Thursday, 9 October 2014

The last English queen of France

Five hundred years ago today, a beautiful young English princess married a middle aged monarch who was desperate for an heir.  The wedding of Mary Tudor and Louis XII of France on October 9th 1514 was a famous royal match in the 16th century and led to an even more dramatic wedding just months later.  It also made Mary, the beloved younger sister of Henry VIII, the last English queen of France.

Mary Tudor, Queen of France 1514 - 1515

Mary, by all accounts, had no desire to be a queen.  Unlike her ambitious brother and her even more ambitious father, she didn't fancy wearing a crown.  Mary was eighteen when she wed the fifty two year old King of France but while her family's famous determination had been ploughed into ruling England, Mary's focus was to marry for love.  Her brother, who had become King of England five years before her wedding, had already tried to arrange a union for Mary with the Holy Roman Emperor but when his political alliances on the continent changed so did his idea of a perfect groom and the ageing Louis - desperate for an heir - came into sight.

Louis XII, King of France 1498 - 1515

Louis was very keen on the match.  He had been married twice before but had no living son and at the age of fifty two, he was becoming desperate to provide an heir for the throne of France.  Mary would also help cement the political alliance with England.  And his prospective bride was also a very pretty princess.  Mary, according to chroniclers of the time, was attractive and the accounts of her wedding remark on her youthful appearance, her handsome features and her stylish wardrobe. She was also said by those who met her to have perfect manners and a composed bearing.  Mary may not have picked her husband but she had been trained to behave like a queen regardless.

Louis XII marries Mary Tudor on October 9th 1514

But there is little doubt that Mary wasn't the biggest fan of her wedding plans. And while she eventually accepted that she must marry for dynastic purposes, she made a deal with her brother - one of the few people to get a concession from Henry. If she should ever be widowed and find herself the dowager Queen of France, she would then marry the man of her choosing.  Henry said yes and Mary boarded a ship to her new kingdom, having already gone through a proxy marriage before embarking on her journey.

Another representation of the events that took place when King Louis XII of France married 
Mary Tudor in 1514

Her wedding, five hundreds years ago today, was truly spectacular.  It took place in Abbeville with the bride arriving in the town the evening before accompanied by dozens of ladies and dressed in the 'English'style. For the wedding itself she wore a gown in the 'French' style featuring golden cloth and ermine.  She was bedecked with jewels to show the wealth of her royal house, the Tudors, and was presented with a spectacular necklace by her new husband. The celebrations went on for days and Mary was crowned Queen of France on November 5th 1514.

The Hever Tapestry showing the marriage of Louis XII and Mary Tudor

There would be no longed for heir from this union - King Louis XII died three months after his third marriage.  His death on January 1st 1515 was attributed by some to the king's energetic efforts to produce a son to claim his crown and his widow was kept in isolation for six weeks after his death to make sure she wasn't pregnant. But by the time Queen Mary emerged from her chambers not only was she not expecting, she was also on the brink of marrying again.  Her brother had made her a promise and she was determined he would keep it.

Henry VIII in later life - his sister,Mary , agreed to his plans for a diplomatic union for her as long as he promised she could marry for love if she was ever free to wed again

For when Mary had told Henry that, as a widow, she would wed for love she already had a groom in mind.  Charles Brandon had become Duke of Suffolk around the time that Mary's marriage to Louis was being negotiated.  But although he was a duke, his ancestors had been lowly knights or worse, complete commoners. His father had been standard bearer for Mary's father, Henry VII, at the Battle of Bosworth and had been killed by Richard III as that king fought for his throne.  Charles had grown up close to Henry VIII but despite their friendship and the power he wielded at the Tudor court, he was seen as too lowly a match for a princess let alone a dowager queen.

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk found himself in a position where he couldn't say no to the demands of a queen

Charles Brandon was sent to France to bring Mary back home but made his friend promise before he left that his relationship with Mary would remain professional.  Charles also to talk money with the new French king, Francois I, as Mary's considerable dowry was now up for debate.  Francois knew of the couple's affection for one another. And six weeks of seclusion seems to have made Mary very nervous for once Charles arrived she begged him to marry her as she feared that on her return to England she would quickly be the subject of another diplomatic union.  It seems Charles was very worried about breaking his promise to his king but in the end gave way to Mary - with Francois' support - and they wed at the Palace of Cluny in February 1515.

Mary, Dowager Queen of France with her second husband, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

It would be three months before it was safe enough for the newlyweds to return to England.  Henry VIII was furious and once his anger began to subside he demanded Charles and Mary pay him, in yearly installments, the value of her dowry.  Once back at court, the couple married again and went on to have four children together before Mary died in 1533 at the age of 37.  By then, her deep bond with her brother had once more been strained as she took the side of Catherine of Aragon in the king's dispute over that marriage.  But Henry mourned his sister deeply.

Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, was briefly proclaimed Queen of England in 1553

Mary Tudor was the last English princess to marry a King of France and her reign as a consort was brief although she was praised for her behaviour throughout her short time on the throne.  She is perhaps better known now for her marriage to Charles Brandon and for being the grandmother of another monarch who reigned only briefly - Lady Jane Grey.  But she also has a place in royal history that is unlikely ever to change.  Mary Tudor is the last English Queen of France.

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