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Henrietta Maria

453 pages
Library of Alexandria
Henrietta's life touches both England and France: by race, by education she was a Frenchwoman; by marriage she was an Englishwoman, and it is on English history that she has left the impress of her vivid personality; but the France which she never forgot coloured her thoughts throughout, and taught her in all probability those maxims of statecraft which she attempted to apply when the troubles of her life came upon her. She was the daughter of Henry IV, the great restorer of the French monarchy, the champion of an unified France, embracing in wide toleration Catholic and Protestant alike: her youth witnessed the beginning of Richelieu's continuance of her father's work; under the auspices of the great Cardinal she was married, and though later her regard for him turned to hatred, yet the impress which his genius had left upon her mind was not thereby destroyed. But her marriage transported her to a very different scene. England, under the iron heel of the Tudor despotism, had been worn out by no wasting civil wars; even the Reformation had brought little disturbance, for Henry VIII, by his amazing force of character, had been able to carry through a religious revolution almost without the people being aware of it; but the long peace was teaching men to forget the horrors of war and division. By the time the crown of the great Elizabeth passed to her Scotch cousin, Englishmen had ceased to look to the monarchy as the centre of unity. There was no need of a Henry of Navarre to bind up the wounds of the country. The old factious nobility had for the most part been slain in the War of the Roses, and the peaceful generations which followed had allowed of the growth of a powerful upper and middle class, which, originally fostered by the Crown as a counterpoise to the decayed feudal nobility, was now aspiring to a large share in the ruling of the people. Henrietta wished to see her husband great and powerful, and she could not appreciate that the day of despotism which in France was beginning, in England was ending. Charles had not in him the stuff of greatness, but it is doubtful if even a Henry IV or a Richelieu could have put back the hands of the clock and realized her ambition. The despotism which was building up on the other side of the Channel in this country was tottering to its fall by the development of the intellect and character of the people. Henrietta clung to the ideals of the past instead of stretching out to meet the ideals of the future, and so her work failed even as did that of Strafford, in spite of his greatness