There are turbulent marriages. And then there are turbulent marriages in which the husband ends up getting beheaded on a stage. This book describes the latter. One doesn’t normally need to encourage publishers to hyperbole, but in the case of Katie Whitaker’s subtitle, there might have been a case for giving it a bit more welly.
The story begins with a prissy 15-year-old French princess being taken to England, to a husband whom she’d never seen. It ends with that husband losing his crown and his head to Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian taleban. The sad coda is the princess living out her days back in France, estranged from most of her children: older, wiser, but not much happier.
The princess was Henrietta Maria, the youngest daughter of Henry IV of France and Marie de’Medici. She was rather pretty in her youth, although at 4’10” blessed more with sweetness than stature. She married Charles I by proxy in the doorway of Nôtre Dame in May 1625.
She was a Catholic. He was a Protestant, in the slightly muddled-up fashion favoured by most Tudor and Stuart monarchs. Their marriage, struck across the bloody breach of post-Reformation Europe, seemed politically expedient in the mid-1620s. It sealed an Anglo-French alliance that could be trained squarely towards making a popular war against Catholic Spain. But it turned out, like many marriages that sounded good at the time, more trouble than it was worth.
At first the trouble was domestic. Personalities clashed within the royal entourages. There were silly misunderstandings over protocol: who should ride in whose carriage, for instance. The French were used to opulence and luxury, and couldn’t kick the feeling that the English were shabby savages. Most vexing of all, the pious queen wouldn’t sleep with the king on Catholic feast days.