Mary, Queen of France: Life Story

Chapter 7 : Royal Wife

It was the custom for royal husbands-to-be to appear to come upon their fiancées by accident. James IV had ‘surprised’ Mary’s sister, Margaret, during a hunting party, and Henry VIII was later to follow the same tradition with Anne of Cleves, with disastrous consequences. Louis, therefore, pretended to be hawking, and came upon Mary’s train, just outside Abbeville. Fortunately, he was wearing his best clothes (which just happened to match Mary’s outfit of cloth-of-gold and crimson) and was accompanied by his court.

Mary, playing up to expectations, blew Louis a kiss, which he returned, before riding up to her, and kissing her properly, without dismounting. Louis greeted Mary’s attendant lords, then carried on his hawking expedition, leaving her to make her grand entrance to Abbeville.

Mary’s official entrance was of unparalleled splendour. The crowds thronged to see her, and the reports of her beauty and the brilliance of her clothes, jewels and carriages raced around Europe. She eventually arrived at the Hôtel de Gruthuse, where Louis, François and the French court awaited her.

Norfolk presented her, then gave a long speech, assuring Louis of Henry’s friendship. Mary and Louis dined with a few of his closest friends, whilst her English lords were entertained by François. Dinner was followed by dancing, probably to Mary’s satisfaction, before she retired to the suite prepared for her in the neighbouring house.

The following day was the Feast of St Denis, patron saint of France, and thus eminently suitable for the wedding, which took place in the Great Hall of the Gruthuse. Mary, dressed in the French style, was led in by Norfolk and Dorset. Louis was waiting, dressed in cloth-of-gold, with the nobles of France lining the room. During the service, the canopy of state was held above the couple by the Duke of Alençon (married to François’ sister, Marguerite) and François. As part of the Nuptial Mass, François held Louis’ offering whilst Claude held that of Mary – a service she had performed earlier that year for her own mother, Anne of Brittany.

In accordance with custom, after the ceremony Mary withdrew to spend the day with the great ladies of France, led, presumably, by Claude, whose husband entertained the gentlemen. Her wedding present from Louis was yet another diamond, pointed in shape, with a pendant ruby, nearly two inches long.

There followed the ceremonial public bedding. There was much speculation as to Louis’ ability to perform his conjugal duties, but in the morning he loudly proclaimed his prowess. One gentleman thought it was probably true as Louis appeared ‘most uncomfortable’.

Louis was reported by all observers as besotted. He gave Mary many gifts of jewellery, but not all at once – requiring her to pay in kisses. The Venetian ambassador complained that he was spending too much time attending to his wife – he thought it dangerous to the King’s health. Venice was France’s ally, and the ambassador would have preferred Louis to be concentrating his energies on keeping Maximilian out of Italy.

Despite Louis’ apparently doting attitude to Mary, he had no compunction about dismissing many of her attendants, although having approved them (with the exception of Jane Popincourt) before Mary left England. Mary wrote to Henry a mere three days after her wedding to say that she was distressed by the dismissal of ‘Mother’ Guilford. Without that mature lady’s advice, how could she be sure how to conduct herself? The young women left to her were not of the age or experience she would need to rely on if ‘any chance [were to] happen other than well’. She asked Henry to request Lady Guilford’s reinstatement. She did not feel that Norfolk had handled the matter well – if Wolsey had accompanied her instead, he would have protected her better.

Louis’ reason for dismissing Lady Guilford, according to the Earl of Worcester, was that the lady was attempting to ‘rule’ both Mary and himself, and would not permit anyone to come near Mary without herself being present. He wanted women about her to be her servants, not her mistresses. As for himself, being in poor health, he did not want a woman he hardly knew hovering about when he wished to be ‘merry’ with his wife.

The ladies who were left to Mary included one of the Boleyn sisters, although her first name is not recorded. A daughter of Mr Seymour is also listed as an ‘enfant d’honneur’, although again, no Christian name is given.

Mary felt the loss of her servants keenly, and requested that Wolsey find a post for her chaplain-cum-tutor, John Palsgrave, as well as arranging for her treasure to expend 600 crowns in London on the purchase of keepsakes for the dismissed people. Henry granted Lady Guilford an annuity of £20.

Louis continued to load Mary with jewels, which his Letters Patent confirmed were to be taken in lieu of the 200,000 crowns due on the English pension for the year 1514.

Mary, Queen of France

Mary, Queen of France

Family Tree