As I sit here unable to sleep at 3:00 in the morning, my Twitter feed is filling up with breathless (and often snarky) observations about the royal baby. Helicopters hover over St. Mary’s Hospital in London. The BBC has cameras aimed at the front door of the hospital. Media experts are yammering on about how—with Twitter and RSS feeds—this is the most observed royal birth ever (ya think?).
#RoyalBaby is trending. Pundits debate whether Kate will have a C-section: “too posh to push?” as I read on Twitter. The Queen wonders out loud about whether she’ll have to postpone her holiday.
With all of this hoopla and manufactured drama, I can’t help but think about another royal birth that figures in the novel I’m writing: that of Henrietta Anne, born to King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria under very different circumstances.
Queen Henrietta Maria became pregnant after an emotional reunion with Charles in Oxford, where he’d found refuge during the First Civil War. The Queen was an experienced mother, having given birth to eight children already, but this was a difficult pregnancy. The Queen was convinced the time of birth was coming soon (though in fact it was still months away), and she was diagnosed with “fits of the mother,” bouts of hysteria thought to be caused by her laden womb.
After the Royalist loss at the Battle of Alresford, the Queen felt both ill and insecure. She convinced Charles to let her take the waters at Bath. On April 17, 1644, Charles accompanied Henrietta Maria to Abingdon to say their goodbyes. He returned to Oxford, and she departed for Bath.
It was the last time they would ever see each other.
Bath was a disaster: plague-ridden, with corpses left to rot in the street. The Queen continued on to Exeter, where she could take refuge with friends while awaiting her labor.
She was ill. Very ill.
Her usual doctor, Sir Theodore Mayerne, who had never liked the Queen, refused to come and tend to her, only relenting when the King himself sent a note reading, “Mayerne, for the love of me, go to my wife.” When the Queen confessed her fear that her illness was making her crazy, Mayerne responded, “You need not fear it madam, for you are that already.”
With friends like these . . .
The Queen finally gave birth on June 16, 1644, more than two months after she told the King she was certainly going into labor very soon. The birth was a difficult one that left her partially paralyzed and temporarily blinded, and she confessed that she often wished for death.
But Henrietta Maria did not have time for death.
The Earl of Essex’s Parliamentarian army was approaching Exeter, and Henrietta Maria had to flee. Just two weeks after giving birth to baby Henrietta Anne, she was forced to leave her with friends and servants as she fled with her confessor and a small handful of trusted advisors.
Almost immediately, they encountered Parliament’s forces. Henrietta Maria was forced to hide under a pile of rags in a small cottage for two days with no food and no water, uttering no sound. The soldiers were so close, she would later tell one of her ladies-in-waiting, that she heard them name a reward of fifty thousand crowns for anyone who captured her.
A week later, on June 29, 1644, Henrietta Maria arrived at the relative safety of Pendennis Castle in Cornwall and shortly fled England, Essex’s troops in pursuit, for her homeland of France.
Henrietta Maria would not see Henrietta Anne until June 1646.
A Royal Passion: The Turbulent Marriage of King Charles I of England and Henrietta Maria of France, Katie Whitaker
Mad Madge, Katie Whitaker
Lord Minimus: The Extraordinary Life of Britain’s Smallest Man, Nick Page (a biography of “the Queen’s Dwarf,” Jeffrey Hudson)