Before reading this book, what I knew of Henrietta Maria, besides being the wife of Charles I of England, was that she was also the woman who gave her name to the Colony of "Maryland". This is her story. She was the daughter of King Henri IV of France, widely acknowledged to be one of France's most popular and enlightened rulers who was killed by a madman when Henrietta Maria was a baby. She grew up under the sway of a domineering, distant mother set on marrying her children to influential royals in France and across Europe as a way of advancing and securing certain financial and political alliances. So, it was that Henrietta Maria, a fervent Catholic, was married to Charles I of Protestant England.
What I found especially interesting from reading this book was how Henrietta Maria's religiosity caused a lot of friction and problems in her personal life and made her an unpopular figure in England. It has to be borne in mind that England, scarcely a hundred years removed from the upheavals of the Reformation, was regarded as a pariah nation, despite her growing power as a mercantile nation. Henrietta Maria arrived in England with her own retinue with the determination to subtly bring England back to the "true faith." As part of her marriage contact, she was permitted to bring up her children as Catholic til they were thirteen years of age. Her husband, Charles I, seemed to be a well-meaning sort, though rather indecisive and often at odds with Parliament over how the country should be ruled. Charles, who believed firmly in the Divine Right of Kings, looked upon Parliament as an inconvenience best avoided if possible. So, for 11 years, he ruled without it. But Charles had to call them back when he was in need of money, for only Parliament was empowered to give him money. In the meantime, there was also the rise of a Puritan movement in England as exemplified by Members of Parliament like John Pym and Oliver Cromwell. There was growing dissatisfaction with Charles' rule. So when peaceful means to resolve issues between Charles I and Parliament fell through, civil war ensued, with dire consequences for Charles, Henrietta Maria, and their children. (More than a decade would pass before the monarchy in England would be restored in the person of Henrietta Maria's eldest son, Charles II.)
Henrietta Maria struck me as a rather difficult person, spoiled, intolerant in religious matters, yet possessed of a certain inner strength that helped her to weather many crises in her life. I'm glad I read this book.