Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Henrietta (1644-1670)

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HENRIETTA or HENRIETTA ANNE, Duchess of Orleans (1644–1670), born at Bedford House, Exeter, on 16 June 1644, was the fifth daughter of Charles I, by his queen, Henrietta Maria. By her father's orders she was baptised in Exeter Cathedral, according to the forms of the church of England; the register gives her name as simply Henrietta (Bailey, Life of Fuller, p. 341). Within fifteen days after her birth her mother started for France, confiding her to the care of Sir John Berkeley, governor of Exeter, who was also a tenant of Bedford House. Her governess was Lady Dalkeith. Charles saw his daughter for the first time on his arrival at Exeter on 26 July, when on his way to Cornwall. On 17 Sept. he was again at Exeter, where he spent nearly a week, and assigned for her maintenance the greater part of the excise revenues of the city. He established her household, appointing for her chaplain Thomas Fuller. For some months the princess remained unmolested, although an attempt was made to alienate her revenues for military purposes. In the autumn of 1645, when Fairfax laid siege to Exeter, her governess vainly endeavoured to remove her into Cornwall. On the surrender of the city in April 1646 it was stipulated that Henrietta should either remain in safety in Exeter or be taken with her governess to any place selected for them, while the king's pleasure should be taken as to her future residence. Henrietta was ultimately taken to Oatlands. The funds assigned for her were now no longer available. Lady Dalkeith, after making several fruitless applications to the generals and parliament, wrote an urgent letter to the committee for the county of Surrey at Kingston. The commons ordered, on 24 May, that the princess should be placed with her sister and brother at St. James's Palace; her retinue was to be dismissed, and a committee appointed to see to her proper maintenance. Lady Dalkeith, who had been directed in a recent letter from the king to stay with the princess at all hazards, applied for the necessary permission to the speakers of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords. Both letters proving unsuccessful, Lady Dalkeith resolved to escape (she was still with her charge at Oatlands), and on 25 July pupil and governess were suddenly missing. The household, by Lady Dalkeith's desire, did not communicate with the parliament until three days later. No orders were given for pursuit. Lady Dalkeith disguised the child in a tattered frock and called her ‘Peter,’ as the nearest approximation to her lispings of ‘princess.’ She disguised herself as the wife of a valet, and with only one confidant, passing as her husband, reached Dover on foot, crossed the Channel by the ordinary French packet, and reached Paris in safety. The queen in a transport of joy vowed to have her daughter reared in the Roman Catholic faith. She afterwards asserted that Charles had consented. The war of the Fronde in 1648 reduced Henrietta and her mother for a while to a state of destitution. They were then residing in the Louvre. Lady Dalkeith, now Countess of Morton, continued to be her governess, and Father Cyprien de Gamache was her religious teacher. When, in 1650, Charles II came to reside for some time with his mother he became much attached to Henrietta. Henrietta's early graces and vivacity rendered her a favourite at the French court. In 1654 she was allowed to be present at a fête given by Cardinal Mazarin to the members of the French and English royal families. A few months later she took part in a ballet-royal, at which Louis XIV and his brother, and her own brother, James, duke of York, were also actors. She personated Erato in the nuptials of Peleus and Thetis. The following June, with her mother and two of her brothers, she witnessed the coronation of Louis XIV at Rheims. During the visit of her elder sister, the Princess Mary of Orange, to the French court in 1656 Henrietta took a prominent part at several entertainments. She visited sacred shrines, and occasionally went to Chaliot, where her mother delighted to see her practise humility by waiting upon the nuns. Anne of Austria for a time contemplated a marriage between Henrietta and Louis XIV, to which the latter would not consent. Towards the close of 1659 the princess retired with her mother to Colombes, near Paris. On the Restoration it was understood that Henrietta would marry Philippe, duke of Anjou (1640–1701), only brother of the French king. A special envoy, the Count de Soissons, was despatched to England as the bearer of a formal demand for the princess. The queen-mother and her daughter also went to England. They set out on 19 (N.S. 29) Oct. 1660, were received everywhere with regal honours, and on leaving Calais were met by the Duke of York at the head of the whole English fleet, while Charles himself was in attendance off Dover. London was reached on 2 Nov. The House of Commons offered its congratulations to Henrietta and voted her a present of 10,000l., which she acknowledged in a graceful letter to the speaker. She apologised for her defects in writing English, but desired to supply all defects by an English heart. Henrietta became a favourite at the English court. The Duke of Buckingham professed himself her most devoted admirer, and acted in such a manner as to call forth public remark. In the meantime the Count de Soissons was busily forwarding the completion of the marriage contract. Louis created his brother Duke of Orleans and Chartres, with sufficient revenues. Knowing that the state of the English finances would make a suitable dower difficult, he tried to obtain from Charles the restoration of the port of Dunkirk. Charles refused, but promised his sister a portion of 40,000l. sterling instead. The deaths of the Duke of Gloucester and the Princess Mary of Orange (13 Sept. and 24 Dec. 1660) made the queen-mother anxious to remove Henrietta to France. After a delay caused by bad weather and her ill-health, she left Portsmouth on 25 Jan. The marriage, owing to the Lent season, was celebrated privately at the Palais Royal on 30 March 1661. The duchess became for a time the centre of attraction in the courtly circle. Louis showed her an apparent devotion which was a blind for his passion for Mlle. de la Vallière, one of her maids of honour. At her request Racine and Corneille undertook to write tragedies on the adieus of Titus and Berenice. Henrietta also patronised Molière, and stood sponsor for his infant son, born in January 1664. Her days were passed in an unceasing whirl of dissipation. For her husband she felt neither affection nor respect. Her flirtation with Arnaud, count de Guiche, already married to a daughter of the Count de Sully, led to his exile. A book purporting to give a detailed narrative of her amours with Louis, with the Count de Guiche, and with other nobles of the court was published in Holland, and only suppressed by the exertions of her best friend, Daniel de Cosnac, bishop of Valence.

