On Monday we briefly discussed the rise of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who made his start as “favorite” of James I and then sought to ingratiate himself with the Prince of Wales in the King’s twilight years via a seven-month jaunt to Madrid. Today we’re going to take a closer look at his last years in the dawn of Charles I’s reign.
The “Spanish Match” as it has become known captures a bizarre and sophomoric jaunt from the future Charles I and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham through Spain and France as they hunted for the next queen of England. The King of Spain’s sister, Maria Anna, was their target, but though the potential alliance went nowhere, they did in fact stumble upon Charles’s future wife – Henrietta Maria of France. The episode’s significance stems from the political impetus behind it, while its now infamy comes from the sheer ridiculousness of the scheme.
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.