Minette: The Life of Henriette-Anne of England, Duchesse d’Orleans

Henriette Anne Stuart, Duchesse d’Orleans, known by the diminutive Minette, was born in England in June 1644. She was the daughter of King Charles I of England and Queen Henrietta Maria of France, a descendant of both royal houses of Stuart and Bourbon.

Painting: Henrietta, Duchess of Orléans, by Pierre Mignard
Henriette Anne of England by Mignard. Image via Wikipedia.

She was the youngest sister of Charles II and a cousin of Louis XIV; Henrietta Maria was Louis XIII’s sister. She was taken into the provisional government’s care during the English Civil War and was raised at Oatlands, but when she was three, she was spirited away to France where her mother had taken refuge. She grew up in the French court as a sort of poor relation and married Louis XIV’s younger brother, Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, becoming the Duchesse d’Orléans, after the restoration of the English monarchy. They were known an Monsieur and Madame, and Philippe preferred men to women. Nonetheless, he wasn’t particularly nice to Minette and Louis XIV, knowing this, doted particularly on his cousin, to the point that people thought they were having an affair. It didn’t help that Minette herself was quite bubbly and loved court life, and many times she could be considered almost flirtatious not only with her brother-in-law, but with her husband’s male lovers, too. To put down rumors of the affair, it was spread around that Louis spent so much time with Minette and her ladies because he was smitten with the lovely Louise de la Vallière, which eventually was the truth when Louise became Louis’s official mistress.

Painting: Henriette d'Angleterre as Minerva holding a painting of her husband the Duke of Orléans by Antoine Mathieu
Henriette Anne as Minerva holding a painting of Philippe, Duc d’Orleans, by Mathieu. Image via Wikipedia.

Minette served as a sort of diplomatic go-between for her cousin and brother, helping to negotiate the Secret Treaty of Dover. She bore Philippe two daughters, Marie-Louise d’Orléans and Anne-Marie d’Orléans. In 1670, at the age of 26, she died suddenly of gastroenteritis. It was popularly believed that she was poisoned at the time, as she had said something about it during her last hours, but it is now widely believed that she died as a result of a stomach ailment that had begun bothering her in 1667. Both Charles and Louis mourned her death very deeply, and her loss was very much felt at the French court.

For more on Minette, please see Love and Louis XIV, by Dame Antonia Fraser, which served as the source for this post.

3 replies on “Minette: The Life of Henriette-Anne of England, Duchesse d’Orleans”

Louise was kind of an open secret for a very long time. But “official mistress”–maitresse-en-titre–was a thing, though Louise didn’t want any extra special treatment, and was very conflicted about her relationship with the king even though she loved him. She kept trying to enter the convent and he had her brought back to Versailles twice. She retired to a convent after their affair ended.

See also: Madame de Montespan, the Mancini sisters, Madame de Maintenon. Cardinal Mazarin, who was Italian, was the Mancini sisters’ uncle.

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