I think that what I really want to write about right now is the story of Minette, otherwise known as Henriette Anne Stuart, Duchesse d’Orléans who was adored sister in law to Louis XIV and also little sister to Charles II.
I keep thinking of little snippets of dialogue and plot for her and have a ‘voice’ already worked out that I think would work. Maybe I should give it a try and see what happens?
The thing that is putting me off is the fact that there is already an amazing novel about her: Royal Flush by Margaret Irwin and I’m not sure that I could ever better it. Also both Sandra Gulland and Karleen Koen have both recently featured her in novels and they are far better writers than me!
Henriette Anne had a bit of a tragic life, all things considered. She was born in Exeter in 1644 at the height of the English Civil War, the youngest child of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, who dramatically fled the country a fortnight after her birth, leaving her in the care of her governess Lady Morton.
Poor Minette was not to see her mother again until she was two years old when she was sent to France, where Henrietta Maria was in exile. She was there when her father, Charles I was exected in 1649.
The exiled Stuarts were extremely impoverished and Henriette and her mother lived a life of penury in Paris, very much the poor relations of Louis XIV, who was also growing up in straitened circumstances, under the control of Richelieu. Henriette’s siblings were scattered all over Europe, in particular her elder brother Charles II, who became known as The Wandering Prince.
As was only natural, Henrietta Maria wished to marry her daughter to Louis XIV but it was not to be – the prestige of the Stuart family had never been lower and, more to the point, Louis did not admire his little cousin’s looks and thought her too thin to be attractive.
After the Restoration of Charles II, however, things began to change for the better and although she was to be denied the prize of Louis XIV, she was instead betrothed to his younger brother Philippe, Duc d’Orléans.
The marriage was miserable. Henriette was desperate for love, romance and affection and her husband was a homosexual, who prefered to surround himself with perfumed, pretty young boyfriends but at the same time was insanely jealous of his wife, who was beginning to blossom into a beauty, who was known at court as simply ‘Madame’.
The main drama in Henriette’s life began shortly after her marriage when she became very close to her brother in law Louis XIV, to the extent that it is believed that they were probably lovers. There is a story that they cooked up a scheme to deflect attention by pretending that he was paying court to her lady in waiting Louise de la Vallière, only to have the plan go sadly awry for Henriette when Louis actually did fall for Louise.
Charming, pretty, clever Henriette’s life was cut short at the age of twenty six when she died at Chantilly from what was believed at the time to be poison, but which was probably peritonitis. One of her final actions was to help negotiate the Secret Treaty of Dover between Charles and Louis, which formed a controversial alliance between France and England.
She was much mourned at court and her funeral eulogy by Bossuet has gone down in history as one of the most dramatic and moving ever.