Henrietta Maria (1609–1669)

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Henrietta Maria (1609–1669)

French-born queen of Charles I, during England's Civil War, who used all her influence to try to aid her husband's cause, and whose eldest son was invited to restore the Stuart dynasty to the English throne as Charles II. Name variations: Henrietta Marie. Born at the Hôtel de Louvre, in Paris, France, on November 25, 1609; died at Château St. Colombes, near Paris, on August 31, 1669; buried in the Church of St. Denis, near Paris; daughter of Henry IV the Great (1553–1610), king of France (r. 1589–1610), and Marie de Medici (c. 1573–1642); sister of Elizabeth Valois (1602–1644, who married Philip IV, king of Spain), Christine of France (1606–1663), and Louis XIII, king of France (r. 1610–1643); married Charles I (1600–1649), king of England (r. 1626–1649), on May 11 (some sources cite June 13), 1625; children: Charles II (b. 1630), king of England (r. 1649–1685); Mary of Orange (1631–1660), princess of Orange; James II (b.1633), king of England (r. 1685–1688); Elizabeth Stuart (1635–1650); Anne Stuart (1637–1640, died of consumption at age three); Catherine (1639–1639); Henry (1640–1660), duke of Gloucester; Henrietta Anne (1644–1670), duchess of Orléans.

Moved from France to England at the time of her marriage (1625); acted frequently in plays in the English royal court; intrigued with Catholic monarchs and the pope for aid to her husband during the English Civil War (1642–49); lived in exile in France until the accession of her son as Charles II (1660); moved to England (1662); returned to France to the Château at Colombes (1665) and died there (1669).

Henrietta Maria lived in an age of turbulent religious struggles, and she was destined to play an integral part in one of the most famous of these, the English Civil War. She was the daughter of Marie de Medici and Henry IV, who had ended the Wars of Religion in France between the Catholics and the Huguenots. The cost of solidifying the throne of France had been Henry's conversion from the Huguenot faith to Catholicism; to satisfy disgruntled supporters, he granted toleration to Huguenots in France in the Edict of Nantes (1598). But even this measure did not end the religious fanaticism rampant during this period. Within a year of Henrietta Maria's birth, in 1610, Henry IV was assassinated by a fanatical monk. Although Henrietta Maria herself escaped violent death, her husband Charles I did not. Her attempts to help him and support him during the political crisis that led up to the English Civil War only stirred up English resentment and suspicion against them and sealed Charles' fate.

Henrietta grew up with all the pomp and circumstance due a child of the royal household. She had two older sisters: the eldest, Elizabeth Valois (1602–1644), was married to Philip IV of Spain when Henrietta was a small child, and the younger, Christine of France (1606–1663), was married to the prince of Savoy when Henrietta was ten. The eldest of her brothers, Louis, had ascended to the throne as Louis XIII upon their father's death, and a regency for him was led by their mother Marie de Medici and her advisor, Cardinal Richelieu.

By the time Henrietta was 12 years old, negotiations between the English and French courts had commenced for a match between Henrietta and Charles, the eldest son of James I. The marriage treaty was completed in 1625, when Henrietta was only 15. English diplomats at work on the marriage treaty described Henrietta as petite, well-formed, and graceful, with sparkling black eyes and a pleasing personality. Henrietta was excited to hear of her upcoming marriage, although she had only met Charles once before. She remembered him as being tall, good-looking and grave, and she exchanged several formal love-letters with her future husband during the two months that preceded their marriage. When James I died on March 27, only days after the marriage treaty had been negotiated, Charles ascended to the throne of England as Charles I. Impatient for his bride, Charles was unwilling to postpone the wedding for the period of mourning, and the ceremony took place by proxy on May 11, at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, followed by feasting and fireworks. The bride did not leave Paris to meet her bridegroom in England until June, and she did not set foot in England until June 22; she finally met her new husband on the following day.

Despite the great anticipation that both Henrietta Maria and Charles had over their eventual union, the early period of their marriage was rocky. A large measure of their unhappiness stemmed from public disapproval with Henrietta's religion, which was inflamed by the large number of French Catholic ladies-in-waiting and Catholic priests and advisors who made up her household. Many of the English, including Charles' chief advisor, George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, believed Henrietta's household to be comprised of "popish spies." During the second year of their marriage, Charles broke the agreement of their nuptial contract by sending Henrietta's French household packing, replacing her ladies-in-waiting with English Protestant ones. In the end, Henrietta was only allowed to keep one lady and two priests of her own faith and language.

Once the dispute over her household had been resolved, Henrietta found, to her surprise, that she quickly adapted to accommodate English customs and the needs of her husband. The removal of the French household, coupled with the assassination of the duke of Buckingham in August of 1628, left Henrietta and Charles without their closest confidantes. Eventually, they

turned to each other. Charles began lavishing more time and gifts on his wife, and Henrietta grew increasingly dependent upon him. By 1630, Charles wrote confidently to his mother-in-law Marie de Medici that "the only dispute that now exists between us is that of conquering each other by affection, both esteeming ourselves victorious in following the will of the other."

