Sara Wolfson (Christ Church Canterbury) - Bedchamber women and Henrietta Maria’s foreign policy agenda, 1627-1638

seminar report

While many historians now dispute Simon Adams’ well-known definition of faction in early modern English politics, most agree that factional rivalries must be studied carefully in order to understand early Stuart political culture. Many interpret faction in very broad terms as complex and often emerging from international conflict. In Henrietta Maria’s case, faction within her own household was closely tied from the earliest years of her marriage to the foreign policies of the British, French and Spanish courts. Her household provided historically unusual opportunities for women to intervene in such matters. During the years 1627 to 1638, the Queen’s ladies of the bedchamber were at the height of their political influence and indirect power, acting for or co-operating with others — husbands, sons, brothers, friendly allies — who often manipulated them. From the first year of her English life, Charles I’s favourite, the duke of Buckingham, saw Henrietta Maria’s French ladies as threatening to his power and to his and the King’s anti-French foreign policy. Hence Charles’ dismissal in 1627 of the Queen’s privileged French servants. Buckingham was determined to surround her with his female allies. But Henrietta Maria resisted. Into the mid and later 1630s she worked carefully with her pro-French friends among her bedchamber ladies — including for several years the influential countess of Carlisle and later Mme de Ventelet — and their male partners and allies, including successive French ambassadors. The Queen’s support of her brother, Louis XIII, and later of their troublesome mother, Marie de Médicis, was only slightly eased by Buckingham’s assassination in 1628. With de Ventelet and sometimes other bedchamber ladies to support her, Henrietta Maria battled against powerful factions opposing her mother or supporting Spanish interests. Her interventions (and those of her allies) reveal the crucial role often played by the queen’s bedchamber. It could be both a centre of factional rivalry and an important battleground of conflicting foreign policies. CCN