Being a Queen of England should be a privileged, luxurious job. Unfortunately, that wasn’t at all the case for Queen Henrietta Maria, the consort of King Charles I. Her reign was full of scandal from the very beginning—but it’s her tragic end that has gone down in absolute infamy.
1. Her Family Was Infamous
Don’t let her sweet face fool you. Henrietta Maria had some of the baddest blood in European history. Her father was King Henry IV of France, but her mother was Marie de Medici, of the fearsome House of Medici. Young Henrietta grew up with an understanding of power and how to wield it...but as we'll see, this came with grave consequences.
2. She Had a Surprising Birth Place
Even Henrietta’s birthplace was steeped in luxury. On November 25, 1609, she was born at the Palais du Louvre, AKA what is now the Louvre Museum in Paris. That’s right, the little girl basically owned the entire Louvre to herself, and could do whatever she wanted in it. Yet in a few short months, the princess’s life came crashing down around her.
3. She Suffered a Tragic Loss Early on
On May 14, 1610, King Henry IV was assassinated, leaving little Henrietta Maria fatherless before she’d even turned a year old. Never a popular king, Henry’s tragic end put his family in even more danger, and left his young daughter vulnerable to attack and upheaval. But guess what? Henrietta Maria put those survival skills to great use.
4. She Was an Unusual Beauty
Many sources from the time gush about Henrietta’s great beauty and manners. Raised under French governesses, she had impeccable etiquette and a royal face to match. She had pale, milky skin that her dark hair set off even further, and one courtier described her “pretty eyes, nose, and…good complexion.” Yet Henrietta was hiding a dark secret.
5. She Hid Her Worst Features
Although many praised Henrietta’s outward appearance and official paintings captured the best aspects of her beauty, one courtier who met her in person was shocked by what she saw. Upon glimpsing Henrietta, Sophia of Hanover recalled that when the Queen of England smiled, her “teeth were coming out of her mouth like tusks.”
6. She Had a Powerful Title
It’s hard to overstate how powerful Henrietta was even when she was just a little girl. As a daughter of the Bourbon king, she was officially a Fille de France, one of the highest-ranking titles in her native country. Then, when her sister married a powerful Duke, Henrietta became a Madame Royale. In other words, she was a big deal—and she soon attracted a fateful suitor.
7. Her Love Story Was Unromantic
Henrietta is now infamous as King Charles I’s doomed consort—but even from the beginning, their love was no fairy tale. Charles, then just a measly prince, first met his future wife at a French court engagement…while he was on his way to Spain to propose marriage to a different princess. Not a great meet-cute, and it only got worse from there.
8. She Wasn’t Her Husband’s First Choice
The love story of Henrietta and Charles is a tale of sloppy seconds. You see, when Charles finally did arrive in Spain, he realized they expected him to convert to Catholicism and live there for a year after the wedding. He was so outraged at their impertinence, he actually demanded that his father declare war on the country. And that’s where Henrietta comes in…
9. She Was a Revenge Rebound
The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and Charles gave the middle finger to Spain by going with a French princess bride instead, basically plucking Henrietta out of a hat and saying, “That’ll do, pig.” But that’s not even the grossest part. Henrietta was only 15 years old at the time and almost a decade younger than Charles.
10. Her Groom "Left" Her at the Altar
When the royal couple married on May 1, 1625, Charles didn’t even bother to show up for the wedding. I kid…sort of. It was a “wedding by proxy,” a rather common—but still ultra weird—practice of the time where either the bride or groom uses a stand-in and the nuptials take place anyway. If this seems like a rocky start, well, buckle up.
11. Her Coronation Was a Nightmare
By the time Henrietta married Charles, he was already King of England, with an official coronation just around the corner. Henrietta was supposed to ascend alongside her husband…until it turned into an utter disaster. The English Church was firmly Anglican, while Henrietta was a staunch Catholic, and they wouldn’t crown her. Spoiler: This did not end well.
12. Her Husband Refused Her in the Worst Way Possible
At first, Henrietta thought she could handle this measly little road bump. She suggested to King Charles that a Catholic Bishop could crown her instead. Charles’s response was heartless. Her dear husband said, "Heck no.” There was simply no way he was courting controversy with that move, not for some teen bride he barely knew. Ouch.