In 1629, Henrietta gave birth to her first child, a boy, who died shortly thereafter. She bravely overcame her illness and sadness over the birth, and in May of the following year gave birth to another son, who would ultimately succeed his father as Charles II. Both parents were delighted with Charles, and other children followed closely: Mary of Orange in November 1631, James (later James II), in October 1633, Elizabeth Stuart in December 1635, Anne Stuart in March 1637, Henry (later duke of Gloucester) in July 1640.

Charles continued to lavish money and affection on his wife, and Henrietta's fun-loving and spendthrift personality guaranteed that she took advantage of the £18,000 income she received yearly. Henrietta was not fond of literature, but she delighted in putting on plays and masques for the royal court. The lavish entertainments to which she had been accustomed in France were greeted by shock and disapproval by many of her Puritan English subjects, who considered them frivolous at best and scandalous at worst.

I was the happiest and most fortunate of Queens. Not only had I every pleasure which my heart could desire, but, above all, I had the love of my husband, who adored me.

—Henrietta Maria in exile in France

During the early years of her marriage, Henrietta Maria showed no interest in the political machinations of government. From the beginning of his reign, Charles had been embroiled in political controversy with Parliament, which contained a sizeable Puritan element, and Charles had dismissed them over their attempted impeachment of Buckingham in 1629; he would not call Parliament again until 1640. During this "Eleven Year Tyranny," Charles ruled through ministers who could collect revenues without necessitating the calling of Parliament. As Charles took on an increasingly personal role in the administration of his realm, he began to share many of his concerns with his wife, who had become his confidante. To her credit, Henrietta had grown in her loyalty to the English nation during the first ten years of her marriage. From France, Cardinal Richelieu complained that she had lost her loyalty to her native land when she proved unwilling to advance French interests or support Richelieu's officials in England. But unfortunately for her, most of the English continued to be suspicious of her: the Puritans because she was Roman Catholic, and the English Catholics because she was not committed enough to the cause of Catholicism. Henrietta was always moderate in her religious sensibilities, and she began to seek out advisors for her husband, both Protestant and Catholic, whom she felt would pursue moderate policies as well.

Part of the growing influence which Henrietta Maria held in the 1630s was manifested in the relaxation of the laws against Catholics and Catholic priests in England. Charles allowed priests to live undisturbed in London, and even allowed English Catholics to openly attend mass in the chapels of the queen and the French ambassadors. Many Catholics, including priests who had languished for years in prison, were released by Charles, whose heart was becoming softened to their plight. Unfortunately, the softening of the king's heart had little effect on the hearts of his subjects, most of whom remained deeply suspicious of Catholics in England. The Puritans were still a growing and vocal element in English politics, and, in the absence of Parliamentary meetings, many Puritans began venting their hostility to the king's "pro-Catholic" policies in political pamphlets.

Charles' defense of Henrietta's faith also served to exacerbate public opinion when Charles and his archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, decided to implement a policy which they called "Thorough"—they hoped to eliminate Puritan influences in the English and Scottish Church, and institute a reformed Anglican liturgy for Scotland. When the new liturgy (which Charles had proudly presented to Henrietta as evidence of the similarity of their beliefs) was first presented at St. Giles Church in Edinburgh on July 23, 1637, a riot against the government ensued, which built to such force that it became a major insurrection. Charles was forced to either withdraw the new liturgy or send troops to put down the rebellion. Never one to forgive rebellion or to countenance his own failures, Charles decided to send troops to force the acceptance of the new liturgy. Overwhelmed by the angry Scots, the king's small force was defeated and forced to withdraw. With the Scots rebels poised at the English border ready to invade, Charles called Parliament into session in April 1640 to ask for £800,000 to put down the rebels. Instead, Parliamentary leaders led by John Pym demanded Puritan reforms in the church and an end to Charles' "abuses" of old feudal tax laws and royal prerogative courts, before they would approve a penny. Charles angrily dismissed Parliament and scraped together extra-Parliamentary money to send a second force to Scotland. Before they arrived, a Scottish Presbyterian army invaded England, where they routed Charles' troops in August 1640 and remained in England, demanding that Charles pay £850 a day to the Scottish army until a settlement was reached.

