Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Among the descendants of Mary Stuart who seem to mirror her tragic destiny is her great-granddaughter, Henrietta Anne of England (1644- 1670), the youngest daughter of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. On her mother's side, she was the granddaughter of the great Henri IV, first of the Bourbon monarchs of France. When Henrietta Anne was a young child, her father was beheaded and his kingdom lost. The little princess was taken to the French court where she was raised a Catholic by her mother. It was hoped that the king, her cousin Louis XIV, would make her his queen.

However, being a penniless exile did not make an alliance with Henrietta Anne advantageous for the king; instead, she was given in marriage to his brother Philippe, Duke of Orléans. Philippe openly preferred male lovers to his wife and, needless to say, the marriage was unhappy. Nevertheless, "Minette," as the young and pretty Duchess of Orléans was called, became quite popular and beloved at the court.

One of the people most fond of her was Louis XIV himself; there are some that say that Minette was his first great love. She influenced him a great deal, or at least was perceived as doing so, which gave rise to jealousy, especially on the part of Philippe. This led to the rumor that the king and his sister-in-law were lovers and that he fathered her children. It is another one of those claims which are blithely made, without any supporting evidence. For one thing, Philippe was capable of fathering children, in spite of his proclivities. The fact that Louis grieved deeply when Minette died does not automatically imply that he slept with her, as some seem to think. It does indicate that she was close to his heart, figuratively speaking, even though by that time he had moved on to other infatuations and other ladies, who, without doubt, were indeed his mistresses.

There is a beautifully written novel about Henrietta Anne by Margaret Irwin called Royal Flush. It explores Minette's platonic but intense relationship with Louis XIV, her tortured life with Philippe, her friendship with Bishop Bossuet, and her final surrender to God. With historical detail, the novel also describes the factions of the French court and the woes of the Stuarts in exile.

Henrietta Anne died while still in her twenties of a perforated ulcer, although rumor had it that one of her husband's boyfriends poisoned her. The fact that Minette suffered from ulcers, however, might be an indication of the level of stress and sorrow in her life. She left behind two daughters; from the younger one, Anne-Marie, are descended many European rulers. Share