A royal state of affairs Founders: Why you sing 'Maryland, my Maryland' -- and not Janesylvania or some such thing -- has to do with Henrietta Maria. But you knew that.

March 25, 1998|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Of course, every school kid in Maryland knows who Queen Henrietta Maria is. Governor Glendening has even provided them with a Maryland Day Website. It's the adults who don't have a clue.

Grown-ups blink, look blank and just say no when asked if they remember who Henrietta Maria is.

No, Queen Henrietta Maria does not tell fortunes on Lower Broadway. No, she was not an actor in an old John Waters movie. No, she was not one of the Koester bread babes. No, she did not win the 1957 Preakness.

Hint: We celebrate Maryland Day to mark the landing on March 25, 1634, of the Ark and the Dove and 200 colonists at St. Clements Island off St. Mary's County.

No, the queen wasn't on either ship. She never got to Maryland, although a St. Mary's County estate was soon named after her: "Henrietta Maria's Discovery."

Henrietta Maria was, as you know if you paid attention in school, the queen for whom Maryland is named. Her husband, King Charles I of England, named it so when he granted the charter for this patch of the New World to George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore. Calvert promptly died and the charter was subsequently issued to his son, the second Lord Baltimore, Cecilius Calvert.

We know this because the genial Eastern Shoreman F. Sims McGrath, author of "Pillars of Maryland," and many other historians and semi-historians describe this purported conversation between Charles I and George Calvert:

The king said, "Let us name it after the queen. What think you of Mariana?"

Baltimore objected because this was the name of a Spanish historian who taught the will of the people was above the law of tyrants.

Whereupon Charles said, "Let it be Terra Mariae."

"And so it was, the translation being Maryland ..."

Charles I was a devout and authoritarian believer in the divine right of kings. Unfortunately, not all of his subjects agreed. After the long campaigns and wrangles of the Civil Wars in England, the battles between the Royalists and Parliament, the Cavaliers and the Roundheads, the High Church Party and the Scotch Presbyterians, they lopped his head off outside the banqueting hall of Whitehall in London on Jan. 30, 1649. He was 49.

His Queen Henrietta Maria tends to get only a line or two in most histories of Maryland, but she was easily as interesting as her husband. And she's starred in several biographies.

Unhappily, her schemes probably helped cause Charles to lose his head. She was an "earnest" Catholic -- Pope Urban VIII was her godfather -- who brought a papal envoy to her court and caused English Protestants to worry about "Popish plots."

They looked for papists under every bed, says Caroline M. Hibbard, a University of Illinois specialist on the court of Henrietta Maria.

"She protected Catholics at court and welcomed papal agents," says Hibbard, who is researching a book about her. "She chummed around with them."

Henrietta Maria was the daughter of Henry IV of France and his queen, Maria de Medici, a splendid Italian lady who built the Luxembourg Palace in Paris and advanced the haute cuisine her cousin Catherine de Medici had brought to France.

But Henrietta wasn't the first choice when Charles' family set out looking for a royal consort. (She wasn't too taken with him either, during the first years of their marriage.) In an alliance pretty much arranged by his father, James I, Charles had actually signed a marriage contract with the Spanish Infanta Maria, daughter of King Philip III. But the Spanish didn't believe he would enforce the rigid Catholic terms in the marital agreement and dumped him.

The British turned to the French court, where Charles had caught a peek at the then 13-year-old Princess Henrietta Maria. He and his good buddy, Lord Buckingham, were traveling through France incognito -- somewhat goofily as "Tom Brown" and "John Smith" -- on a mission to pick up the infanta. That mission was fruitless, and later Lord Buckingham, who seems to have been a grand, brave, charming scoundrel with great influence over Charles, advocated the marriage with Henrietta Maria, whose brother was now Louis XIII of France.

The marriage was celebrated in Paris early in May 1625, with a proxy standing in for Charles, who was still mourning the death of his father in March. The bridegroom was 24, the bride "a lovely, sweet, young, creature" -- of 15.

Like young marrieds in a soap opera, Charles and Henrietta Maria had a couple of troubled years. He failed to bring relief to English Catholics. She hung around with her French retinue until Charles ordered them out. She refused to be crowned by a Protestant bishop. He encouraged her to befriend his favorite and confidante, Buckingham. But she didn't like him.

Buckingham pleased her at least once: At a dinner in her honor, he presented the queen with a pie, out of which popped the diminutive Jeffrey Hudson, like a chorus girl in an old Peter Arno New Yorker cartoon. He was 18 inches tall, "without any deformity and wholly proportionate."

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