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Henrietta Maria, Queen Consort to Charles I
Posted on Nov 13, 2006 - 08:25 PM by Bill McCann

We will soon begin the serialisation of "The Queen's Physik" and, as a prelude, give here a short biography of the queen to whom it belonged. A Catholic Princess of France, Henrietta Maria became the steadfast and loyal queen to Charles I. In the increasingly Puritan England her religion was a major obstacle to good relations with parliament and the army. When Charles' unbending refusal to alter his religious policies finally provoked the Civil Wars she actively supported him by raising arms abroad and joining him on the campaign. His execution was a blow from which she never recovered.



Henrietta Maria, the youngest daughter of King Henri IV of France and Marie de Medici, was born in Paris on 16 November 1609 and named after both her parents. Her childhood was a happy one and she became accomplished at riding, dancing and singing. The French Royal Family was Catholic and Henrietta Maria was taught by the Carmelite nuns. She remained a devoted Catholic through her long life, and this proved to be her greatest handicap.

In this period, Royal daughters wee valued chiefly as political pawns. They were useful in the chess-game of diplomacy and, through political marriages, were useful instruments in the making and breaking of alliances.

At the time of her birth, England was recovering from the death of the great Elizabeth and was a land of religious turmoil. The Reformation, initiated by the cabinet of Edward VI and cemented by Elizabeth during her long reign, had resulted in a viciously dominant and jealous Protestant Church. (It is commonly assumed, and often asserted, that Henry VIII founded the Protestant Church of England. This is not the case. Henry made himself Head of the Church in England. He simply replaced the Pope as the head of the Church and remained a Catholic. The Title Defender of the Faith, which is still used by British Monarch today, was granted to Henry by the Pope for his Treatise against the Protestant teachings of Martin Luther. Had Edward not been born, and had Henry been directly succeeded by his eldest child Mary, it is unlikely that England would have become Protestant at all.)

Haunted by the guilty knowledge that it's separation from the Catholic Church was truly schismatic, and it's brazen usurpation of the lands and properties of that Church hardly legal, The Church of England suffered (and still suffers) from a huge inferiority complex. Naturally, it sought to ignore and bury this guilt by attempting to remove all reminders of its roots. This meant that those who remained true to the Catholic Church were to be cast out of society and persecuted until they either conformed or disappeared. Others who refused to conform to the Protestant creed were similarly treated. During the early years of the 17th century these, notably, included the Puritans. It was this persecution which motivated the Pilgrim Fathers when they set out in the Mayflower to establish a new colony in North America. It is one of the ironies of history that the Puritan faction became dominant in parliament within years of the mayflower's voyage.

During Elizabeth's reign, England's great enemy was Catholic Spain led by Phillip II, husband of Queen Mary. Spain saw it as her mission to return England to the Catholic Church. When he succeeded Elizabeth in 1603, James I had led people to believe that Catholics would have their rights restored. At the time of Henrietta Maria's birth, those expectations had been dashed. The Gunpowder Plot, whether it was real or a government "set up," had confirmed many in their virulent anti-Catholic Protestantism and the country was set on its way to the cataclysmic event that was to dominate the century and the last half of Henrietta Maria's long life.

In 1625 England and France formed a political alliance against Spain. This was cemented, as was usual, by a political marriage. Henrietta Maria was married to Charles, eldest son of James I and heir to the throne. There were problems to be overcome. It was the first time that a Catholic Princess was betrothed to a Protestant Prince and a special dispensation had to be obtained from the Pope. Happily, Urban VIII had been, first, a papal legate and, later, papal nuncio to France. He was very close to Henrietta Maria's father and was, in fact, one of the princess' godfathers. The dispensation was readily granted.

However, in England itself, the marriage caused great disquiet. Parliament, in particular, with its growing Puritan bigotry, was alarmed at this arrival of a practicing Catholic at the very heart of the Royal Family. James was expected to die soon (he did so within months) and the prospect of the Queen Consort openly practicing a banned religion was absolutely objectionable to the Protestant establishment. They had no real influence at this time, however, and the marriage was duly solemnized on May 1st. 1625. Charles succeeded to the throne in the following February, and the forebodings of the establishment were strengthened and, in their eyes, justified, when Henrietta Maria refused to be crowned by a Protestant Bishop. She stayed away from the coronation ceremony entirely.

On a personal level, Henrietta Maria and Charles had very different temperaments. Where she was vivacious and fond of style, he was sober and aloof. Their marriage did not begin well. Charles had inherited from his father that peculiar weakness for male "favourites" which was a characteristic of the first half of the Stuart era. In the case of James I, there was certainly a homosexual element in this. In Charles' case this may also have been the case. Charles "inherited" his father's last favourite, and lover, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

Buckingham's influence was huge and, if they were, in fact, lovers he may well have resented the arrival of this young girl from France. Whatever the private details of the relationship between the two men, it is a matter of record that Charles completely ignored his young wife. Buckingham's influence, with both James and Charles, was deeply resented by both the nobility and parliament. In particular, his direction of Charles' Foreign policy and a series of disastrous military expeditions against both Spain and France, made him many powerful enemies. parliament twice tried to impeach Buckingham but these were blocked by Charles who promptly dissolved the parliaments. Buckingham was eventually assassinated in 1628, and Charles then transferred his affections to Henrietta Maria. They grew to become very fond of each other. They had nine children: four sons, Charles (who died as a teenager), Charles (who became Charles II), James and Henry and five daughters, Mary, Elizabeth, Anne, Catherine and Henrietta Anne.

