On the 5th November of 1514, the 18-year-old-year Mary Tudor, sister of King Henry VIII, was crowned Queen of France at the ancient Basilica of Saint-Denis, located in the suburbs of Paris, France. It was not a felicitous day for the English princess who had become an unwilling French queen, for Mary had not wanted to marry the aging and ailing French monarch.
Some English nobles and diplomats arrived at the cathedral well in advance in the morning. At 10 o’ clock, a group of high-ranking French aristocrats appeared, including Duke Charles d’Alençon, one of the last remaining Valois males, with his wife, Marguerite d’Angoulême, as well as Duke Louis de Longueville, Duke Charles de Bourbon (later the treacherous Constable de Bourbon who conspired with Emperor Charles V against France), and two Bourbon brothers from the junior Bourbon-Vendôme line – Duke Charles de Vendôme and Count François de Saint-Pol.
Mary Tudor, now Marie de Valois, rode in a litter in the company of François d’Angoulême, who was the officially proclaimed heir apparent to the throne, as Louis XII had no surviving sons. There was an elaborate procession through the city, and streets were hung with tapestries and images symbolizing peace, stability, and fertility to glorify the peace treaty between England and France and the splendor of the Valois monarchy. There are no contemporary accounts of how Mary Tudor looked like and how she was dressed. We can assume that her attire was grand and expensive, enhancing her youthful and dazzling beauty. François led Mary by the hand along the nave and to a high, impressive altar for the coronation. A connoisseur of female beauty, François must have admired the new stunning queen, perhaps feeling a twinge of envy given that he was married to the gentle, pious, noble-minded Claude of France, who nevertheless was not beautiful in his eyes and was lame, according to some sources. Then François stepped aside.
Shining in all her beauty, Mary knelt, and then Cardinal Germain de Brie approached her. Silence reigned in the basilica as Brie announced her with the sacred oil before putting the royal sceptre in her right hand and the rod of justice in her left one. The cardinal then slid a special ring onto her finger and the gorgeous crown of France upon her head. Afterwards, François returned to his cousin’s wife and assisted her in getting to her feet, and then he escorted her to an ornately carved chair of state beneath a canopy of cloth of gold. Mary could barely walk as the crown on her head was too heavy, so they moved slowly. After the queen had eased herself in a chair, François held the crown above her head symbolically. Mary must have been relieved when this part of the coronation ended, her emotion a tangled mass of amazement, sadness, and anticipation.
After a Mass, Mary again came to the altar and made a donation of gifts for the abbey. Then she received the sacrament from Cardinal de Brie; the rest of the ceremony was a short one. Again, François escorted the queen along the nave to the exit from the cathedral. The nobles followed them – among them François mother, Madame Louise de Savoy, who must have been the least pleased person among the assemblage, fearing that this young nymph could conceive a male child who would replace ‘her Caesar’ – her beloved son François – in the line of succession. Mary must have left the basilica with relief, yet gripped by a terror that she would have to live with Louis for years until his death; she was already infatuated with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.
Louis XII secretly watched the coronation, admiring his young spouse. Nonetheless, Louise and François had nothing to worry about: Louis passed away on the 1st of January 1515, mostly likely of a severe gout, not of exertions in the marriage bed. In the future, Mary frequently styled herself as Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France. Only a few months later, Mary married the Duke of Suffolk at the Hotel de Clugny in Paris on the 3rd of March 1515 in the presence of 10 people, among them King François. In my opinion, nasty rumors that François expected the death of his fragile wife in childbirth and dreamed of marrying Mary are products of sheer fiction.
All images are in the public domain.
Text © 2020 Olivia Longueville