Henrietta Maria was fifteen when she married King Charles I – she didn’t speak any English. When she set sail for her new home Marie de Medici, gave her a letter to keep with her. It was a manual for how a good queen and Catholic should behave. Essentially she was to ensure protocol was maintained, not displease her husband and labour ensure he became a good Catholic in order to care most effectively for her new subjects.
There was also the small matter of her retinue. Her confessor was horrified that in order to please her husband she ate on a fast day. Her ladies were horrified when she travelled to Canterbury from Dover in a carriage containing the king and some of the Duke of Buckingham’s female relations – thus flouting French etiquette. Who would have thought the simple matter of a short journey through Kent could cause a diplomatic incident?
Personally the royal pair seemed well enough pleased with one another but the problems soon came crowding in and the honeymooners became distinctly disgruntled. Charles had promised that Henrietta should be served only by Catholics. He appointed some Protestants to her household – which did not please the French nor for that matter were there any Catholic chapels in any of her new homes. Charles had promised her the right to worship as she chose in the privacy of whichever residence they happened to be in. The Escrit Secret which Charles had agreed along with the public marriage contract also promised a suspension of the recusancy laws. It can’t have been very reassuring when some of Henrietta’s own servants were arrested under the laws which had most definitely not been suspended.
Meanwhile MPs were concerned that the king had married a Catholic princess which they felt was the thin end of the wedge. It wouldn’t be long, they reasoned, before Protestantism would suffer. The marriage treaty (not the secret one) had not been made fully public so they were suspicious about its contents. They wondered what Buckingham had agreed. They were not happy about the presence of Catholic priests.
Unfortunately the name Henrietta Maria was too foreign sounding and so the queen was anglicised and prayed for every Sunday. At first there was an attempt to call her Queen Henry but ultimately Queen Mary was settled upon, reminding everyone of the previous Queen Mary and the fires at Smithfield where Protestant martyrs were killed. Somewhat optimistically there was a hope that the queen would convert- but it rapidly became clear that she was staunch in her beliefs – in fact it wasn’t long before the rumour mill was talking about excess devotion, such as penitential bare feet, that was quite frankly not very queenly to a Protestant mindset.
In London the plague broke out and the Duke of Buckingham tried to have his mother and wife appointed to the Queen’s household. There were more complaints about who was travelling in the royal coach. The French, once the court had arrived at its chosen destination, objected to Buckingham’s wife because she was Protestant and somewhat bizarrely Charles objected to Buckingham’s mother because she was Catholic. Buckingham became exasperated and insulted the French. It was not a good sign that the King’s favourite and his wife were at odds with one another. The private matter might have been resolved had Parliament suspended the recusancy laws when it next sat but it didn’t.
It was very clear to Henrietta that Buckingham was a bit of a weasel. Buckingham had now managed to irritate everyone in this post apart from his mother and King Charles. The latter would dissolve parliament rather than risk his friend’s arrest. Meanwhile the French, as a whole, were disgruntled not only about the whole coach travel business but about the way that the marriage treaty had been metaphorically ridden over by a coach and horses. Henrietta’s confessor, Father Bérule, had come to believe that he and Henrietta were surrounded by heretics – so he encouraged her to become ever more pious and austere in her faith. She had after all been taught by Carmelite nuns.
Henrietta was fed up of trundling around the countryside to escape the plague and having arguments about who should travel with her. It probably didn’t help that assorted Catholic priests and subjects approached her with tales of unfair treatment.
She now gave Charles a very cold shoulder indeed or as Charles termed it “eschewing my company.” Even in that instance things could perhaps have been resolved had the Duke of Buckingham not taken it upon himself to enter the queen’s bedchamber late at night to berate her for her lack of wifely duty…on more than one occasion.
Marie de Medici sent a letter telling her daughter to behave a little more diplomatically. Father Bérule was sent back to France but in his stead Father Sancy was appointed. On one rather epic occasion, whilst staying in Titchfield, Charles’ chaplain started to say grace but was interrupted by Sancy with his grace. Grace descended into a prayer and shoving contest which Charles eventually resolved by rising from the table, taking his wife by the hand and leaving the clerics to their squabble.
It did not bode well.
Whitaker, Katie. (2010) A Royal Passion. London: Orion