Books, Guest Posts, Louis XIV, Royal Portraits, Subjects for discussion

Henriette: a Sketch of a Childhood – by Dr Jo Wilkinson

My grateful thanks to Dr Wilkinson for giving me the privilege of hosting this article that gives us a wonderful insight into the early life of Henriette d’Angleterre, the daughter of Charles I, and later wife of Philipe d’Orleans, brother of Louis XIV of France. Dr Wilkinson’s last two books have been on Louis XIV and The Man in the Iron Mask (both published by Amberley Publishing). This article allows us to learn a bit more about the close connection between Charles I’s exiled family and the French royal family after the execution of the English king.

In c.1649, the French artist, Claude Mellan, drew a sketch a young child. His subject was Henriette d’Angleterre, the daughter of Charles I. At the time the drawing was made, Henriette was only five or so years old. She wears a simple dress, and her hair is tied back from her face, but is otherwise unadorned. Her only jewellery is a plain one-strand pearl necklace. Her right arm is resting on a table, which is covered with a cloth, but which appears to be otherwise empty. Henriette’s expression is very serious, considering her extreme youth, and her solemnity is mixed with more than a hint of sadness. 

Figure 1 Henriette by Claude Mellan

Mellan appears to have caught Henriette in one of her unguarded moments, hastily drawing a rough sketch perhaps with a view to using it as the basis for a more formal portrait. If so, he never got round to doing this, and the sketch stands as a testament to the troubled childhood of the future duchesse d’Orléans.

   Henriette’s story began in June 1644 in Exeter, a city in the south-west of England. One of the last royalist strongholds, it was a small oasis of safety amid the turmoil of the Civil War. Here, at Bedford House, Henriette, the last child of Charles I and his queen, Henriette-Marie, was born. The little girl was only two weeks old when her mother fled to her native France. It was a desperate measure, one the queen would surely not have taken had it not been the only way to prevent herself from falling into the hands of her husband’s enemies. The child was left behind in the care of Lady Dalkeith.[1] Ten days later, Charles I, defying all the odds, pushed back the rebel forces and marched into Exeter.

   The king now saw his new daughter for the first time. Determined that she be brought up a Protestant, he arranged to have her christened according to the rites of the Church of England, and gave her the name Henriette, after her mother, his beloved queen. With his orders given, Charles managed to escape just as Parliamentary forces approached the city. He would never see his little princess again. Henriette remained in the care of Lady Dalkeith and was only one year old when the city surrendered. Lady Dalkeith and the princess were escorted to Salisbury and then on to Oatlands in Surrey, where her small household was forced to live for three months at Lady Dalkeith’s expense.

   At this point, Lady Dalkeith received an order to take Henriette to London so that she could join her brothers and sisters under the care of Lady Northumberland. Lady Dalkeith, who was determined to return the child to her parents, defied the order and organised a clandestine journey to France, taking Henriette with her. Disguised as a peasant, with a French servant posing as her husband and Henriette dressed in the tattered garb of a peasant boy named Pierre. this small, ragged group set out for France. It was a desperately dangerous time but, in the end, the only danger they faced came not from Parliamentary forces, cut purses or spies, but from Henriette herself: the proud toddler told everyone who would listen to her that she was not Pierre but a princess of England and that the rags she was wearing were not her real clothes. Luckily, passers-by and fellow travellers alike merely smiled at the shabby little ‘boy’ and continued on their way.

   Life in England had been difficult and uncertain, but to live as a refugee in France would prove to be little better. As an exile, Queen Henriette-Marie was forced to live, in the words of her daughter’s first biographer, Madame de La Fayette, ‘as a private person,’ and so, consequently, was the young English princess. As a result, Henriette ‘acquired all the insight, all the civility and kindliness of humbler conditions, whilst maintaining in her heart and in her person the nobility of her royal birth.’[2] At first, however, Henriette benefitted from the generous grants received by her mother upon her return to France. These included rooms in the Louvre and the use of Saint-Germain as a country residence. The queen of England was also awarded a pension of 30,000 livres per month, allowing mother and daughter to live in a manner befitting their royal status. This situation, however, would not last. Henriette’s childhood was destined to be difficult and unhappy, marked as it would be by the tragedy of her father’s execution, the exile of her brother and the indignity of living on the charity of others as a refugee in a foreign country. As the situation in England worsened, Henriette-Marie was obliged to sell her jewels and plate to fund her husband’s cause and to provide for the cavaliers who sought shelter in France and who were facing severe hardship. Unable to pay her own servants, the queen of England was forced to dismiss them, while trying to pay the wages of those serving her son, the prince of Wales.

