In October 1660, rumors began swirling that the child Anne Hyde was carrying was fathered by the King’s brother, James Stuart, Duke of York. Even worse, the child wouldn’t be a bastard because the couple secretly married the month before. James’s mother, Henrietta Maria of France, was enraged; Anne’s father, Edward Hyde, a councilor to Charles II, stated publicly that he would rather his daughter was James’s whore than his wife. In short, it wasn’t well-received.
A few weeks ago we covered the 1644 flight of Henrietta Maria of France from England to France in the middle of the Civil War. Her departure came on the heels of giving birth to her ninth and final child, a daughter she named Henrietta Anne (“Minette”). The Princess remained in England under the care of guardians for two years until she was spirited out of the country in the summer of 1646 to join her mother in France.
Her escape was like something from an adventure novel – the trusted noblewoman put in charge of her, Lady Dalkeith, disguised herself as a hunchbacked French peasant and passed off Minette as a boy named Pierre. Aided by servants who waited three days to sound the alarm that they were gone, the two managed to leave the country unscathed despite Minette’s insistence on telling everyone they encountered that her name wasn’t Pierre, but “Princess,” and her real clothes were much nicer. A girl after my own heart.
The Stuarts’ relationship with Catholicism is fascinating, but not wholly surprising. The founder of the royal House in England was James I, who succeeded the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, in 1603. He originated in Scotland, the great-great-grandson of Henry VII and son of Elizabeth’s bested rival, Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary’s Catholicism – alongside her poor marital choices, gender and foreignness – lost her her crown and James’s Protestantism, even if sincere, was hardly a choice.
His faith ensured his place in the English succession, a point he reinforced by marrying the Protestant princess, Anne of Denmark, thus ensuring a Protestant heir. It spoke to anti-Catholic feeling in England – and Scotland, for that matter – but it’s worth noting the larger power balance in Europe. France and Spain, England’s true peers on the continental stage, remained Catholic. England was continually in and out of war with Spain, wounds which were very much wrapped up in the Reformation, from Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon, to the earnest desire of their daughter, Mary I, to marry King Philip II and deliver England back to Rome. Elizabeth I began her reign with tolerance, but as the decades wore on, she moved further and further away from appeasement, religion the source of nearly every plot and rebellion against her.
A few weeks ago we covered the bizarre six-year period during which the Princess of Wales (Caroline of Brunswick) left England for Italy, living a life of excess and scandal, while her husband, the future George IV, tried to launch a case for divorce against her. Part of what made that so notable is how relatively rare it is for senior members of the British Royal Family to live abroad – save foreign marriages and official positions, historically, those instances are almost always driven by political necessity.
We’ve talked about Charles I and Henrietta Maria of France before, but we focused on their first five years of marriage when the two were at odds and in the middle of petty power plays. By the dawn of the 1630s, their home life was a happy one, and over the subsequent decade they produced seven children, settled into domesticity and were seemingly besotted with one another. The same can’t be said for Charles’s public life, which is to say his rule.
So much of Mary, Queen of Scots’ later life was operatic that it’s easy to gloss over her formative years. Her violent death, her rivalry with Elizabeth I, her disastrous second and third marriages, the possibility she was involved in a murder – all of this tends to drown out the rest. But much like Eleanor of Aquitaine, the “less” dramatic early years actually involved being the queen of France and Mary’s long-term residency at the French court uniquely positioned her as both a Stuart and Scottish monarch.
For all that Charles I’s reign ended with his execution and his wife, Henrietta Maria of France, spent the next decade plus in exile, their relationship stands as one of the happiest examples of an arranged marriage in royal history. It did not, however, start out that way.
When the couple married in 1625 Charles was 24 and had only been sitting on the throne for a little over a month. Henrietta Maria was just 15, the younger sister of King Louis XIII of France and the pet of the Bourbon family. The most striking difference between them from the get-go was not age, but religion. England was not only avidly Protestant, but deeply suspicious of both Catholics and foreigners. The last time the English had had a Catholic consort was King Philip II of Spain during the reign of Mary I, a period of time marked by the burning of 300 Protestants and a campaign to return England into the folds of Rome. Needless to say, there was little interest in history repeating itself.
If you’re not familiar with the story of Arabella Stuart (or “Arbella Stewart,” if you are so inclined) that’s quite alright. During the majority of her lifetime, few outside of royal circles were even aware of her existence and, in my opinion, her status as a true rival claimant to the throne has been a bit overblown. Nevertheless, her relatively brief life played out just as England was passing from Tudor to Stuart hands and it draws on the dynastic sensitivities that came from a childless queen and a foreign-born king.
Charles II was a bit of a man-whore – there’s not really another way to put it. He kept dozens of mistresses over the course of his life and ended up siring 20 bastard children. He was also married, so let’s take a moment to pity his poor wife, Catherine of Braganza, a convent-reared princess from Portugal who spent her life in England humiliated by her husband’s infidelities and forced to watch them give birth to his children when she could not.
James II’s first two daughters are rightfully famous and they grew up to be queen regnants of Great Britain who collectively reigned from 1688 to 1714 as the last Stuart monarchs. They are perhaps best known, however, for benefiting from their father’s dethronement during the Glorious Revolution which saw him forced into exile while his daughter, Mary, and son-in-law, William of Orange, were asked to rule instead. His problem was one of faith, for James had converted to Catholicism as an adult. Had his second marriage to yet another Catholic remained infertile it’s possible he could have kept his crown, but the 1688 birth of a son made his rule intolerable to the Protestant English.
He and his wife, Mary of Modena, ended up in France at Louis XIV’s court at Versailles. The French king gave his royal guests use of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, not too far outside of Paris. It was there, on the 28th of June 1692 that Mary gave birth to a daughter, Louisa Maria Stuart.
We know that the Glorious Revolution concluded with the accession of William III and Mary II, and we know that the Dutch couple was called upon because Mary was the deposed king’s Protestant daughter. But a lesser-known truth is that William was half-English himself, his mother having been Mary Stuart, the Princess Royal and daughter of Charles I. Because of that, William was closely tied to the royal House of Stuart as a grandson of one of Britain’s kings.
Of the two Mary Stuarts who became Princesses of Orange, certainly the second would become the more famous, ruling Britain for six years as queen regnant, but her aunt and mother-in-law was an interesting character, too. The eldest daughter of Charles I and Henrietta Maria of France, she was old enough to comprehend the significance of the civil war that broke out in England in the 1640s, and yet was long-married and removed from the conflict as the war came to a close and her father was executed. She, in many ways, had a birds-eye view of the monarchy’s temporary abolishment, but was protected from its effects in a way her younger siblings were not.