Charles I & Henrietta Maria: A Love Story

Charles I and Henrietta by Mytens

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.

Henrietta Maria by Van Dyke

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.

Charles I and Henrietta Maria by Van Dyke

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.

Henrietta, Duchesse De Orleons aka Minette

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.

Further Reading

Plowden, A, 2001, Henrietta Maria: Charles I’s Indomitable Queen, Sutton Publishing: Gloucester

Charles I

For a very long time, Charles I has been a man who has fascinated me greatly. Not only for his rather ostentatious moustache but also for the fact that he was King during a time of great darkness in England, and he fought for keeping tradition in England. Unfortunately his belief in the Divine Right of Kings would see him brought to the block charged with treason.

Charles was the son of James I (VI of Scotland) who became King after the death of Elizabeth 1 on 24th March 1603. Charles was never supposed to be King, he was the spare heir but when his brother Henry died in 1612 Charles became the heir – a story that sounds rather similar to how Henry VIII became heir to the English throne! Charles became king on 27th March 1625

Charles married Henrietta Maria on 11th May 1625, by proxy at Notre Dame in Paris – many members of parliament were opposed to the marriage due to Henrietta Maria being Catholic, so Charles married her before parliament could meet and ban the marriage. Parliament feared that if Charles married a Catholic, he would lift the restrictions on Roman Catholic religion and change the Church of England. Charles promised to his parliament that he would not do this and the laws would stay in place, however he then promised to the French King Louis XIII that he would do exactly that and a secret marriage treaty was arranged. Charles and Henrietta Maria were married in person on 13th June 1625 at St Augustine’s Church in Canterbury. Charles was crowned King at Westminster Abbey shortly after, on 2nd February 1626 however his wife was not there due to the controversy of their marriage.

Charles caused a stir even early on in his reign with his friendship to George Villiers who ended up being assassinated in 1628. There was also huge tension between King and Parliament due to the huge cost of wars abroad, and Charles needing money to support these wars – for instance with the 30 years war which was raging in Europe, and unrest with both Scotland and Ireland. Religion of course also caused problems between King and Parliament – not only did Parliament dislike Charles’ marriage with the Catholic Henrietta Maria, but Charles himself favoured a high Anglican approach to religion which, although a form of protestantism leaned more towards the beliefs and practises of Catholicism. This made many suspicious and caused friction in Parliament, particularly amongst those with a more Puritan leaning. After so much friction, Charles dissolved Parliament three times between 1625 and 1629, before dissolving Parliament once more in 1629 and resolving to rule alone. This period of personal rule meant that he could not rely on Parliament to provide money when he needed it, thus meaning he had to find other methods of raising money which made the King more and more unpopular. In particular, and the method that is always mentioned, was the Ship Money – this tax was normally only levied on coastal times at times of War, however to raise funds Charles imposed the tax on everyone and it caused a lot of opposition with many refusing to pay it. The Ship Money, along with the issues of religion and Charles’ deep belief in the Divine Right of King all contributed to the English Civil War.

Tensions in Scotland were caused by Charles introducing a new prayer book which was met with hard opposition. This put and end to Charles’ era of personal rule as he was forced to call Parliament as he needed money to fight the Scottish. In 1641 tension rose even more with disagreements between King and Parliament over who should command the army and suppress uprising in Ireland. All of this lead to Charles attempting to have 5 members of Parliament arrested (which failed, the got wind of this and escaped) – war was on and the King raised his standard in Nottingham in August 1642. The English Civil War had begun.

The English Civil War was a brutal time for England, and often split families right down the middle. Often sons fought their own brothers and fathers – there is a rather harrowing story in Tristram Hunt’s “The English Civil War at First Hand” showing just how this happened:

“The most tragic case of family warring took place during a battle at Wardour Castle. As he lay dying from his wounds the Roundhead soldier, Private Hillsdeane, confirmed that it was his own Royalist brother who had fired the fatal shot”

When you mention the English Civil War most people know that Parliament were the victors and can name a few of the big battles such as Marston Moor and Edgehill. However to start with the Royalists had the upper hand – however this changed after the advent of the New Model Army in February 1645. The NMA was the first professional army that England ever had, and it changed the tide of the War. After 1644, the Royalists began to lose their grip on the War, and Parliament had the upper hand.

