Dating back to the Norman Conquest (1066-1072 CE), Canterbury Castle was one of three royal castles in Kent. Originally, it was a simple wooden motte-and-bailey castle, but was rebuilt in stone between 1090 and 1125. The castle saw conflict in the First Baron’s War (1215-1217) and the Peasants’ Revolt (1381) – surrendering to the opposing side in both conflicts.
When the Merovingian King Charibert I of Paris died in
567 A.D. he left behind a wife, Queen Ingoburga, and four young children. Among
the small brood of royal children was Charibert’s youngest daughter Bertha. The
exact date of the Frankish princess’ birth is unknown, but it is usually
thought to be around 565, which would have made her a very young child at the
time of her father’s death. Though her brutish father was the first Merovingian
king to be excommunicated, Bertha was brought up in a Christian environment.
Around the year 580, Bertha was betrothed to King Æthelberht
of Kent. One stipulation of the marriage was that Bertha be allowed to practice
her own religion. This was an important condition, as Anglo-Saxon England was
still a largely Pagan land in the sixth century, and Bertha was a devout
Catholic. Æthelberht agreed to this and married Bertha, thus creating an
alliance with the Franks. Bertha was the single force of unification between
her home kingdom in Francia and her husband’s kingdom of Kent. An increase in
trade and wealth soon followed. Along with political and economic gain, Bertha also
brought her personal chaplain Liudhard to England. Bertha began the restoration
of a church in Canterbury that had been in use during the Roman occupation of
Britain and had fallen into disuse after the rise of the Anglo-Saxon kings. She
dedicated her newly refurbished church to Saint Martin and used it as a private
chapel. It is likely that Bertha exercised great influence
over her husband in matters of faith and eventually convinced Æthelberht to
convert to Christianity. It is not possible to pinpoint the date of Æthelberht’s
conversion, however. In 596 Pope Gregory “The Great” sent a prior by the name
of Augustine (later known as Saint Augustine of Canterbury) to Kent, accompanied by forty monks. Bertha received them warmly,
despite her husband’s initial distrust of churchmen and perhaps of the Catholic
Church in general. It would be generations before Christianity took a firm hold
in England, but were it not for Bertha’s support of the early monastic
settlements and Augustine’s mission at Canterbury, the faith may not have
flourished as it did and English history would have taken a dramatically
different course. Augustine would become the first Archbishop of Canterbury and established the bishoprics of London and Rochester.
Bertha and Æthelberht had two children, a son called
Eadbald and a daughter called Æthelburg, who was also known by the nickname of “Tata.”
Bertha’s son Eadbald would eventually rule jointly with his father and came to
the throne after Æthelberht’s death as a pagan ruler, unlike his sister. Æthelburg
was a Christian and oversaw the conversion of her husband, King Edwin of
Northumbria, to Christianity, in a similar fashion to her mother. Bertha
herself died sometime after 601. Her ultimate legacy would be that of the queen
who triggered the conversion of England from Anglo-Saxon paganism to Roman
Catholicism. She was venerated as a saint and is today commemorated by The
Bertha Trail in Kent. Her private chapel of Saint Martin’s Church still stands
today and is the oldest Christian church of the English speaking world.
The daughter of Henry IV of France and his second wife, Marie de Medici, Henrietta Maria was born at the Palais du Louvre, on 25th November, 1609.
The child was of decidedly mixed European ancestry, her father, the good humoured and compassionate Henry IV, was the son of the French Antoine de Bourbon, Duc de Vendôme and Jeanne III, Queen of Navarre, who was half French and half Spanish. Henrietta Maria’s mother, Marie d’ Medici contributed both dark Italian and Austrian Habsburg characteristics to the gene pool of the French royal house, she was the daughter of Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and of Johanna, Archduchess of Austria, who was herself the granddaughter of Phillip I and Joanna ‘the Mad’ of Castille.
Henry IV and Marie de Medici produced six children of which Henrietta Maria was the youngest. Her siblings included King Louis XIII of France, Elisabeth, who became the consort of Phillip IV of Spain, Christine Marie, who became Duchess of Savoy, Nicholas Henri, Duke of Orléans and the wayward Gaston Jean-Baptiste, Duke of Orleans.