Having exhausted his own revenues, Charles was again forced to call Parliament. In order to get the money he so desperately needed, Charles had to agree to series of embarrassing Parliamentary acts, including laws forbidding the king from dismissing Parliament without its consent, forbidding the king from raising extra-Parliamentary revenue through taxation, and abolishing the king's prerogative courts. The king's chief councilors, Thomas Wentworth and Archbishop Laud, were arrested, convicted of treason, and sentenced to death. By August 1641, Parliament had overturned the traditional foundations of government and rewritten the political rules to the detriment of royal power. Once begun along the revolutionary path, Parliamentary leaders were loath to stop. In September 1641, Parliament abolished the Anglican Church episcopacy; two months later, it drafted the Grand Remonstrance, cataloguing the king's sins and demanding further reform; in February 1642, Parliament enacted the Militia Bill, without the king's signature, placing all naval and military appointments under Parliamentary inspection.

By the winter of 1641–42, a royal party was forming around the king, comprised of royalists as well as moderates who felt that Pym and Parliament were going too far. Although Charles was reluctant to resort to a show of force, he was encouraged by many, including Henrietta, who urged, "Go, you coward, and pull these rogues out by the ears." By the time Charles arrived to arrest Pym and the leaders of the House of Commons, they had fled. Within months, the dispute had intensified into all-out war, as Parliament declared itself the supreme authority of government, and in response Charles raised his standard at Nottingham on August 22, 1642, to begin the English Civil War.

Throughout these tribulations, Henrietta had stood behind her husband, and had worked to secure for him any monetary aid she could find. When she discovered that she could raise little money among the wives of courtiers, she eventually turned to the papacy. By 1640, she was writing frequently, importuning the pope to give aid, and promising that she could convince Charles to ensure the toleration of English Catholics. During the summer of 1641, Henrietta wrote to her sister Christine of France, "I swear to you that I am almost mad with the sudden changes in my fortunes. From the highest pitch of contentment I am fallen into every kind of misery which affects not only me but others…. Imagine what I feel to see the King's power taken from him, the Catholics persecuted, the priests hanged, the persons devoted to us removed and pursued for their lives because they serve the King."

As soon as war became inevitable, Henrietta shook off her self-pity and resolutely set out on a series of quests to help her husband. In February 1642, she journeyed to Holland, ostensibly to deliver her ten-year-old daughter Mary to the court of the Prince of Orange, to whom she had been promised in a recent marriage negotiation. While Henrietta Maria was there, she pawned as many of her jewels as she could to raise money for arms and ammunition. By letter, she encouraged her husband to fight the Parliamentary forces and refuse any offers of compromise. She urged him to take care of their children in England, lest they fall into Parliamentary hands. "Charles, be a King," she repeatedly commanded him. When she finally set sail to return to England in January of the following year, her ship was buffeted by a storm for nine days, in which she lost a ship full of war material she had gathered for Charles. When she finally arrived in England, the village where she was staying was shelled by four Parliamentary ships, and she was forced to flee her lodgings for her life. For two hours, the queen and her entourage laid in a ditch outside the village while shells flew over their heads until the Parliamentary forces gave up. It took five months for her and her band, which included an army of a thousand soldiers from Holland, to catch up to Charles and his army. Their happy reunion in Oxford was marred by the rising violence of the war. In May 1643, Parliament impeached her for high treason and declared that she would no longer be allowed the title queen of England.

Henrietta stayed with Charles in Oxford until April 1644. She traveled to Exeter, where she gave birth to her last child, Henrietta Anne , in June. Although desperately weak and ill after the birth of the baby, Henrietta Maria feared the advancing Parliamentary armies, so within a few days of the baby's birth, she fled to Pendennis and from there put to sea and escaped to France. She was greeted warmly by the residents of Brittany, where she landed. She immediately repeated the quest she had begun in Holland, to secure money, arms, and ammunition to aid her husband's cause. Her continual intriguing with foreign monarchs and aristocrats, and with the pope as well, did as much as anything to harden the hearts of the English people against Charles. When she finally arrived in Paris, she was given an enthusiastic welcome, apartments in the Louvre and the Château of St. Germain-en-Laye. Her health improved, and she was reunited with many old friends who had also fled the violence across the Channel. The French crown, now under the control of Cardinal Mazarin as regent for the boy Louis XIV, gave 300,000 crowns in money and munitions to aid Charles' cause. But this aid fell far short of what Henrietta had hoped to accomplish, and she was forced to write to Charles in 1645, "I have not found the means of engaging France as forwardly in your interest as I expected."

The king's fortunes continued to deteriorate despite the exertions of his wife. His troops were routed at the Battle of Naseby in June 1645, and the private papers of the king were seized. Nothing could have been more unfortunate for Charles than for his secret correspondence with Henrietta Maria, which illuminated all of her schemes to raise money as well as his own promises to grant toleration to English Catholics in return for aid. The king's cause faltered even further—the letters, which were published in London, proved him to be shiftless and untrustworthy. Less than a year later, on May 5, 1646, Charles surrendered himself to Scottish forces, in the hopes that he would receive more lenient treatment at the hands of the people of the land of his own birth.

