My much wanted copy of My Dearest Minette: Letters between Charles II and his sister, the Duchesse d’Orléans arrived this morning and has been delighting me all day. I love both Charles and Henriette anyway and love how genuinely and whole heartedly affectionate they were to each other.
‘St Germain, 27 May 1665,
I would not answer the letter which you sent me by M. de Sainton, by the post, because our letters are so often opened. I would perhaps have spoken to the King, as it were on my own account, about all that, but I have been prevented by the prospect of a battle which is sure to be furious, and is likely to change the face of affairs. If he had given me a positive reply, everything might be altered before you received this letter, for by the last news from Holland, we hear that their fleet has left port, and that in consequence a battle is certain. This, I confess, is a thing which makes me tremble. Whatever advantage you may have, it is, after all, Fortune which decides most things in this world. I cannot bear to think that this little handful of miserable creatures should dare to defy you. It is pushing glory rather far, but I cannot help it. Everyone has his private fancy, and mine is to be very much alive to all that concerns you! I hope you will not blame me, and this will show you once more that there is no one who loves you as well as I do.’
— Letter from Henrietta Anne Stuart, Duchesse d’Orléans to Charles II.
I should thinke myself much to blame if I let this bearer see you without a letter from me. I know not whether the long time we have been asunder doth not slacken the kindness you had for me, I am sure neither that or anything else can alter me in the least degree towards you. Deare sister, be kinde to me for assure yourself there is no person living will strive to deserve it more than him that is and ever will be most truly yours.
For my deare Sister, C.’
— Letter from Charles II to his sister, Henrietta Anne Stuart, Duchesse d’Orléans.
Charles’ letters are usually written in English, unless he anticipated that Henriette would want to show them either to her husband Philippe or her brother-in-law Louis XIV, in which case he would write in French. For her part, however, Henriette would always write to her brother in French as her English wasn’t exactly great despite Charles’ urging her to at least attempt to write in English in the hopes that it would help her improve. I suspect that Henrietta’s imperfect French and lack of ability in what ought to have been her own language served as an uncomfortable reminder of the family’s long years of separation and exile in the wake of the Civil War.
We have here though a transcript of Henriette’s first attempt to write a letter in English, which was addressed to Sir Thomas Clifford and was written, tragically, only nine days before her tragic death.
‘Paris, 21st June,
When i have write to the King from Calais i praid him to tel milord Arlingtonan you what he had promised mi for bothe. his ansers was that hi gave me againe his word, that hee would performe the thing, but that hi did not thing it fit exequte it now.
I tel you this sooner than to Milord Arlingtonbecause i know you ar not so hard to satisfie as hee. I should be so my self, if I was not surethatvthe Kingwould not promismee a thing to faille in the performance of it.
This is the ferste letter I have ever write in inglis. you will eselay see it bi the stile and tograf. pray see in the same timethat i expose mi self to be thought a foulle in looking to make you know how much I am your friend.
for Sr Thomas Clifort.‘
Now, if that last paragraph doesn’t make you love Henrietta as much as I do, well, you must have a heart of GRANITE.
The details of court life are fascinating but I had to wince a bit at Charles’ descriptions of poor Frances Stuart’s suffering when she was stricken with small pox (and his clear worry that she might lose her good looks as a result) and his mention of his unfortunate daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Monmouth’s sufferings after she managed to break a thigh bone while participating in a vigorous court dance and had to have the bone re-broken again after it failed to set properly.
I can already see that this will be the valuable resource that I hoped it would be as I piece together the details of Minette’s life and, most importantly, get a feel for how she herself would have spoken.
The other thing is that having read Charles’ letters to his sister that reveal so much of his love for her, I can’t even begin to imagine how he must have felt when the news of her death arrived at Whitehall. I knew, of course, that he was devastated but now I think he must have been utterly flattened by her loss and you know what, it makes my heart ache to think of it.
An hour after Minette had died in agony at St Cloud, the English Ambassador to France, Ralph Montagu sat down to write to Lord Arlington, entrusting the letter which began ‘My Lord – I am sorry to be obliged by my employment, to give you an account of the saddest story in the world, and which I have hardly the courage to write…‘ to Sir Thomas Armstrong, who had been at Henrietta’s side when she died and who travelled immediately and without any break to London to personally inform Charles of his sister’s death.
We don’t know what precisely happened during that brief and emotional interview between Armstrong and the sovereign other than that Charles collapsed in tears and shouted ‘Monsieur is a villain’, having clearly decided that his sister had been poisoned by her husband, before hurrying to his rooms where he locked himself in his bedroom for five days and refused to see anyone. When he finally emerged he pointedly refused to see either the official envoy sent from Paris by an alarmed Louis XIV to offer his condolences or the French Ambassador and, even more alarmingly, recalled Montagu from France. The recalling of an Ambassador being, of course, the traditional precursor to a period of hostility…
Eventually Charles would come to his senses and learn to master his emotions on the subject for the sake of diplomatic harmony between Britain and France although he probably privately never wavered from his belief that Philippe was responsible for Henrietta’s death. A view that was not almost certainly not shared by Louis XIV whom Saint-Simon claimed once took the second Duchesse d’Orléans, who was a cousin of Charles and Henrietta, aside to assure her that although Minette had been poisoned it was not by his brother’s hand and that he would never have permitted him to marry again had he been guilty of such a terrible act. The second Duchesse, lovely Liselotte, adored a good drama however, as did Saint-Simon, so it’s uncertain just how true this is…