Queen consort of Charles I
Born 1609 Died 1669
Also known as Henrietta Maria de Bourbon
Henrietta Maria was the youngest child of Henry of Navarre being Henri IV king of France and Marie de Medici, born on the 25th November 1609. Her father Henri was assassinated shortly after her birth by a Catholic fanatic by the name of François Ravaillac on the 14th May 1610, and she was therefore raised by her mother Marie who acted as Regent of France until Henrietta's brother Louis was of age.
It wasn't until the spring of 1624, when Henrietta was just fourteen, that the first overtures where received from England regarding the possibility of a marriage between her and Charles, heir apparent to his father James I as head of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland.
As it happens Henrieta was not the first choice of bride for Charles;
the original intention had been for him to marry the Spanish infanta Maria Anna Habsburg (daughter of Philip III of Spain), but Charles and George Villiers had made rather a mess of their mission to Spain in 1623 and had blown that chance. (Maria Anna went on to marry her cousin Ferdinand III). James I had been pursuing the idea of a Spanish marriage in the hope that the Spanish would return the Palatinate of the Rhine to his son-in-law Frederick V as part of the marriage settlement. With those hopes dashed James or, to be more specific, his first minister George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, turned to the idea of French marriage believing that the French would provide the support to recover the Palatinate. 1
Henrietta's brother, Louis XIII, who was now in charge of the country (having exiled his mother in 1622) saw obvious political advantages in such a match but only consented to the marriage on the condition that some measure of toleration was allowed for Roman Catholics. 2 Once this condition had been agreed to, Charles and Henrietta were married by proxy on the 11th May 1625, by which time Charles had become king following his father's death on the 27th March. Henrietta left France for England in the following month and the two were married once more, this time in person, at St Augustine's Church in Canterbury on the 13th June 1626. However Henrietta Maria was never crowned as queen, as her Catholic faith precluded her from taking the necessary Anglican oath that the coronation ceremony involved.
It seems clear that the early years of their married life were generally unhappy. For one thing Charles never delivered on his contractual promise to relax the penal legislation against Roman Catholics (Such a measure was simply not politically possible in an age when the memories of the Gunpowder Plot where still vivid) but also relations with France soon deteriorated and this possibly soured the relationship between the two.
Another stumbling block may have been her looks. Sophie, the daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia was to record her recollection of Henrietta as "a short woman perched on her chair, with long bony arms, irregular shoulders and teeth protruding from her mouth like a fence" but added that she had "beautiful eyes,a well shaped nosed and an admirable complexion". As a more modern author put matters (Christopher Hibbert) "she was too eager and vivacious to be considered plain" which is to say that she was wasn't very pretty but compensated for her lack of physical attributes by the charm of her personality. (It may therefore simply have been that Charles needed time to appreciate the latter and discount the former.) 3
But the true source of their discord seems likely to have been the influence of the Duke of Buckingham as the king's favourite and effective leader of the king's government. Villiers appears to have done his utmost to stir up trouble between the two in order to preserve his own position of influence. The state of animosity between husband and wife thus continued until the 22nd August 1628 when Villiers was assassinated in Portsmouth by an embittered former officer by the name of John Felton. (It has even been suggested by some that Henrietta or at least the pro-French faction at court had some hand in the murder.) The death of George Villiers proved a turning point in their relationship and a genuine affection and friendship developed soon developed between Henrietta and Charles which was to endure for the remainder of their life together.
It was shortly after the death of Buckingham that Charles decided to dispense with Parliament altogether and so began the period of his personal rule. To Henrietta the next ten years must have appeared in retrospect to have been a golden age when the couple held court at Whitehall Palace, surrounded by the cream of the nation's artistic talent. Henrietta was naturally occupied with the business of producing and raising her young family but was still able to indulge herself with the occasional amusements of the glittering and vibrant court. She was fond of contemporary dramatic entertainments, in particular the masques created by the likes of Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson. She even commissioned from Walter Montague a play entitled The Shepheard’s Paradise specifically for a private performance by herself and her ladies-in-waiting. Henrietta was subsequently rather upset when the Puritan William Prynne wrote in 1633 that "women actors are notorious whores" and insisted that Prynne be punished. Thus he found himself arrested and placed in the pillory, his ears were partially docked and sentenced to life imprisonment. 4
Henrietta began to first involve herself in matters of state in 1637 when she established a diplomatic relationship with the Papacy. The Pope despatched a Scotsman by the name of George Conn, who was soon busy making contacts with the remaining catholic gentry and nobility and England. Whereas this might have appeared to Henrietta as a painless method of extending her royal patronage to her fellow Catholics, it smacked of treason to many others. Having always been regarded with suspicion due to her Catholicism now "Protestant England took alarm at the proceedings of a queen who associated herself so closely with the doings of the grim wolf with privy paw"5.
