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Who were René Descartes' royal female correspondents?
Descartes corresponded with Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, who was very interested in applying his doctrines for clear thought. As a result of this exchange, he wrote The Passions of the Soul (1669), which was an account of how the mind worked and was connected to the body.
In the same year, Descartes agreed to move to Stockholm to tutor Queen Christina. Like Princess Elizabeth, she was drawn to Descartes' ideas, and wished to be well-informed and educated, in general. A small pension from the King of France had been delayed for many years, and Descartes needed the funds, as well as the honor of royal patronage. He called Sweden "the land of the bears" and was much inconvenienced by demands of the athletic young queen that he begin his lessons for her at 5:00 a.m. Descartes had always been a late riser, preferring to begin his day by reflecting in bed until noon. When he was a student at La Flèche, he had been given special permission not to rise early. Descartes' biographers believe that the change in his routine weakened him. He caught pneumonia and soon died.
Who was Princess Elizabeth?
This royal friend and student of Descartes was a powerful woman with an independent mind. Elizabeth, Electress Palatine and Queen of Bohemia (1596-1662), was the oldest daughter of James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark, his Queen consort. Her descendants, the Hanoverians, were to occupy the British throne. In 1613 she married Frederick V, the Elector of the Palatine, an alliance designed to strengthen her father's ties to the Holy Roman Empire. Her husband was only briefly king of Bohemia, however, and after his exile, they lived in The Hague. In 1649, she entered a convent in Hertford in Westphalia, in what is now Germany, which she managed until her death.
Elizabeth's interest in philosophy had a depth that was unusual for someone with her social and familial obligations. In 1643, she wrote Descartes:
And I admit it would be easier for me to concede matter and extension to the soul, than the capacity of moving a body and of being moved, to an immaterial being. For, if the first occurred through "information" the spirits that perform the movement would have to be intelligent, which you accord to nothing corporeal. And although in your metaphysical meditations you show the possibility of the second, it is, however, very difficult to comprehend that a
What was Princess Elizabeth's philosophical influence on René Descartes?
Descartes wrote Passions of Soul mainly to try to answer her questions about how the mind interacted with the body.
In that book, Descartes discusses how emotions are the mind's perceptions of disturbances in our bodies. He thought that the will was part of the soul and immaterial but that there were very delicate fluids in the pineal gland that the will could influence. The result was that parts of the body could be controlled by the mind.
soul, as you have described it, after having had the faculty and habit of reasoning well, can lose all of it on account of some vapors, and that, although it can subsist without the body and has nothing in common with it, is yet so ruled by it.
In this passage, the possibility of the materiality of the soul is deftly introduced in a way that illumines Descartes' dualism. No one, including Descartes, could satisfactorily explain how an immaterial soul could interact with a material body. One solution to this problem that Elizabeth intuited was to posit the soul as material.
Who was Queen Christina and why was she important in Descartes' life?
René Descartes' second royal correspondent and student, Queen Christina (16261689) of Sweden, was a less conventional figure than his other pupil, Princess Elizabeth, although her philosophical skills and subsequent historical legacy were not as great. Christina's father raised her as a prince, and when she assumed the crown she took the title of "King Christina." During her reign she greatly expanded the number of noble titles and extravagantly spent down the treasury, most notably for "New Sweden," a colonization of America in an area near Willington, Delaware.
Christina abdicated in 1664, changing her name to Maria Christina Alexandra. She did this to convert to Catholicism, which was then illegal in Sweden. Maria Christina went first to Rome and then France. She enjoyed great attention as a former queen and was an active patroness of science and the arts. She was remembered for her shocking male dress: a short skirt, stockings, and high heels, which allowed for greater freedom of movement than the long skirts women wore at the time.
Greta Garbo portrayed Queen Christina in a 1933 film that was highly acclaimed critically but did not do well at the box office.
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