Sunday, June 1, 2008

Henrietta Maria of France

In the lone tent, waiting for victory,  
She stands with eyes marred by the mists of pain,
Like some wan lily overdrenched with rain:
The clamorous clang of arms, the ensanguined sky,
War's ruin, and the wreck of chivalry
To her proud soul no common fear can bring:
Bravely she tarrieth for her Lord the King,
Her soul a-flame with passionate ecstasy.
~from "Henrietta Maria" by Oscar Wilde
 In my room as a teenager there was a print of the Van Dyke portrait of Henrietta Maria, Queen of England, the original of which is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Maryland or Mary's Land was named in honor of the queen of the ill-fated Charles I; the colony was founded as a refuge for Roman Catholics. When exploring the old church yards of Catholic parishes in southern Maryland, the names on the gravestones are English rather than the usual Irish and German. It no doubt pleased the Catholic queen that there was a place where her brethren in the faith could go to escape the persecution in their native land.

The life of Henrietta Maria (1609-1669) was turbulent from the beginning. Half Bourbon and half Medici, her father, the famous Henri IV of France was assassinated when she was an infant. At fifteen years old she was sent to marry Charles Stuart, who was a decade or so older. The royal couple initially did not like each other at all. They quarreled whenever together and so avoided each other for weeks at a time. When they finally did fall in love, theirs became one of the most devoted in the history of royal marriages, and was blessed with seven children.

During the troubles which led to the English Civil War, Henrietta Maria became a liability to Charles because of her religion and her meddling (both perceived and actual). Because the king was seen as being uxorious, the queen was blamed for many of his decisions. During the war, Henrietta and Charles were often separated from each other as he fought and she went abroad to raise money. Once while crossing the channel, her ship was attacked and pursued by Parliamentary forces. She described the experience to Charles:
All day we unloaded our ammunition... The cannon balls whistled over me; and as you can imagine I did not like the music... I went on foot some distance from the village, and got shelter in a ditch. But before I could reach it the balls sang merrily over our heads and a sergeant was killed twenty paces from me. Under this shelter we remained two hours, the bullets flying over us, and sometimes covering us with earth... by land and sea I have been in some danger, but God has preserved me.
Henrietta Maria was not able to get back to England to be with her husband during his trial and execution in 1649. Devastated by his death, she never recovered the joie de vivre which had characterized her youth. The queen lived out her days at the French court with her youngest daughter Minette. She did see her son Charles II restored to the English throne, although she thoroughly disapproved of him in practically every way. She died in 1669 and was buried at the Basilica of Saint Denis among her ancestors the kings and queens of France.

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