When the dispute between Charles and his Scottish subjects reached crisis point in 1639 as his attempt to force a new prayer book on Scotland met with determined and widespread resistance, Henrietta busied herself raising money from her fellow Catholics to support the king's army raised to put down the rebellious Scots. And when Charles realised he had no option other than to recall Parliament, Henrietta urged her husband to resist parliamentary demands for political concessions and dreamt up plans to confound his enemies.
The so-called Army Plot, the idea to use Scottish troops against the English Parliament and the attempt to arrest the Five Members were all cunning schemes advanced by Henrietta, none of which ultimately proved to be of any benefit to the king's cause whatsoever. With Henrietta herself threatened with impeachment as a result of these endeavours, she left for the continent where she raised funds by selling the royal plate, but once war had broken out she returned in February 1643. Landing at Burlington Quay in Yorkshire, she personally led a Royalist army on a march south to join her husband at Oxford. She remained at Oxford with Charles for the next year before leaving the town on the 3rd April 1644, and sailed from Falmouth on the 14th July 1644 bound for France where she hoped to be able to raise further troops and money.
Henrietta spent the next five years living in comparative poverty as she vainly sought to procure foreign aid for her husband, until the fateful day in January 1649 when she was told of Charles' execution; it was said that the shock of hearing the news was so great that she stood "deaf and insensible" for a whole hour before being brought to her senses by the sounds of her companion Francoise de Vendome weeping prostrate at her feet. Thereafter Henrietta remained in Paris, effectively destitute and took no further part in political affairs as her eldest son Charles now took personal charge of the Stuart cause.
Contemporary rumour and gossip (recorded by Samuel Pepys in his diary) said that Henrietta became secretly married one of her courtiers, Henry Jermyn and even borne him a daughter but there appears no direct evidence for these allegations. But it does however appear that she now became estranged from her children as she focused her efforts in converting them to her own Roman Catholic faith. She was successful as regards the youngest Henrietta (who was only born in 1644) but Henry, Duke of Gloucester resisted her blandishments as did her remaining children but her efforts may well have had some influence on her two older sons Charles II and James II both of whom were later to adopt the Roman Catholic faith.
Henrietta's son Charles was restored to the throne as Charles II in 1660 and Henrietta returned with him to England. Parliament voted her £30,000 a year in compensation for the loss of her personal estates, (alienated during the Commonwealth) and Charles paid a similar annuity from his own resources. She took up residence at Somerset House, where she remained until her failing health encouraged her to return to her native France on the 24th June 1665.
Henrietta lived the remainder of her life in France and died on 9th September 1669 at Colombes, near Paris. She was buried in St. Denis with the exception of her heart which was separately interred at Chaillot in a silver casket bearing the inscription;
Henrietta Maria, Queen of England, France, Scotland and Ireland, daughter of the King of France Henry IV the Victorious, wife of Charles I the Martyr and mother of the restored Charles II.
Throughout her life Henrietta displayed commendable loyalty to her husband, but her 'meddling' in political matters during the years 1637 to 1642 served only to undermine trust in her husband and helped precipitate the English civil war, and in the end condemned her husband to death. Her political interventions are widely regarded as having served only to damage Charles' interests as they were largely driven by her own personal agenda as opposed to any consideration of the national interest.
Henrietta Maria was the mother of a total of nine children; of whom two died in childbirth and one Anne Stuart at the age of three. Of the remainder, Charles (born 1630) who became Charles II, Mary (born 1631) who married William of Orange, James (born 1633) who succeeded his brother Charles as James II, Elizabeth (born 1636) who died unmarried in 1650; Henry, Duke of Gloucester (born 1640) who died in 1660 shortly after the Restoration from smallpox, and Henrietta (born 1644), who married the Duke of Orleans and died in 1670.
When in the year 1632 Charles I granted a stretch of the coastline of North America to a certain Caecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron of Baltimore with the instructions "that it shall from henceforth be called" Maryland it is generally believed that he did so in honour of Henrietta Maria.
1. In the end French support for the English expedition to the Palatinate turned out to be lukewarm.
2. Although Henrietta's father was originally a Protestant, he adopted Catholicism to help secure the French crown and Henrietta and her fellow siblings had of course been brought up her devoutly catholic Italian mother.
3. Obviously the contemporary portraits of Henrietta show an idealised view and are not necessarily an accurate depiction.
4. William Prynne's sentiments where expressed in his Histriomastix, a thousand page diatribe against the immorality of public entertainment. His views on women actors whilst harsh to modern ears were only the conventional wisdom of the age.
5. A colourful turn of phrase from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
- The entries for Henrietta Maria and Maryland from The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. (Columbia University Press, 2004
- The entries for HENRIETTA MARIA and BUCKINGHAM, GEORGE VILLIERS, 1ST DUKE OF from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
- Pepys' Diary: Stuart, Henrietta-Maria (Queen Mother)
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)