Henrietta Maria: The Warrior Queen Who Divided a Nation

Written by Leanda de Lisle
Review by Misty Urban

This biography is an absorbing, well-written examination of the life and influence of one of Britain’s most reviled consorts, Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.

Bestselling historian de Lisle sets out to redeem Henrietta Maria’s reputation from the detraction she suffered from both contemporaries and posterity. She begins by showing how Henrietta Maria’s upbringing as a Catholic, a French princess, and a daughter of the formidable Marie de’ Medici shaped her interests, her convictions, and her lively personality. Married as a girl to the young king of a different religion and a rival nation, Henrietta Maria’s dedication to serving her husband and her religion were the causes, de Lisle suggests, for most of the vitriol against her. Especially urgent was the propaganda from Parliamentarian forces that disliked her prescient advice to her husband as well as her efforts to rally funds, troops, and international support for him once the English Civil War began. Despite widowhood, ill health, and the quick-shifting sands of European political alliance, Henrietta Maria remained dedicated to establishing Charles II on the throne and in so doing proving herself, de Lisle argues, more tolerant, clever, and self-sacrificing than she has been portrayed.

This isn’t a book to give beginners a thorough grasp on the political roots of the English Civil War or European politics of the time; the focus is on the characters, particularly Marie de’ Medici and her children, who are roundly and realistically sketched. De Lisle’s sources are sound, the prose is lively, and she makes skillful use of her research to keep tension high and move the narrative. On the whole, de Lisle’s compassionate portrait of a devoted mother, wise and loving wife, tireless benefactor, and intelligent, well-rounded woman restores Henrietta Maria to her place among influential 17th-century royals and proves an engaging work of scholarship as well as a highly readable biography. Recommended.