Mary, Queen of France: Life Story

Chapter 5 : Wedding Preparations

The preparations for Mary’s wedding continued. Henry laid out huge sums of money for clothes, jewels, furniture, household goods, litters and chariots. It was important for Mary to be dressed in Burgundian style, so Marguerite was to be consulted on the making of Mary’s clothes, although Henry, who was a man of taste, wanted to choose the fabrics himself.

He also wanted detailed information from Maximilian and Marguerite about the Burgundian guests, whether they would bring their own beds, how long they would stay in Calais after the ceremony, and whether he was to provide furniture for them.

Two commentators who had seen Mary were the scholars, Erasmus and Peter Martyr. The former wrote that ‘Nature never formed anything more beautiful, and she exceeds no less in goodness and in wisdom’. The latter thought ‘her deportment in dancing and conversation is as pleasing as you might desire’. He also commented on her beautiful complexion and the physical vivacity that made her more often her brother’s dancing partner than his less-robust wife, Queen Katharine.

The care that Henry expended on Mary’s outfitting was a sign both of his personal affection for his sister, and his eagerness to have the match completed. A date of 15th May had now been agreed.

But Maximilian and Charles seemed reluctant to come to the point. Marguerite continued to urge the match on, but her father vacillated. It was rumoured that Charles, having now come of age, had refused to ratify the match – complaining that Mary was old enough to be his mother (the age gap of four years, although significant between 14 and 18 was hardly generational).

Marguerite made every effort to urge Maximilian and Charles to fulfil the treaty. She had sent ambassadors to England to try to smooth over the affair and reassure Henry. Their reports were strongly in favour of the match proceeding, and Mary was highly praised:

Marguerite pleaded the value of Mary’s dowry, the public nature of the betrothal, the penalties contained within the treaty for failure, but to no avail – the Burgundian council wrote to Henry that the marriage could not take place that year.

In the meantime, Henry’s father-in-law, Ferdinand of Aragon had concluded a secret treaty with Louis XII of France, and Maximilian soon followed suit. As part of the negotiations, a marriage between Charles and Renée of France (younger daughter of Louis XII) was mooted. Ferdinand announced that if the marriage to Mary went ahead, he would leave Aragon to Charles’ younger brother, the Archduke Ferdinand, who was, in any event, his favourite, having been brought up in Spain.

Henry was outraged. Determined to have the last laugh, and with the most beautiful princess in Christendom in his hand, he offered peace terms to Louis. Henry wanted to retain Thérouanne, Boulogne and St Quentin, and have the 1m crown arrears of the pension the French crown owed to England paid. In return, Louis could have either of his sisters.

Margaret, now ‘second-hand’, would be provided for a discount – instead of the 1m crown arrears, only an annual pension of 100,000 crowns would be required. But Louis, although vaguely guilty that Margaret had lost her husband in a futile battle fought in the interests of Scotland’s alliance with France, wanted Mary.

Mary’s dowry was agreed at 200,000 crowns, to be deducted from the arrears of the pension. She was to receive in dower from Louis, (her income during marriage and widowhood) the same extensive grant that Anne of Brittany had been allocated. Her personal goods were to remain her own in widowhood, whether she remained in France, or not.

A marriage by proxy could be annulled, prior to consummation. Mary therefore formally declared, in front of Cardinal Wolsey, the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, the Earl of Worcester, the bishops of Winchester and Durham and her Chamberlain, Sir Ralph Verney, that she repudiated her contract to marry Archduke Charles. In this, she confirmed, she was acting freely, not at anyone else’s suggestion, and that she hoped the gentlemen would intercede for with the king, less the repudiation of the match incur his displeasure.  

It is impossible to know what Mary thought about the matter – it is highly likely that, having been Princess of Castile since she was fourteen, she was humiliated in the extreme by Charles’ behaviour and would have preferred the marriage to go ahead. It is probable that the prospect of a young husband would have been more palatable than the thought of fifty-six year old Louis, twice-married and riddled with gout.

But her pride was undoubtedly wounded, and the experience may have led her to believe that the whole business of arranged royal marriages was likely to lead to misery. She must, by now, have also become aware of the charms of the Duke of Suffolk.

A week later, a formal betrothal had been entered between Mary and King Louis. The Duke de Longuville, still not ransomed, but enjoying himself at the English court where he was conducting an affair with Jane Popincourt, a French lady who was one of Mary’s household, took Louis’ part.

The news soon reached Burgundy. Marguerite was bitterly disappointed, and Charles, realising that he had lost a valuable opportunity, upbraided his councillors. In illustration of his annoyance, he took a hawk, and plucked it in front of their bemused faces. Asked the meaning of his action, he responded that, the hawk being young, it could not prevent itself being plucked, as he himself was being plucked by them. In future, his councillors would find themselves on the receiving end.

On 13th August, the proxy wedding took place at Greenwich. Longueville was once again proxy for Louis. The bride, having kept the company waiting for three hours, entered the gold-hung chamber with her brother and sister-in-law. She was dressed in a gown of chequered purple and gold, with a kirtle of silver-grey satin. Longueville was dressed in the same colours, to observe the French tradition of the king and queen wearing his-and-hers matching outfits.

Archbishop Warham once again extolled the virtues of matrimony, then the vows were taken, followed by Mass, and the usual feasting and dancing.  The ceremonial bedding came next. Mary lay on the bed and Longueville removed his hose and touched her leg with his.  Mary was now, almost, Queen of France. 

Mary, Queen of France

Mary, Queen of France

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