Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Henrietta Maria 1645

Daniel Dumonstier 1574-1645

Portrait of Henrietta Maria, Daniel Dumonstier
Graphite on Paper
17th Century
18.5x14.5 cm, 7.33x5.75 inches
This previously unknown drawing is an extremely rare likeness of Henrietta Maria during her exile in France. The Queen had fled England in July 1644, shortly after the birth of her last child, having just managed to escape the pursuing Parliamentary forces. She was never to see Charles I again. The drawing is dated 4th March 1645, when Henrietta Maria was living in the Louvre in Paris, where Daniel Dumonstier also had accommodation. Dumonstier had enjoyed a highly successful career at the French court, having first been appointed painter to Henrietta Maria’s brother, Louis XIII (then dauphin) in 1601, and later to her father Henri IV in 1603. He was particularly noted for his portrait drawings. He had previously portrayed Henrietta Maria in 1625, shortly before her departure for England. The present example is probably Dumonstier’s final drawing, before his death in June 1645.

Born in 1609 as the youngest daughter of Henri IV of France and Marie de Medici, Henrietta Maria was proposed as a suitable candidate for a match with the future Charles I from an early age. Married by proxy in May 1625, she landed in England the following month and began her life as Queen of England at the age of sixteen. As a devout French Catholic in a self-consciously Protestant English court, the Queen's first years in England were not happy ones, and the unprecedented union of a Catholic Princess with the heir to a Protestant throne was greeted with considerable trepidation on both sides of the Channel. Her religious convictions, coupled with Lord Buckingham's attempts to turn Charles against her made relations with her husband increasingly uncomfortable until Buckingham’s death and their subsequent reconciliation in 1628. The birth of the future Charles II followed soon after in May 1630. She subsequently became the mother of Mary (1631), James, Duke of York (1633), Elizabeth (1636), Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1640), and Henriette Anne, Duchess of Orleans (1644).

The Queen's role in her husband's court proved to be a complicated one. The combination of her frivolity and her emotional influence over the King concerned courtiers such as Lord Wentworth, eager for favours. Her continuing devotion to her religious beliefs, and her increasingly successful attempts to gain Charles’ sympathies for the Catholic faith, created an even greater conflict. Emissaries from Rome and English Catholics formed a large segment of her court circle, and she kept an open chapel at Somerset House, where she employed the services of a private confessor. Coupled with her involvement in court intrigues, many viewed her unwavering sense of Catholic piety as incompatible with her role as Queen. This opinion gathered force as the King began to act without Parliament, and germinated in a climate of political unrest, so that at the outset of the Civil War Henrietta Maria became a widely disliked figure.

During the War, she became actively involved in raising funds and troops in support of the King. The events of her life at this war-torn period read like that of a fictional heroine. She arranged mercenary marriages for her children, pawned the crown jewels, and organised landings by munitions ships. Her most courageous act was the arrival in York in 1643 with a large army, following a brief period in Holland, where she had begun negotiations with her brother, King Louis XIII of France, and the King of Denmark. Styling herself as ‘her she-majesty generalissima’, she marched south at the head of the army to a joyous reunion with Charles II in Oxford.

But Henrietta Maria’s success was short-lived. Realising that she was pregnant, the Queen decided to seek a safer refuge to give birth to her last child, Henriette Anne. She left Charles and Oxford in April 1644 to travel to Exeter, where she gave birth in June. A Parliamentary force under the Earl of Essex, however, laid siege to the city, and the Queen only narrowly managed to escape further west into Cornwall, before sailing for France in mid-July 1744.

The Queen was by now constantly ill, and her frail appearance was commented on by those who hosted her slow progress through Brittany to Paris. Dumonstier’s drawing gives us a glimpse of Henrietta Maria’s exhausted state at this time, in a portrait that is radically different to flattering likenesses produced by Sir Anthony Van Dyck in England. But despite her frail health, the Queen maintained a constant effort to support Charles’ increasingly dire position in England. She was generously supported by Anne of Austria, the queen regent, with a pension of 30,000 livres a month (much of which she sent to the King) and was permitted to stay in the Louvre while at Paris, and St. Germain during the summer. Although she was later joined by some of her children shortly before the execution of her husband, Henrietta Maria never fully recovered from hearing the shocking news of Charles’ death in 1649. Thereafter, she became solely dependent upon the good will of others for her livelihood, having alienated many of her children, not least the future Charles II, by her constant attempts to convert them to Catholicism. She had greater success with James, Duke of York, but with ultimately disastrous consequences. Henrietta Maria returned to England until 1660, but, amidst failing health and what she perceived to be an English indifference to her sufferings, she returned to France in 1665, and died in 1669 near Paris after ingesting too much opium.
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