Henrietta Maria, pictured at the start of this post, was born in 1609 at the Louvre. She was the youngest daughter of Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici. Henry had become Henry III of Navarre in 1572. He was to become the first Bourbon king of France. Somewhat ironically given the reverence she placed upon her father’s memory, Henry was a Huguenot although he had been baptised a Catholic. He was fortunate to escape the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572 – an event witnessed by Sir Francis Walsingham who was the English Ambassador in Paris at the time. Henry would go on to become King of France in 1589 – taking on the Catholic League to become the only Protestant king that France ever had but in 1593 to bring civil unrest to an end he returned to Catholicism. The Edict of Nantes passed in 1598 granted religious toleration to the Huguenots. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Henry was neither popular with Catholics who regarded him as a protestant usurper nor with Protestants who saw him as a traitor to his beliefs – he is famously supposed to have said that Paris was worth a mass. It was only after his death that he turned into Good King Henry.
Marie de Medici was Henry’s second wife. They married in 1600. Marie was born in Tuscany in 1573 and the marriage with Henry was helped along by a large dowry. The year after their marriage Marie provided Henry with an heir – Louis. She would have five more children before Henry was assassinated in 1610. She would go on to rule as regent for her son Louis XVIII. Even if the marriage between the pair was a matter of state, Henry had other consolations – approximately 54 of them- making Henry VIII seem positively restrained! Diane D’Andoins was just one of the mistresses who stood the test of time.
So- back to Henrietta Maria. When she arrived 25th November 1609 her parents were disappointed that she was a girl. They had hoped for a legitimate spare to go with the heir. Henry was troubled by his wife’s desire for a more pro-Spanish policy whilst he himself was infatuated with Charlotte Marguerite de Montmorency. She was the seventeen-year-old wife of his own nephew, Henry Prince of Conde.
Henrietta was sent off to join nursery of assorted legitimate and illegitimate brothers and sisters at the Chateau of St Germain. Once there she was lumped together with all the younger siblings so history doesn’t necessarily see her with great clarity during her early childhood. It is perhaps unfair to record Henry’s grumpiness about the fact that she was a girl. We know from other correspondents that he spent time with all his children in St Germain. He declared them to be the most beautiful children and that the time he spent with them as the happiest.
We know Henrietta attended her mother’s coronation and her father’s funeral. She was a princess and had the qualities that princesses were supposed to have; she was beautiful, she loved music, painting and dancing. She was given religious instruction by Carmelite nuns.
It wasn’t long before she learned that princesses had an important diplomatic role to fulfil. On November 9th 1615, about the time the above portrait was painted by Frans Pourbus, she was at Bordeaux to see her sister Elizabeth who married Philip of Spain whilst the Infanta Ana became her brother Louis’s bride. Anne of Austria as she is better known holds her own place in England’s Seventeenth Century history and a spot in the heart of all Alexander Dumas fans. In reality she was one of the ties that helped bind the Bourbons and the Hapsburgs together in Maria de Medici’s pro-Spanish policy.
Meanwhile in France, politics and family life were a dangerous cocktail. In 1617 Marie de Medici found herself ousted from her role as regent and sent to Blois whilst her favourite, and foster sister, Leonora Dori the wife of Concino Concini was executed. Concini was killed by a Paris mob. It should be noted that Marie had remained regent despite the fact that Louis was an age to rule for himself. The murder of Concini was ordered by Louis and just for good measure he reversed his mother’s pro-Spanish policy. Marie would remain in Blois until she escaped in 1619 and she wouldn’t regain political power until the death of the Ducky de Luynes. The removal of Marie drew Louis and Anne closer together. Up until this point she had not learned much French, still dressed in the Spanish fashion and was a wife in name only. The Ducky de Luynes encouraged Louis to spend time with his wife.
Henrietta was with her mother at Blois but once Henrietta’s sister Christine was married off to the Duke of Savoy – Henrietta assumed a more important role. She was the remaining dynastic pawn on the board of continental politics. In 1619 Henrietta was moved from Blois to the Louvre. By 1620 prospective husbands were under discussion. She was eleven.
Cardinal Richelieu was keen on an English alliance for political reasons of his own but he would make his move in due course. The current driver for the wedding was the Duc de Luynes, the favourite and boy hood friend of Louis XVIII. At this point, James I of England who had married his own daughter Elizabeth off to Frederick V of the Palatinate was determined on a Spanish match for his remaining son, Charles. Du Buisson was dispatched to London on the Ducky de Luynes’ orders ostensibly to purchase horses for the Prince of Conde’s stables. The French Ambassador at the English court, Comte de Tillieres was instructed to introduce Du Buisson at court where he was turned down flat by King James. The ambassador was able to assure King James that the proposal was unofficial because it hadn’t come through the proper channels i.e. him. De Tillieres also stated that French princesses weren’t hawked around the countryside but that monarchs made their way to France in the hope that a French princess might be bestowed upon them.
This was unfortunate as de Luynes then sent his own brother to make another proposal. Inevitably the Duke of Buckingham became involved with the envoys and there was insult on both sides rounded off by the Spanish ambassador getting in on the act to move the Spanish match forwards another couple of paces.
At home in France after de Luynes’ death Marie de Medici was busy sowing discord between her son and his wife, Anne of Austria. Anne, sidelined and unhappy, sought entertainment and relied upon her favourite Marie de Rohan-Montbazon.
In short, life was complicated for Henrietta Maria even as a child.
Pearce, Dominic (2018) Henrietta Maria