   The French royal family were unable to offer any further assistance to Henriette-Marie because all their resources were spent on fighting the Fronde, as the series of civil wars that had erupted in 1648 were called. In January 1649, the child king, Louis XIV, was forced to flee Paris for the safety of Saint-Germain, leaving Henriette and her mother alone in the 

Figure 2 The Louvre in 1670

Louvre. Life there had become more difficult still. The Louvre, at that time an old, dark and gloomy palace that was badly in need of refurbishment, was the only refuge of Henriette and her mother as horrific violence raged in the surrounding streets. As frondeurs threatened to breach its walls, Henriette, not yet five years old, faced the second siege of her life. When Anne of Austria, mother to Louis XIV, heard of the hardship they were facing, she could only sigh and say that ‘neither she nor the king had a single sou, and that she knew not where to obtain either a dinner or a gown.’[3] There would be no help from that quarter.

   Just how reduced Henriette’s living conditions had become is graphically illustrated by the Cardinal de Retz, who describes a visit he made to the queen and princess in their rooms: ‘Five or six days before the king removed from Paris, I went to visit the Queen of England, whom I found in her daughter’s chamber… At my coming in, she said: “You see, I am come to keep Henrietta company. The poor child could not rise today for want of a fire.”’ Retz continued: ‘The truth is, that the cardinal [Mazarin] for six months together had not ordered her any money towards her pension; that no tradespeople would trust her for anything; and that there was not at her lodgings in the Louvre one single faggot.’[4] Retz was anxious to point out that he saw to it that the princess would not be obliged to keep to her bed the next day, having provided mother and daughter with a supply of firewood.

Figure 3 Anne of Austria

   A month later, Queen Henriette-Marie, who had kept alive hopes that she and King Charles would eventually be reunited, learned the dreadful news of his fate. In her profound grief, her only comfort was her little daughter, whose chatter and childish laughter provided the only ray of light in the darkness of their new reality. When her now widowed mother went to stay at a convent, Henriette was once again placed into the care of her former nurse, now known as Lady Morton following her marriage. At the request of Anne of Austria, Queen Henriette-Marie and Princess Henriette joined the French royal family at Saint-Germain, but there was more sad news to come. Henriette’s sister, Elizabeth, had died. Elizabeth had been held at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, where their father had also been imprisoned. Two months after that, Henriette’s uncle by marriage, William II of Orange, also died.

   Despite such grief, there were moments of happiness and celebration. Upon the fall of the Fronde, Louis XIV rode back into Paris in triumph. Henriette and her mother returned to the Louvre amid great rejoicing. More importantly, perhaps, there was a renewed sense of stability and security, much of which was owed to the kindness of Anne of Austria. She increased the queen of England’s pension and insisted that mother and daughter should leave the Louvre and take up residence in the more comfortable and welcoming Palais Royal instead. Here, they would be better able to enjoy the company of the king and the rest of the royal family and play a more central role at court.

   While Queen Henriette-Marie complied with this request, what she really wanted was solitude, and she began to look for a suitable place to which she might retire in comfortable surroundings. The convent of Port-Royal was an obvious choice, but she turned down the invitation extended to her by the nuns there. She had decided to establish a community of her own, and, with the assistance once again of Anne of Austria, she acquired a house at Chaillot. Several nuns from the convent of the Filles de Marie joined her in what was to become her favourite refuge.

   Among the regular visitors to Chaillot was Princess Henriette, often referred to by her mother as her enfant de bénédiction.  It was her intention that the child, despite having been christened into the Church of England, should be raised a Catholic, and Père Cyprien de Gamaches was appointed to instruct her in its doctrines. In spite of her youth, Henriette eagerly embraced her new faith, and she took it upon herself to convert her beloved Lady Morton. When, on one occasion, her mother suggested that she do just that, Henriette replied, ‘Madame, I do my best. I embrace her, I clasp my arms round her neck, I say to her, “Do be converted, Lady Morton. Father Cyprien says you must be a Catholic to be saved. You have heard him as well as I have. Do be a Catholic, ma bonne dame, and I will love you still more dearly.”’ Despite the entreaties of the little princess, Lady Morton could not bring herself to oblige. She returned to England shortly after this charming exchange and would die in 1654. Henriette never saw her again.