King Henry IV, although a popular King of France, was assassinated in Paris by a fanatic Catholic, before the infant Henrietta Maria was but a year old. Her mother was banished from the French court by her brother the new king in 1617. She was brought up a strict Roman Catholic and grew into a thin, adolescent with protruding teeth. A contemporary, Sophia of Hanover, the daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia provides an unflattering description of Henrietta Maria as “a short woman perched on her chair, with long bony arms, irregular shoulders and teeth protruding from her mouth like a fence” but in a kinder vein, she added that she possessed “beautiful eyes, a well shaped nosed and an admirable complexion”.
With the aid of a special dispensation from the Pope, a marriage was arranged with the new English sovereign, King Charles I, Louis XIII consented to the match on the condition that some measure of toleration would be afforded to Roman Catholics in England. The couple were married by proxy on 11th May 1625. They were married in person at St. Augustine’s Church, Canterbury, Kent, on 13th June 1625. Henrietta was at the time 15 years old and Charles 24, the arch-Catholic Henrietta Maria was to prove an unpopular choice of bride amongst Charles’ Protestant subjects. The new Queen of England and Scotland was not crowned beside her husband at Westminster Abbey, since her rigid Catholicism would not allow her to swear the necessary Anglican oath required in the ceremony.
The relationship did not get off to a particularly good start, Charles found his wife frigid and when he eventually sent her accompanying expensive Roman Catholic retinue home to France, the Queen felt homesick and neglected. The attentions her husband were reserved for his favourite, the Duke of Buckingham and frequent arguments between the couple resulted. On the assassination of Buckingham in 1628, Charles transferred his affections to his wife, after which their relationship grew far stronger and they were to become devoted to each other.
The children of Charles IThe first child of the marriage, Charles James, Duke of Cornwall, was born prematurely and died the same day in March, 1629, but was replaced by a much larger and healthier brother, Charles, (the future Charles II) born on 29 May 1630. The Queen’s brother and mother, Louis XIII of France and Marie de Medici, stood as godparents to the new Prince of Wales. The couple were to eventually produce a large family of nine children.
The Queen did much to encourage her unpopularity amongst the country’s majority Protestant element by meddling in affairs of state. When rumours reached the King’s ears that Parliament intended to impeach his Queen, he was spurred into action. Led on by the outraged Queen, he went to the House of Commons on 4th January, 1642, to arrest the five members who were perceived to be the most troublesome on charges of high treason, to find on his arrival that they had been forewarned and had fled.
As Civil War with Parliament war became inevitable, the Queen did much to aid her husband’s cause and was active in seeking funds and support for the Royalist cause, she was on the continent at the outbreak of the war in 1642 but returned to England in early 1643. Landing at Bridlington in Yorkshire with men and arms, she established her base at York until meeting up with her husband at Oxford some months later.
The collapse of the Royalist cause led the Queen to flee to her native France in 1644, where she received a pension from the French court and lived with her youngest daughter Henrietta Anne . Following the end of the war, King Charles I was put on trial at Westminster Hall and executed at Whitehall in January, 1649. It is reported that on receipt of the ominous news, Henrietta Maria stood “deaf and insensible” for a whole hour’s duration, before regaining her senses. She was said to have never totally recovered from the shock of her husband’s execution and dressed in black mourning for him for the rest of her life.
The monarchy was then abolished and England became a republic. During their exile in France, a rift developed between Henrietta Maria and her eldest son, Charles, now head of the family, when she attempted to convert her youngest son, Henry, to Catholicism. Henry, however, remained steadfast in his Protestantism. She later helped with the upbringing of her grandson, James Crofts, Duke of Monmouth, Charles’ illegitimate son by Lucy Walters.
Following the Restoration, Henritta Maria returned to England, where she lived at Somerset House in London. Parliament granted the Dowager Queen £30,000 a year in compensation for the loss of her personal estates and Charles II paid an additional annuity from his own resources. She was at this time described by the diarist Samuel Pepys as “ A very little , plain old woman”. She was reported to be livid when her second son, James, Duke of York, married Anne Hyde, the daughter of Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, Charles I’s Lord Chancellor, she considered her son had married far beneath him. She returned to France to be present at the wedding of her youngest daughter, Henriette Anne, who was married to her foppish first cousin, Phillip, Duke of Orleans, the brother of Louis XIV, which took place on March 31, 1661. Both parties to the marriage were grandchildren of Henry IV of France and Marie de’ Medici.
In 1665, in failing health, she returned permanently to France where she founded a convent at Chaillot. Henrietta Maria died on 10th September 1669 at Château de Colombes, and lies buried in the royal tombs at the Cathedral of Saint Denis near Paris. Her heart was interred separately at Chaillot in a silver casket.