Henrietta Maria of France, Queen of England

by Susan Flantzer

Credit – Wikipedia

Henrietta Maria of France was born at the Louvre Palace in Paris, France on November 26, 1609. She was the youngest of the six children of King Henri IV of France and his second wife Marie de’ Medici.  When Henrietta Maria was six months old, her father was assassinated while driving in his carriage through the streets of Paris. Her nine-year-old eldest brother then became King Louis XIII.

Henrietta Maria in 1611; Credit – Wikipedia

Henrietta Maria had five siblings:

Henri IV and his family; Credit – Wikipedia

When Henrietta Maria was 14 years old, negotiations were started for her marriage to Charles, Prince of Wales, the heir of King James I of England. By the time the proxy marriage took place on May 1, 1625 on the steps of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, the groom had acceded to the throne as King Charles I. Henrietta and Charles were then married in person at St. Augustine’s Church in Canterbury, England on June 13, 1625. Charles’ coronation was held on February 2, 1626 at Westminster Abbey, but the Roman Catholic Henrietta Maria was not crowned because she refused to participate in a Church of England ceremony. She had proposed that a French Catholic bishop crown her, but that was unacceptable to Charles and the English court.

Henrietta Maria as Princess of France; Credit – Wikipedia

Charles and Henrietta Maria had nine children:

Charles and Henrietta Maria’s five eldest children in 1637: Left to right: Mary, James, Charles, Elizabeth, and Anne; Credit – Wikipedia

Although we refer to her as Henrietta Maria, she was known as Queen Mary to her contemporaries in England. Initially, Charles and Henrietta Maria’s relationship was strained. However, their relationship improved after the assassination of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, who had been the favorite of Charles’ father King James I and was a great influence on Charles. Henrietta Maria’s Roman Catholicism did not make her a popular queen. At court, she disrupted Anglican services by walking through with a pack of dogs. To the English people, her Catholic beliefs made her different and dangerous at a time when Catholic plots and subversion were feared. She did not speak English before she married and always had difficulties with speaking and writing English.

Henrietta Maria was a strong patron of the arts and both she and her husband were knowledgeable art collectors. She enjoyed taking part in masques and dramatic entertainments. Henrietta Maria was interested in sculpture, garden design, and architecture and employed designer and architect Inigo Jones, garden designer André Mollet and sculptor François Dieussart. The Queen’s House in Greenwich, started for Charles’ mother Anne of Denmark, was completed for Henrietta Maria under the supervision of Inigo Jones.

King Charles I had the same issues with Parliament as his father had, clashing with its members over financial, political and religious issues. Henrietta Maria gave her support to her husband in his clashes with Parliament and in his plans to raise money. Ultimately, these clashes with Parliament led to the English Civil War and to Charles’ downfall. Henrietta accompanied her husband when he left London in 1642 and established a royal court in Oxford. However, in 1644, while seven months pregnant with her last child, Henrietta Maria was forced to leave Oxford because it was becoming less secure. She made her way to Exeter where she gave birth to her youngest child Henrietta. Henrietta Maria never saw Charles again. Leaving her newborn daughter in Exeter in the care of Lady Dalkeith (born Anne Villiers, the daughter of Sir Edward Villiers), Henrietta Maria escaped to France where she settled in Paris with the support of the French government.

Gaston de France, Duke of Orléans presents his sister widowed Henrietta Maria to Anne of Austria, regent of France for King Louis XIV. The young Louis XIV in peach stands in front of his mother and next to his brother Philippe. Henrietta Maria stands between Gaston and his daughter, the Grand Mademoiselle; Credit – Wikipedia

King Charles I was executed in 1649 and the monarchy was abolished. Henrietta Maria spent the years of the Commonwealth of England with her surviving children at the court of her nephew King Louis XIV. She formed a Royalist court in exile at Château de St-Germain-en-Laye.  Henrietta Maria attempted to convert her sons James and Henry to Catholicism. These attempts angered the Royalists in exile and her eldest son Charles. However, her youngest child Henrietta (nicknamed Minette) was brought up Catholic and married her first cousin, Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, the younger brother of King Louis XIV of France.

Henrietta Maria in mourning in the 1650s; Credit – Wikipedia

In 1660, when the English monarchy was restored and King Charles II took the throne, Henrietta Maria returned to England, where she was known as the Queen Mother, and lived at Somerset House in London. She received a grant from Parliament of £30,000 for the loss of her dower lands and the same amount as a pension from her son King Charles II. In 1661, Henrietta Maria returned to France to attend the marriage of her daughter Henrietta. When she returned to England in 1662, Henrietta Maria found life there disagreeable and the climate damaging to her health, so she returned to France where she lived for a while in Paris at the Hôtel de la Bazinière, the present Hôtel de Chimay.  She later lived at the Château de Colombes nearby Paris. It was there that Henrietta Maria died on September 10, 1669 at the age of 59 from an overdose of opiates taken for pain on the advice of King Louis XIV’s doctor.

Château de Colombes (now destroyed); Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Henrietta Maria was buried beside her father, King Henri IV of France, at the Basilica of Saint-Denis near Paris. Her heart was buried at the Visitation Convent Chapel at Chaillot, France, which she had founded in 1651. Her remains and the other royal remains at the Basilica of St. Denis were desecrated on October 16, 1793 when a mob pillaged the Bourbon crypt and threw the remains into mass graves. The convent building where her heart had been buried was destroyed during the French Revolution. In 1817, the mass graves were opened, the remains were collected and then reburied in the crypt of the Basilica of Saint-Denis. Plaques next to the gated entrance of the burial site list the remains of those buried there.

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Gated entrance to the reburial site of the French royals at the Basilica of Saint Denis; Photo Credit – Susan Flantzer, July 2009

Wikipedia: Henrietta Maria of France