Figure 4 Henriette-Marie

   Notwithstanding Henriette’s enthusiasm for Catholicism, her conversion was not universally well received. The English refugees in France were uncomfortable with it, as was Henriette’s brother, Charles, who remonstrated with his mother for daring to defy his late father’s wishes. In answer, Henriette-Marie appealed to a clause in her marriage contract, which stated that all her children should be raised by her until they reached the age of thirteen. Circumstances had made this impossible, except in Henriette’s case. Charles I had insisted that his queen should observe this clause and bring up their youngest child as she saw fit. Henriette-Marie was, therefore, acting in accordance with her marriage contract and her late husband’s wishes. Clarendon, whom Charles II had instructed to change his mother’s mind on the subject, found he could not argue with her reasoning. To be a Catholic was a distinct advantage to Henriette, whose future lay in France, but Queen Henriette-Marie had a still more compelling reason for insisting upon Henriette’s conversion. She attributed her daughter’s miraculous escape from England to a pact she had made with God: if he would restore the child to her, she would bring her up as a Catholic. She was, therefore, fulfilling her part of this pact with the Divine.

   Henriette-Marie was also careful to give her daughter an excellent education, which far exceeded that ordinarily provided for girls of her status. As a consequence, Henriette’s natural curiosity and intellect were allowed free reign, and her quick wit and sharp intelligence would single her out at court. For now, though, Henriette would wait on ladies, such as Madame de Sévigné and Madame de La Fayette, who had come to Chaillot to call on her mother for important religious festivals. They, as well as the nuns, were enchanted by the young princess and, in time, she and Madame de La Fayette would become close friends, with La Fayette even going on to write Henriette’s biography at the direction of the princess.

   The most important visitor to Chaillot, however, was Anne of Austria. It did not escape her notice that Henriette, despite the attention she was receiving from the nuns and the great ladies who visited the convent, was lonely. The reason was obvious: ensconced within the confines of the convent or hidden behind the walls of the Palais Royal, Henriette only occasionally had people of her own age to keep her company. Anne decided to remedy the situation by taking Henriette to the Louvre, to which the French court had recently relocated, from time to time. The dark and old-fashioned Louvre had taken on a new character since the young king had once again taken up residence there, and it was now a much happier place than the palace of recent memory. Free of the threats posed by the Fronde, the court was now devoted to music, masques and dance, card games and the hunt. Louis liked to host fêtes and balls and to put on plays. All was light and merriment, and Henriette was invited to take part in some of these amusements.

   Henriette’s first recorded court appearance took place on 28 February 1654, when she attended celebrations for the marriage of Anne Martinozzi, one of Cardinal Mazarin’s nieces, to the prince de Conti. The now nine-year-old princess is described by Loret as a ‘gracious aurore’, a new dawn about to cast her light upon the world.

Figure 5 Henriette-Anne

   Two months later, Henriette made her ballet début in Benserade’s Les Noces de Pelée et de Thétis, in which Louis danced the part of Apollo for the first time. Henriette appeared as Evato, the goddess of love poetry, wearing a crown of myrtle and roses and carrying a lyre. Also appearing were her brothers, the dukes of York and Gloucester, while her future husband, Philippe, was partnered by his then favourite, the comte de Guiche. Louis was so pleased with the production that he ordered it to be performed several times that winter.

