Henrietta of England and Her Tragic Life of Calamities and Heartbreak
Henrietta of England was an English princess who lived during the 17 th century. She belonged to the House of Stuart and after her marriage to Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, became the Duchess of Orléans. Despite being an English princess, Henrietta spent the majority of her life in France and was a prominent figure in the court of her brother-in-law, the French king, Louis XIV.
Henrietta’s Early Life – Fleeing in Secret and the Beheading of Her Father
Henrietta was born on the 16 th of July 1644. She was the youngest daughter of Charles I of England and his wife, Henrietta Maria of France. At the time of her birth, England was in turmoil, as the English Civil War had been raging since 1642. In 1646, the first part of the war was concluded when Charles I was imprisoned by the Parliamentarians. In June of the same year, Henrietta and her governess, Anne Villiers, Countess of Morton (known also as Lady Dalkeith), fled in secret to France.
The infant Henrietta was reunited with her mother, who had been seeking aid from the French for her husband’s war effort. The Royalists were ultimately defeated, and Charles I was executed in 1649. Henrietta and her mother remained in France and Henrietta Maria decided that her daughter should be raised as a Roman Catholic. At the French court, Henrietta was given the additional name of Anne, in honor of her aunt, Anne of Austria (who was also the wife of Louis XIII and mother of Louis XIV).
Contemporary German print of Henrietta’s father Charles I's beheading. (National Portrait Gallery / Public Domain)
Politics Altered Who Henrietta Was to Marry
Henrietta’s mother had hoped that her daughter would marry Louis XIV. The French king’s mother, however, had different ideas and preferred a union between the royal families of France and Spain. As a result, Louis XIV married another of his cousins, Maria Theresa of Spain, in 1660, whereas Henrietta married the king’s younger brother, Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, in the following year.
Philippe de France with his favorite daughter Marie Louise, Henrietta’s and his first child. (Salon de l'Œil-de-bœuf / Public Domain)
Sister of the New King of England
One of the reasons for Philippe’s interest in Henrietta was the fact that she was the sister of Charles II, who became the new King of England following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Additionally, an uncle left him with an inheritance, which he could collect only after his marriage. The Duke of Orléans likely feigned interest in Henrietta, as he was in fact homosexual (or bisexual) and had a number of affairs with different men. In any case, Philippe carried out his duties as a husband and had four children with Henrietta.
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Charles II of England in Coronation robes. (royalcollection / Public Domain)
Was Henrietta Faithful to Her Marriage Vows?
Some members of the French court, however, were doubtful whether Philippe was indeed the father of Henrietta’s children, as the duchess herself was having affairs with various men. Henrietta is rumored to have had affairs with Guy Armand de Gramont, the Comte de Guiche, one of her husband’s lovers, and Louis XIV himself. Although Philippe probably did not love his wife, he was an extremely jealous man and was furious when he heard of the rumors. Moreover, the stories circulating about Henrietta’s affairs with both his brother and his lover would have been humiliating for Philippe.
What Part did Henriette Play in Diplomatic Relations Between France and England?
In 1670, Henrietta returned to England as part of a secret diplomatic mission to establish closer relations between France and England. As the beloved younger sister of Charles II, Henrietta played a key role in the negotiations, which resulted in the Treaty of Dover. The treaty was signed on the 1 st of June, and Henrietta returned to France on the 18 th of June. She died suddenly shortly after her return, on the 30 th of June, at the age of 26.
Painting of The 'Gouden Leeuw' at the Battle of Texel, the Third Anglo-Dutch War was a direct consequence of the Treaty of Dover, which Henrietta assisted in the negotiations. (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London / Public Domain)
What Really Caused Henrietta’s Early Tragic Death?
Three years before her death, Henrietta’s health was in decline, and was suffering from digestive problems and abdominal pains. The deterioration of her health was so severe that milk became her only source of nourishment. Historians today are of the opinion that Henrietta died of natural causes. Speculations about the exact cause of the princess’ death include a ruptured appendix, intestinal blockage, and anorexia nervosa, though no one is absolutely certain as to what killed Henrietta.
At the time of her death, it was widely believed that Henrietta had been poisoned and the prime suspects were her husband, Philippe and/or his lover, the Chevalier de Lorraine. The king himself suspected that Henrietta might have been poisoned and ordered an autopsy to be carried out. This was performed by French doctors and witnessed by English doctors. Although the doctors did not find any evidence of poisoning, they reported that the princess’ liver and intestines were badly corrupt, while foul-smelling bile filled her duodenum, gall bladder, and the lower portion of her abdomen, hence concluding that Henrietta had died of cholera morbus.
A posthumous painting of Princess Henrietta commissioned by her brother King Charles II. (Exeter Guildhall / Public Domain)
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