Mary, Queen of France: Life Story

Chapter 6 : Queen of France

Mary might now be a queen, but she had not come to matrimony without driving a hard bargain with her brother. In a letter written in April 1515, she reminded Henry that, before she had agreed to the marriage, for the sake of the peace of Christendom, she had exacted a promise from him that, if she survived her elderly husband, she would be able to marry at her ‘liberty and without incurring [his] displeasure’.

Whether Mary had someone in particular in mind at this juncture, or whether she was just preparing for any eventuality, is unknown.

It may have been the memory of this promise that enabled her, in the months between her proxy marriage and her departure for France, to seem, to observers, to be surprisingly happy. Onlookers were repelled by the thought of such a beautiful young woman being tied to Louis. Maximilian, whose fault the whole arrangement was, opined that it was a pity that so fair a princess should have to marry ‘as impotent, indisposed and malicious a prince as the French king’.

A second proxy wedding was held in France on 14th September, with Mary’s distant cousin, Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester, acting as her proxy. We can only hope that it was not thought necessary for Worcester and Louis to perform a mock-consummation, following the ceremony at the church of the Celestines in Paris – the resting place of many members of the Orléans branch of the French royal family that Louis represented.

The trousseau prepared for the Burgundian match was now turned to good account. Fifteen gowns were made in French fashion, six in the mode of Milan, as a nod to Louis’ pretensions to the duchy, and seven in English style. The list of tapestries, hangings, plate and jewels was endless. Mary’s litters were embroidered with the arms of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. She had a cloth of state of azure blue, embroidered with her motto, in French ‘the Will of God suffices me’.

As noted above, Mary had learnt French as part of her formal education, but she now needed to brush up on it. With the death of Henry VII, the use of French at court had lapsed. Mary began an intense programme of study under John Palsgrave, and was soon writing creditable French in the letters she and Louis now exchanged.

Louis also wrote frequently to Wolsey, urging the match on. His only complaint was the sight of Jane Popincourt’s name in the list of Mary’s ladies. He must have been aware of her liaison with Longueville, as he announced that she was no fit company for his wife.  The chief of the ladies was Joan, Lady Guilford, and the maids-of-honour included the daughters of the Earl of Kent, and Mary Boleyn, daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, one of Henry’s trusted advisors.

Louis sent two caskets, groaning with precious gems to Mary, including the fabled Mirror of Naples – a diamond as wide as man’s finger, with a pendant pearl the size of a pigeon’s egg.

All was now ready. On 23rd September 1514, Henry issued orders to the Duke of Norfolk, the Marquis of Dorset, the Earls of Surrey and Worcester, the Bishop of Durham, Dr Nicholas West and the Prior of St John’s to attend his sister to Abbeville in France, to witness her marriage and to make arrangements for her attendants.

The court departed for Dover, where Mary was to embark for her new kingdom. Ships were sent out to scour the seas clean of pirates. There was some delay, owing to poor weather, but Mary eventually sailed on 2nd October, just after dawn. Henry kissed her goodbye, and repeated his promise that she would never again be called upon to sacrifice herself for her country.

Storms blew up, but, although many of her ships ended up in the wrong ports, Mary herself arrived in Boulogne on 3rd October.  To prevent her wetting her feet, she was carried ashore by one of her gentlemen.

Mary remained at Boulogne to recover, and to await the remainder of her entourage. Louis sent the Dukes of Vendôme and Trémouille to greet her. Within a few days, she set out for Paris, and was met at Abbeville by other members of the French nobility, first amongst them, Louis’ heir, his son-in-law, François of Angoulême. François must necessarily have resented Mary. If she were to bear a son, he would be displaced from the succession. His wife, too, Louis’ daughter Claude, probably did not welcome a new step-mother. She could not be queen-regnant of France, so being queen-consort was the only consolation prize. 

Mary, Queen of France

Mary, Queen of France

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