Here’s a crazy story. There’s two civil wars, an assassination, a beheading, and a sorta kinda happy ending, depending on how you interpret this whole mess.
Henrietta Maria of France was born on November 25th, 1609, at the Palais du Louvre, which is currently the Louvre Museum. I’m sure most of you have heard of it. Some say that she was born on November 26th, but it doesn’t matter, because a difference of one day doesn’t do much. I’ll be calling her Henrietta since I like the name Henrietta more than Maria and because Henrietta thought the same way.
Anyways, her parents were Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici. That’s where Henrietta Maria comes from, it’s both of her parents’ names. Her father, Henry IV, was also King of Navarre, a small kingdom in what is today Spain. He inherited that throne before the Valois dynasty in France ran out of males, and he was the closest male relative.
Henry IV had been married before marrying Marie de Medici. His first marriage to Margaret of Valois had been annulled. Also, French Wars of Religion were going on, which was, to put it bluntly, when Catholics and Huguenots (French Protestants) were fighting against each other. It was a period of about thirty years, and our heroine, Henrietta, was born about a decade after most historians consider that whole mess to have ended. I think now is a good time to mention that Henrietta was a hardcore Catholic, which becomes a huge problem for her later on.
After Margaret of Valois, Henry IV had to remarry, as he had no children with Margaret. He had originally planned to marry his mistress, but she died before they could wed, so his backup plan was the Italian noblewoman, Marie de Medici. She was the daughter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. And this was after Catherine de Medici had married into the family by marrying Henry II, so the Medicis were more than just a rich family by that point. Henry IV chose Marie de Medici because her family was famous for being extremely fertile, and Henry needed heirs.
I mentioned the French Wars of Religion at the beginning. Well, we have to get back to them now, even though I’d rather talk about Henrietta. Henrietta’s father, Henry IV, had been a Protestant before becoming a Catholic after becoming King of France. So he used to be a Protestant but became a Catholic so he could become the French king. He (sort of) allowed freedom of religion. It didn’t make anybody happy — the Catholics were mad that the Protestants could be Protestants, and the Protestants were mad that the Catholics could be Catholics.
No matter what Henry did, he couldn’t satisfy both sides. Henry was assassinated by a Catholic in 1610 when Henrietta was less than a year old. That made Henrietta’s oldest brother, nine-year-old Louis, King Louis XIII. I hope I’m not the only one who reads it as “X I I” instead of “thirteenth”. Their mother, Marie de Medici, acted as her son’s regent.
Just a day before the assassination, Marie de Medici had finally been crowned Queen-Consort of France, and if she hadn’t been crowned, it would’ve been nearly impossible for her to become regent, so obviously, some people suspected that Marie de Medici had had a hand in her husband’s assassination. There were a lot of arguments between Marie and King Louis, and eventually, Marie was exiled, but that barely matters for Henrietta’s story. Just remember that her parents aren’t important anymore.
Henrietta was a very beautiful young woman with “pretty eyes, nose, and… good complexion.” One of my sources said that Henrietta had the world’s ugliest teeth and that Sophia of Hanover said that her “teeth were coming out of her mouth like tusks.” I’m scared but intrigued.
Even if she was the youngest sister of a child king, she was still a woman from a very powerful and influential family, so her marriage had to be good. But there was no way she could’ve married Charles, the Prince of Wales because he was on his way to propose to Infanta Maria Anna of Spain, so why would he ever consider an alliance with France? There was no way Henrietta would ever be a Queen of England… *wink*
While on his way to propose to Infanta Maria Anna with George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham — and remember Buckingham, he’ll be important later on — he stopped at the French court. There, he met the young Henrietta Maria. But there was no “love at first sight” or anything, they just saw each other.
After his little stop to party at the French court, Charles reached Spain, where his hopefully future father-in-law told him that if he wanted to marry Maria Anna and have an alliance with Spain, then he had to convert to Catholicism and live in Spain for a year. Remember that England was Protestant since Henry VIII got rid of Catherine of Aragon. Of course, Charles refused, and told his father, King James, to declare war on Spain. I imagine smoke coming from Charles’s ears. Maybe it was better for Maria Anna, though, because she became Holy Roman Empress.
But that’s when Henrietta becomes the next-best choice for Queen of England. Again, it’s not like Charles was thinking about that girl he met while he was on his way to propose to Maria Anna, it was kind of like how King George IV picked Caroline of Brunswick as his wife, except that this time, there was no manipulative mistress. He just chose a random French princess, because if there wasn’t going to be an alliance with Spain, an alliance with France was the next best thing.
15-year-old Henrietta married Charles by proxy in May of 1625. He was just about a decade older than her. Don’t think that that’s not so bad. How would you like to marry someone a decade older than you when you’re fifteen? Most of the time, if a woman was very young when she got married, she wouldn’t be expected to live with her husband and consummate her marriage. Well, Henrietta had to. She arrived in England with a huge entourage (including 12 Catholic priests, which made her new Protestant people unhappy), and she intended to keep them all in England.
By the time Henrietta married Charles, he was already King of England, but his father had died fairly recently, so he hadn’t been crowned quite yet. So, Henrietta’s title was now Queen of England. Remember how I mentioned that little bit about Henrietta’s teeth? Well, that came from her niece, Sophia of Hanover, around this time. Sophia said, “I was surprised to see that the queen, who I had seen as so beautiful and lean, was a woman well past her prime. Her arms were long and lean, her shoulders uneven, and some of her teeth were coming out of her mouth like tusks…”
How is a fifteen-year-old well past her prime?? And some people even agreed with this and said that Henrietta’s portraits covered all those bad features amazingly.
Anyway, the Queens of England are often crowned Queen of England, sometimes alone, and sometimes alongside their husbands, depending on when they got married. Since Charles’s coronation hadn’t happened yet, Henrietta should have been crowned Queen alongside him. But Henrietta was a hardcore Catholic, and England was Protestant.
Because England was very Protestant, and crowning kings was the Protestant Church of England’s job, they refused to put a crown on Henrietta’s head. Charles was just like, “meh”, and continued with his day. I’m now imagining smoke coming out of Henrietta’s ears.
At Charles’s coronation, Henrietta had to sit in a faraway corner, with a bunch of heads blocking her view of the coronation she was supposed to be crowned in. Henrietta had trouble learning English (she struggled with the language until the 1640s), and because she was a French Catholic, nobody liked her. England was Protestant, and France had always been their arch-rival.
Henrietta once made everybody angry by praying for the Catholics being persecuted. Henrietta Maria still had most of her large entourage with her and was spending a boatload of money on them. Charles blamed the bad start of his marriage on Henrietta’s entourage and told them all to leave. Some refused to go, so Charles had to physically force them out. Now, Henrietta was a teenage Queen in a strange new country, where nobody likes her. At least she had her husband, right?
Her husband had no time for her, he was enamored with his father’s possible lover, Buckingham, who was the guy accompanying Charles while he was on his way to propose to Infanta Maria Anna of Spain. Buckingham’s influence kept Charles away from Henrietta, and the marriage was very miserable for the first few years. Lucy Hay, a woman rumored to be the mistress of Buckingham, became Henrietta’s BFF and lady-in-waiting. Lucy Hay wasn’t genuinely Henrietta’s friend, but was likely just doing Buckingham’s bidding and keeping Henrietta and Charles away from each other.
Charles called his new wife “Maria,” but Henrietta hated that name and still signed things “Henriette” instead of Maria. That’s why I’m calling her Henrietta. The English hated her because she was very Catholic and also very French and very conservative (and, as I mentioned, she spoke terrible English). Nobles snubbed her, and the English just wouldn’t stop hating her. They began calling her “Queen Mary.” If you have no idea how that’s an insult, then allow me to explain.
Henrietta’s husband’s paternal grandmother was Mary, Queen of Scots (let’s call her MQOS since I hate typing). Like Henrietta, MQOS was a devout Catholic. That was a problem because MQOS was Queen Elizabeth I’s closest relative and because Queen Elizabeth I never married or had children. That made MQOS the heir to the kingdom of England. Except that England was a Protestant country, and had been that way since Henry VIII established the Church of England in the 1530s. Anyway, Elizabeth ended up executing MQOS — it’s complicated, but we all know the story — so MQOS’s son, James VI of Scotland, became Elizabeth’s heir and succeeded her. James was Henrietta’s father-in-law, so that’s how Charles landed on the throne.
If that was a bit hard to follow, don’t worry. They’re just calling her “Queen Mary” because her grandmother-in-law was an unpopular Catholic, just like what Henrietta was becoming. So, to recap: everybody hates Henrietta because she’s very Catholic and not very English and because she prayed for Catholics being persecuted.
Another thing she was hated for? Her friends often got away with doing Catholic-y things (such as having Catholic weddings and things like that), which made everybody even angrier with Henrietta. It seemed that people just couldn’t get enough of hating her. Why was Henrietta getting away with all this? Because her husband loved her now. How did this happen? After three years of marriage, Buckingham was assassinated by an army officer.
Without Buckingham’s influence, Charles had time to spend with his new wife, and they were devoted to each other. Charles might have even been faithful to her because I was unable to find names of any illegitimate children or mistresses of his. Charles even called her “Dear Heart” in some of his letters to her. Henrietta became her husband’s best friend and closest advisor. And Henrietta’s BFF, Lucy Hay, who was probably just doing Buckingham’s bidding, unfriended Henrietta.
When your father-in-law’s possible lover isn’t manipulating your husband, it’s much, much easier for you to get pregnant. But it’s not like Henrietta was going to deliver the longed-for male heir, and everybody’s going to start loving her. It seems that nothing good can ever happen to Henrietta. In 1629, Henrietta nearly died giving birth to her child, and the baby was a stillborn son.
The next year, Henrietta was pregnant again, and after that difficult first labor, she wasn’t looking forward to giving birth. This time, she nearly died (again), but the baby was a healthy son. They named him Charles. We’ll call him Little Charles, so we don’t confuse him with Henrietta’s husband.
Henrietta had a lot of influence over her husband, so much that she was pretty much making all the important decisions herself. Charles complained that he couldn’t make Henrietta a councilor, since she was a woman.
Henrietta kept dwarves, which was a trend at the time. No, you’re not hallucinating. Keeping dwarves was a trend. Apparently, the dwarves were amusing because they were small like children, but with the mind of an adult. Basically, they were funny because they were tiny adults.
Henrietta used these dwarves to play pranks on her husband. She would often bake her favorite dwarf, Sir Jeffery Hudson, into a pie (did he not get burnt??) and give the pie to Charles. Then, Jeffery would scare Charles. As much as I love Henrietta, I would’ve scolded her a ton for this.
Henrietta did like doing things that had nothing to do with dwarves. She loved art, and she and Charles were patrons of the arts. They loved music and paintings, but Henrietta especially loved… acting. That’s right, our Queen Henrietta pissed everyone off by being Catholic, made important decisions, baked dwarves into pies, and ACTED. Seriously, I’m scared to keep researching, I don’t know what I’m going to find next.
Women normally didn’t perform, it was only after England’s brief stint as a republican commonwealth that women started performing, but even after that, it didn’t become a normal thing for quite a while. That’s why Henrietta’s beautiful acting scandalized everyone. Henrietta’s normal hobby made people even angrier at her for some reason. People wrote pamphlets that basically said that Henrietta was a piece of crap.
But remember how Charles had fallen head over heels for Henrietta? He really, truly did. One source says that Charles had one guy’s ears cut off, and had another guy imprisoned for life. Weowzers. But if you know any English history, you know that Charles can’t cut off everyone’s ears.
So, Charles was doing a lot of “bad things” as king. I haven’t really discussed his reign yet since it mostly didn’t impact Henrietta, but I have to talk about it now. He believed in absolute rule, but even if the common people didn’t have many rights, the nobility and Parliament were super powerful and could prevent him from TAXING THE PEOPLE. Did you hear that? TAXING. If anyone ever asks you how a great conflict in history started, the answer is always taxes. Charles taxed the people anyway, which obviously made Parliament mad. In 1629, Charles even suspended Parliament so he could tax the people to his heart’s content.
Then there was religion. Some people thought Charles was too Catholic because of Henrietta. Some people thought he was too Protestant. The Puritans just hated him. Charles attempted to do stuff to reform the churches of England and Scotland (I didn’t really understand what he was trying to do when I read about it), and that culminated in the Bishops’ Wars, which was yet another thing that made Charles easier to overthrow.
Sooo, yeah. If you like civil war, here it is. Parliamentarians vs. King Charles and his monarchists. Apparently, Henrietta started the whole thing by telling Charles, “What do you think we have prisons for?? LOCK ‘EM UP.” By 1642, the Parliamentarians had had enough, and they were ready to get rid of Charles. Because a literal civil war was going on, Henrietta couldn’t stay in England. I also think that now is a good time to mention that Henrietta had had nine children with Charles, but only five were alive by then. Three were dead, and one hadn’t been born yet. They were all very young, and her eldest living child, her son, Little Charles, was only around twelve years old.
Henrietta went to The Hague in what is now the Netherlands, where some of her husband’s relatives were already living. There, she didn’t enjoy good health but still attempted to sell off some of her jewels to raise money to help restore her husband to his throne. Civil war isn’t cheap, kids, make sure you’ve got enough money before you start one. Henrietta only sold smaller and less valuable jewelry, but everybody back in England thought that she was selling the most valuable of the crown jewels, and they were angry.
Henrietta existed, which made the English very angry.
Charles was in York, NOT THE CAPITAL BECAUSE THINGS ARE GOING BADLY. Henrietta told him to fight back and that he shouldn’t spare anyone. She told him not to negotiate with the Parliamentarians, which seems pretty dumb to me, but it was perfectly sensible to Henrietta.
Henrietta was not the kind of lady who sat on her hands and waited patiently. She tried to get to her husband in York twice. Because Europe and England are separated by water, Henrietta had to sail to England. I like to think she felt like William the Conqueror when she was on her journey. The first time was a huge failure. Henrietta’s voyage started well, but the ship almost sank. She tried again in February of 1643 and made it to Yorkshire. That trip wasn’t too pleasant either, because the Parliamentarians had warships, and they weren’t too fond of Henrietta, so you can guess what happened there.
Henrietta finally saw her husband again, and Henrietta got pregnant with her ninth child, a daughter named Henrietta Anne. By 1644, when Henrietta was still heavily pregnant with Henrietta Anne, things weren’t going too well for Charles. On April 17th, 1644, Charles kissed Henrietta goodbye for the last time. It would be much safer for her to travel to Bath and have the child.
She wandered through England until she went back to France that June with her children. Her brother, Louis XIII, was dead, so Henrietta depended on the generosity of her nephew, Louis XIV (“The Sun King”). He gave her only a little money, so Henrietta had to sell off more of her things to get by. She surrounded herself with royalists, and told her husband to negotiate with Parliament, as long as he could keep his head. Henrietta also tried to convert her younger sons to Catholicism, which — you guessed it — made the English angry. Little Henrietta Anne (who was called “Minette” by her mother, so we’ll call her that as well) did convert, and later married her cousin, Philippe, Duke of Orléans.
Anyway, in 1649, King Charles I was executed for treason, so Henrietta’s oldest living son, Little Charles, became King Charles II. When Henrietta heard, she was completely shocked. She wore black for the rest of her own life. So, who was running England? This guy named Oliver Cromwell, who was, well, terrible. He was the “Lord Protector” but he had the authority of a king, and his son would succeed him. So, when his weak son did succeed him, Parliament was done with the Cromwells, so they told Charles II, “I know we beheaded your father, but like, can you please be king?” And he agreed.
By the way, while they were still in exile, Henrietta’s second son, James, had an affair with a woman named Anne Hyde. She became pregnant, Henrietta was mad AF, but James promised to marry her. He did end up doing that, and Anne gave birth to many children, two survived: Queen Mary II and Queen Anne.
Henrietta was the Queen Mother/Dowager Queen now, and enjoyed a comfortable life. Maryland, Lord Baltimore’s cool new colony, was named after Henrietta Maria. Maybe it was supposed to be an insult, since the English had called Henrietta “Queen Mary” as an insult. She died in 1669, about a decade after the monarchy was restored. That was quite a story, wasn’t it?