   Queen Henriette-Marie, still in morning for her husband, rarely ventured to court; but, on one occasion in 1655, she succumbed to the gentle persuasion of Anne of Austria, who invited her to a private soirée. The main purpose of the evening was to amuse Henriette, who, according to Madame de Motteville, was just ‘beginning to come out of childhood and to show that she was likely to be charming.’[5] Anne of Austria, she noted, took great pains to make sure that the company ‘should be beautiful and worthy of the royal persons who were present with it.’ Among these worthy persons were the attractive and amusing nieces of Cardinal Mazarin, with Louis paying much attention to them. As the music started, he took the hand of Madame de Mercœur and stepped out to begin the branle with her. At this, his mother, thinking he had made a mistake, promptly rose from her chair, 

Figure 6 Louis XIV as a young man

pulled Mme de Mercœur aside and told the king in a low voice that he must dance with Princess Henriette. Queen Henriette-Marie, wishing to defuse what might become an awkward situation, protested that her daughter had injured her foot and was unable to dance. To this, Anne of Austria replied that, if the princess could not dance, neither would the king. Henriette-Marie relented and allowed the child to dance, but she was very displeased by the behaviour of the king, as was Anne of Austria. Later, in the privacy of his apartment, Louis was scolded by his mother, but all he could say in his defence was that he ‘did not like little girls.’

Figure 7 La Grande Mademoiselle

   The incident of the dance was not, however, an isolated occasion. Three years later, in 1658, Henriette had the pleasure of receiving her sister, the widowed Mary, the Princess Royal, who met the delicate teenager for the first time. A reception held for the distinguished guest seemed to go off very well, but a few days afterwards, a rumour began to circulate that Queen Henriette-Marie had complained about what she took to be a breach of protocol on the part of Mademoiselle, the king’s cousin, who was accused of having attempted to take precedence over Princess Henriette. In the story, as told by Mademoiselle in her Mémoires, [6] she had seen the princess playing with Mesmoiselles de Nemours and so had followed the queen as far as the end of the gallery, at which point, she called to her, and the two women entered the room hand in hand as was their custom. Speaking of Henriette, Cardinal Mazarin said that ‘it was remarked the other day at the Queen’s that you wished to pass before her.’ At this, Monsieur said, ‘and supposing she had done so, would she not have been right? We shall have enough to do with people dependent upon us for bread if we permit them to go before us. What will they not want besides?’ When the story reached Henriette-Marie, she became very upset and ‘wept very much at hearing it.’ She approached Monsieur and told him: ‘Considering who you are, and those of whom you speak, you ought not to be the first to talk in this manner.’ Mademoiselle blamed him for his attitude and explained to the cardinal that she was willing to ‘render to the queen of England, considering her position, and her relationship, all the respect possible; were it otherwise, I might have some disposition to dispute le pas with her daughter: as it was, I had no such idea.’ Mazarin pointed out that ‘the kings of Scotland gave place formerly to the fils de France; so that you are entitled to precede the Princess of England.’

   Despite this unpleasant incident, the visit of her sister was a moment of delight in Henriette’s otherwise cheerless life. Soon afterwards, the thirteen-year-old returned to her regular routine at the Palais Royal, with occasional stays at Chaillot and Colombes, which her mother had taken as a country residence. Henriette’s delicate health continued to be of concern, as did that of her mother, and the two of them would occasionally travel to Bourbon to take its healing waters. These visits would last several weeks at a time, and mother and daughter would often be accompanied by Henriette’s uncle, Gaston d’Orléans.

   It had long been Henriette-Marie’s wish that her daughter should marry Louis XIV. Anne of Austria agreed that Henriette would make a good queen of France, but she always considered the princess to be no more than a second choice; her favourite was another of her nieces, Maria-Teresa, infanta of Spain. Louis, on the other hand, was could not countenance the thought of taking Henriette as his wife and queen. ‘The King,’ wrote Madame de La Fayette, ‘on the contrary showed an aversion for this marriage, and even for the person of the Princess: he thought her too young to please him, and admitted at length that she displeased him, though he could give no reason. And in truth,’ she continued, ‘it had been hard to find one; for exactly what the English Princess possessed in the highest degree was the gift of pleasing, together with what we call grace. and her charms were distributed throughout her person, revealed alike in her actions and her wit; and never has [a] princess been able to make herself so equally beloved of men and adored of women.’[7]Madame de Motteville was more guarded in her opinion, stating that Queen Anne’s only regret ‘was that she [Henriette] was not three years older in order to please the king, who appeared to neglect her because she was younger than he, seeming to desire a more mature wife.’[8]

