More questions than answers emerge from this intriguing look at the problematic marriage that helped spark the English Civil War.
Whitaker (Mad Madge, 2003, etc.) is adept at depicting the spirit and temper of this age of religious fervor, while avoiding finer academic distinctions and hard contextual references. She calls the marriage of Charles I and Henrietta Maria “one of the greatest romances of all time,” yet it was roiled by crises largely due to Henrietta’s supercilious intractability, and the author can’t disguise her ambivalence toward the Catholic zealot who rubbed the English the wrong way. Freshly perusing primary sources, including correspondence between Charles and Henrietta, Whitaker finds that the 1625 political match grew into a warm marriage and meeting of the minds, despite religious differences. She was the lively, outspoken younger sister of Louis XIII, daughter of the terrifying Marie de Medici and assassinated Huguenot King Henri IV. He was the browbeaten son of England’s James I, for years swayed by the influence of his father’s favorite, Lord Buckingham. Henrietta’s huge train of Catholic ladies and her religious rituals at Somerset House scandalized the English, and at one point her retinue was sent packing back to France. By the 1630s, after years of luxurious living and numerous children, Charles’ animus against Parliament led him to take increasingly provocative steps, including the persecution of Puritans and the reinstatement of high church ceremonies viewed by a suspicious populace as the run-up to outright popery. Whitaker’s study shows that with each challenge the royal couple grew more immovable and unbending; Henrietta’s pleas for concessions to Scottish Presbyterianism came too late. Would the Civil War have ended differently had the queen had stayed by her husband’s side instead of fleeing to France? This is among the many issues that the author does not thoroughly address.
Compelling but frustratingly narrow and not terribly convincing.