Conspirator, Warrior, Phoenix Queen
A myth-busting biography of Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, which retells the dramatic story of the civil war from her perspective Henrietta Maria is the most reviled consort to have worn the crown of Britain’s Three Kingdoms.
Condemned as that ‘Popish brat of France’, a ‘notorious whore’ and traitor, she remains in popular memory the wife who wore the breeches and turned her husband Catholic, so causing a civil war, and a cruel and bigoted mother.
Leanda de Lisle’s White King was hailed as ‘the definitive modern biography about Charles I’ (Observer). Here she considers Henrietta Maria’s point of view, unpicking the myths to reveal a very different queen. We meet a new bride who enjoyed annoying her uptight husband, a leader of fashion in clothes and cultural matters, an innovative builder and gardener and an advocate of the female voice in public affairs.
No bigot, her closest friends included ‘Puritans’ as well as Catholics, and she led the anti-Spanish faction at court linked to the Protestant cause in the Thirty Years War. When civil war came, the strategic planning and fundraising of his ‘She Generalissimo’ proved crucial to Charles’s campaign.
The story takes us to courts across Europe, and looks at the fate of Henrietta Maria’s mother and her sisters, who also faced civil wars. Her estrangement from her son Henry is explained, and the image of the Restoration queen as an irrelevant crone is replaced with Henrietta Maria as an influential ‘phoenix queen’, presiding over a court with ‘more mirth’ even than that of the Merry Monarch, Charles II.
It is time to look again at this despised queen and judge if she is not in fact one of our most remarkable.