   In default of the king, Henriette-Marie turned her thoughts to the duc de Savoie, and she opened negotiations through the husband of Madame de Fienne, who corresponded regularly with Henriette’s sister, the Princess Royal. The negotiations did not go as Henriette-Marie had hoped, which circumstance was of great amusement to Louis. He was in the habit of taunting his brother, who was very eager to be married. One day, as they were riding together in a coach, Louis began teasing his brother once more, saying, ‘come now, you will marry the Princess of England, for no one else will have her. Monsieur de Savoie has refused the lady. I have spoken to Monsieur de Florence respecting her, but he, too, does not wish to have anything to do with the affair; for all these reasons, therefore, I conclude that you will be sure to have her.’[9]

   As it was, the duke of Savoie and the grand duke of Tuscany were being courted by Mazarin, who wanted them for the two daughters of Gaston d’Orléans. Still, Louis’s unkind words show that Henriette would never be taken seriously as a potential marriage partner, notwithstanding Anne of Austria’s great affection for her. As Mademoiselle noted, ‘the King had no predilection in her favour.’[10] Madame de Motteville pointed out the real reason for this: ‘the king alone in France did not like her, or, to speak more truly, the minister had no interest which induced him to bend the king in her favour.’[11] In other words, Louis was following Mazarin’s advice.

Figure 8 Philippe duc d’Oleans

   Of course, the marriage of someone of Henriette’s station was a matter of politics, not love or personal choice; and the truth of was that she, as the daughter of a deposed and executed king, and the sister of a king without a kingdom, was simply without worth. However, two significant incidents occurred in the year 1660 that drastically altered the prospects of the young princess. February, saw the death of Louis and Philippe’s uncle, Gaston d’Orléans, and his title pass to Philippe. The new duke would also receive the appanage of his late uncle, but only on the occasion of his marriage. Then, in May, Henriette’s brother, Charles II, was restored to the English throne. No longer was Henriette a penniless refugee living on the charity of the French court. Instead, she became an eminently eligible marriage prospect. Even as Cardinal Mazarin was concluding negotiations for the marriage of Louis XIV with the Infanta of Spain, he was turning his thoughts towards the establishment of the king’s younger brother, Philippe. It was obvious to him, as it was to everyone else, that, realistically, the only suitable wife for the new duc d’Orléans was Henriette.

   In the summer of 1660, the court returned to Fontainebleau for a few days, and Philippe took the opportunity to court Henriette. That August, he gave a ball at his château of Saint-Cloud, a gift from the king. Here, he led Henriette onto the floor for the first dance. Later that month, the court was treated to the spectacle of the newly married king and queen making their entrance into Paris, and Henriette and her mother were among the honoured guests.

   Despite her soon-to-be elevated status, Henriette continued to be treated with disdain by Mademoiselle. As the royal family assembled at the hôtel de Beauvais, she again tried to take precedence over the princess. Hearing that the duke of York, Henriette’s brother, had yielded precedence in Flanders, Philippe refused to give the report credence because, as Mademoiselle surmised, he was ‘under a species of infatuation in favour of la Maison d’Angleterre’ and so was reluctant to render homage to any other house.[12] Mademoiselle then added that, ‘up to this time I had regarded the Princess of England merely in the light of a little girl, without paying the least attention to her manner of conducting herself towards me, or of mine in regard to her.’ Upon hearing the report of the duke of York, however, she felt that ‘it was right to require the same consideration as that which had been granted to my juniors.’ Needless to say, Anne of Austria was displeased with Mademoiselle’s attitude, which threatened to spoil the happy occasion.

   If Henriette was aware of the unpleasantness, she gave no indication of it. Instead, she watched her betrothed as he rose alongside the radiant king. In that moment at least she could hope that her life was about to take a happier turn for, that same month, Anne of Austria had formally asked Henriette’s mother for the hand the princess in marriage.

   Still, Henriette continued to face some difficulty, especially from the king. As explained by Madame de Motteville, Louis ‘had never had much inclination for this marriage. He said himself that he felt the natural antipathy to the English people which is said to have always existed between the two nations.’ He seemed to direct much of his hostility towards Henriette personally. One day, he told Philippe that ‘he need not be in so great hurry to espouse the bones of the Innocents,’ a reference to the Parisian cemetery that was often used for mass burials – a callous comment on Henriette’s obvious thinness.[13] Mademoiselle agreed that it was true that Henriette was very thin, but, she added, she was ‘extremely amiable. There was a peculiar grace in everything she did, and she was so affable that everyone who approached her was delighted.’ Mademoiselle’s kind words were, however, mixed with a dash of venom: ‘She knew the secret also of managing her figure, which was much admired, although she was crooked – a blemish that even Monsieur did not find until after he had married her.’[14]

