The love story between Charles I and Henrietta Maria is the stuff of legend. As we wander around the great Royal Palaces in London, the couple gaze down at us from portraits, and you can just tell that these two were very much in love. Despite their differences in the early part of their marriages, despite their differences in religion they ended up falling very much in love with each other. That’s not to say their marriage was easy, far from it, but their story is so sad and never fails to bring a tear to my eye.
The pair first met in Paris in 1623 when Charles was travelling to Spain with the Duke of Buckingham to discuss a possible marriage to the Spanish Infanta. Whilst travelling Charles saw the young Henrietta Maria at a French Court entertainment. The visit ended badly however, despite it being a rather romantic gesture for Charles. The Duke of Buckingham argued with the Spanish King’s chief minister Charles attempted to see the Infanta alone and was warned off by the Queen to said his suite was useless and the Infanta herself Dona Maria was disgusted at the prospect of marrying a heretic (the Spaniards were devout Catholics). And so upon his return to England, Charles began to look elsewhere for a bridge, and feelers began to be put out in France. Buckingham sent an emissary to Paris who received an interview with the Queen Mother, Marie De Medici. The emissary was sent back with a purse full of gold and an optimistic report. And in January 1624 King Louis of France sent King James I a present of falcons, huntsmen and horses. Things were looking up. In February 1624 the first official approach to the marriage was sent to France with a man by the name of Henry Rich, Viscount Kensington. He described Henrietta in a letter to Buckingham as a “lovely, sweet young creature”.
On the 11th May 1625 Henrietta Maria De Bourbon was married by proxy to the recently ascended Charles I of England on a special stage built at the doorway of Notre Dame. This was a catholic ceremony, as Henrietta was a devout catholic. However part of the marriage treaty said that even though Charles would allow Catholics in his country, he would remain protestant and so when Henrietta arrived in England, they would be married in a protestant ceremony. The Duke of Buckingham stood in as Charles’ proxy bridegroom. Sadly the relations between Henrietta and Buckingham were not the greatest, and after the wedding they managed to fall out over Cardinal Barbarini when Henrietta decided to go and meet the Cardinal when Buckingham had come to call on her. She said it was a courtesy due to him being the Pope’s representative. Buckingham was also getting rather irate with the length of time it was taking Henrietta to get ready to depart France for England. She ended up leaving Paris in June of 1625, arriving in Dover on Sunday 12th June. Hasty messengers were sent to King Charles to tell him that his bride had arrived in England. He arrived at 10am on the Monday morning while Henrietta was still at breakfast. She fell to her knees, speaking to him in French, and he raised her and covered her in kissing. They then retired for an hour into a private room – what did Henrietta think of this twenty four year old man, his stiff and awkward manner and a stammer that gave him difficulty in speaking. After they reappeared and Henrietta introduced her servants for him they had some dinner and set out for Canterbury. It was here that the couple had their first quarrel. This was caused by Madame St Georges who followed Henrietta into the carriage and sat down with her. Charles may have been unaware that this lady was Henrietta’s maid of honour and was expected to stay close but in any case he had planned to give Buckingham’s mother and sister the honour of sitting with them and so ordered her out. Henrietta protested, loudly but Charles was unmoved by her tears and wouldn’t give way until the French ambassadors stepped in and made the point that she was alone and thus clung to St Georges. Henrietta resented the fact that Charles gave way to her ambassadors instead of her and Charles never forgave St Georges.
At Canterbury, the couple were married in person at St Augustine’s Church on 13th June, following which they spent their wedding night at Lord Wotton’s house. The next morning Charles apparently appeared very jovial whilst Henrietta was said to be very sad. Henrietta’s religion also forbade her from being crowned in an Anglican service and when she suggested being crowned by a Catholic this did not go down well with Charles and his court. Instead she had to watch from a distance as her husband was crowed, and the fact that she was never crowned Queen of England went down rather badly with the citizens of London.
Following their marriage, Charles liked to call Henrietta just simply Maria, whilst the people called her Queen Mary, a stark comparison to Charles’ catholic grandmother Mary Queen of Scots. Henrietta was a devout Catholic, and rather unapologetic about it. In fact the entire retinue she brought from France were catholic and it caused some consternation with her husband. So much so that in June 1626 Charles had them removed from her service. This did not help the arguments between the couple, and their early years of marriage were fraught with arguments and disagreements.