13. She May Have Had a Physical Deformity
Aside from her apparently crooked teeth, Henrietta might have had another "flaw" she tried desperately to hide. According to some court documents from the time, the young royal had unsightly sloped shoulders that the most flattering paintings of her tended to erase. Hey, if I was a Queen of England, I’d pay somebody to get my good side, too.
14. Her Husband’s Coronation Got Really Awkward
The day of Charles’s coronation on February 2, 1626, Henrietta had to be satisfied with sour grapes. Unable to actually be crowned, she was forced to sit from the sidelines and watch as her husband got all the glory. To add insult to injury, she had to make sure she stayed a “discreet distance” away from prying eyes. For better or for worse, huh?
15. She Brought a Bizarre Entourage to England
Growing up, Henrietta lived in a palace with literally hundreds of servants and amenities. Yet when she went over to England to marry Charles, she somehow upped her game. Aside from a walk-in closet that would make Cher from Clueless green with envy, she also carted over an entourage of 12…priests? Those Catholics, you can’t take ‘em anywhere.
16. She Had One Flaw
Despite her ease in elegant ballrooms, Henrietta wasn’t very good in the royal classroom. Never an academic, she often struggled with her studies, particularly when it came to reading and writing. Even worse, the young princess’s lack of discipline at the chalkboard came back to bite her in a big way. All I’ll say for now is: Stay in school, kids.
17. The English People Didn’t Accept Her
With the utter embarrassment of her failed coronation out of the way, Henrietta might have thought she could finally settle in as a Queen of England and be happy. But she was so, so wrong. The English people were still suspicious of her every move, and anti-French and anti-Catholic sentiments abounded. Still, Henrietta also suffered a more personal pain.
18. She Had to Overcome a Huge Barrier
Never a diligent or particularly gifted student, Henrietta had immense difficulty learning to read, write, or even speak English. In fact, she was almost illiterate in the language for over a decade after her royal wedding, which is just about as isolated as you can get, even when you’re surrounded by a court of fawning nobles.
19. She Hated Her Husband’s Nickname for Her
Shortly after their marriage, Charles tried to butter up his new wife...and ended up failing miserably. He started calling her the pet name “Maria” and even made her regnal name “Queen Mary.” Oh, does that title sound unfamiliar? It’s because Henrietta hated it, never used it, and continued signing her letters “Henriette.” A swing and a miss, bud.
20. She Was a Bad Girl
Charles may have been surprised to find out that he was not marrying a good little Catholic schoolgirl—as it turned out, Henrietta was one of the naughty ones. Indeed, people called her faith “flagrant." In the middle of Protestant England, she not only refused to give up her Catholic beliefs—she downright committed crimes because of them…
21. She Broke the Law
17th-century England was not a warm and fuzzy place for Catholics, and people were still executed regularly for popish tendencies. Henrietta was having none of that. She openly stopped to pray for fallen Catholics, causing a huge uproar. She even facilitated Catholic marriages for her friends, a serious offense at the time. And then there were controversies closer to home.
22. Her Husband Wanted to Control Her
Charles and Henrietta got off to a ridiculously bad start, and in June 1626, the king went and made it embarrassing. He hated her posse of 12 Catholic priests—who, to be fair, were pretty much the exact opposite of an aphrodisiac. So he started openly complaining that his wife’s retinue was cramping his seduction style...and then he took it way too far.
23. Her King Flexed His Power in a Disturbing Way
On June 26, Charles dismissed every last member of Henrietta’s entourage from his court in a flourish of absolute "I gotta get some" power. It backfired horribly. Several people simply refused to leave, and Charles had to cause a vulgar scene and get his guards to throw them out on their butts. That’s one way to get her to sleep with you, sure. Still, this horrific marriage had a surprise ending.
24. Her Marriage Had a Twist Ending
No one could have predicted the turn Henrietta and Charles’s relationship took. That is, a good one. A couple of years into the marriage, things slowly thawed between them, almost without them realizing it. Then suddenly, they were genuinely in love. In his letters to her, King Charles even called her his “Dear Heart.” Sadly, this only makes their dark fates all the more tragic.
