Book Excerpt: “The Stuart Boleyn girl – Queen Henrietta Maria and the Countess of Carlisle” by Leanda de Lisle

Editor’s Note: Over the next few days, will be highlighting the October 31st release of The White King – Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr by Leanda de Lisle. Today we share an excerpt from this fantastic biography. Who are the “women of the day”? Queen Henrietta Maria and Mary Boleyn’s direct descendant, Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle.

Portrait of Lucy, Countess of Carlisle, by Anthony van Dyck


The Stuart Boleyn girl – Queen Henrietta Maria and the Countess of Carlisle

by Leanda de Lisle


In June 1626, a year after Henrietta Maria’s arrival in England as Charles’s bride, he decided it was time to exchange her French servants for English ones. This was usual practice and many English families, anxious to see their relatives in the queen’s household, had been busy ensuring their daughters had been practicing their French.  Charles’s favorite and leading minister, the Duke of Buckingham, had, however, persuaded Charles that his friends and relations should predominate. Their names included that of the woman Buckingham was said to have lined up to be Charles’s mistress: the twenty-six-year-old Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle. If so, this posed a formidable threat to the sixteen-year-old queen.

Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle, by Anthony van Dyck

Like that other royal mistress, Anne Boleyn, from whose sister she was descended, Lucy Carlisle’s  ‘ bright…conquering eyes’ held many men in their power. The poet John Suckling confessed to voyeuristic fantasies, describing how watching her walking in Hampton Court’s gardens ‘I was undoing all she wore/ And had she walked but one turn more/Eve in her first state had not been/ More naked or more plainly seen’.   Yet Lucy was more than merely the ‘killing beauty’ of the age. Powerful men stood ‘in awe of her wit’ and some were even a little afraid of her cruel put-downs. One victim described her as ‘the most charming of all things that are not good, and the most delightful poison ever nature produced’.

As for her relationship to Buckingham – she was said to be his lover.

Henrietta Maria’s warned Charles ‘she would never have confidence’ in any of Buckingham’s choices and had ‘a great aversion’ for Lucy Carlisle in particular. Over the following weeks, her French servants helped block the new English members of her household from attending on her. In August Charles lost patience. Buckingham was told to ‘send all the French’ back across the channel, ‘like so many wild beasts’. Henrietta Maria was allowed to keep several favoured priests, which meant her religious rights would be upheld. But the ill-tempered manner in which she had lost servants whom she considered ‘family’, had left her distraught. Charles’s ‘wild beasts’ had included a Mme St George, who had been like a surrogate mother to her since she was in the nursery.

In the closed private archives of Belvoir castle lies one of the greatest collections of civil war manuscripts in the world. Many of these documents are unknown to historians and among them are many royal letters. One was now written by Henrietta  Maria to the banished head of her ecclesiastical retinue, the Bishop of Mende.  She had been forbidden from communicating with anyone unless in the presence of her English servants.  She complained in her letter to Mende that she had to hide away to write to him, ‘ like a prisoner who cannot talk to anyone, neither to describe my misfortunes, nor to call upon God to pity a poor, tyrannized princess and to do something to alleviate her suffering’.  Miserably, she announced ‘I am the most afflicted person on earth. Talk to your Queen [Marie de Medici] my mother about me and reveal to her my woes.?I say Adieu to you, and to all my poor servants, and to my friend St George, to the Countess of Tillieres, and all the women and girls who [I know] have not forgotten me. I have not forgotten them either’. With all the drama that a teenager can summon she concludes, ‘Is there any remedy for my suffering, which is killing me? Goodbye bitterness. Goodbye to those from whose actions I will die if God does not have pity on me.?To the wise Father who prays for me and the Friends I hold to me always’

Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle by Adriaan Hanneman

Henrietta Maria continued, for some time, to assure Charles she would, ‘find it very difficult to accommodate herself to the humours of the Countess of Carlisle’. Yet, within a few months, it seemed Lucy had become the queen’s great favourite.

Henrietta Maria was bored by the formality of Buckingham’s female relations. Unlike Charles, she was uninterested in the strict observation of hierarchy and had been used to a relaxed atmosphere with her French friends.  Now they had gone, she found she enjoyed the intimate supper parties Lucy threw for her. In a court filled with cautious ‘frenemies’ Lucy was outrageously frank in her opinions. She joked and gossiped, her eyebrows plucked high, as if caught in mock surprise at her own words. Henrietta Maria also had a teasing wit and she ended up relishing Lucy’s company. But Henrietta Maria also had something more important in common with Lucy – she was a political animal and both women were using each other for political ends.



Leanda de Lisle

Leanda de Lisle is a renowned journalist and historian who writes articles and book reviews for BBC History Magazine, History Today, the Literary Review, the New Criterion and the Spectator, as well as several national newspapers in the United Kingdom.  Leanda’s first non-fiction book made a huge impression, a runner-up for the Saltire Society’s First Book of the Year award. Leanda’s book, Tudor; The Family Story (1437-1603),  was a top ten bestseller in the United Kingdom and released in the United States, re-titled for an America audiences. The highly anticipated release of Leanda’s newest biography The White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr is set for October 31, 2017. Fittingly, Leanda lives near Bosworth Battlefield, Bosworth, England. For more information, visit Leanda’s website at LEANDA DE LISLE.



Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of Blogger of "The Tudor Thomases", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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