Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Exeter Princess

A posthumous painting of Henriette by 
Samuel Cooper commissioned by 
Charles II in 1671, to thank the city 
for sheltering his baby sister
I was once fortunate enough to live in Exeter, Devon, and I say fortunate because if you are as fascinated by 17th century history as I am, you will find examples of it everywhere you go in this ancient city the Romans founded and named Isca.

One of Exeter’s landmarks is the Guildhall, England’s oldest, still serving, civic building, parts of which can be traced back to 1160. It has functioned as a prison, a court house, a police station, a place for civic functions, a city archive store, a wool market hall, and as the meeting place for the City Chamber and Council. A portrait of Princess Henriette Anne, the youngest child of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria hangs in the main hall.

During the English Civil War, when Exeter was held by the Royalists, a heavily pregnant Queen Henrietta Maria, escaped Oxford ahead of encroaching Rebel troops intending to reach France. She got as far as Bedford House in Exeter, where on 16th June 1644, after a difficult birth that many thought she would not survive, gave birth to a daughter, whom she named Henriette.

For the safety of the infant princess, or because the Queen did not think the sickly baby would survive the journey, the Queen left her in the care of Lady Anne Dalkeith before making her way to Falmouth on her way to France to ask Louis XIV to assist her husband’s war efforts.

In July 1644, Henriette met her father, Charles I for the first and only time. He had arrived in Exeter to take on the Earl of Essex, and whilst there, he ordered the child be baptised in accordance with the rites of the Church of England at Exeter Cathedral. King Charles then left for Cornwall and defeated the Parliamentary forces at Lostwithiel, but as Parliament gradually gained the upper hand, Exeter surrendered in April 1646.

The surrender negotiations at Poltimore House gave the young Princess Henriette, her Governess and household permission to travel to France, but perhaps because of the baby’s health or danger of travel, they went to Oatland’s Palace in Surrey, her parents’ royal residence.

When she was almost three years old, Parliament decided Henriette was to be taken to St James’ Palace in London where her siblings, James, Duke of York, Elizabeth and Henry were being held captive. Before the soldiers could arrive to remove her, Lady Dalkeith disguised herself as a peasant woman and escaped to France and Louis XIV’s court.

Reunited with her mother, Henriette grew up at the French court and in honour of her great-aunt Anne of Austria the princess was given the name Anne. She and her mother were given apartments at the Louvre, a monthly pension of 30,000 Livres and the use of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The Queen, however, sent all the money she received to her husband for his war effort, or to exiled cavaliers who had fled to France.

Henriette grew close to her brother, Charles during his frequent visits to his mother’s exiled court, and in February 1649, after the execution of King Charles I, she and her daughter moved into the Palais Royal with the 13 year old Louis XIV and his mother and brother. Henriette was brought up as a Roman Catholic, and the queen attempted to do the same with her son Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who arrived in 1652, but the boy steadfastly refused to convert. A decision backed by his brother Charles which resulted in his being expelled from Paris by his mother.

The dowager Queen’s plans to marry Henrietta to the young King Louis failed, but at the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the King’s brother, Philippe, Duc D’Orleans, known as Monsieur, a flambouyant homosexual, married Henriette.
An Exeter mural featuring
Princess Henriette

In the meantime, Queen Henrietta Maria went to England to sort out her debts, secure a dowry for Henriette, and to prevent the Duke of York's announcement of his marriage with Anne Hyde, a former maid-of-honour to the Princess Royal. The Dowager Queen also encouraged Charles II to hunt down and execute all surviving Regicides: those who signed her husband’s death warrant twelve years before. During their visit, Henry Duke of Gloucester died of smallpox at 20 leaving Henriette distraught.

Her only failure was in preventing the Duke of York marrying Anne Hyde, who produced two future Queens of England, Mary and Anne.

Henrietta Maria's return to France was delayed by the death in the same smallpox epidemic, of Mary, Princess of Orange, her oldest daughter and widow of William of Orange.

Henriette married  Monsieur in early 1661 when she was 15 and moved into the Palais des Tuileries styled as Madame, Duchess of Orléans.  King Louis and his new bride met the couple at Fontainbleu and it was here that Louis and Henriette allegedly fell in love and enjoyed a close relationship until her death. Louise de La Vallière and Madame de Montespan were part of Henriette’s household prior to being Louis XIV's mistresses.

Monsieur appeared to be a doting husband, and a year into the marriage, Henriette gave birth to a daughter baptised Marie Louise. Popular with the court, and adored by her elder brother, Charles II, Henriette, known as Minette, was known for her flirtatious nature, and paternity of the child was doubted by the court who believed Louis XIV or the Count of Guiche was the father. Henriette and Guiche had allegedly begun an affair, despite him being a lover of Monsieur. These flirtations caused a once adoring Monsieur to become intensely jealous and he complained to Queen Anne who reprimanded Louis and Henriette.

The couples' next child was a son born in July 1664, Philippe Charles, Duke of Valois,who died of convulsions at the age of two. The following year, Minette gave birth to a stillborn daughter, and in 1699, another daughter, who was baptised Anne Marie in 1670.

In late 1669, Henriette lost her mother Queen Henrietta Maria, whose health had never been good. She apparently died from an opiate overdose taken as a painkiller. Henriette was devastated, the situation not being helped by Monsieur's immediate rush to claim all her possessions before she had even been buried.

In 1667 Henrietta began complaining of an intense pain in her side and by April 1670, she had digestive problems so severe, that she could only consume milk. 

Her brother Charles II, had been trying to establish a closer relationship with France and in 1669, set the wheels into motion by openly agreeing to become a Roman Catholic and bring England back to Rome. Henriette was eager to visit her homeland and Louis XIV encouraged her in order for the treaty to take place. Monsieur however, annoyed with Henriette for flirting with Guiche and his previous lovers, insisted she remain in France.

Henriette  appealed to the king, was granted permission to travel and she stayed in England until the Secret Treaty of Dover was signed.  She returned to France and soon afterward, in June 1670, Henrietta complained of a severe pain in her side and died. Some say she was poisoned by her husband's lover the Chevalier de Lorraine, others that she suffered a perforated peptic ulcer. Henriette was buried at the Royal Basilica of Saint Denis on 4 July – she was 26.

The Jacobite claims to the throne following the death of Henry Benedict Stuart, [James II's great-grandson] descend from Henriette Anne through her daughter Anne Marie, Queen of Sardinia.


Alison Stuart said...

The fate of Charles I's children were tragic, but "Minette's" one of the saddest. I have a book somewhere on my shelves called "Minette" (I can't even remember the author). Interestingly her eldest daughter died in exactly the same way. It would be interesting to know if it was poison or just any one of a number of undiagnosed internal problems such as acute appendicitis. Guess we'll never know!

Marg said...

I have always felt a bit sorry for Minette. It seems that she suffered a great deal, both in terms of her marriage and her health. Usually you read about her in conjunction with Charles II, so it was interesting to read about her as an individual.