Figure 9 Charles II

   Before the marriage could go ahead, certain formalities had to be observed. These would be accomplished during a visit to England by Henriette and her mother. However, not long before they were due to set out, terrible news arrived of the death of one of Henriette’s brothers, the duke of Gloucester. He had fallen ill on 12 September 1660 and died five days later. Henriette was inconsolable and could not find the words to write to Charles; it would not be until 10 October that she felt able to express her feelings in a letter. She tells him that the sorrow their loss had caused Charles ‘is so just that one can but take one’s part in it, and I have the honour to share it equally with you.’ She told him of her eagerness to see him again, which she hoped would be soon, ending with ‘and then I shall be able to show you how much I am your very humble servant, which all kinds of people may tell you, but assuredly there are few who are so as truly as I.’[15]Meanwhile, Henriette’s sister, the Princess Royal, had arrived in England, and Charles now awaited only his mother and beloved youngest sister to join them for their long-awaited family reunion.

   As Henriette and her mother prepared for the journey, gazetteers and poets had already begun to sing the praises of the princess, who had so recently been the object of pity and derision. Monsieur de la Serre dedicated a pen portrait of her to Philippe, in which he praised her beauty of soul, which could be compared only with that of her face. ‘She speaks so agreeably,’ he wrote,

Figure 10 Henriette

that it is as pleasant to hear as well as see her. In singing, who can equal her? In other accomplishments she is unrivalled. Who can express her goodness, grace, and sweetness and wisdom? She possesses a thousand other qualities; the least among them all is that of being born a princess.[16]

Such adoration piqued the interest of other would-be suitors. Suddenly, Henriette was much in demand so that, while the comte de Soissons was on his way to England to make the formal request of the princess’s hand on behalf of Philippe, duc d’Orléans, others were making their suit. Philippe received news that the emperor Leopold II had sent Prince Rupert to England to ask for Henriette’s hand. The king of Portugal and the duc de Savoie were also showing their eagerness to marry the English princess, whose stock had risen considerably since the restoration of her brother.

   As it was, realistically, there was only one suitor for Henriette, and that was Philippe, duc d’Orléans. Charles appears never to have taken any of the other offers seriously. As Soissons writes, ‘the King of England knows, from his own judgment, that it is both the best for his own interests, and for the happiness of the Princes, that she should marry Monsieur.’[17]

   Henriette and her mother duly departed from Paris on 29 October, much to Philippe’s sorrow, to begin the long journey to England. Arriving at Calais several days later, they were greeted by the duke of York, Henriette’s brother. The English Channel, however, true to its contrary nature, was dead calm and the little flotilla of ships took two days to make the crossing. Charles, who travelled with the Princess Royal and Prince Rupert to Dover, hurried to the docks to meet his sister and mother. It was a happy family gathering, celebrated by a banquet that was held in the Grand Hall of Dover Castle.

Figure 11 Dover Castle

   The family travelled in stages to London, arriving on 2 November (Old Style) to be greeted with bonfires, bells and cheers from the crowds who had come out onto the streets to welcome them. For Henriette-Marie, however, this was a bitter-sweet occasion: returning to England where she had been queen, the memories of the war that had overturned her life, and the horror and deep sorrow of her husband’s fate was, at times, too much to bear.

   For Henriette, it was a different matter. The bright sixteen-year-old barely remembered her native country, and its tragic associations and recent griefs were quickly swept aside by the overwhelming pageantry of the occasion. One person who met Henriette at this time was Samuel Pepys, who was less than impressed by her. He wrote in his diary:

The Princess Henriette is very pretty, but much below my expectations; and her dressing of herself with her hair frized [sic] short up to her ears did make her seem so much less to me. But my wife standing near her with two of three black patches on, and well dressed, did seem to me much handsomer than she.[18]

