My Queen, My Love: A Novel of Henrietta Maria
Henrietta Maria in this book’s subtitle was the daughter of Henri IV (1553-1610), France’s first Bourbon king, and his wife Marie (1575-1642), of Italy’s great house of Médicis. It is not a spoiler to reveal that, in 1625, sixteen-year-old Henriette (French spelling) married Britain’s Charles I (1600-1649), becoming Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Book One in the Henrietta of France Trilogy chronicles our heroine’s eventful early adult life, focusing on the years 1623-38.
Charles Stuart, then Prince of Wales, first set eyes on Henriette in 1623. She was dancing at the Louvre, and he was passing through Paris on his way to Spain seeking, unsuccessfully, the hand of a Spanish Habsburg princess. My Queen, My Love tells their story primarily through Henriette’s eyes (captured hauntingly on the cover image, her portrait painted by Van Dyck). Through Henriette’s first encounters with Charles, their marriage, and earliest years as a royal couple, Vidal’s historically informed account captures their nuanced relationship, fraught with the difficulties posed by Henriette’s deep-seated Catholicism playing out in Protestant England.
Other themes—like the period’s reverence for astrology—remind us of how foreign the seventeenth century can seem to modern manners. Vidal may be at her best, though, when recreating specific historical events or when weaving her narrative with its myriad of historical actors—a “List of Characters” helps readers tally more than eighty of them. Take George Villiers, the strikingly handsome and always scheming, Duke of Buckingham. Charles’ lifelong best friend, “Steenie” is a merciless thorn in Henriette’s side. Still, some will hope Vidal’s Henriette and Charles are more richly developed in coming volumes. The action is sure to peak as the English Civil War threatens. For those interested in learning more about the period’s people and events, Vidal’s useful bibliography—spanning nonfiction and fiction—provides leads to the works of several prominent historians.