25. Her First Pregnancy Was Terrifying
In 1628, Henrietta found herself pregnant, as will sometimes happen when you boot out your boardroom of priests and reconcile with your husband. But the happy time soon turned to terror. Her body wasn't well suited to childbirth, and she lost the child and nearly died herself in a difficult, grueling labor. And more was in store for poor Henrietta.
26. She Paid a High Price for a Son
The very next year after the loss of her child, Queen Henrietta was pregnant again and facing down another potentially heartbreaking experience. Once more, her labor was incredibly difficult—but this time, she got very lucky. Henrietta not only made it through childbirth, she had a healthy baby boy, the future King Charles II.
27. She Had a Shameful Obsession
As Queen of England, Henrietta participated in a shameful and mega-popular trend: She delighted in keeping court dwarves for her own amusement. She had a retinue of several dwarves acting as court jesters, including the “wonder of the age,” Sir Jeffrey Hudson, a minor celebrity of the time who gained fame as the “Queen’s Dwarf.” But what she did with him? Not cool.
28. She Played a Strange Practical Joke
People who saw Henrietta as a meek, frivolous woman didn’t know the real girl. She loved to tease her husband, and was actually something of a practical joker, though we probably wouldn’t find the jokes funny today. One of her favorite gags was to bake her dwarf Jeffrey Hudson into a pie and have him jump out at the king. Um, hilarious?
29. She Had Unprecedented Influence
By the end of their ill-fated reign, Henrietta exerted an immense amount of influence over her husband, far more than queen consorts usually enjoyed. Henrietta could bend Charles’s ear on almost any decision, and he reportedly even complained that he couldn’t make her a councilor. This power…didn’t turn out to be a good thing.
30. She Had a Sinful Pastime
The queen was into a risqué hobby: Acting. While today treading the boards is commonplace and even glamorous, the 17th-century looked on acting as a lying, treacherous pastime fit only for the basest members of society. Did Henrietta care? Not at all; she acted in several masques for her husband during her reign, even once playing a scandalous Amazon. But if she didn't care, someone else did.
31. The People Attacked Her
While Henrietta and Charles were learning to love each other, English Protestants were learning to hate her. By the 1630s, commoners began distributing critical pamphlets about her. One of the most infamous, by lawyer William Prynne, launched a barely veiled insult against Henrietta, claiming all actresses were hussies. King Charles’s response was swift and brutal.
32. She Gave Her Rivals Cruel Punishments
When word got round to Charles and Henrietta about Prynne’s pamphlet, the King ordered the lawyer’s ears cut off. He didn’t stop there, either. He had another pamphlet writer flogged, branded, and then thrown into the royal slammer for life. Charles was sending a clear message: Don’t come for me or my family. Too bad it didn’t work…
33. She Made Powerful Enemies
Henrietta was born with everything and somehow married into even more—but fate soon came and ripped it all away. In the 1640s, the anti-Henrietta sentiment in England crept all the way up to Parliament. A man named John Pym led the charge, insinuating that Henrietta was at the center of a Roman-Catholic plot for power. It all unraveled from there.
34. She Dealt a Brutal Revenge
With rising tensions in parliament between Pym and the royal couple, Henrietta reportedly did a very stupid thing. Perhaps driven by spite, she supposedly advised Charles to arrest his enemies in January, 1642. The consequences were devastating. The men got word of the plot, fled, and made Henrietta and Charles Parliamentary enemies #1 and #2. But it was about to get so much worse.
35. She Was Forced to Flee England
By August 1642, tensions eventually boiled over into the infamous English Civil War, pitting anti-royalists against King Charles I and Queen Henrietta. Terrified, Henrietta fled for the safety of the Netherlands while Charles stayed back. While there, she tried to raise funds and forces to keep her crown. It was no use: This was the beginning of the end.
36. She Had Addictive Tendencies
Henrietta had an addictive personality, with a great weakness for just about anything that had a price. She loved to spend those royal British pounds on dresses, jewelry, baubles, you name it. It got so bad that Charles had to assign her a strict treasurer...not that it helped. Even then, she still just borrowed money in secret. Naughty, naughty.
37. She Made a Great Sacrifice
Henrietta went to extreme lengths to hold onto a shred of her power. When she was trying to rally royalist support (and dollars), she even pawned off some of her best jewels to raise funds for the effort. Now, we all know how much of a clotheshorse Queen Henrietta was, so this really says something about her commitment.
