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Charles I spurned the Spanish Infanta for Henrietta Maria

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Religion, Revolution, Royalty on Thursday, 28 March 2013

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This edited article about Henrietta Maria originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.

Charles I and his family, picture, image, illustration

Henrietta Maria watches her husband, Charles I, say farewell to their children as tragedy engulfs the royal family by Clive Uptton

It was seven o’clock on a cold, wet Sunday evening in 1623, when young Henrietta Maria, the daughter of the King of France, first set foot on English soil. Her voyage from Boulogne had been arduous, and had lasted a whole day. She was tired, and a little frightened because of the unusual purpose of her visit.

At the inexperienced age of fifteen, Henrietta had married a man she had scarcely seen – Charles I, the twenty-five year old ruler of England. The marriage had taken place by proxy in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, without Charles being present. Now he and his bride were to get to know each other for the first time.

As she nervously acknowledged the greetings of the crowd gathered at Dover, Henrietta looked vainly around for her husband. He was nowhere to be seen, and she was told that she would not meet him until the following morning. The night would be spent in Dover Castle, which would enable her to recover from the voyage, and be fresh and cheerful again.

Charles had become interested in Henrietta during the previous year when he stopped briefly at the French court while travelling to Spain. He was on his way to woo the Spanish Infanta, whom he was bound by treaty to marry. The treaty, however, was later repudiated, and Charles was free to choose another bride for himself.

The wooing of Henrietta was in fact initially conducted on Charles’s behalf by Lord Kensington, who visited her and her parents in Paris. He liked the little girl very much, and sent enthusiastic letters back to Charles calling her “a lovely sweet young Creature.” What was more, she thought Charles would make her an excellent husband.

But despite Henrietta’s approval, the wedding did not proceed smoothly. Her father, Henry VI, was a Catholic, and he refused to give his consent to the match until the English Catholics were granted freedom from persecution. Once this was guaranteed, he considered his daughter as good as married.

It was not until some months later that this condition was fulfilled. The marriage treaty was signed in Paris, and in London gun salutes were fired, church bells rung, and bonfires lit in the streets as the citizens obeyed the “publike commaundment” to rejoice.

Still Henrietta did not leave to join Charles. A month passed during which she and her mother pondered the risks she was taking. She knew nothing of the English way of life, little of her husband, and, once she sailed from France, she would virtually be placing herself in exile.

Her indecision angered Charles, and he sent the flamboyant Duke of Buckingham to Paris to persuade her to make haste. Henrietta was much impressed by the Duke’s finery, and set forth for the French coast in a cushioned litter drawn by two mules in scarlet-and-white trappings.

Twenty-four hours after leaving Boulogne, she was in Dover, and at ten o’clock the next morning, just as she was finishing her breakfast in the Castle, she was told of Charles’s arrival downstairs.

Leaving her meal, she hurried down to the main hall to greet him, and tried to sink to his feet and cover his hand with kisses. Charles, however, would not let her do this. He raised her tenderly up, and “wrapt her up in his arms with many kisses.”

Henrietta then began the speech in English which she had so carefully rehearsed.

“Sire,” she said. “I am come into your majesty’s country to be made use of and commanded by you. . . .” Then, in mid-sentence, she suddenly lost her confidence. She started to weep painfully, and the princess who was known for her “smart discourse, gallant carriage and extraordinary accomplishments,” was seen to be no more than a schoolgirl, out of her depth and overcome by the situation.

Charles was deeply touched by this show of maidenly innocence and distress and spoke gently to Henrietta. He and his courtiers were greatly taken with the young French princess’s disposition and appearance. They admired her long, curly hair, her eyes that were sad one moment and happy the next, and her childish modesty.

Henrietta set out to make friends with everyone, and, the first time they were alone, told Charles that he must not hesitate to correct her if she in any way failed to comply with English customs and beliefs.

The couple were then married again, this time at Canterbury, where the ceremony was much less elaborate than the one which Henrietta had attended on her own at Notre Dame.

Henrietta’s journey to England was finally completed on June 16, 1625, when she and Charles sailed up the Thames in the Royal Barge to settle in a plague-stricken London. Despite “vehement showers,” the windows of their craft were opened, and the thousands of people who thronged the river and its banks were charmed to see that the bridal couple were both dressed in a shade of green which was the colour of the English countryside.

So Henrietta Maria began the marriage which was to end so tragically twenty-four years later, when Charles was beheaded in Whitehall. She spent her last years in France, grieving over the monarch who had kept his word and had always been her loyal friend. She died in retirement in 1669.

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