Henriette of Cleves

Henriette of Cleves, also known as Henriette de La Marck (31 October 1542 – 24 June 1601) was a French courtier and noble, heir of the Cleves-Nevers family. She became the suo jure 4th Duchess of Nevers and the suo jure Countess of Rethel, upon the childless death of her brother, James of Cleves, Duke of Nevers and Count of Rethel, in 1564. She was the spouse of Louis I Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers, 1st Duke of Rethel, and Prince of Mantua and Duchess of Rethel and Princess of Mantua by marriage.

Henriette of Cleves
suo jure Duchess of Nevers
suo jure Countess of Rethel
suo jure Duchess of Rethel
Princess of Mantua
Portrait of Henriette of Cleves painted by François Clouet on an unknown date
Born31 October 1542
La Chapelle-d'Angillon, Cher, France
Died24 June 1601(1601-06-24) (aged 58)
Hotel de Nevers, Paris
BuriedNevers Cathedral
Noble familyLa Marck
Spouse(s)Louis I of Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers
Catherine, Duchess of Longueville
Marie Henriette, Duchess of Mayenne
Frederic Gonzaga
Francois Gonzaga
Charles I, Duke of Mantua
FatherFrancis I of Cleves, 1st Duke of Nevers, Count of Rethel
MotherMarguerite of Bourbon-La Marche


Henriette was born in La Chapelle-d'Angillon, in the department of Cher, France, the eldest daughter and second child of Francis I of Cleves, 1st Duke of Nevers, Count of Rethel, and Marguerite of Bourbon-La Marche.[1] The Dauphin Henry (the future King Henry II of France) acted as her godfather at her baptism.

She was the sister of Francis II of Cleves, 2nd Duke of Nevers, Count of Rethel, James of Cleves, 3rd Duke of Nevers, Count of Rethel, and Henri of Cleves, who died young, as well as Catherine of Cleves and Marie of Cleves.


In 1564, upon the childless death of her brother, James, Henriette became the suo jure 4th Duchess of Nevers, and Countess of Rethel. Her eldest brother Francis had died in 1562, without leaving heirs.

Henriette had been left with enormous debts from her late father and brothers, but she managed to bring the financial situation back in order and became one of the chief creditors in the kingdom.[2]

Marriage and issue

On 4 March 1565, in Moulins, Bourbonnais at the age of twenty-two, Henriette married Louis I Gonzaga, Prince of Mantua.[1] Her husband assumed the titles of Duke of Nevers and 1st Duke of Rethel by right of his wife, while Henriette acquired the new titles of Duchess of Rethel and Princess of Mantua.

Louis and Henriette had:

Court life

Henriette of Cleves had an office at court as the lady-in-waiting or Dame of queen Catherine de' Medici,[3] and was known as the intimate personal friend and confidant of Marguerite of Valois.

It was rumoured that Henriette became the mistress of Annibale Coconna, a Piedmontese adventurer who was beheaded in 1574, along with Joseph Boniface de La Mole, for participating in a conspiracy against King Charles IX which was supported by the Duke of Alençon.[3] It was alleged that she and Queen Marguerite of Navarre secretly, in the middle of the night, removed the heads which had been placed on public display, embalming them and burying them in consecrated ground.[4]

Henriette died on 24 June 1601, at the Hotel de Nevers in Paris. She was buried in Nevers Cathedral. Her husband had preceded her in death in 1595.

Depictions in art

Henriette's portrait was painted by the celebrated French miniaturist and painter, François Clouet, on an unknown date. He was renowned in France for his detailed portraits of the French Royal Family and nobility.


Henriette of Cleves is a figure in the book La Reine Margot (novel) by Alexandre Dumas. She plays an important role in La Reine Margot (1994 film).



  1. Boltanski 2006, p. 501.
  2. Commire & Klezmer 2000, p. 223.
  3. Elliott 2012, p. 169.
  4. Strage 1976, p. 187-188.


  • Boltanski, Ariane (2006). Les ducs de Nevers et l'État royal: genèse d'un compromis (ca 1550 - ca 1600) (in French). Librairie Droz.
  • Commire, Anne; Klezmer, Deborah, eds. (2000). Women in World History: Harr-I. Yorkin Publications.
  • Elliott, Lisa Keane (2012). "Charitable Intent in Late Sixteenth Century France: The Nevers Foundation and Single Poor Catholic Girls". In Scott, Anne M. (ed.). Experiences of Poverty in Late Medieval and Early Modern England and France. Routledge.
  • Strage, Mark (1976). Women of Power: The Life and Times of Catherine de' Medici. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

French nobility
Preceded by
James of Cleves
Duchess of Nevers
Succeeded by
Charles I, Duke of Mantua
Preceded by
James of Cleves
Countess of Rethel
Succeeded by
Title was elevated to duchy in 1565
Preceded by
Title was elevated from countship
Duchess of Rethel
Succeeded by
Charles I, Duke of Mantua
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