Mary, Queen of France: Life Story

Chapter 8 : Widow

The king was finding married life taxing and was laid low by gout. Mary was solicitous, attending him every day and sitting by his bed. He was sufficiently recovered by 24th October for the royal party to leave Abbeville, and make for Paris. En route, they met the Duke of Suffolk and the Marquis of Dorset, who were travelling to Paris for the jousts that François was arranging. The contrast between Suffolk, a man in his prime, and her aging husband must have struck Mary afresh.

Louis summoned Suffolk to his bedside, and the duke reported to Henry VIII that Mary was sitting beside her husband:

 ‘there was never queen nor lady that ordered herself more honourably nor wiser, the which I assure your grace rejoiced me not a little - your grace knows why – for I think that there was never queen in France that hath demeaned herself more honourably….’

The throwaway line ‘your grace knows why’ has been taken as a hint that Henry and Suffolk were worried that Mary’s partiality for the duke might have led her into indiscretion.

Custom forbade Mary entering Paris before she had been crowned: accordingly, she waited outside the city whilst Louis entered and went about his usual business. She did not have to wait long – the coronation took place on Sunday, 5th November in the cathedral of St Denis.

On 13th November, the great tournament to celebrate Mary’s marriage was held. As was customary, it had been announced in advance, so that knights from all over Europe might attend. The challenge had gone out to England on 14th September (the day of the proxy wedding in France) and the tournament was to take place at the Hôtel des Tournelles. The nine French champions were led by François, the English champions by Suffolk.

Louis, in declining health, was unable to sit on his chair of state, so lay on a couch, Mary beside him, attended by Claude; Marguerite, Duchess of Alençon and the other great ladies. There were to be five days of competition. Suffolk was the hero of the first day, running 15 courses. He did not win them all, but he gained extra points for detaching his opponent’s plumed hat – reckoned the equivalent of breaking a lance. François was obliged to retire after ten courses, having an injured hand.

The second day, Suffolk ran three courses, and six on the third day. There was a day for less exalted men to take a turn, then a day of rest before the more difficult round of fighting with swords whilst still mounted. Suffolk fought three rounds in this, unhorsing his opponent in each.

Suffolk’s success was such that François was, according to the possibly biased English chronicler, Hall, jealous. He had a particularly strong German soldier disguised as one of the official combatants and brought against Suffolk. After a hard-fought battle, lasting longer than the rules generally allowed, Suffolk was victorious, and the soldier was hustled away. Louis remarked drily of François that ‘ce grand gaillard gatera tout’ (this fellow will ruin everything).

Dorset wrote of the events to Wolsey, reporting that he himself was uninjured, but Suffolk had hurt his hand. Mary had summoned Suffolk and him to her side, and informed them that Louis thought they had put the French to shame, and well deserved the prize, which was to be given on 26th November.

Mary showed herself a wise young woman in handling her husband. She told Suffolk and Dorset that she needed friends and good counsellors around her, and asked them to speak to Louis’ closest advisers – the Duke of Longueville, Louis’ secretary, M. de Robertet, and others – requesting them to give her good counsel as to how best to please her husband. The Frenchmen were delighted with Mary’s request, as was Louis when heard of it. 

Shortly after this, the bulk of the English delegation departed, although Suffolk remained, to undertake some ‘secret business’ that Henry had with Louis. Mary was now in the full flow of royal duties – she and her husband went hunting at St Germaine-en-Laye, she attended a ceremonial dinner hosted by the city of Paris and she received a ‘supplication’ from the University of Paris to promote their cause with her husband. The printed volume of their oration (pictured) shows Mary in a dress of gold, with ermine cuffed sleeves.

Mary Queen Of France Source Gallica Bnf Fr Bibliothèque Nationale De France
Source: / Bibliothèque nationale de France

Shortly before Christmas, Mary was finally left alone in her new life, as Suffolk returned home for Christmas. Louis, perhaps knowing that his time was short, wrote to his brother-in-law, further extolling Mary’s virtues, and also praising the good behaviour of Suffolk, whose ‘virtues, manners, politeness and good condition’ he wrote, made him deserve even better treatment from Henry than he had already received.

Louis had, for some years before his marriage to Mary, been living a life of carefully healthy habits – going to bed and getting up early, eating moderately and avoiding excitement. In his delight in Mary he broke all the rules that his doctor had given him, and stayed up till all hours with her, eating, drinking and, apparently, taking his conjugal duties very seriously.

It was all too much for his frail health. On New Year’s Day, 1515, in the midst of a terrible storm, Louis died. Ten days later, he was buried in St Denis. Mary was now Queen-dowager of France, but who would be the new king? It all depended on whether Mary was pregnant.

Mary, Queen of France

Mary, Queen of France

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