It’s Henrietta Maria’s birthday today. Or at least, it’s one of them as due to a calendar discrepancy between England and France she was born on 25th November in Paris, but her birthday was celebrated on the 16th in England.
When I was younger, Henrietta Maria was one of my favourite Queens – mainly because of the gorgeously glamorous portraits that Van Dyke, Meytens and others painted of her, in which she is depicted with artfully curled black ringlets and dressed in gowns of shimmering Quality Street wrapper coloured silk. Seriously sumptuous and, it turned out, more than a little bit flattering. I also liked the fact that she was a. French and b. liked dogs. Yes, I am Linda from The Pursuit of Love.
In many ways, the story of Henrietta Maria, and in particular her fate during and after the Civil War, is reminiscent of that of her distant relative, Marie Antoinette. Both young women travelled hopefully as a naive adolescent to a foreign country to marry a young man that she longed with all her heart to fall in love with and like Marie Antoinette, Henrietta Maria found herself Queen of a nation that was already disposed to dislike her for reasons that she couldn’t help. In Henrietta Maria’s case, this was her French nationality and Catholic religion. It’s interesting to me as I research the later life of this Queen for my book that she is often described as ‘extravagant’, ‘lacking in political sense’ and ‘uneducated’ – all terms that are equally used for the unfortunate Marie Antoinette, who is also similarly perceived as an arch schemer and meddler who twisted her weak willed and overly fond husband around her little finger.
Ultimately, when faced with disaster, Henrietta Maria was the more fortunate as she managed to escape England in 1644, giving birth to her daughter Henrietta in Exeter on the way, and spent the rest of her life in France – a sad little woman with all her good looks gone, living for a long time on the charity of her French relatives, full of disappointment, mourning her executed husband and a rallying point for exiled English royalists. If anyone ever wonders what would have happened to Marie Antoinette if she had managed to escape France during the Terror, they need only look at the often miserable existence of Henrietta Maria to find their answer.
My latest novel isn’t about Henrietta Maria but is instead about her youngest daughter and one of her great grandchildren but she’ll feature heavily in the early chapters as the Princess Henrietta Anne grows to womanhood. The impression that I get of Henrietta Maria that I’m getting from my research is of a proud rather depressive little woman who sincerely adored both her husband and children, who returned her love with true affection.
Some facets of her personality, such as the way she treated her son Henry, Duke of Gloucester when he refused to give up the Protestant faith are rather less than appealing though although this is amplified by the fact that the unfortunate prince died shortly after his mother threw him out of the Palais Royal and refused to speak to him again. History would probably be kinder if he’d lived longer and they’d managed to reconcile, as I am sure they would have done eventually.
What do you think of Henrietta Maria? Are you a fan or do you think the relatively harsh way that she has been judged over the centuries is justified?