Tuesday 7 May 2013

Princess Henrietta of England

Henrietta was born on June 16 1644 as a Princess of England being the daughter of Charles I and Henrietta Maria of France. Civil war was raging through England which meant that Henrietta had to leave England for France with her household in 1646 where she would be reunited with her mother. As an English princess who also happened to be the first cousin of Louis XIV she took her place at court where she was originally known as Henrietta d'Angleterre. The French court received the exiled Queen and Princess exceedingly well; they were not just given much sought-after apartments at the Louvre and the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye but also a monthly pension of no less than 30.000 francs. But money was tight because Queen Henrietta sent most of her income to her troubled husband in England.
But their lives changed when news of Charles I's execution reached Louvre. Aware that she had to secure a good future for her daughter, Queen Henrietta moved to the Palais Royale and changed Princess Henrietta's upbringing to Roman Catholic.

Henrietta as a child
It had been the original idea of Queen Henrietta that her daughter could marry the young Louis XIV but Queen Anne (mother of the future Sun King) was not equally fond of the idea. Princess Henrietta became a far more attractive bride when the monarchy was restored in England with her brother as Charles II. Soon afterwards Princess Henrietta was engaged to Philippe, Duke d'Orléans. But the marriage was postponed when the Queen Mother and Princess returned to England for various reasons. This caused the French court to officially propose to Henrietta on behalf of Philippe; they feared that she would marry someone else otherwise. Henrietta returned to France and married Philippe on March 31 1661 thus becoming the Duchesse d'Orléans but was known simply as Madame at court.

The marriage was good in the first years and Henrietta gave birth to a daughter after just a year. But this birth sparked several doubts (and showed signs of troubles in their union) regarding the paternity of the girl, for was Philippe really the father? It was considered that the biological father was Louis XIV and the rumour was strengthened by the well-known fact that Philippe was homosexual. Another candidate for the paternity was the Comte de Guiche who had a special connection to the couple: he had previously been the lover of Philippe but had started an affair with Henrietta shortly after her marriage to Philippe!

Henrietta of England, Minette, duchesse d'Orleans (1644–1670), holding a portrait of her husband, Philippe de France, Monsieur, duc d'Orleans (1640-1701), 1660's by Henri Beaubrun le jeune and Charles Beaubrun

Philippe was furious about the affair and quickly went to his powerful mother, Queen Anne, who reprimanded both Henrietta and Louis. Two more daughters would be born from the marriage - a stillborn in 1665 and Anne Marie in 1669. Philippe himself had extramarital affairs; a prominent lover was the Chevalier de Lorraine.

Despite the scandals surrounding her marriage, Henrietta was considered a very cultivated princess. She was in direct contact with Racine and Moliere among others. She loved gardening as well and she was the one who created the famous water-garden at the Palais Royale. In 1669 Henrietta received devastating news: her mother had died. Henrietta had always had a close relationship with her mother and was devastated when she heard the news. Her feelings were certainly not helped by the fact that Philippe claimed the late Queen's possession through his wife.

Henrietta of England, Duchesse d'Orlèans by Pierre Mignard

Henrietta used her position as an English-born princess and a French duchesse to try to bring her two countries together. Her brother, Charles II, had long wanted to sign a treaty with France. Henrietta was convinced that she could help the treaty along and wanted to revisit her homeland which Louis XIV gladly assented to. But Philippe was still bitter about Henrietta's intimate relations with his former lovers and tried to prevent her from leaving France - however he was unsuccessful. Henrietta was back in England on May 26, 1670 and she would stay with her beloved brother until the treaty was finally signed on the first of June; Henrietta was back at the French court by July 18.

Three years prior to this Henrietta had complained about intense pangs of pain in her side. Then on May 10 1670 (just before she left for England) she began having problems with her digestion that would result in her being able to drink nothing but milk. Despite these health issues she could not have expected what happened.  On June 29 Henrietta would drink a glass of iced chicory water but immediately after drinking it cried out in pain - new and intense pangs of pain occurred in her side. Through her agony she cried out that she must have been poisoned. Consequently she was given an antidote (this consisted of the cure against colic and several anti-poisons) and the water was thoroughly examined. But it was not enough. On June 30, 1670, at two o'clock in the morning Henrietta died at just 26 years old.
Her death was sincerely mourned by the French court. Since poisoning was highly likely in this case her body was put through an autopsy that raised questions to the official conclusion that she had died of gastroenteritis. It is still widely believed that she was poisoned.


  1. the portrait of Henrietta Anne as a child greatly resembles a similar portrait of Elizabeth, her elder sister... there is even a similar one of James as a toddler!
    was the artist guessed at or mentioned at your source?? very curious!
    looks like Van Dyck's work, as the other two I've mentioned were. but how could such a painting by that artist have been completed at the onset of civil war or even at her mother's miniature court in France??
    NOT saying it isn't! I mean, they're both her siblings, after all. I'm very curious!

    also.. given that Madame's eldest (who became Spain's queen) was Monsieur's favourite daughter, I'd give that her paternity was assured. remembering the number of times the two Madames conceived shows his determination to have an heir for Orleans. he could have given his brother a run for his money if all his children had lived or if the first Madame didn't have such delicate health. (ruined by his determination.)
    these French kings, heirs, demanding heirs destroyed the health of several generations of the matrilineal side of this family! Henriette-Anne, her daughter Marie Louise Queen of Spain and her two granddaughters Marie Adelaide and Marie Louisa through her daughter Anne Marie all died around the same age through their health being ruined through childbearing/losing and stress... I think they didn't get past 26!. astonishing, really, that Anne Louise didn't go the same way.

    1. Hello! I believe the portrait is by Anthony van Dyke as there are several sketches by him looking very similar to it. It was quite normal for artists to reuse certain postures so that could explain the similarities.

      Unfortunately, I do not know the exact circumstances of how the portrait was painted. But you are quite right when it comes to her health; it never was well and the strain of constant pregnancies certainly helped her on her way to an early grave.