Saturday, March 9, 2013

Charles II-The Lady Who Got Away

by Anita Davison

Henriette Catherine of Nassau

No, not Frances Stuart, who refused the king’s advances and ran off with the Duke of Richmond.
This lady appeared much earlier, when Charles II was in exile during the 1650’s.

Henriette Catherine was the second to youngest daughter of Frederik Hendrik of Orange  and Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. The House of Orange had already provided a bridegroom for Charles I’s eldest daughter, Mary. One of Frederick and Amalia’s daughters, Louise Henrietta, had tentatively been suggested as a bride for Prince Charles, although she married the Elector of Brandenburg.

Around 1656, while staying in Bruges, Charles found himself attracted to the eighteen-year-old Henriette Catherine of Orange, who had already shown her strong spirit in refusing to comply with a betrothal her parents had made for her in infancy to a Friesian prince because of her ‘unconquerable aversion’ to him.

Henriette Catherine and Charles wrote to each other diligently with Charles using a code name ‘infanta’. He extolled the lady’s virtues and the contents of her letters to Lord Taaffe, and even ordered six pairs of gloves from Paris for ‘my best friend’.

On Shrove Tuesday, Charles planned to eat pancakes and draw valentines with the women, while privately drinking ‘the infanta’s health. ‘For I cannot choose but say she is the worthiest to be lov’d of all the sex.’

Two years later, news of Cromwell's death sent ripples of anticipation through the royal exiles, even the Dowager princess of Orange, Henriette Catherine’s mother and Mary of Orange’s mother-in-law, imagined that the penniless emigree courting her daughter would soon be reinstated as a powerful king. Charles himself was equally confident in his imminent return to England, and thus issued a formal proposal for Henriette Catherine's hand.

Unfortunately, Charles didn’t regain his throne for another two years and his sister Mary disapproved of the match. The young widowed Mary of Orange had embarked on a romance with Harry Jermyn, a liaison of which Charles fervently and openly disapproved. However, many said it was more to do with the fact that had Charles made Henriette Catherine his queen, Mary would have to defer to her own sister-in-law. 

By November, the rest of Europe, as well as Henriette Catherine’s mother, realised they had been too hasty. Charles’ approaches to the girl of his dreams were returned with coolness where there had once been bounded enthusiasm and by the following year, a new suitor had been selected for Henriette Catherine, John George of Anhalt-Dessau and they were married in September 1659.

Charles was magnanimous in his rejection and told Lord Taaffe that his fondness for her inspired in him a real wish for her true happiness. That Henriette Catherine truly loved her prince and he would not interfere. Thus Henriette Catherine embarked on a happy thirty-four year marriage that produced ten children.
Frederick and Amalia of Nassau with Henriette Catherine 
How different the history of England might have been had Charles married this Protestant, and fertile, Dutch Princess. 

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, Royalist Rebel, is published under the name Anita Seymour by Claymore Press.


  1. This is such a fascinating story in itself, and doubly intriguing as to why Charles II would refer to a princess of the House of Orange (protestant) as "Infanta", when the word itself refers "only" to to a daughter of the ruling monarch of Spain or Portugal (catholic), one who is not heir to the throne. At the same time Charles' sister Mary was tempting him with the prospect of marriage to Sophia (a Palatine) of the Rhineland. What a web deceit prevailed at that time... ;)

  2. I hadn't known about her! Interesting that it was Charles' sister who objected - if she herself been married earlier, perhaps she wouldn't have objected so much?


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