When the Scots discovered that Charles refused to give up the Anglican Church to the Scottish Covenant form of Protestantism, they handed him over to the English Parliamentary leaders. Henrietta spent the next two-and-a-half years in growing fear for her husband and her children; only her youngest daughter Henrietta Anne had been smuggled into France to her mother. In 1648, the French government, overstretched due to its own revolutionary troubles, stopped paying Henrietta Maria's stipend. By the winter, Henrietta was so short of cash that she could not even afford a fire for herself and her four-year-old daughter. Desperate to be with her husband during this time of peril, she wrote letters to Parliament asking for safe-conduct to England. The letters were never opened. On January 30, 1649, Charles I, who had been put on trial for high treason, was convicted and beheaded. Henrietta did not receive the news until several days later. She was so crushed that she was paralyzed with grief; for a time, she did not move or speak or weep. Finally, she gave vent to her anguish and disbelief that the English people could have committed such an outrage. "I wonder I did not die of grief," she later recalled.

To the great comfort of Henrietta Maria, her two oldest sons, Charles and James, arrived in Paris soon after their father's death, and she found herself in the position of chief advisor to her son, whom royalists already referred to as "Charles II." Her two other children, Henry, duke of Gloucester, and Elizabeth Stuart, had been allowed to bid farewell to their father before he was led to the scaffold. Elizabeth never recovered from the shock and died in England soon after. Henry, however, was too young to understand the full import of the events, and in 1653, the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, allowed him to leave England to stay with his sister in Holland. Henrietta insisted that he be brought immediately to Paris, and she was delighted to see her "beautiful little angel" that she had not seen since he was a young child. One of the results of Charles' tragic death was that Henrietta became even more fervent in her Catholic beliefs. The only one of her children whom she was able to raise in the Catholic faith was little Henrietta Anne, but for the remainder of her life Henrietta Maria pressed her other children to convert from the Anglican Church to Catholicism.

The death of Cromwell in 1658 opened the door for a change of fortune for the Stuarts. England, downtrodden and tired from years of civil war, and chafing under the austere directives of the Puritan government, grew tired of the Commonwealth experiment. In secret, a handful of Parliamentary leaders began to carve out a treaty with Charles II, to restore him to the throne of England in return for judicial immunity for themselves. In 1660, Charles II returned to his native land to assume the throne as a limited, but still powerful, monarch.

Although pleased by the accession of her son to his father's throne (she rejoiced in a letter to her sister Christine of France that the family were "vagabonds no more"), Henrietta Maria held on to her grief over her husband's death for the rest of her life. She wore black mourning dress to the end, and often remarked that, were it not for her responsibilities to her youngest daughter, she would enter a convent. In 1651, she used her political connections and influence to found a new convent at Chaillot, where she withdrew for many lengthy retreats over the next several years.

Having failed to convert her older children, she threw herself fully into her schemes to secure a suitable marriage for Henrietta Anne. In 1660, she briefly visited England, but she returned to France in 1661 with the Princess Henrietta Anne, who was married to Philip, the duke of Orléans and brother of King Louis XIV, on March 30. When Henrietta Maria returned to England in 1662, she moved into her own residence in Somerset House but found herself uncomfortable and ill at ease there. In 1665, she returned to France, from whence she never returned. She retired to her château at Colombes. The stresses of her life began to take their toll, and her health, which had always been delicate, began to fail. Finally, on August 31, 1669, Henrietta Maria took an opiate prescribed by her physicians to help her sleep; she never awoke.

Henrietta Maria was buried with full honors in the Church of St. Denis, the traditional burying place of French kings. Orations to her memory praised her for her dedication to her faith and to her husband. Henrietta Maria has been considered one of the most unfortunate characters in history. But to the end of her life, she was able to acknowledge the tragedies she had experienced in the light of the fact that, for 20 years, she had prospered in a loving relationship with her husband which few queens throughout history have ever enjoyed.


Barker, Nancy N. "Revolution and the Royal Consort," in Proceedings of the Consortium on Revolutionary Europe, 1990. Vol. 20, pp. 136–143.

Haynes, Henrietta. Henrietta Maria. NY: Putnam, 1912.

Shimp, Robert E. "A Catholic Marriage for an Anglican Prince," in Historical Magazine of the Episcopal Church. Vol. 50, 1981, pp. 3–18.

Smuts, R.M. "The Puritan Followers of Henrietta Maria in the 1630's," in English Historical Review. Vol. 366, 1978, pp. 26–45.

Veevers, Erica. Images of Love and Religion: Queen Henrietta Maria and Court Entertainments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Kimberly Estep Spangler , Assistant Professor of History and Chair of the Division of Religion and Humanities at Friends University, Wichita, Kansas

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Henrietta Maria (1609–1669)

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