Today April 2017
the Children of Charles I and the
English Civil Wars
PORTER'S lively and engaging study begins with the first meeting between
Charles I and his Bourbon bride Henrietta Maria, youngest daughter of the
formidable Marie de Medici.
After a year of marriage,
the queen still spoke no English. Staunchly Catholic, Henrietta Maria refused
to attend her husband's coronation or to be crowned herself by a Protestant
archbishop. Battle lines were drawn and it was only after Charles' favourite,
George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated that a distraught
monarch and his young wife finally bonded and were thereafter 'inseparable',
albeit not physically, as they spent many years apart.
Henrietta Maria was 19 when
her first child was born prematurely and died within hours in May 1629.
This event was set against the king's ongoing battle with Parliament over
who should ultimately rule the country. Their eldest surviving son - the
future Charles II - was born a year later to much rejoicing. Sister Mary
was born 18 months after that, to be followed by James, Duke of York, in
1633 and Elizabeth in 1635. Another daughter was born in 1639 but died after
a few hours. The year 1640 was a significant one politically and personally,
as rebellious Scots invaded northern England, Henry, Duke of Gloucester
was born and their middle daughter, Anne, died. The royal children are at
the heart of Porter's book
Childhood does not last
long when you are a princess and Mary was married to the 15-year-old Protestant
Prince William of Orange at the age of nine, although it was arranged for
her to remain in England until she was 12. In the event, Mary was forced
by circumstances to embark for the Netherlands when still just 11, a journey
that provided a degree of cover for her mother's fundraising efforts. Porter
presents the self-styled 'Generalissima' as working tirelessly to raise
money to support her husband's military campaigns. While Henrietta Maria's
letters show her to be frequently critical of her husband, she shared Charles
belief in the divine right of kings and held the English system of government
The last of the children
- the girl later known as Henriette Anne or 'Minette' - was born in June
1644, while her mother was in exile in Exeter. A month after the birth,
the queen left the baby and fled in disguise to Brittany with a handful
of companions, including her confessor, one lady-in-waiting and the dwarf
Jeffrey Hudson, a loyal attendant for many years.
two, Henriette Anne was dressed as a boy and smuggled to France. By now,
the king had left his base in Oxford in the guise of a servant, heading
for London then Norfolk and the Scottish camp.
After further bungled
escapes, Charles was held for over a year in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle
of Wight, where he waited in vain for the Scots to invade England and save
Disguise and flight are
constant themes and Parliament's decision in 1648 to force Charles I to
abdicate was the cue for James, Duke of York, to flee from St James's Palace.
He did this during a game of hide and seek with the aid of his sister Elizabeth
and a supporter named Anne Murray, who arranged for a dress to be made for
him. The boy gave himself away to the bargemaster by hitching up his frock
to rearrange the garters on his stockings. Despite this glitch, James made
it across to the Netherlands, where his sister Mary was waiting to greet
him. His elder brother was already in France, enduring his mother's marital
schemes. Despite being impeached for high treason in 1643, Henrietta Maria
hoped to agree a politically advantageous marriage between the prince of
Wales and her niece `La Grande Mademoiselle', Anne de Montpensier. It was
not to be.
The final third of the book covers the years following
Charles' execution. Porter describes the king's 'harrowing and deeply affecting
parting' from the two younger children, who remained in England. The princess
Elizabeth was to die a few months later in Carisbrooke Castle. Young Henry
remained there for a further two and a half years before being despatched
to France, where his mother attempted to convert him to Catholicism to the
great anxiety of Charles IIand his supporters. When Henry refused to bend,
his mother threw him out. Henrietta Maria emerges as tough and controlling,
at one time withdrawing money from James and forcing his household to go
without food and heating when her son's actions displeased her.
What follows is the well-known,
though no less fascinating, story of the new Charles II hiding in an oak
tree then escaping disguised as a manservant. After the death of Cromwell
and the failure of his son Richard as Lord Protector, Charles II eventually
returned to England in May 1660 with brothers James and Henry. Their happiness
was short-lived: Henry succumbed to smallpox in September and Mary died
on Christmas Eve.
The penultimate chapter
is devoted to Minette, who was married to Louis XIV's younger brother. Philippe,
Duke of Anjou. The descriptions of Monsieur's homosexual affairs and Madame's
scandalous closeness to her brother-in-law offer a glimpse of the glamorous
French court. The book ends with an 'Epilogue' devoted to the death of Charles
II in 1685 and the accession of his brother. James II's optimistic Catholicism
led to religious intolerance once again raising its ugly head and rebellion
in Scotland and the west of England followed. With the country against him,
James departed for France and his nephew and son-in-law, William of Orange,
became king of England.
deftly weaves together the key political events from a 60-year period with
the turbulent lives of some of its youngest royal players. As the book reminds
us, having royal blood offers scant protection from the turmoil of war.
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