Life at the French Court
Mary sailed for France from Dumbarton on 7th August 1548. Accompanying Mary were her four childhood companions and maids-of-honour, Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Livingston and Mary Fleming – the ‘Four Marys’.
On arrival in France, near Brest, on 13th August Mary proceeded to St. Gerrmain-en-Laye were she was most graciously received by the French King Henry II and welcomed into the Royal household – Mary was of course an anointed monarch. Her childhood years in France were most certainly the happiest of her life and she looked back on them with much fondness.
She married Francis with great ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris on 19th April 1558 and there followed three days of balls, masques and tournaments. The honeymoon was spent at Villers Cotterets near Soissons.
A fortnight before the marriage Mary had signed a secret document whereby, in the event of her dying without issue, she effectively conveyed by free gift the Kingdom of Scotland and all rights she had in the Kingdom of England to the King of France. It has been argued that being only fifteen at the time she did not appreciate the full significance of the documents she was signing, and also that she did so trusting implicitly in the guidance of her two uncles, the Cardinal of Lorraine and the Duke of Guise.
During this time Mary would visit many of the great houses of France including the Chateaux of Chenonceau (opposite) which King Henry II had given to his mistress Diane de Poitiers
On 17th November 1558 the Catholic Mary I of England died to be succeeded by the Protestant, Queen Elizabeth. Immediately on the death of Mary Tudor, Henry proclaimed Mary, Queen of England, Ireland and Scotland. This proclamation not only soured further relationships, already tense, between France and England but was to resonate to Mary’s disadvantage in later years.
On 30th June 1559 tragedy struck – Henry was killed in a jousting accident and Mary found herself Queen Consort of France as well as Queen of Scotland.
This was a period of much political/religious unrest in France. A Huguenot rebellion led by the Prince of Conde, known as the Conspiracy of Amboise, to capture and overthrow Francis failed. The conspirators were captured, tortured and hung from the battlements. Mary was certainly in the Castle when this took place but accounts vary as to whether she in fact witnessed these horrific events.
Mary visited various venues during her period as Queen consort including Chenonceau (above) but much of the time was spent at Blois (opposite) where as the banner shows she is still very much remembered.
Francis however, to whom Mary was quite attached, was of a sickly disposition and died of an ear infection on 5th December 1560. The Venetian ambassador commented:
“Soon the death of the king will be forgotten by all except his little wife who has been widowed, lost France and has little hope in Scotland.”
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