   Pepys’ assessment was not universal. Monsieur Bartet, secretary to the comte de Soissons, kept Cardinal Mazarin up to date with events. One evening, Henriette was too tired to attend a reception being given for her mother and stayed in her apartments. Soissons went to pay her a visit and Bartet accompanied him, which afforded him a glimpse of Henriette en déshabillé. ‘You can tell Monsieur,’ he noted,

that he never saw her more beautiful in dress, than she appeared to me at that moment. Even on the day when I saw him leading her through your gallery and told her that she was as lovely as his little guardian angel, she was scarcely as fair as she looked, sitting there in her mobcap and coloured print gown at Whitehall.[19]

   Bartet was not the only man to appreciate Henriette’s charms. Her beauty stirred the pulse of a very ardent would-be suitor. He was George Villiers, 2nd duke of Buckingham, the son of the gallant who had outrageously wooed Anne of Austria so many years earlier. He showed himself to be as passionate – and as exasperating – as his father.

   So long had Henriette been away from her native England that she had forgotten how to write in English. When she received a purse of money granted to her by the House of Commons, she wrote her letter of thanks in French, begging the Speaker to excuse her for not being able to write in the English tongue, but assuring him that she retained her English heart.[20] For Philippe, however, it was Henriette’s extended, as he saw it, absence from France that was of concern. Summoned to Whitehall, M. Bartet was told that the duc d’Orléans was melancholy and unable to sleep and had ‘grown quite thin in her absence.’ Bartet replied that ‘the only remedy for these ills was in [Henriette’s] hands.’[21]

   Later that November, the formal request for Henriette’s hand was made once more. A treaty was agreed, and settlements and gifts of were arranged for the princess. These included the Château de Montargis, which was to be Henriette’s personal residence.

   Henriette and her mother spent Christmas at Charles’ court, where the festivities were all the merrier after the years of austere Puritan rule. During this time tragedy struck the royal family once again when the Princess Royal became ill. Smallpox showed itself soon after, and Henriette was moved into St James’ Palace for safety. Charles remained with the Princess Royal, but he was concerned enough about Henriette to send her a little note to let her know that he was thinking of her. For a brief time, the health of the Princess Royal seemed to improve, but it was a false hope. Having been bled by her physicians, she rapidly weakened and died on Christmas Eve.

   In France, Philippe was given the news of the princess’s death. In his anxiety, he sent his maître d’hôtel to England to beg Henriette-Marie to bring his betrothed back to France immediately. It was a summons that could not be ignored, and Henriette and her mother accordingly set off on their long journey home. Their first stopover was at Hampton Court, where they were joined by Charles, who escorted them to Portsmouth. After saying their sad farewells, they set sail on the London, a man-o-war under the command of the earl of Sandwich, on 9 January 1661. However, on the second day at sea, the ship was caught in a severe storm. The pilot was unable to maintain control of the vessel and it ran onto Horse Sand. Luckily, it was undamaged, but it was forced to turn back to the safety of Portsmouth.

Figure 12 George Villiers, 2nd duke of Buckingham

   No sooner had they reached safe harbour than Henriette fell ill with a violent fever. Bravely she tried to ignore it, stating that the journey should resume as soon as the weather allowed, but this was not to be. Her condition worsened and smallpox was feared. In the end, it turned out to be measles, so that ‘they could not quit the land, nor could they think of disembarking, for fear of endangering her life by such movement.’[22]

   Charles was told of his sister’s illness and sent his personal physician to attend her. Typically this would entail bleeding her, but Henriette refused this treatment, and, in time, her condition improved. Philippe, too, had been informed of Henriette’s condition, and his mother sent one of her gentlemen to enquire after her. By 25 January, however, Henriette had recovered sufficiently to allow her to continue her journey. Buckingham, who had begged Charles’ permission to accompany the royal party, became jealous of the attention paid to the princess by the English admiral. He made such a nuisance of himself that he was sent ahead to Paris to announce her safe arrival in France.

