Vita Sackville West fangirls about Henrietta Stuart

A depiction of Henrietta Anne and her husband, Philippe from the grand portrait of Louis XIV and his family as Greek deities by Nocret, which currently hangs at Versailles but formerly hung in the gallery of their château at Saint-Cloud. Photo: Chateau de Versailles.

“At the beginning of April, the Court received its brightest and sweetest ornament when Henrietta, the beloved sister of Charles II, married the lamentable Philippe d’Anjou, now Duc d’Orléans… One should perhaps not condemn Monsieur so sweepingly: he had his charm, I suppose, and may hang as one of the more brittle lockets upon the necklace of history, but considered as a human being there is not much to be said for him, and the incivility of his manners towards his wife arouses a storm of uncomprehending indignation in the heart of the most hardened reader. The passion he professed for her just before their marriage, if ever sincere, was of the shortest duration. He was rude and unkind to her beyond belief. How could he treat her so badly? How could he? One asks oneself.

A nice portrait of Henrietta holding a painting of her husband, Philippe from the collections of the National Trust.

Here was this little prinkling shrimp of a prince married to a rare girl he did not deserve. He should have gone down on his knees in gratitude. For Henrietta, not yet seventeen at the time of her marriage, was by common consent an angel of sweetness and light. One is accustomed to discount two-thirds of the panegyrics lavished on royal and eminent personages by their sycophantic contemporaries, but an exception must be made in the case of Madame. For once the words of appreciation ring true. Not beautiful, and slightly hunchbacked, which might be attributed to her consumptive tendency, she had never allowed her deformity, as so often happens, to warp her natural warmth and capacity for bestowing and attracting affection. Descriptions of her character are all the more convincing because of their similarity: she seems to have made the same impression on very different kinds of people, men and women alike.

A miniature of Henrietta Anne from the Royal Collection.

The Abbé de Choisy: ‘Never has France had a princess as attractive as Henriette d’Angleterre… so fascinating, so ready to please all who approached her. Her whole person seemed full of charm. You felt interested in her, you loved her without being able to help yourself. When you met her for the first time, her eyes sought your own, as if she had no other desire in the world but to please you. When she spoke, she appeared absorbed in the wish to oblige you.’

Mme de Motteville: ‘She was so loveable in herself, that she could not fail to please… she wished to reign in the hearts of all good people, by the charm of her person and the real beauty of her soul.’

Mme de Suze: ‘Since Madame left us, joy is no longer seen at St Germain. Everyone here is very dull in Madame’s absence, and unless she returns soon I cannot think what we shall do with ourselves. Nobody thinks of anything else but of writing to her, and the ladies of the Court are to be seen, pen in hand, at all hours of the day. She alone can bring us back the spring-time.’

Bussy-Rabutin, not a man to be easily impressed: ‘She had a natural disposition to do good to everyone… both in mind and person, the most charming princess that ever lived.’

The Bishop of Valence: ‘…a sweetness which made her unlike all other royal personages…. the most human creature in the world… she seemed to lay hold of all hearts… the grace of her soul seemed to animate her whole being, down to the tips of her feet… the inexpressible charm, ce je ne sais quoi, which goes straight to all hearts.’

And as for Charles II, his letters are among the most touching ever penned by a brother to a sister; each one of them breathes ‘that tender passion I have for my dearest Minette.'” — excerpt from Daughter of France: The Life of Anne Marie Louise d’Orleans duchesse de Montpensier 1627-1693 by Vita Sackville West, 1959, pp222-223.

Portrait of Henrietta Anne by Nocret from the collection of the National Gallery of Scotland.

My copy of Daughter of France: Anne Marie Louise D’Orleans, Duchesse de Montpensier, Vita Sackville-West’s biography of La Grande Mademoiselle arrived today and I can already see that it is going to be invaluable while I am working on my novel about Henrietta Stuart, Duchesse d’Orléans. As today marks the anniversary of Henrietta’s funeral at the Basilica of Saint Denis, at which Bossuet gave his famous funeral oration, I thought I’d share Vita’s description of Henrietta and her husband, Philippe. As you can see she was clearly a bit of a Henrietta fan girl, possibly more so than me, which I thought was impossible! And if you think this is over the top, you should see what she has to say about Henrietta’s mother, Queen Henrietta Marie…

However, in life, Henrietta and her cousin Anne-Marie were not exactly the best of friends (it’s all very pleasingly Mean Girls like in my book in fact with Anne-Marie as the Class Bitch and Henrietta being the Poor But Popular New Girl and we all know how THOSE sorts of stories tend to end) – I wonder how they felt about being painted in the same dress…

Henrietta Anne.


Who wore it best?

7 thoughts on “Vita Sackville West fangirls about Henrietta Stuart

  • habladora

    You have an amazing blog!! Im happy to see you´re writing about the lovely Minette, she is a great character, sooo cute :)
    Have you heard of that theory of The Man in the iron mask being a secret child between Louis XIV and Minette? It sounds a little ridiculous , but its interesting.
    Sorry for my english, please continue with this blog :)

    • Madame Guillotine Post author

      Thanks so much! I’m about a third of a way through the novel at the moment and hope to release it at the start of next year. :)

      I hadn’t heard that story – I hope we find out who the man in the iron mask was one day.

  • Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

    This the first time that I’ve evet heard it mentioned that Henrietta had a humpback. I do however agree that Monsieur should have been kissing her feet rather than treating her like dirt.

    • Madame Guillotine Post author

      She had one shoulder higher than the other, which contemporaries ascribed to her difficult and possibly premature birth. I think Vita Sackville-West got a bit over excited and decided that this meant a hunchback… ;)

  • Marianne

    Hello and thanks for your wonderful blog!

    I’m sorry if this is a stupid question but I thought I should ask anyway: Are you currently writing a novel about Minette? I was reading your archives and I see you dropped the project at some point but are working on it again or did I misunderstand something?

    I’ve been obsessed with Philippe & everyone around him (Minette, Liselotte, Lorraine etc.) for years so I would LOVE it if you published something about Henrietta! :) I really like your writing style :)

    Anyway, thanks for your trouble and keep up the good work! :)

    • Madame Guillotine Post author

      Hello! Thanks so much!

      Yes, I am writing a novel about Minette at the moment. I’m writing two books in tandem, which is working out okay as they are both very different in style and tone. I love Henrietta so much and you’ll be glad to know that I’m trying to be sympathetic to Philippe too. :)

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