But following the assassination of Buckingham in 1628, relations between husband and wife began to improve. Buckingham had been Charles’ best friend and a royal favourite, and now that his beloved “Steenie” was gone, he transferred his love for the man onto his wife. The two ended up falling head over heels in love with each other, had a grand total of 9 children together (some of whom sadly died) and stuck together through the turbulent years of Civil War. Even when apart, they would write letters to each other professing their love.
When Civil War broke out in 1642, Henrietta was at the Hague raising money for the Royalist cause, even gong so far as to sell her Crown Jewell’s, but this proved difficult as many of the larger pieces were considered too expensive to sell. And many were put off in case Parliament said that she had sold them illegally. Whilst she was successful in selling the smaller pieces, press back in England made out she was doing so to buy guns for a religious conflict which only increased her unpopularity. In February 1643 she managed to make it back to England, her fleet avoiding parliamentarian navy and landing in Yorkshire. She and her party took refuge in the town but Parliament began bombarding it and they took refuge in some nearby fields – Henrietta then defiantly returned to the little house for her dog who had been left behind. She spent the next year with her husband, after meeting up with him at Kineton before leaving her at Abingdon in 1644. It was the last time they would ever see each other.
In 1646 Henrietta settled in Paris whilst her husband continued fighting, after taking shelter with the Scottish and in July her son, Prince Charles joined her. Whilst in France she sent letters to her husband asking him to set up a Presbyterian government in England to get the Scots help, and was incredibly anxious about him, and she was horrified when Charles refused the peace offered to him by Parliament. The second civil war in 1648 did not last long however and ended up with Charles being captured by Parliament.
On January 30th 1649, Charles I was executed on a scaffold outside the Banqueting House, London, accused of high treason. News of his death sent Henrietta into deep mourning, and she wore black for the rest of her life. She was no longer Queen of England, but Queen Mother to the young King Charles II. During the continued exile of her son, she began to concentrate more on her faith and her children, particularly little Minette – she took her faith so seriously that she tried to convert both Princes, York and Gloucester to convert. These attempts obviously angered Charles II who was determined to remain protestant and this brothers and heirs should also.
When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, Henrietta Maria returned in the October, partly due to the fact that her other son James Duke of York had gotten Anne Hyde pregnant and James was proposing marriage. Henrietta was incensed at this news, she despised Clarendon and did not want Anne as a daughter in law – her son should, after all, be marrying into royalty! However Charles II ended up agreeing to the match and there was nothing she could do, or say, to stop it. Charles gave into her possession Somerset House where she lived, and a generous pension although she still was not very popular among the people and described as a “plain old woman”. After going to France to see her daughter Minette married to The Duke of Orleons’ in 1661 she intended to spend the rest of her life in England, this was not to be however and by 1665 she was very very unwell and blamed her illness on the English Weather. And so she returned to France where in 1669, after seeing the birth of her granddaughter she died at the Chateau De’ Colombes in Paris after taking laudanum to help her sleep. Her doctors had previously said that her illness, although painful, would not prove fatal. That night she realised that, despite having felt better during the day, sleep wasn’t going to come naturally and so she asked for the laudanum. She fell into a drugged sleep which she did not wake from, and died on 10th September 1669 between three and four o clock in the morning.
She was buried in the Cathedral at St Denis, given all of the pomp that a daughter of France deserved.
The story of Henrietta and Charles never fails to bring a tear to my eye. Despite their early differences they really did love each other, and after she was widowed she stayed perpetually in mourning. She supported her husband through the English Civil War, helped him, stayed true to him and remained loyal to the Royalist cause. She wasn’t popular, especially with Parliament, but to her it didn’t matter. She stuck by her husband through thick and thin, loved her children and fought to help bring about her son’s restoration. She was a woman to be reckoned with, with so many layers and facets of her personality. Henrietta Maria has to be one of my favourite Stuart Queen’s, because quite frankly, she was a bit of a bad ass.
Plowden, A, 2001, Henrietta Maria: Charles I’s Indomitable Queen, Sutton Publishing: Gloucester