary as to what happened next. Some historians suggest that Simmern arranged for Frederick’s burial secretly in Metz. Others suggest that he finally took the body to Sedan in September 1637. However when the mausoleum at Sedan was opened in the early 20th century, Frederick’s body was not there. Where Frederick’s tomb is we do not know. Elizabeth made no reference to her husband's burial in any of her correspondence and thus preserved the mystery of the final resting place of this “lost king.”