Key Facts & Summary
- Henrietta Maria was born in Paris on 25 November 1609 and died in Colombes on 10 September 1669.
- She was the last daughter of Henry IV of France and of Maria de’ Medici. Henrietta was also the queen consort of Charles I Stuart, King of England, Scotland and Ireland.
- She was the mother of two kings, Charles II Stuart and James II Stuart; and grandmother of two other queens and a king, Mary II Stuart, William III of Orange, and Anne Stuart. She was also the aunt of Louis XIV.
- Her Catholic faith made her unpopular in England and prevented her from being officially crowned according to the Protestant rite.
- Before the Civil War broke out, the queen became interested in politics but was forced to take refuge in France in 1644, during the First English Civil War.
- Her husband was beheaded in 1649, leaving her in a precarious financial situation.
- After the Restoration, she returned to England with her son Charles II and then moved back to France near Paris – where she died in 1669.
Henrietta Maria was born in the Louvre building on 25 November 1609. Some historians claim that she was actually born on 26 November. In England, where the Julian calendar was still in use, her date of birth is often marked as 16 November.
She was the sixth child of Henry IV of France and of Maria de ‘Medici. Therefore, Henrietta was Louis XIII’s sister and the aunt of Louis XIV. She never got to know her father, as he was assassinated when she was only five months old, on 14 May 1610. Henrietta was then raised by her mother, from whom she was separated between 1617 and 1620, when Maria de ‘Medici was temporarily removed from the French court.
As the daughter of a French monarch, she had the title of Fille de France. After her sister Maria Cristina married Vittorio Amedeo I of Savoy, in 1619, Henrietta Maria assumed the prestigious title of Madame Royale, reserved for the greatest princesses of the French court. Along with her sisters, the princess was educated in a cultured and refined environment, learning the arts of horse riding, singing, and dancing. However, they were not particularly suitable for the classical studies given by the Carmelites, who instilled in them a profound faith in Roman Catholicism.
Henrietta’s Marriage with Charles
In 1623, the Prince of Wales, future King of England Charles I, went to Spain with the Duke of Buckingham to ask for the hand of Mary Ann, Philip IV’s sister. During his trip, Charles stopped in Paris and met Henrietta Maria for the first time during a court reception. In Spain, things did not go according to Charles’ plans, since Philip IV required the Prince of Wales to convert to Catholicism and live for a year in Spain after the wedding.
On the hand, Henrietta Maria was a pretty sixteen-year-old girl with a delicate skin and magnetic eyes. Charles brought a precious trunk from England as a marriage offering, which included diamonds, pearls, rings, satin and velvet dresses, embroidered cloaks, skirts and velvet hats.
Henrietta Maria married Charles by proxy in Paris on 11 May 1625, shortly after her accession to the throne. The official marriage was celebrated in the church of Saint Augustine in Canterbury on 13 June that same year.
Since Henrietta Maria was Catholic, it was not possible for her to be crowned queen at the ceremony held on 2 February 1626 in Westminster Abbey, and her proposal to be crowned by the Catholic bishop of Mende was rejected by Charles and the court.
The Queen’s Religious Beliefs and Lifestyle
Because of her religious beliefs, the new queen was not fully welcomed in the English court. Charles simply called her Maria, whereas other people referred to her with the title of ‘Queen Mary’, recalling the famous and criticised Catholic queen, Mary Stuart.
In July 1626, she prayed for the executed Catholics at Tyburn, causing a profound controversy.
Henrietta Maria had brought a large number of Catholic assistants with her from France.
On 26 June 1626, Charles sent the group of Catholics back to the French court. Some people, including the bishop of Mende, refused to abandon their lady, however, and the king resorted to having his guards expel them. Seeing Henrietta observing the expulsion, Charles dragged her away from the window with force. Of her French retinue, only the chaplain and confessor Robert Phillip and two maids remained.