The jealous temper of her husband was further roused by the fact that she was admitted to a knowledge of state secrets concealed from him. His favourite, the Chevalier de Lorraine, constantly tried to alienate him from his wife. Henrietta had become the chief agent between the English and French courts. Charles was negotiating for help from Louis at the end of 1669, and Henrietta's presence in England became desirable. Her husband's consent was necessary; but upon the exile of the Chevalier de Lorraine, the duke hurried his wife off to his country seat of Villers-Cotterets, vowing that he would not return to court until his favourite was recalled. Letters from Charles, the Duke of York, and Henry Jermyn, earl of St. Albans, were shown to him, suggesting that the duchess should take advantage of the approaching visit of the French court to Flanders to pay a short visit to her relatives in England. The real object of the visit was carefully concealed. Louis further condescended to request his brother to return, and the duke was only too glad to accept the overture. On 24 Feb. 1670 he and the duchess reached Paris. Their return to court was followed by an apparent reconciliation to each other, but before long their quarrels recommenced. Philippe roundly abused his wife, while Henrietta spoke of her husband more cautiously, yet none the less contemptuously. She now had constant consultations with the king, who often took her opinion upon home affairs independently of his ministers. At length the duke was induced to allow Henrietta to cross to Dover, but she was by no means to proceed to London, nor to be absent for more than three days. The journey into Flanders commenced on 28 April. In Flanders Henrietta surprised M. de Pomponne, agent of Louis in Holland, by her business capacity. She embarked from Dunkirk for England on 24 May. In her train went as a maid of honour Louise de Querouaille, upon whom Louis relied to captivate Charles. Before Henrietta reached Dover the king, the Duke of York, Prince Rupert, and the young Duke of Monmouth rowed out to welcome her. Dover Castle was fitted up for her reception. Henrietta, in her own name and that of Louis, recommended ‘the restoration of the Roman Catholic religion and of absolute power.’ She advised Charles to ‘flatter the English Protestant Church, and by alternately coaxing and persecuting dissenters to render them at last … subservient to his will.’ He was also to join with France against Holland, the commercial rival of England, and to support the claim of the house of Bourbon to the monarchy of Spain. Louis engaged to pay a large subsidy, and promised to support Charles with an army against any insurrection in England. ‘She concluded her harangue,’ writes one who was present, ‘and spoke the rest with an eloquence of a more transcendent kind, and which, though dumb, infinitely surpassed the force of her reasons or of her more charming words.’ Charles was greatly impressed by the ‘wonderful patheticalness of her discourse,’ but urged a few objections. On 1 June, within six days of her landing, she obtained his signature to the treaty. Colbert went over with it to Calais, where Louis was in readiness to add his signature, and hastened back in triumph to Dover. Henrietta even flattered herself that in a few more days, if Turenne were sent over on pretext of conducting her home, she could persuade her brother to a declaration of war against Holland. But Philippe, who had already been compelled by Louis to grant his wife an extension of time, would hear of no further delay, and Louis also was fearful lest the presence of Turenne in England should excite the suspicions of the Dutch. Henrietta re-embarked for France on 12 June. Charles promised her a present of six thousand pistoles for her travelling expenses, for which she had pawned some of her jewels; gave her a parting gift valued at two thousand pistoles; and told her that he wished her to leave him one of her jewels, namely Louise de Querouaille, as a token of affection. Henrietta refused to leave her maid of honour, but promised not to oppose the girl's return to England in case he should obtain for her an appointment as maid of honour to his queen. On reaching St. Germains (18 June) Henrietta found that her husband had been annoyed by the reports of the secret negotiation and by the warmth of Louis's gratitude. Louis took every opportunity of showing her honour in public, and privately presented her with six thousand pistoles that she might redeem her pawned jewels and reserve for her own use the money promised by her brother. To mortify his wife the duke retired with her to St. Cloud on 24 June. On 26 June, during a visit to the court at Versailles, Philippe was irritated by surprising the king and Henrietta in a confidential conversation, which ceased the moment he entered the room. He left Versailles in anger, and took away his wife bathed in tears. Her health was uncertain, but, in spite of the remonstrances of her chief physician, she persisted in bathing in the Seine. On the afternoon of 29 June, after drinking a cup of chicory-water, she was seized with violent pains and vomiting. She declared repeatedly that she was poisoned. She died about half-past two o'clock in the morning of 30 June 1670, within ten hours from the commencement of the attack. A post-mortem examination was hurriedly conducted by a young and unskilful French surgeon, and the death assigned to natural causes. Horrible suspicions, however, arose. Saint Simon asserts that she was deliberately poisoned, with her husband's connivance, by his first squire, D'Effiat, and the Count de Beuvron, captain of the guards, acting on the instructions of the Chevalier de Lorraine, who supplied the drug. None of these persons were punished or even removed from their places, from fear of exciting suspicion. Lorraine was even recalled. On 21 Aug. Henrietta was buried with extraordinary magnificence at St. Denis. Bossuet pronounced the funeral oration. The multitude of panegyrics in prose and verse penned in sorrow for her untimely death led Rochester to declare that ‘never was any one so regretted since dying was the fashion.’ Henrietta left two daughters: the elder, Marie Louise, became the queen of Charles II of Spain; the younger, Marie, was married to Victor Amadeus II of Savoy. In the year following Henrietta's death Philippe married her second cousin, Elizabeth Charlotte, daughter of Charles Louis, elector palatine, eldest son of the queen of Bohemia.

