Historian de Lisle (
Tudor) delivers a persuasive revisionist biography of Queen Henrietta Maria (1609–1669). Challenging depictions of Henrietta Maria as the “popish brat” who caused the English Civil War by turning her husband, King Charles I, Catholic, de Lisle describes her as a “warrior and a wit” who survived to see her son, Charles II, restored to the throne in 1660. The youngest daughter of French king Henry IV and Marie de’ Medici, Henrietta Maria was taught from a young age “that women had an important role to play in making the world a better place, containing male violence and inspiring a more refined way of living.” Only 15 years old when she became queen, Henrietta Maria’s relationship with Charles was initially distant and grew closer over time. She gave birth to nine children and formed alliances and rivalries with key historical figures including Cardinal Richelieu and painter Anthony Van Dyck. When parliamentarian forces pushed the royalist army into retreat in 1644, Henrietta Maria sought refuge and financial and military aid for her husband in Europe, where she learned of Charles’s execution in 1649. Though dry at times, de Lisle’s accessible account identifies key players and themes and convincingly argues that Henrietta Maria has been unfairly maligned by historians. Readers will see these complex and tumultuous events in a new light. (Sept.)
"This is such a great pairing of biographer and subject. With supreme skill and style, Leanda de Lisle provides not only a welcome revision of Henrietta Maria's reputation, but also a revival of her fierce energy and a reanimation of the entire age. A superb and vital biography."
This is popular history of the finest kind: vivid, immediate, well-researched, and telling a compelling story. It is also serves the first duty of biography, by making its subject more wholly understandable than before.
"De Lisle cuts a clear path through the complex politics surrounding the reign of Charles I and the Civil War. Highly recommended."
De Lisle (
The White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr) is a prolific royal biographer, who gives her unique insight about whether Queen Henrietta of England caused the English Civil Wars or became a victim of patriarchal propaganda. Daughter of Marie de' Medici and sister to kings and queens in Europe, Henrietta Maria left for England at age 15 to marry Charles I. Influenced by her strong and powerful mother, she sought to return Catholicism to England and live alongside the country's Protestants. Her loyalty was to her religion and her husband. Fun loving, courageous, and determined, she lived as a strong royal, a connected woman of her time, seeking to bring alliances and peace through connection and strength. De Lisle uses a plethora of primary sources, including the Queen's own letters and others' memoirs, to paint a complex portrait. De Lisle also recommends two rehabilitative biographies: Katie Whitaker's A Royal Passion and Dominic Pearce's Henrietta Maria. VERDICT Providing just enough historical context to understand the Queen's actions, De Lisle writes an accessible and well cited biography that will be enjoyed by those with an interest in this period of upheaval. —Maria Ashton-Stebbings
A British historian and journalist takes a fresh look at the famed Bourbon queen.
King Charles I often gets sympathy for losing his head in 1649 after losing the civil war, but his wife, who survived him, remains reviled as a Catholic French interloper and malignant influence. In her latest royal portrait, de Lisle offers an entertaining, convincing reevaluation of her subject. Henrietta Maria (1609-1669) was the youngest sister of France’s Louis XIII, and her 1625 marriage to Britain’s Prince Charles was a strictly political union that, as was often the case, did not accomplish its purpose. A devout Catholic who “spoke French, ate French food, [and] enjoyed French amusements,” she was never popular in a nation whose dislike of foreigners matched their fierce Protestantism. Contemporary America’s bitter divisions over abortion or guns will seem trivial compared to the murderous hatred between 17th-century Protestants and Catholics (and among Protestant sects), which began during the Reformation a century earlier. Urged by her parents and the papacy to return Britain to the “true religion,” she did no such thing but worked with spotty success to ease Catholic persecution. The author emphasizes that Charles felt less threatened by Catholicism than hard-line Puritans, who dominated Parliament and “distrusted the king as anti-parliamentary.” The author adds that poor political skills, an obsession with his divine right to rule, and clumsy efforts to raise money without Parliament infuriated the Puritan-dominated establishment, who combined to restrict his authority and eliminate his supporters, often by execution. The situation ultimately drove Charles to stop dithering, raise an army, and initiate the civil war in 1642. C.V. Wedgewood’s
The King’s Peace and The King’s War from the 1950s remain the definitive accounts of what followed, but de Lisle does a fine job, emphasizing Henrietta Maria’s energetic partnership, during which she sold her jewels and art to buy arms abroad, organized their shipment to Britain, and exercised diplomatic skills—undoubtedly superior to her husband’s—in an ultimately futile cause.