In 1646, Charles surrendered to the Scots and he was handed over to Parliament and thus was imprisoned. He tried many plucky escape attempts, and managed to escape from the Isle of Wight in 1647. Thus began the Second English Civil War and Charles convinced the Scots to help him. It was over within a year, the Royalists yet again being defeated. Charles was a prisoner again and put on trial for treason

The trial began on 20th January 1649. Charles refused to enter a plea, stating that they had no right to put their monarch on trial for treason. After all, treason was a crime against the King so how could he be guilty of it? He was convinced that he was given the right to rule by God himself and no man had the power to overturn that and thus insisted that the trial was illegal. It was in truth a kangaroo court, and the outcome was already decided – Cromwell and Parliament wanted rid of the King and they would get their way. Over the week of the trial Charles refused to enter a plea three times and at that time it was normal to take refusal to plea as an admission of guilt. On Saturday 27th January 1649 Charles was declared guilty and sentenced to death.

On 30th January 1649, Charles I was executed on a scaffold outside of the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace. It is often told that he wore two shirts because of the cold weather and he didn’t want the watching crowds to think he was shivering out of fear. Charles stepped out of a window onto the waiting scaffold, separated from the crowds by a line of soldiers. In his final speech he spoke of how he only ever wanted the liberty and health of his people, and how due to his previous agreement to execute an innocent man (The Earl of Strafford – executed in 1641 he was a long time advisor to the King, who at first refused to sign his death warrant). Also in his speech he spoke of how he never tried to subvert the religion of the Church of England. In short he was reminding those watching, and Parliament of his innocence. At 2pm, the King knelt before the block, telling the executioner that he would say but very short prayers before thrusting out his hands as a sign he was ready to die. He also asked the executioner whether his hair troubled him, and then with the help of the Bishop with him and the executioner was placed all under a nightcap. Just before the axe fell, Charles spoke a few words which never fail to bring a slight tear to my eye:

“I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be”

After a short pause, Charles thrust his arms out and the executioner removed the King’s head with one swift blow. The typical words of the executioner following an execution were “behold the head of a traitor” whilst holding up the head of the condemned. However, although Charles’ head was displayed the words were not spoken, instead the executioner and crowds were silent.

Following his execution, Cromwell allowed the head of Charles to be sewn back on and the body given to his family for burial. Charles was buried in a secret ceremony at Windsor Castle on 7th February 1649. He was interred in the same vault as Henry VIII and his Queen Jane Seymour.

Charles I lead a remarkable life and fought hard for what he believed in. He fought for the traditions of the English and inspired loyalty from those who fought with him. His death was a tragedy, thankfully Charles’ son Charles II extracted revenge on those who signed his fathers death warrant after he became King in 1660. Even Cromwell could not escape, despite already being dead and buried. The body of Cromwell was dug up, put on trial for regicide and beheaded at Tyburn. Despite the fact that Charles I reigned during an exceptionally dark period in English history, he is one of the most colourful characters in the country’s varied history and a man who certainly did not deserve the end that he received.

Further reading:

Braddick, M, 2008, Gods Fury, England’s Fire: A New History of the English Civil War, The Penguin Group: London

Hunt, T, 2002, The English Civil War at First Hand, Penguin: London

Purkiss, D, 2006, The English Civil War: A People’s History, Harper Perennial: London

Wedgewood, C.V, 1964, A King Condemned: The Trial and Execution of Charles I,  Tauris: London

Picture Credits:

Charles I Equestrian Portrait by Van Dyke, (accessed 24th March 2012)

Charles I: (accessed 24th March 2012)

Henrietta Maria: (accessed 24th March 2012)

Execution of Charles I: (accessed 24th March 2012)

Charles I Grave: (accessed 24th March 2012)