Henrietta I

From Roses, Tulips, & Liberty
Henrietta I
Reign1 March 1667 – 18 May 1692
Coronation9 April 1667
PredecessorCharles II
SuccessorWilliam III
Princess of Orange and Countess of Nassau
Reign14 March 1647 – 6 November 1650
BornMary Henrietta Stuart
4 November 1631
London, Britain
Died18 May 1692
London, Britain
Burial1 June 1692
Westminster Abbey, London
  • William III
    Prince Edward
    Beatrice, Countess of Devon
    James Piers, Earl of Kent
FatherCharles I of England
MotherHenrietta Maria of France

Henrietta I (Dutch: Henriëtte I; 1631-1692), known as Henrietta the Mediator, was the Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1667 to 1692. After the unexpected deaths of King Charles II in 1667 and her Catholic brother Prince James in 1660, she ascended the throne in 1667. Influenced by her husband William II of Orange, she pursued a pro-Dutch foreign policy, led the nation in the War of Devolution, and steadily healed divisions between Anglicans and Nonconformist Protestants. After her death at age 61, her son William III took the throne and entered the Anglo-Dutch Union.


Early years

She was born as Princess Mary Henrietta Stuart in the month of November, 1631. Her father was King Charles I of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Her mother was Queen Henrietta Marie, a French princess, from whom she inherited distaste for the name 'Mary'. Henrietta was a direct descendant of the Stuart, Bourbon, Medici, and Oldenburg dynasties through her grandparents.

During her childhood, she spent most of her time in the various palaces of London, most notably Hampton Court. The daughter of Lord Drummond, the Countess of Roxburghe, was Henrietta's primary educator. Lady Stanhope was her personal governess and close friend. Around the age of 10, her late French mother's confidantes attempted to convert the young Henrietta to Roman Catholicism. However, King Charles I quickly ended any enduring Catholic presence in the princess's life.

She received her first marriage proposal from Prince William of Nassau, the future William II, in 1640. Initially arranged to wed the Prince of Asturias, William became the primary suitor after Henrietta refused to convert to Catholicism and move to Spain.

1647 portrait of Henrietta and her husband, William II, during their residency in The Hague.

Co-regency and life in the Continent

In 1642, chaos was brought upon London when several people objected to the engagement. Henrietta fled to the Netherlands with her mother, her governess, and several other members of her entourage.

She officially married William of Nassau in 1643 and consummated the marriage in 1644. As Princess Royal of England, she integrated into Dutch court life, earning the favour of several aristocrats and her aunt Elizabeth of Bohemia. Her relationship with her mother-in-law was sour and tense, and thus preferred to keep a distance from her and other Hessians.

When her father-in-law died in 1647, she became Princess of Orange when her husband officially became William II of the Netherlands. Her brothers, the Prince of Wales (the future Charles II) and the Duke of York fled to The Hague and came under her protection. When Charles I of England was killed in 1648 and the House of Lords was abolished a year later, Henrietta accepted and accommodated several royalist refugees.

Shortly before she gave birth to her eldest son, the future William III, her husband William II died of smallpox in 1650. A dispute began with her mother-in-law over young William's guardianship. Eventually, his guardianship was shared between Henrietta, her mother-in-law, and a distant relative, the Duke of Prussia. Now a widow and unpopular in the Netherlands, she resettled in Breda.

Her son was elected as statholder of Zeeland in 1652 but was strategically prevented from being elected in Holland. She vocally protested against the Treaty of Westminster in 1654 but was ultimately ignored. Worried for her health, she toured Europe for the next six years. Henrietta visited Cologne, Frankfurt, and Paris. In Paris, she lived joyously with her mother and her sister, Princess Anne.

Return to London

When the Protectorate was defeated and her brother became Charles II, she decided to remain in Paris. However, she decided to return to England with her mother and sister when her brother James, the Duke of York, tragically died of smallpox in 1660. Her son William, who was studying in Leiden University, decided to spend a few months every year at Oxford in order to maintain contact with his mother and learn English. When Henrietta fell ill, William's close friend and Dutch physician Gerwin van Doorne successfully treated her sickness. Gerwin also engaged in a brawl with a French doctor employed by Queen Henrietta Marie, who was noted as medically incompetent and a proponent of hematolagnia.

William Russell, Duke of Bedford. He was prince consort and the second husband of Henrietta I from 1662 to 1687.

She attracted the attention of William Russell, Duke of Bedford. Initially enemies and rivals due to their deeply contrasting political positions, they grew fond of each other. They married in 1661.

In 1664, Henrietta was vehemently opposed to the Anglo-Dutch War. She publicly announced her opposition in the court and spoke against the belligerent Sir George Downing. She temporarily became unpopular for her outspokenness, but was vindicated when England was defeated and incurred losses.

Coronation and early years

Charles II abruptly died in 1667. In Parliament, there was a general consensus to make Henrietta the new monarch. However, several lords distrusted Henrietta due to her French mother and 'abundant time spent among Catholics'. The Duke of Monmouth, the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II, was presented as an alternative to the princess. However, the intervention of husband William Russell, Henrietta's son William, and others led to the Duke of Monmouth being permanently disqualified from the throne and exiled to The Hague.

