Queen Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI of France and Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I of England were two of the most notorious queens in European history. They both faced accusations that they had transgressed social, gender and regional norms, and attempted to defend themselves against negative reactions to their behaviour. Each queen engaged with the debates of her time concerning the place of women within their families, religion, politics, the public sphere and court culture and attempted to counter criticism of her foreign origins and political influence. The impeachment of Henrietta Maria in 1643 and trial and execution of Marie Antoinette in 1793 were also trials of monarchical government that shaped the English Civil Wars and French Revolution.
I was lucky enough to receive a copy from Palgrave Macmillan of Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette by Carolyn Harris, which is a part of their Queenship and Power series. Marie Antoinette has had much written about her, while Henrietta Maria seems to have been quite forgotten. I only recently received a new biography about her.
The comparison between Marie Antoinette and Maria Henrietta is perhaps not one that immediately comes to mind, but both women lived in a time of civil unrest, albeit over 100 years apart. Both women were childless for the first part of their marriage and suffered for it. It’s a rather interesting comparison, and I especially enjoyed reading about Henrietta Maria’s impeachment, about which so little appears to have been written. Henrietta Maria managed to escape to France, but without her husband who was eventually executed in 1649. Marie Antoinette and her family also attempted to escaped, but they were caught, and both Marie Antoinette and her husband were executed by guillotine.
It’s a very interesting read, and Carolyn Harris knows her stuff. Don’t be too frightened by the ‘academic’ air about it; it’s still quite readable even if you aren’t a professor.