The youngest daughter of King Charles I,
Henrietta of England, died a mysterious death on this day in 1670. Although a
princess, Henrietta is most famous for having been the mistress of King Louis
XIV, the debaucherous “Sun King” of France, and for also having had affairs
with Louis’s various other mistresses, most notably Catherine Gramont.
Although Henrietta’s official cause of death was reported as
“death from cholera morbus (gastroenteritis) caused by heated bile,” many of her contemporaries disagreed and theories range from poisoning to anorexia (x).
Nicknamed Minette by her close friends and family, Henrietta was born on June 16, 1644 in the midst of the
English Civil War. Her father was King Charles I of England and her mother was the
daughter of Henry IV of France and Marie de’ Medici. Although she enjoyed a
close relationship with her mother throughout her whole life, she only met her
father once at the occasion of her baptizing. Due to their familial connections
to France, Henrietta grew up in the French court along with her mother. They
were given apartments in the Louvre until King Charles I’s death led to them
being moved into the Palais Royal. As a young woman living in the French court, Henrietta’s
mother vied really hard for her to be matched with the young King Louis XIV.
However, his mother refused and instead matched her with Louis’s gay brother, Philippe.
In the whirlwind of sex, parties, and drugs that was King Louis
XIV’s court, Henrietta found herself in the middle of several different love
feuds; she started an affair with her brother-in-law, the king, as well as her
husband’s lover, Philippe of Lorraine. Over time, when King Louis’s affections
began to stray, Henrietta linked up with the Princess Catherine
Gramont of Monaco and devised a plan; Catherine was renowned not only for her
beauty but also her wits, and so Henrietta believed that if she were to seduce
King Louis she could also convince him to go back to Henrietta. The plan
eventually failed and Henrietta and King Louis’s love affair was never fully rekindled, but legend has it that Henrietta didn’t end up minding all
that much because she had also been seduced by Princess Catherine. Catherine
was known to prefer woman in the bedroom and the gossip at court and in the
popular Parisian pamphlets showed her and Henrietta as lovers who also joked
together about King Louis’s “tres petit sceptre.”
Henrietta of England was a star that burned hard and fast in
the French court. Despite her youthful life filled with sexual and romantic liaisons,
she ended up passing away at the early age of 26. After experiencing mysterious
pains in her side on the evening of June 29, Henrietta was dead by 2 A.M. on the
morning of June 30, 1670. Many of her friends and family believed Henrietta had been
poisoned, but today, many contemporary historians have discovered new evidence that
points to Henrietta having suffered from anorexia and believe that it perhaps played a hand in her tragic death.