Their expulsion was also due to Charles’ intention to limit the expenses of the new queen. In fact, in the early days, Henrietta Maria spent enormous amounts of money and accumulated debts that lasted for several years. Therefore, Charles appointed a new treasurer, Jean Caille, later replaced by George Carew and finally by Richard Wynn in 1629. However, even after all these changes, the high expenses continued. In fact, despite her husband’s gifts, Henrietta Maria continued to use the king’s money. When the civil war broke out, her continued and extravagant spending was revealed.
Her following was also composed of many dwarfs, including Jeffrey Hudson (portrayed in a famous Van Dyck painting), small dogs, monkeys and exotic birds. In 1630, Henrietta Maria established the residences of Somerset, Greenwich, Oatlands, Nonsuch, Richmond and Holdenby.
Relationship Between Henrietta Maria and Charles I
Initially, the relationship between Charles I and Henrietta Maria was cold and the king’s choice to limit his wife’s expenses did not improve the situation. They often fought and tried to stay as far away from each other as possible.
From the beginning, Henrietta Maria felt an aversion towards the king’s favourite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingam. Instead, she became friends with Lucy Percy, Countess of Carlisle, wife of James Hay, who had contributed to the negotiations of the queen’s marriage. Lucy, who supposedly inspired Alexandre Dumas for the character of Milady, was a brilliant, beautiful woman with a strong personality. At the time, many believed that Buckingham tried to control the queen through Lucy. However, relations between the queen and the countess remained good, at least until 1634.
After the death of Buckingham in August 1628, her relationship with her husband improved and they developed a deep bond. They stopped arguing and began to live as husband and wife in a harmonious environment. The queen took the place of Charles’ best friend and adviser, a role filled by Buckingham. Henrietta Maria became pregnant for the first time in 1628 and the following year gave birth. After a difficult delivery, the child died immediately after birth. In 1630, she gave birth to another son, the future Charles II, but this too was a very difficult delivery.
Henrietta Maria refused to reject her Catholic faith, which alienated her from many people, including some powerful courtiers such as William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford.
Henrietta and the Arts
Both the queen and her husband were connoisseurs and avid collectors of paintings. Henrietta Maria is particularly known for her support of the Italian painter Orazio Gentileschi, who arrived in England in 1626 together with François de Bassompierre. Another of her favourite painters was Guido Reni and she also financed the miniaturists Jean Petitot and Jacques Bourdier.
Henrietta Maria strongly supported the theatre. She participated in various performances, such as the Salmacida Spolia (1640) by William Davenant, in which she played the role of an Amazon. She loved music, especially the English composer Nicholas Lanier. Moreover, the queen was interested in sculpture, interior design, and gardening.
Political Influence and English Revolution
Henrietta Maria participated more and more in English politics while the country was heading towards conflict in the 1630s. She allied herself with the Puritan courtiers and plotted against the parliamentarians. With the war getting closer, she actively set out to raise funds to help her husband but her desire to turn to Catholic sources like the Pope and the French king angered many in England and hampered Charles’ efforts.
In August 1642, when the conflict began, Henrietta was in Europe. She continued collecting money for the monarchical cause and did not return to England until the beginning of 1643. She disembarked in Bridlington (Yorkshire) with the troops and soldiers she had managed to gather, and joined the monarchical forces in the north of England. She remained with the army in the north for a few months before meeting the king in Oxford. The king lost the civil war when the Scots sided with Parliament. Henrietta’s refusal to accept the strict terms of the peace agreement forced her to flee to France with her children in July 1644. The queen and Charles would never see each other again. The king was executed in 1649, leaving her almost destitute.
[1.] Britland, K. (2006). Drama at the courts of Queen Henrietta Maria. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[2.] Griffey, E. (2008). Henrietta Maria: piety, politics and patronage. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing.
[3.] White, M. A. (2006). Henrietta Maria and the English Civil Wars. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing.