Henrietta of England, known as Minette, fled England at the age of only three, then became a very unhappy duchess, followed by her very mysterious death at a very young age.

Henrietta Anne Stuart, known as Minette by her family, was born on June 16th, 1644. She was the daughter of King Charles I of England and his wife, Henrietta Maria. The English Civil War was going on then, and Henrietta Maria had come to England to see her husband and had left Oxford for Exeter to give birth. The civil war was going badly for Charles at that point, and Henrietta’s health was deteriorating, so some did not think Queen Henrietta would survive the birth of Minette (we’re calling her Minette so we don’t get confused).

It was indeed a difficult birth, and that was on top of the whole civil war that’s going badly for her thing, so Henrietta Maria was going back to her native France. Minette was left in the care of Anne Villiers, Lady Dalkeith, while Henrietta left England about a month after Minette’s birth. Anne was a very good governess to Minette and safely got her to France in 1646.

Minette spent her whole life near her mother, and they were very close. Henrietta Maria could do pretty much whatever she wanted with her daughter since she was so far away from anyone who would object, so her youngest daughter was raised as a Catholic, even though she was baptized in the Church of England.

Minette and Henrietta Maria were given apartments in the Louvre, and Minette’s cousin and Henrietta’s nephew, the King of France, gave them a pension of 30,000 livres, most of which Henrietta sent to her husband to help the royalist cause. “Anne” was also added to Minette’s name, after Anne of Austria, the mother of the King of France, Louis XIV. Henrietta Anne Stuart of England had a less than amazing life, though.

The civil war was going so horribly for Minette’s father, Charles I, that it’s hard to exaggerate how simply bad everything was for them. In 1649, Minette and her mother received news that Charles I had been beheaded by the Parliamentarians (read my article on Henrietta Maria to learn more about that whole mess). Henrietta took that news badly, but all they’d have to do was make it through a decade. 

The “Lord Protector” who acted very much like a king, Oliver Cromwell, wasn’t all too popular, and once his son inherited his position (as I said, he was a king in everything but name), everyone was tired of this and they just let Charles I’s son, Minette’s eldest brother, Charles II, come back to England to become king again. 

That was great for Minette since she and Charles were very close, but it was even better (and also worse) for another reason. (Also, a connection to someone else I’ve written about: it was just before becoming king that Charles proposed to Hortense Mancini, but her uncle declined the offer. Now was when he started really regretting that.)

Minette’s cousin, Philippe I, Duke of Orleans, proposed, and Minette literally could not say no: Philippe was the brother of the French king, definitely a good husband in terms of titles and stuff, and he was also her cousin and Henrietta’s nephew, so it would make a weird family dinner if she rejected Philippe. Also, literally everyone else approved of them marrying, so really, why not?

Minette and Henrietta returned to England briefly, but once the French government officially proposed to Minette (is that not weird??), her brother gave her a dowry of 840,000 livres. One of Minette’s older sisters died just before she went off to France to marry Philippe, so she had to wait, but in March of 1661, she and Philippe were married. And then came the figurative hellfire that their marriage was.

Madame, la duchesse d’Orleans with a portrait of her husband, Monsieur

After they were married, Minette and Philippe moved into the Tuileries Palace, and Minette was known as Madame, la duchesse d’Orleans. Amazing so far, right? Well, Philippe was bisexual and everyone knew it, and Minette and Philippe were constantly unfaithful to each other. Just a year after they married, Minette had a daughter named Marie Louise (later Queen of Spain).

Everyone was whispering that Marie Louise wasn’t Philippe’s child, or that it was instead the son of his brother KING LOUIS XIV I’M SORRY WHAT. The more believable idea was that the Count of Guiche was the father of Marie Louise because they allegedly had an affair early in Minette’s marriage, but he was also allegedly Philippe’s former lover so will someone please tell me what the hell is going on. Philippe went and cried about this to his mother like, “my brother is the father of my wife’s children please help mom,” and she was very mad at Louis XIV and Minette.

Minette had a son in 1664 who died a few years later, followed by a stillborn daughter, and another daughter named Anne Marie. Around the time of Anne Marie’s birth, Minette’s mother Henrietta died. She was obviously devastated, but Philippe offered no consolations when he was like, “she had money??” and tried to grab all her possessions for himself before Henrietta’s funeral had even taken place.

Then there was the Chevalier de Lorraine, someone very important to Minette’s life. Lorraine was allegedly a lover of Philippe, and he was quite jealous of Minette. He tried everything to make Philippe hate Minette, and it worked. Philippe made Minette’s life quite miserable, and when Minette complained about this to her good friend, the King, he banished Lorraine from court, which made Philippe despise her even more. This certainly didn’t turn out to be a happy marriage.

Aside from her confusing personal life, Minette also did a lot of stuff. She corresponded with many notable playwrights and poets throughout her life. Minette loved gardening and helped to create a water garden at the Palais-Royal.

Minette’s biggest accomplishment was the Treaty of Dover, which would never have happened without her hard work. Her brother, King Charles II, wanted a closer alliance with France and promised that he’d become a Catholic in return. Minette just wanted to go and see her brother after so long, since they’d only been exchanging letters for the last decade.

Philippe didn’t want her to go, but Minette’s BFF, her brother-in-law, Louis XIV, told Philippe to shut up, so off she went. Louis XIV, her lifelong friend and confidant, arranged for her to go to England to help out with this whole thing. She arrived in Dover in May of 1670 and stayed there for a few weeks.

On the first of June, the Treaty of Dover was signed. Basically, Charles would abandon his triple alliance with Sweden and the Dutch Republic, and he would also help Louis conquer the Dutch Republic. Charles would also get a bunch of profitable ports. 

Minette and Charles doing regular brother-sister stuff like negotiating secret treaties

The treaty was only made public in 1830, about a century and a half after Minette made it happen. After many celebrations and Minette getting to meet Charles’s wife, Catherine of Braganza, whom she liked, and after a very tearful farewell, Minette returned to France on June 18th, 1670. Neither her brothers nor Minette knew it would be the last time they ever met.

Minette had been ill for quite some time since the Chevalier de Lorraine had come and screwed everything up, and in 1670, she wasn’t doing all that well. Minette was completely sure that she was being poisoned. On June 29th, 1670, she drank a glass of iced chicory water. After that, she had a very unexpected pain in her side and became quite ill. She reportedly cried, “Ah! What a pain! What shall I do! I must be poisoned!” If she was poisoned, it was quite definitely either the Chevalier de Lorraine or her husband. Minette died on the morning of June 30th and is buried in the Basilica of Saint-Denis. She was only twenty-five when she died.

King Louis ordered an autopsy, which was performed by both French and British doctors and was attended by a ton more people. The doctors said that Minette had died of natural causes. It’s a mystery that we’ll probably never solve.

Minette’s older daughter, Marie Louise, married King Charles II of Spain and had no children. Minette’s second daughter, Anne Marie, married Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia and had a ton of children with him. The most important of them, Marie Adelaide of Savoy, became the mother of King Louis XV of France (yes, that means she married a relative, and yes they should’ve known better, just look at a portrait of Marie Louise’s husband).

Through Anne Marie, Minette is an ancestor of the Jacobite pretenders to the English throne, King Louis XVI, Louis XVII, Louis XVIII, and Charles X of France, all the kings of Spain from Philip V to now, and the current Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

Click here for more images of Minette that I was too lazy to add here.

2 thoughts on “Henrietta of England: The Poisoned Duchess of Orléans

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