In 1625, being both French and Catholic, Henrietta Maria was particularly vulnerable to an English public that was deeply suspicious – if not outwardly hostile – to those most essential aspects of her identity. Her marriage to Charles had been a dynastic match to advance diplomatic ties between England and France, and negotiations had been particularly delicate because this was the first cross-confessional marriage of a Protestant heir to the throne to a Catholic princess. Pope Urban VIII, her godfather, provided the necessary dispensation and he inveighed her to advance the Catholic cause in England. For the Pope, her French family and English Catholics, there was every hope that she might convert the King, an aspiration that struck horror in the wider English population. If she managed to charm many at court with her sophistication and lively personality, she remained deeply divisive throughout her life, not just because of her French heritage and Catholicism but her perceived power over the King.
The couple’s first public appearance in London saw them in matching green outfits on a boat on the Thames. However, the relationship between the King and his Queen did not bode particularly well at first. She maintained strict religious devotions and spent extravagant sums of money on luxury goods. The King, for his part, dismissed most of her French retinue, sparking a diplomatic uproar. Charles’s dedication to his court favourite, George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, certainly did not help the newlyweds. But their intimacy grew, and after Buckingham’s death in 1628 they developed a strong bond, both physically and emotionally. While their first child, a son, died shortly after birth, she would have eight more children, two of whom would become kings. Indeed, she was the most fertile of all the Stuart queens, providing stability for the dynasty.
If she fulfilled her primary royal duty as a consort, Henrietta Maria also proved to be profoundly loyal and was a strong advocate for her husband and later her son’s cause. While occasionally self-indulgent – during difficult times she was known to call herself miserable – and zealously self-righteous, she was a formidable force of nature. She was also a dutiful daughter and a devout Catholic. Her steadfast devotion was made all the more poignant by her separation from her husband for long periods during the civil wars.