   Henriette travelled in stages towards the French capital. Stopping at Pontoise, she was met by Louis and his young queen, who welcomed her warmly back to France. The warmest welcome, however, came from Philippe, who ‘continued, up to the time of his marriage, to render her services which were lacking in naught be love,’ wrote Madame de La Fayette.[23]

   Herein lies the truth of Henriette’s marriage to Philippe – it was not a love match, but a political expedient. As Mademoiselle pointed out, following the death of Cardinal Mazarin, in March 1661, ‘the Queen-mother had now less repugnance to it. The Cardinal had not considered it advantageous for Monsieur – nor politic in the King, to press this marriage.’[24]

Figure 13 Louis XIV by Charles le Brun

Yet, now things had changed. Louis, writing in his memoirs to his son, explains how:

[The marriage] of my brother to the sister of the king of England had just taken place in the month of March, to my great pleasure, even for reasons of state, for my alliance with this nation under Cromwell had virtually struck the last blow in the war against Spain by reducing the enemy to not being able to defend the Low Countries any longer and consequently to grant me, if I had wanted, better terms that they did by the Treaty of the Pyrenees. The situation had subsequently changed in England. Cromwell was dead and the king restored. The Spanish, taking stock for the future of Flanders in case of a break with me and hoping for nothing then from Holland, wanted above all to place this prince [Charles] in their interests. The marriage of my brother was intended to keep him in mine.[25]

Louis was, of course, wrote this from a viewpoint afforded by hindsight. At the time the marriage took place, he was still able to look at it through a slightly less political lens, and he wrote a note to Charles that, at times, bordered on the personal:

Monsieur mon frère – since I have always considered the marriage of my brother with your sister, the Princess of England, as a new tie which would draw still closer the bonds of our friendship, I feel more joy than I can express, that it was yesterday happily accomplished; and as I doubt not that this news will inspire you with the same sentiments as I feel myself, I would not delay one moment to share my joy with you, nor would I lose the opportunity of this mutual congratulation, to tell you that I am, my brother, very truly your good brother, Louis.[26]

Figure 14 Henriette and Philippe

The marriage of Henriette and Philippe had taken place on 30 March 1661 in the chapel of the Palais Royal. Henriette, the new duchesse d’Orléans, had left behind her childhood, marked as it had been with tragedy, loss, loneliness, hardship and uncertainly, the bleakness of her young days brightened by the occasional glimpse of the brilliant court to which she was, to a large extent, an unwanted outsider. Henceforward, her life would be filled with light, music and dancing within a court whose brightest ornament she would be. As she took her first steps into adult life, only time would tell whether or not she had left behind the sadness she that had so darkened her past.

Image Credits

All images are from the author’s own collection unless otherwise stated.

1 Henriette by Claude Mellan ( National Museum, Stockholm Nationalmuseum – Henriette-Anne av England)

2 The Louvre as it looked in 1670.

3 Anne of Austria by Rubens

4 Henriette-Marie by Anthony van Dyck.

5 Henriette by Claude Mellan

6 Louis XIV as a young man, attributed to Jean Nocret

7 La Grande Mademoiselle by Louis Ferdinand Elle the elder

8 Philippe duc d’Orléans by Antoine Mathieu 

9 Charles II by John Michael Wright

10 Henriette by Jan de Baen

11 Dover Castle (Karl

12 George Villiers, 2nd duke of Buckingham by Sir Peter Lely (Wikipedia)

13 Louis XIV by Charles Le Brun

14 Henriette and Philippe by Henri Gascard (Familles Royales d’Europe – Philippe de France, Monsieur, duc d’Orléans (


[1] Anne Villiers was the daughter of Sir Edward Villiers, half-brother to George Villiers, 1st duke of Buckingham. She married Robert Douglas, Lord Dalkeith, the eldest son of the earl of Morton.

[2] La Fayette, pp.25-24.

[3] Cartwright, p.20.

[4] Retz, volume 1, p.154.

[5] Motteville, 3. pp.98-99.

[6] Montpensier, 2.91-92.

[7] La Fayette, p.25.

[8] Motteville, 3.151

[9] Montpensier, 2,159.

[10] Montpensier, 2.159.

[11] Motteville, 3.150.

[12] Montpensier, 2.214.

[13] Motteville, 3.244.

[14] Montpensier, 2.226-27.

[15] Hartmann, p.21.

[16] Quoted in Cartwright, pp.69-70.

[17] Quoted in Cartwright, p.71.

[18] Quoted in Hartmann, p.23.

[19] Quoted in Cartwright, p.75.

[20] Cartwright, p.74.

[21] Cartwright, p.75.

[22] La Fayette, p.21.

[23] La Fayette, p.28.

[24] Montpensier, 2.226.

[25] Louis XIV, p.45

[26] Quoted in Cartwright, p.87.

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