Eventually, Henrietta was chosen as Queen and was suggested the regnal name Mary II. However, she despised the name Mary (like her mother, Henrietta Marie) and instead pioneered the regnal name Henrietta. She was coronated on the ninth of April, 1667. Unfortunately, her lifelong governess and friend Lady Stanhope died moments after her coronation. It is said that Henrietta retained her composure until she reached her chambers, when she burst into sobs of sorrow.

Months after her ascension, she signed the Treaty of Breda, beginning a period of amicability between England and the Netherlands. In January of 1668, she married William Russell, Duke of Bedford.

Franco-Dutch War

While fond of France, Queen Henrietta was appalled at the French invasion of the southern Netherlands. Johan de Witt, a Dutch pensionary, visited London and collaborated with Henrietta in order to form the Triple Coalition. Thus, England, the Netherlands, and Sweden opposed French belligerency and mediated the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in the summer of 1674.

Queen Henrietta Maria of France, a devout Catholic and patron of the arts, was Queen of England and mother of Henrietta I.

After the war, many people began slandering Henrietta's mother, Henrietta Marie of France. Distressed, she retired to Christ Church College in Oxford to spend time with her grandson, William. In 1669, Henrietta Marie and William left for Paris, intending to stay for a few weeks. However, Henrietta Marie passed away due to bronchitis within days of arriving in France. After news of her death reached London, Queen Henrietta blamed the 'foulmouthed aristocrats and Machiavellian gentry' for her mother's death. In her honour, the Henrietta Regina Palace was constructed in Queenborough, done in the Baroque style and finished in 1673.


Henrietta and Marie Louise

Henrietta's sister, Princess Henrietta Anne of England and France, died in 1670. Her niece, Marie Louise of Orléans, came to live in England in 1673. Her presence was objected to by Henrietta's husband William Russell, which became the source of several martial arguments. In 1679, the young Anglo-Dutch princess was betrothed to Charles II of Spain. Terrified of his portraits and suspecting his impotency, she begged Henrietta to convince her father, the Duke of Orléans, to allow her to marry someone else. It was successful, and Marie Louise married the pro-French Duke of Mantua.

Nottingham Code

Henrietta issued several laws from 1680 to 1685, repealing or suspending several laws that had imposed restrictions on the freedoms and privileges of non-Anglican Protestants (known as the Nonconformists). The compendium of laws were named after the 1st Earl of Nottingham, a peer who had played a large role in the advancement of these reforms. Influenced by the country's pro-Dutch policy, the laws pertaining to Nonconformists had been widely effective throughout England and were viewed with great contentment in Scotland.

There were several articles within the numerous Acts that had discreetly stated the loosening of restrictions and punishments for Catholics. However, many of these directives were intentionally ignored and dis-interpreted throughout England and later, Great Britain.

Divorce from the Duke of Bedford

In the 1680s, Henrietta and William's marriage deteriorated. Palace attendants often reported fights between the two regarding religion, their children, the Stuarts, and national politics. Eventually, in 1683, Henrietta requested Parliament to annul her marriage. When it was not approved, Henrietta invited Calvinist preachers from the Netherlands to address Parliament and 'amend English [marriage] laws'. During the divorce process - which would take four years - several rumours of Henrietta spread among London, accusing her of adultery and nymphomania.

In 1686, in order to clear her reputation, Henrietta was convinced to fabricate claims of adultery against William. This was successful, with Parliament approving the annulment of marriage in 1687. Detested in England, William exiled himself to colonial Virginia. He would go on to play a part in the establishment of the province of Bedford in western Virginia. He would outlive Henrietta, dying in the budding city of Galena in 1707.

Henrietta chose not to remarry after her marriage's annulment in order to protect her reputation, and vowed to live as chastely as the Virgin Queen. Henrietta later established the first bones of unified British divorce law in 1691, based on the existing divorce laws of Holland and Scotland. Each divorce had to be approved by the English Parliament and could only be based on grounds of adultery or malicious desertion.


  • Father: Charles I of England
  • Mother: Henrietta Maria of France
  • Children:
    • William III (1650-1712)
    • Prince Edward (1661-1663)
    • Beatrice, Countess of Devon (1662-1703)
    • James Piers, Earl of Kent (1663-1742)
  • Siblings:
    • Charles II (1630-1667)
      • James Scott, Duke of Monmouth (1649-1669; illegitimate)
    • James, Duke of York (1633-1660)
    • Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1640-1667)
      • Margaret, Countess of Somerset (1667-1739; illegitimate)
    • Henrietta Anne, Princess of France (1644-1670)
      • Marie Louise, Duchess of Montferrat (1662-1716)

Titles and honours


  • 1631 - 1667: HRH the Princess Mary
  • 1647 - 1667: HRH the Princess Royal
  • 1647 - 1650: HRH the Princess of Orange
  • 1667 - 1692: Her Majesty the Queen

The official style of Henrietta I as queen was "Henrietta, by the Grace of God, Queen of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.". However, many have informally referred to her as "Henrietta the First, Queen of England" and "Henrietta Regina".

See also