A successful rehabilitation.
"Brilliantly written, mesmerising, superb scholarship and totally immersive - you feel as if you are there, the vivid scene drawing underpinned by meticulous research. Henrietta Maria is explored with de Lisle’s customary forensic focus, razor sharp intelligence and searing sympathy - and the result is a total game changer."
Marvelous. The book renders sufficiently broad strokes of macro history but is also microscopically filled with careful archival detail only the best historians can dig up and make come alive almost effortlessly. Incisive, razor-sharp writing. A polished biographical gem. It will be definitive for a long time."
"If the Stuarts are having their time in the sun at last, then Leanda de Lisle is one of the reasons they are. Masterful and pleasurable about a transformative century and a neglected, underestimated woman's role in it - what more can one want from history?"
Leanda de Lisle has the gift of reminding us that history is the story of real people; real men, real women, full of rage and ambition and lust and hope and love. Wonderful, passionate, dangerous, fascinating stuff. I couldn't put it down.
"This provocative biography sweeps away old prejudices about the ‘silly’ wife of Charles I. With grace and sensitivity, de Lisle cuts through the misogyny to reveal a different Henrietta Maria. In this volume, she provides a new dimension, rehabilitating a wrongly maligned queen. Henrietta Maria's perspective allows this book to become something more than mere analysis of politics and war. De Lisle understands that history is a story of people; she possesses a visceral understanding of the emotions that swirled inside Henrietta Maria. This approach also allows a new cast of characters to emerge."
"Leanda de Lisle uses hitherto unknown manuscripts to offer a sympathetic interpretation of the character of Charles I that is more nuanced than previous treatments thanks partly to a highly original account of his much-maligned queen, Henrietta Maria."
Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy
Leanda de Lisle's beautifully written and endlessly fascinating new biography of Henrietta Maria brings one of the 17th century's most misunderstood women to glorious life. For far too long, Henrietta Maria has been patronized and belittled by historians as little more than an adjunct to her husband. This salutary and important book restores her to her rightful place as one of the most fascinating and important figures of her time.
Praise for Leanda de Lisle:
Leanda de Lisle has brilliantly overturned nearly four centuries of misogynistic, religiously bigoted, and politically motivated myths about Henrietta Maria, who now emerges as a fascinating, fearless, but ill-fated woman, wife and mother. This is revisionist history at its absolute best.
"Leanda de Lisle has approached one of the great icons of history with understanding and compassion. She takes her readers through the twists and turns of the English Civil War so that they understand the enormity of the regicide and the foolishness and courage of the king."
"De Lisle brings the figures surrounding Charles I to life with the strident confidence that accompanies the historian who fully understand their subject. A well-written and impeccably researched biography. Seeks not to revise the history of England's Civil Wars, but uncover the truth hidden beneath the grime of centuries of propaganda and myth."
"By the end of the book, I was sure that this was one of the best books on Charles I yet written. De Lisle certainly does know how to write strong, compelling narratives. Her best—and vital—talent, is perhaps her commendable ability to see the whole picture, the shades of grey."
Enjoyable, well-written. De Lisle examines the key events and characters that make the story interesting. This is a very well-done popular history ideal for general readers.
Deeply researched and vibrantly accessible.
"Like the proverbial phoenix,
Henrietta Maria is a glorious resurrection of one of the most misrepresented queens of England. A reviled figure in her day, and little better than a caricature ever after, Henrietta Maria can be compared to Marie Antoinette - except for the fact that she managed to survive her husband’s execution and live to see one of her sons crowned King Charles II. She deserves a seat in the pantheon of extraordinary women. And finally, thanks to Leanda de Lisle’s meticulous research, she has a biography worthy of her fascinating life."