Her portrait was drawn and engraved by Claude Mellan, of which a copy by Van der Werff was engraved by J. Audran for Larrey's ‘History.’ Another engraved portrait of her, by Peter Williamson, is dated 1661; a third was executed by Nicolas de Larmessin. In the National Portrait Gallery there is a portrait by Mignard, engraved by Cooper in ‘Monarchy Revived.’ Another by the same artist is in the possession of the Duke of Grafton. Granger mentions a portrait at Dunham, Cheshire, the seat of the Earl of Stamford, by Largillière; another at Amesbury, Wiltshire; and a third, by Petitot at Strawberry Hill, Middlesex (Biog. Hist. of England, 2nd edit., pp. 180–1). The Earl of Hume possesses a portrait by Largillière, and the Earl of Crawford one by Sir P. Lely. There are two portraits at Versailles; one at St. Cloud, by H. Rigaud, was burnt in 1870 (Cat. Stuart Exhibition, 1849; Scharf, Cat. National Portrait Gallery). Platt and Turner severally engraved the picture in the possession of Earl Poulett.

[Mrs. Everett Green's Princesses of England, vi. 399–584, 586–90; Burnet's Own Time; Macaulay's Hist.; Ludlow's Memoirs, iii. 227; Gent. Mag., July 1773, pp. 324–5; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, i. 256.]

G. G.