Protestant king Charles I married a French Catholic Henrietta Maria, an unpopular move in the 1600s. Discover what challenges she faced.
Henriette Marie, Fille de France
Princesse Henriette Marie de France was the youngest daughter of the respected Catholic King Henri IV of France and his second wife Marie de Medici. She bore the title Fille de France or Daughter of France. Born on the 25th November 1609 at the Palais du Louvre she enjoyed a privileged upbringing but the family was struck by tragedy within a year of her birth.
Although Henri IV was generally popular he was assassinated on the 14th May 1610 by a disaffected Catholic zealot Francois Ravaillac. That day Henriette Marie's eldest brother Louis became King Louis XIII of France and his mother acted as a regent for the nine-year-old.
The royal children were raised at the Chateau de St. Germain-en-Laye just outside Paris. Their governess “Mamangat” or Françoise de Montglat was the wife of Robert de Harlay, Baron de Monglat who held the position of the Royal Chamberlain. Their daughter, Jeanne de Harley was appointed as the sub-governess.
When her two sisters married Henriette Marie became the eldest Fille de France at court and was known as Madame Royale. By 1622 she had her own household in Paris which had approximately 200 staff maintaining it.
Marriage to Charles I and Protestant England
Sophia of Hanover commented that the adult Henriette Marie was "a short woman perched on her chair, with long bony arms, irregular shoulders and teeth protruding from her mouth like a fence…beautiful eyes, a well shaped nose and an admirable complexion.”
Catholic Madame Royale did her dynastic duty and married the Protestant King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland from the House of Stuart. A proxy ceremony was held at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on the 1st May 1625. A second service was attended by Charles and Henrietta Maria, the anglicised version of her name.
She landed at Dover, Kent on the east coast of England on the 13th June 1625, and the wedding was conducted fourteen miles away at St. Augustine's Church in Canterbury the same day. Charles chose to call his new wife Maria in private. No one was permitted to sit down in his presence except for her.
Henrietta Maria spoke no English and she struggled with the language until her dying day. This made interaction difficult. Charles ordered that French become the official court language.
Queen Consort Without a Coronation
Catholics were regarded with suspicion in England; it was just 20 years since the infamous Gunpowder Plot, and her failure to swiftly win allies and friends saw her isolated particularly when Charles bowed to pressure and sent most of her French servants back to their homeland.
Charles and Henrietta Maria's relationship was strained in the early years. He spent too much time away from her and with his influential advisor George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. She felt neglected and was homesick.
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Henrietta Maria appalled the nation when she refused to participate in a Protestant coronation ceremony for Charles and herself as his consort at Westminster Abbey, London on the 2nd February 1626. She agreed to watch Charles being crowned from a short distance away but was adamant that she would play no part in the Protestant service. Her suggestion that a French Roman Catholic bishop should crown her had been dismissed by Charles and his courtiers. She never had a coronation of her own.
Charles decreed that Henrietta Maria was officially called Queen Mary but she disliked this name and signed her correspondence Henriette Marie or Henriette Marie R.
The Queen Withstands Her Many Critics
Henrietta Maria strove to cultivate an English Catholic circle of friends, advisors and clergy despite opposition from Charles, the Duke of Buckingham and her subjects. She encouraged fellow Catholics to unite in marriage although the act constituted a criminal offence.
Her attempts to involve herself in English politics led to accusations that she was working for her brother Louis XIII and she drew enormous criticism by speaking out against plans to convert Catholic children to Protestantism in England. A disillusioned Henrietta Maria spent lavishly and borrowed money without telling Charles. Her mountain of debts was still being repaid decades after her marriage.
Censure of Henrietta Maria's perceived malign influence increased to hatred in some of the population. Henrietta Maria rarely attended social events and so insults and criticisms were released unchecked. Pamphlets were published that abused her. Punishments for the authors and publishers ranged from a fine or public flogging to life imprisonment or the pain of having one or both ears cut off, as the puritan William Prynne discovered in 1632 when his ears were partially removed.
Exile in France
After Buckingham's assassination in 1628, the royal couple became closer and Charles started to trust her opinions on political matters. They discovered that they were both keen gardeners and designers. Their shared love of art saw the royal collection grow considerably.
Tragically, their firstborn child Charles died on the day of his birth, the 13th March 1629. The 29th May 1630 saw the arrival of a son who they also named Charles. She bore nine children but infant mortality took several from the couple. Their final child Henrietta Anne was born on the 16th June 1644 during the First English Civil War as Henrietta Maria was fleeing the country. Charles I only met this daughter briefly at her christening.
One of the catalysts for the civil wars was a wish by parliament to have Henrietta Maria arrested and tried for treason. Henrietta Maria took refuge in her French childhood home, the Chateau de St. Germain-en-Laye during the English Civil Wars and she grieved for her executed husband in 1649.
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Restoration of the Monarchy
She returned to England after the restoration of the English, Scottish and Irish thrones under her 30-year-old son Charles II 11 years after Cromwell's commonwealth was created.
Henrietta Maria intended to remain in England but the weather impaired her health so she relocated again and took up residence in Paris in her final years. She outlived six of her nine children and passed away at the Chateau de Colombes (colombes means "doves") near Paris on the 10th September 1669 aged 59.
- Henrietta Maria | queen consort of England | Britannica
- BCW Project: British Civil Wars, Commonwealth & Protectorate 1638-1660
Biographies, articles, military history and timelines of the British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate, 1638-60.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Joanne Hayle