Sometimes when delving through the sources things stand out that remind you that the ‘historical figure’ you are attempting to dissect and glean socio/cultural/political [delete as appropriate] insight from was actually a person; I revel in those moments. Something that fits into this category are the large body of extant letters penned by Charles II that he wrote to his younger sister, Henrietta-Anne, also known as Minette and often referred to in the letters as ‘Madame’. There is something very humanising about an affectionate brother writing letters to his younger sister, slipping in advice and snarky comments here and there.
That isn’t to say these letters were of solely familial importance. Henrietta-Anne was married to Philippe I, Duke of Orleans, who was the only brother of Louis XIII, King of France. The marriage was anything but harmonious but it placed Henrietta at the hub of the French court and she held the King’s ear. This relationship with Louis was crucial for many of Charles’ plans and through his correspondence with Minette he pursued some of the key political manoeuvres in the first decade of his reign, specifically the Secret Treaty of Dover. She seems to be a fascinating example of a way in which a female royal in this period could play a powerful and essentially ambassadorial role at court.
Despite the political importance and nature of much of their correspondence the affection shines through in these letters and it reminds me that even great political figures are human too (excepting Mandelson of course).
Jan. 28/Feb. 7, 1659/60
To the Princess Henriette-Anne
I begin this letter in french by assuring you that I do not mind your scolding me. I give in joyfully since you quarrel so charmingly with me, but I will never give up the friendship that I have for you…
They were sometimes playful and teasing:
Whitehall, January 19, 1664/5
… I am very glad to hear that your indisposition of health is turned into a great belly. I hope you will have better luck with it than the Duchess here had, who was brought to bed, Monday last, of a girl. One part I shall wish you to have, which is that you may have as easy a labour, for she dispatched her business in little more than an hour. I am afraid your shape is not so advantageously made for that convenience as hers is; however, a boy will recompense two grunts more, and so good night for fear I fall into natural philosophy before I think of it…
Sometimes full of concern, particularly at Minette’s fragile health:
Whitehall, May 7, 1668
…And though you find yourself very well now, for God’s sake have a care for your diet, and believe the plainer your diet is the better health you will have. Above all, have a care of strong broths and gravy in the morning.
Sometimes the chiding of a disappointed older brother (been there!):
Whitehall, July 22, 1664
The Queen showed me yesterday your long letter, in which I perceive you have been very ill-used… I do not think it possible that some persons could have so ill a part in that matter, as I see they have had by your letter. I shall have by this a better opinion of my devotion for the time to come, for I am of those bigots who think that malice is a much greater sin than a poor frailty of nature… I will say no more to you at present, because I shall write more at large to you by J. Hamilton, only again I must give you joy for your son. C.
Sometimes comfortably banal as only a chat between siblings can be:
Whitehall, January 5, 1664/5
… The weather is so cold as I can hardly hold a pen in my hand, which you may perceive by my scribbling, and I am afraid you will hardly read this letter…
But always apologetic for not writing as regularly as he should:
Whitehall, May 7, 1668
I have so often asked your pardon for omitting writing to you, as I am almost ashamed to do it now. [cue long excuse!]
All page references from Bryant, ‘Letters of Charles II’, 1935.