38. She Could Have Saved the Monarchy
Even in the throes of the civil conflict, Henrietta still had great power over King Charles’s actions. In fact, she could have changed everything. Throughout the spat, Pym and other members of parliament actually begged her multiple times to convince King Charles to make peace with them. Her response made their blood run cold.
39. She Refused to Forget or Forgive
The truth is, Henrietta staunchly refused to entertain any of the negotiations with Parliament during this time. An absolutist queen, she despised the idea of a compromise and felt it was beneath her and Charles’s royal station. Instead of peacemaking, she needled at the king to never back down and never surrender. We’ll see where that got him…
40. Her Last Pregnancy Was Her Worst
Believe it or not, while all this was going on, Henrietta was pregnant again. She lived with stress and uncertainty for the entire pregnancy, suffered through yet another difficult childbirth, and produced her youngest daughter Princess Henrietta in 1644. Heck yeah she named the girl after herself; after all, she deserved it.
41. She Abandoned Her Husband
In the first years of the civil conflict, Queen Henrietta bravely went back to England intermittently to raise support for her husband and the royalist causes, but it was all for naught. By July 1644, it became clear it was a losing battle. She fled to France, leaving King Charles I behind. It would be the last time she’d ever see her husband.
42. Her Children Met Tragic Ends
Given how difficult Henrietta found childbirth, it’s amazing she didn’t perish from it. For one, she had a lot of labors; the woman gave birth to nine freaking kids. But then again, successfully having the children didn’t save her from tragedy. After her first stillbirth, three more of her issue succumbed to illness or frailty before ever reaching adulthood.
43. She Manipulated Her Children
Henrietta was a classic meddling mother. For literally her entire life, she tried to get her many children, who were all raised as good English Protestants, to convert to Catholicism. Despite her constant reminders and guilt trips, she only managed to convince her youngest daughter Henrietta to find the path to (her) God.
44. She Almost Disowned Her Son
Despite Henrietta’s harping about Catholic values, her younger son James brought utter disgrace to their family. In 1660, he revealed that he’d gotten a woman pregnant—gasp—out of wedlock. Even though he quickly married the girl, Mommie dearest Henrietta was utterly livid, and looked down on the match forever after that moment.
45. She Had a Wild Side
Despite her royal upbringing, Henrietta was wild at heart. To go along with her extravagant taste in clothing, she also had extravagant tastes in pets, and kept an enormous exotic menagerie of monkeys and birds.
46. Her Husband Faced a Terrifying Trial
In 1649, fate plunged Henrietta into a living nightmare. Negotiations between King Charles I and Parliament broke down to terrifying effect, forcing the government to take unprecedented action. In January 1649, parliament put Henrietta’s royal husband on trial for treason—the first time ever for an English king. Their verdict changed the world.
47. Her King Met an Infamous Fate
When news of Charles’s trial date reached Henrietta, she must have been devastated. But nothing could prepare her for what came next. After three days in court, the government condemned Charles to beheading. Four days later, they made good on their promise and executed their king. Shock waves went through the world, but Henrietta’s response was the most heartbreaking.
48. Her Husband’s Death Broke Her
According to contemporary reports, when Henrietta heard the dark news about her husband, she stood “deaf and insensible” for an entire hour before people could rouse her. She dressed in black for the rest of her life, keeping herself in a constant state of mourning. But while her beloved was gone, Henrietta still had one last thing to do…
49. She Never Stopped Fighting for Power
Even her husband’s execution didn’t keep Henrietta from defending her right as an absolute monarch. All the way from France, Henrietta continued raising her heirs and grooming her eldest, Charles, for the throne she knew was his. Well, don’t stop believing, people: A decade later, Henrietta’s wildest wish finally came true.
50. She Resuscitated the Monarchy
In 1660, after a brief period of Parliamentary control, Henrietta’s son King Charles II restored the English monarchy. Our girl was a Queen of England again, albeit a Queen Dowager, and that was just how she liked it.
51. She Was a Survivor
In the last years of her life, Henrietta seemed to fade into the background. Around this time, diarist Samuel Pepys described her as a “very little plain old woman.” When she passed in 1669 at the age of 59, she seemed like footnote: A queen who somehow survived the most brutal period of English history. But since you’ve come to the end of her story, you know the truth.