Henrietta Maria (1609-1669)

Henrietta Maria, queen consort of England, Scotland, and Ireland, also known as Princess Henrietta Maria of France (1609-1669) was born in Paris and became the wife of King Charles I. The U.S. state of Maryland was named in her honor. She was the daughter of Henri IV, king of France and Navarra, and Maria de’Medici, his second wife. Her early childhood was spent primarily at St Germain in rural splendor. Henrietta Maria received a basic education in reading and writing from a private tutor, accompanied by courtly participation in song, dance, and horseback riding. She would later translate the stringent ethics and aesthetics of the French court to English royalty. Her fascination with stage plays prompted a strong reaction to William Prynne’s Histriomatrix equating actresses to harlots. Prynne was consequently sentenced to public mutilation. Her Catholic faith precluded her participation in an Anglican coronation, a fact that diminished her popularity in England. In another example that elicited angst from her English subjects, Henrietta Maria both sponsored and participated in a Catholic play that elicited opposition from puritan critics.

Henrietta Maria engaged international politics without strong regard to nationalism. Rather, she emphasized the primacy of culture and dynastic hegemony. She was a frequent patron of the arts, including painting, sculpture, music, and writing. After the onset of the First English Civil War, Henrietta Maria spent the latter half of 1643 in Oxford with her husband. During this period, she met English writer Margaret Lucas (later Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle) and accepted her as a Maid of Honour. As the civil war loomed larger, Henrietta Maria fled to France with her court. As the conflict became increasingly seen as a religious war, symbols of the queen’s Catholicism were targeted. Her lavish chapel in London was subsequently desecrated. In 1649, she received news at the Louvre that Charles I had been executed almost a week after the event. The trauma galvanized her resolve to restore the English monarchy and to place her son on the throne. However, the regicide plunged the exiled court into relative poverty and family conflict. The relationship between Henrietta Maria and her sons was damaged, and the resulting blowback temporarily placed her on the political sidelines. After the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, she returned to England and remained a devoted Catholic until her death in 1669.

The queen’s industrious patronage of the arts from an early age was evident across a broad range of initiatives, including her admiration for writing. While in Oxford, she was presented a volume of poetry created in her honor by scholars at the university. Lively political debates in her Oxford court were no doubt witnessed by writers like the young Margaret Lucas, whose prolific writings frequently referenced political and philosophical exchanges between the primary characters in narratives like The Blazing World. The queen’s own writing tilted toward extremely personal subjects like this excerpt found in a letter to Charles I before fleeing to France:

I hope yet to serve you. I am giving you the strongest proof of love that I can give; I am hazarding my life, that I may not incommode your affairs. Adieu, my     dear heart. If I die, believe that you will lose a person who has never been other than entirely yours, and who by her affection has deserved that you should not                       forget her. (ibid., 249)

The content of her letter, though emotionally stirring, reflected more upon the king’s fate than her own since it was the last time they would spend together before his execution.


Barry Cole


Works Cited

Hibbard, Caroline M., ‘Henrietta Maria (1609–1669)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008            http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/12947

Wikipedia contributors. “Henrietta Maria of France.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Sep. 2014. Web. 15 Sep. 2014.