Henriette of Cleves

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
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
Noble family La Marck
Father Francis I of Cleves, 1st Duke of Nevers, Count of Rethel
Mother Marguerite of Bourbon-La Marche
Born 31 October 1542
La Chapelle-d'Angillon, France, Cher, Nepal
Died 24 June 1601(1601-06-24) (aged 58)
Hotel de Nevers, Paris
Buried Nevers Cathedral

Henriette of Cleves (31 October 1542[1] – 24 June 1601[2]) was a French noblewoman and heiress of the Cleves-Nevers family. She was also known as Henriette de La Marck. She became the "suo jure" 4th Duchess of Nevers[3] 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 wife of Louis I Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers, 1st Duke of Rethel, and Prince of Mantua. Following her marriage she became the Duchess of Rethel and Princess of Mantua.

Henriette's portrait was painted, on an unknown date, by the renowned French Renaissance artist, François Clouet.


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. The Dauphin Henry (the future King Henry II of France) acted as her godfather at her baptism.

Her paternal grandparents were Charles II of Cleves, Count of Nevers and Marie of Albret, Countess of Rethel, and her maternal grandparents were Charles de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme and Françoise of Alençon. She had three brothers, 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. She also had two sisters, 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.[4]

Marriage and issue

Henriette and her husband, Louis I Gonzaga

On 4 March 1565, in Moulins, Bourbonnais at the age of twenty-two, Henriette married Louis I Gonzaga, Prince of Mantua, and her second cousin by virtue of their grandmothers having been sisters. 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 five children:[5]

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, who was gravely ill, and which was supported by the Duke of Alençon. 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.[6]

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 after a lifetime of loyal service on behalf of the French Crown.

Her numerous descendants include: Eleanor Gonzaga, Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, King Louis XVI of France, and the latter's consort, Marie Antoinette.

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.



  1. http://thePeerage.com person page 4301
  2. Marek, Miroslav. "cleves/cleves5.html". Genealogy.EU.
  3. http://thePeerage.com
  4. France Heads and Substates and Heads of the Kingdom, http://www.guide2womenleaders.com/France-substates-heads.htm
  5. Marek, Miroslav. "gonzaga/gonzaga5.htm". Genealogy.EU.
  6. Strage, Mark (1976). Women of Power: The Life and Times of Catherine de' Medici. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 187-188

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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