chapter  1
26 Pages

Religion, European Politics and Henrietta Maria’s Circle, 1625–41

ByMalcolm Smuts

This chapter re-examines the story of Henrietta Maria’s ‘faction’ within the court of Charles I, incorporating new research in French and English archives.1 In doing so, it attempts to connect a political narrative to wider aspects of cultural and religious history, in ways that illuminate the highly cosmopolitan character of seventeenthcentury court societies and the consequent tendency for affairs in one country to become entangled with those in others. Court poets and artists of the 1630s crafted an image of Henrietta Maria as a symbol of chaste beauty, monogamous love and harmony. In the partisan political cultures of the 1640s she became by turns a cavalier heroine and malignant villain, the reputed patron of a Papist and libertine faction blamed for all the grievances Parliament’s supporters lodged against Charles I. We might interpret these images as rhetorical constructs that tell us more about seventeenth-century propaganda than about how politics really worked. But I will argue that we can tease out connections between the imagery that developed around Henrietta Maria and the way she conducted herself as a French Catholic queen within England’s Protestant court. Her story opens an illuminating window onto the complex relations between court culture, dynastic squabbles, secular political interests and religion in Britain and Europe during the era of the Thirty Years War. It shows why religion was so divisive but also why this divisiveness depended at least as much on specific connections between confessional alignments and secular politics as on religious belief in itself.