The Coronation of Mary of England as Queen of France

Chapter 2 : The Coronation Ceremony

It was left to Elizabeth of York’s son, Henry VIII, to achieve the dream of an English princess being crowned as queen of France. In 1513, Henry, along with his allies, Maximilian and Ferdinand of Aragon, had invaded France, and made the first gains of territory by England in nearly a century. But his allies let Henry down, and the English king retaliated by making peace with Louis. Princess Mary, his sister, was the bait.

Mary was eighteen and considered the loveliest princess in Europe. Louis was recently widowed, fifty-two and plagued with ill-health. Mary agreed to the match, although not without making conditions, and accordingly set out for France with a splendid trousseau, and the expectation of presiding over a glittering court. The fly in the ointment was the overwhelming need Louis had to father a son. He had two daughters, Claude and Renée, but they could not inherit the French throne. Claude had been married to Louis’ heir, François of Angoulême, which would make her at least queen-consort, if Mary did not have a son. Whilst Claude treated Mary with the respect due to her position, it is not hard to imagine that she resented Mary’s arrival, especially as her own mother, Anne of Brittany, had died only ten months before Mary and Louis were married.

Regardless of the thoughts and feelings of his family, Louis married Mary, and she was crowned as queen at the royal Basilica of St Denis. The coronation ceremony had been perfected over the centuries, and followed a set ritual described in detail in the mid-eighteenth century in Traité historique et chronologique du sacrè et couronnement des rois et des reines de France, depuis Clovis I jusqu'a present… by Menin, Nicolas, 1684-1770.

Assuming that his description applied to Mary’s coronation as much as to others, then we know that the church of St Denis was hung with tapestries, with the choir draped in crimson velvet, powdered with gold fleurs-de-lys. In front of the high altar, a platform around 9 feet (3 m) high, 28 feet (c. 9 meters) long and 22 feet (c 7m) in breadth was erected, reached by a specially constructed stair. In the centre of the platform, another dais was set, for Mary’s chair of state and prayer-desk. This dais was covered with purple velvet, again embroidered with gold fleurs-de-lys, and covered with a similar canopy.

A gallery was erected for Louis to the right-hand-side of the altar, and nearby was table with the offerings that the queen’s ladies were to distribute.  In front of the table was a chair upholstered in crimson and gold, with cushions, for the prelate who was to officiate. In Mary’s case, it was Cardinal René de Prie, Bishop of Limoges, who had married Mary to Louis, and also buried her predecessor.

On the opposite side of the nave, was a bench, covered in cloth-of-gold for the use of the cardinals, archbishops and bishops assisting in the ceremony. Next to them was a table with a large and a small crown, a sceptre, a ring and the rod of justice. The large crown was that made for Jeanne of Evreux, third wife of Charles IV, and used for all the queens who followed her, until it was destroyed in the French Revolution.

Mary had spent the previous night nearby, and emerged from her apartments around 10am, preceded by the nobles of France – the dukes of Longueville and Bourbon; Bourbon’s brother; the counts of Vendôme and St Pol, and the Duke of Albany – the Scottish regent, and thorn in the side of Mary’s sister, Dowager Queen Margaret of Scotland. Trumpets flourished as Mary, dressed,  if she followed tradition, in silver or white, with a blue velvet, fleurs-de-lys trimmed cloak, approached the St Denis.

On reaching the Basilica, Mary was led by François of Angoulême, to the high altar. Before ascending the platform, she knelt in front of the altar. Cardinal de Prie anointed her with Holy Oil, the sceptre was put into her right hand, and the rod of justice into her left. The ring was set upon her finger, and the large crown placed upon her head. François then led her up the steps of the platform and seated her on her chair of state. The weight of the crown was such that François held it over her head whilst the Mass was performed by the Cardinal. Mary took the Sacrament and kissed the Gospel.

Mass completed, a smaller crown was placed on Mary’s head. Next, three great ladies, ascended the platform and passed the offering to Mary’s lady of honour, presumably Claude who showed it to Mary. All then descended, and Mary made the offering at the altar. There is no record of Mary’s offering, but on 1600, Marie de’ Medici, wife of Henri IV, offered wine in a silver-gilt flask, two loaves fashioned of silver-gilt and gold, and a wax taper.  

The ceremony complete, Mary processed from the church, and returned to her apartments, accompanied, as before, by the French nobles, with the trumpets sounding.

Bibliography and sources

Ellis, Henry. (1827). Original Letters Illustrative of English History. 2, Vols 1-4, Vol. 1. London: Harding & Lepard. 

Green, Mary Anne Everett. (1854). Lives of the Princesses of England from the Norman Conquest., Vol. 5. London: Henry Colbourn. 

Menin, N. (1723). Traité historique et chronologique du sacrè et couronnement des rois et des reines de France, depuis Clovis I jusqu’a present; et de tous les Princes Souverains de l’Europe. Augmenté de la Relation exacte de la Cérémonie du Sacre de Louis XV. Paris: J.-B.-C. Bauche.