King’s Lynn’s Bohemian Rhapsody

The Borough Archive in King’s Lynn has an important series of large, leather-bound books called The Hall Books. They record the proceedings of the town council over several centuries and are the subject of a new volunteer transcription project.

The books covering the 1600s are particularly interesting. There is an entry for January 1612 referring to Bohemia. It is reported that the council was presented with a letter from the Bishops of Canterbury and Prague, and another from King James I asking for donations for, “the building of a church and great college in Bohemia”.

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Hall Books, KLBA, KL/C 7/9

A donation of £8 was duly made, £3 from the Borough treasury and £5 collected from the inhabitants of Lynn, as was reported on 19th February

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Hall Books, KLBA, KL/C 7/9

I was not able to find a definite reference to the church in question, but a good candidate would be the Church of Our Lady Victorious, the first Baroque church in Prague, built for the Lutheran community between 1611 and 1613.

Religion at the time, as so often, was in a state of growing conflict; the Protestant Union was formed in 1608, and in response the Catholic League in 1609. England did not have a direct link with Bohemia until 1618- more of which later.

King James’ daughter Elizabeth married the Calvinist Frederik, Elector of Palatine, in 1613, and took up residence in the Court in Heidelberg. Frederik was Director of the Protestant Union in 1610.

Bohemia at the time was part of the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was rebelling against its Catholic overlords. On the death of Emperor Matthias, Frederik was offered, and accepted, the crown of Bohemia.

Elizabeth of Bohemia, as she was now known, and Frederik had eight children.

In 1618, the Defenestration of Prague- the “throwing out of the window” of emissaries from the Emperor, triggered the Thirty Years’ War. Frederik had been hoping for armed support from England, the Dutch Republic and the German Protestants, but none was forthcoming.

Bohemia crops up again in the Hall Book in January 1621 when an appeal was recorded for a collection for the relief of Bohemia- no doubt funds to support the war effort.

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Hall Books, KLBA, KL/C 7/9

£100 was raised, “as a benevolence for the King of Bohemia” and recorded as being passed to Elizabeth’s representative at her residence in London in May 1621.

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Hall Books, KLBA, KL/C 7/9

Lacking the armed support he had hoped for, Frederik saw his forces routed by the Imperial army in 1620 at the Battle of White Mountain, and the couple, henceforth known as the Winter King and Winter Queen, due to the brevity of their reign, had to flee, and found refuge in The Hague.

Frederik died in 1632, and Elizabeth in London, while visiting her nephew Charles II after the Restoration.

There, it would seem, King’s Lynn’s connection with the story ended- except that it didn’t.

When the House of Stuart died with Queen Anne, a Protestant successor was required, under the terms of the Act of Settlement, and the nearest qualifying relative was Elizabeth’s daughter, Sophia of Hannover. Unfortunately, she died two months before she was due to take the crown, and the succession passed to her son, who ruled as George I, from whom our current Queen claims descent. Her family has had a close connection with our town since the time of Queen Victoria through the ownership of the Sandringham estate and generous donations to King’s Lynn Museum over the years.

Compiled by NRO Research blogger, Pete Widdows

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