|Her air is as noble as her birth. Her hair is of a bright chestnut hue, and her complexion rivals that of the gayest flowers. The snowy whiteness of her skin betrays the lines from which she sprang.|
Incidents in the Lives of World-Famous Women
How the Princess Henriette of England Just Missed Being Queen of France
Among the fair women who made the court of Louis XIV famous for brilliancy and beauty, there were none lovelier than Henriette, Duchess d’Orleane. She was the daughter of Charles I of England and Henrietta Maria, and the wife of Philllppe, “the little Monsieur,” the King’s brother.
When misfortune descended upon the royal house of Stuart the Princess Henriette was smuggled into France disguised as a vagabond in a ragged suit of boy’s clothes. She was restored to her mother, and although the exiled queen was supremely happy to have her little daughter safe under her care, she was often driven to despair by their extreme poverty. The little girl was many times forced to spend the day in bed because there was no fuel to burn.
Anne of Austria, the Queen-mother, supplied the English exiles with clothes and money, and, later on, invited them to the French court. As the little Henriette approached young womanhood she gave promise of becoming very beautiful.
She is described in the following words by a contemporary: "Her air is as noble as her birth. Her hair is of a bright chestnut hue, and her complexion rivals that of the gayest flowers. The snowy whiteness of her skin betrays the lines from which she sprang. Her eyes are blue and brilliant, her lips ruddy, her throat beautiful, her arms and hands well made. Her charms show that she was born on a throne and is destined to return there.”
She made her first public appearance at a ball given by Anne of Austria at the Louvre. When the gentlemen chose their partners for the opening dance the handsome young Louis of France offered his hand to the Princess of Mercoeur. The Queen-mother sternly rebuked him for this breach of etiquette, saying, “You must dance first with the Princess Henriette of England.’’ Queen Henrietta Maria saw that the king was not pleased with this interference, and sought to mend matters by answering: "My daughter has hurt her foot and therefore cannot dance.”
But Anne of Austria was determined that her son should obey the laws of court etiquette and insisted. “Then Henriette and Louis shall sit out the dance together.” From that moment Louis formed a dislike for his cousin, blasting the fond hopes of the two Queens that he would ask Henriette to share his throne. Later that evening one of the courtiers remarked upon the charms of the young English princess. “I do not like little girls. She is much too thin,” was Louis’ reply.
Though Louis was blind to the beauty of Henriette, his brother, Monsieur, was not. The young dandy determined that he would like to marry and have a court of his own. The duke made known his desire to the king, who laughed heartily and said, “You shall wed the Princess of England. for no one else wants her.” Philippe was well pleased at this promise, and hastened to plead his cause with Henrietta Maria. He fell genuinely in love with his lovely cousin, and having gained the consent of her brother, Charles II, the wedding was celebrated at the Palais royal without further delay.
The young duchess immediately became the central figure of gay court life. She captivated all who approached her. “Never was there a princess so fascinating,” the Abbe de Colsy has written. “Her whole person seemed full of charm. You feel interested in her, you love her without being able to help yourself.” Even King Louis fell beneath the spell of her beauty and charm. His sister-in-law became one of his dearest friends. He regretted the days when he had failed to recognize her charms and was all the more attentive because of his previous neglect. Had Louis' anger at having to sit out a dance with the Princess of England not blinded him to the beauty and charm of Henriette, she might have been his Queen instead of Marie Therese. — By Eloise Farrington, March 1917
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