After the assassination of Buckingham, an emboldened Parliament turned its attention to Charles' religious policy and demanded changes. Charles reiterated his right to govern without Parliament, claiming that his authority derived from the doctrine of the "Divine Right of Kings." The power of kings came directly from God, by whom kings were anointed at their coronation. There could be no interference by parliament. He angrily dismissed his third Parliament in 1629 and imprisoned several of his leading opponents. From now,, he would rule alone, without the "advice" or parliament. There followed an eleven-year period of the King's Personal Rule, which was described by his opponents as the "Eleven Year Tyranny".

It was initially successful, and, during the turmoil and insecurity of the Civil Wars, many looked back upon it as a period of peace and prosperity. Charles had made peace with Spain and France by 1630. Trade and commerce grew; the King's finances were stable by 1635. This enabled him to commission great works of art by Rubens and Van Dyck, and also to build up the Royal Navy for England's defence. But without Parliament to grant legal taxes, Charles was obliged to raise income by obscure and highly unpopular means including forced loans, the sale of commercial monopolies and, notoriously, the detested Ship Money.

It was, however, his religious policies and the tenacity with which he stuck to them, that were the major source of contention. Parliament was recalled in 1640 to vote some badly needed taxes. Now largely Puritan, it at once set about flexing its muscles. Many of the king's advisors, including personal friends such as the Earl of Strafford and Archbishop Laud, were arrested on the pretext of their ill-advised economic policies. During the high profile trials which followed, parliament let it be known that the queen herself was not beyond its reach. To emphasize the point, an empty chair was conspicuously kept in the defendant's dock, with the implication that it could be filled at any time if parliament so willed it.

In an act of political provocation, the Earl of Strafford was sentenced to death by beheading. The personal pleas of the King and Queen were ignored and the sentence was swiftly carried out. Mobs were encouraged to roam the streets of London rioting and looting and, above all, calling for the expulsion of the Catholic Queen from the realm and the abdication of the king. Charles prepared secret plans to rescue Archbishop Laud whilst Henrietta Maria asked the Pope and her brother, Louis XIII of France for aid. The plans and appeals were leaked and the situation was further inflamed. The King and Queen fled to Windsor.

With the reluctant permission of parliament, Henrietta Maria escorted her daughter, Mary, to her new home in Holland as wife of William of Orange. The Queen, of course, lost no time in raising support for Charles. She filled fourteen ships with arms and munitions with money raised by the sale of many of her jewels. She returned to England in 1643 at the height of the civil war. On April 17 1644, heavily pregnant, she parted from Charles to make her way to Exeter for her confinement. It was he last they were to see of each other. She was forced to flee with the new-born infant when the parliamentary troops besieged her refuge. She had no option but to escape to France. From there, she wrote constantly to Charles, encouraging him in his resistance to the demands of the Puritans.

The royalist army, under Prince Rupert, was defeated at Marston Moor on July 2nd 1644 and Charles himself was captured by the parliamentarian troops. His imprisonment and eventual trial followed. The Monarchy was abolished and Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of the new commonwealth. Charles was executed on January 30th 1649. His last act was to remove a small miniature of Henrietta Maria from around his neck before he placed his head on the block.

The regicide shocked the European powers, Catholic and Protestant alike. For Henrietta Maria, it was a blow from which she never fully recovered. She remained in France, in relative poverty supported by her relatives and friends. With the death of Cromwell and the failure of his successor (his son-in-law) to keep the army and parliament factions united, the long dark days of the commonwealth came to an end. In 1660, the eldest surviving son of Henrietta Maria and Charles I was invited to return to England and restore the monarchy. Charles II made a triumphant return to London, cheered by the crowds and with the crucial support of the army, led by General Monck. The theatres were re-opened and music was again played in public. Samuel Pepys, heard an organ being played for the fist time in his life.

Henrietta Maria returned to England for the coronation and, later, she unsuccessfully tried to prevent the Duke of York's scandalous marriage to Anne Hyde. More personal disasters were to follow with the loss of her son Prince Henry and, shortly thereafter, Princess Mary from an outbreak of smallpox. Her health failing, Henrietta Maria left England for the last time and returned to France in 1665 where she saw her youngest daughter, Henrietta Anne, married to Philippe, Duc d'Orl ans, brother of Louis XIV of France. By 1669 she was in constant pain and her health began to deteriorate rapidly. Henrietta-Anne came to nurse her, at her retreat in Colombes, near Paris. She suggested that the ailing queen take a narcotic to reduce her distress and allow her to sleep. After taking the drug, Henrietta Maria, sixty years old, faded into unconsciousness and never awoke. She died on August 21 1669 and was buried at the cathedral of St Denis, the burial place of the Kings and Queens of France.


 

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