The Queen and the Dauphin: Beyond their marriage

Mary Queen and Francis France
Mary, Queen of Scots at age thirteen, two years before her wedding and Francois II at the time of their wedding.

On the 24th of April 1558, Mary, Queen of Scots married her first husband, the Dauphin Francois Valois. Mary and her four companions known as the “four Maries” had been sent to France since she was a child to ensure her marriage to the Crown Heir of France. She had previously been betrothed to Prince Edward Tudor, only surviving son of Henry VIII. What was called the “Rough Wooing”, Henry VIII brokered a deal with the Regency at the time to betroth her to his son. Both parties agreed she would stay in Scotland but if needed be, she would be brought to England to be reared as future Consort to Edward. As the Regency weakened, her mother took advantage of the situation. Mary of Guise belonged to one of the most prominent families in France. They were seen as social climbers by many. However, they were known for their amassing wealth, and taking advantage of every situation. Initially her family considered -after she’d been widowed- to marry her to Henry VIII, but then James V made an offer which Francois pressed the Guise family into accepting since he wasn’t too happy with the prospect of having one of the rising families in France in alliance with his enemy. Mary of Guise had been a dutiful wife, but as the situation was beginning to deteriorate and she began to see everyone crowing around her daughter, waiting to use her for their own benefit, she stopped being idle and using her docility and apparent sweetness, she began networking with the greatest leaders in Scotland and convinced them to betroth her to France instead. This also helped her family’s interests. Henry VIII became aware of this and tried to stop it but he was too late. His incursions which were headed for the most part by his brother-in-law and future Lord Protector, Edward Seymour turned out to be for naught.

Mary was safe in France. When she disembarked, the King and her family wasted no time. There was a special household set for her. While movies depict her relationship with Catherine de Medici as the worst, this is not entirely true. It is true that she and Catherine were not the best of friends, but to state they were enemies is not very accurate either. As Porter says in her latest book ‘Tudors vs Stewarts’, it is evident that Mary, Queen of Scots learned a great deal more from Catherine de Medici, simply by watching her, how she ruled her household, how she conducted business, and how she behaved with dignity in spite of her husband’s treatment and took on the regency during the English-French wars when the former (under the control of Queen Mary (I) Tudor) lost Calais; learned the most from her than her closest ‘friend’-the King’s mistress, Diana Poiters. From the latter she obviously learned dress code, etiquette and other things such as charm. But it was Catherine from whom she learned about politics.

The couple was fifteen when they married. The ceremony was officiated by Charles Bourbon, the Cardinal and Archbishop of Rouen in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

“It was a Sunday and the citizens of Paris flocked to see the spectacle.” Linda Porter says and adds that the people were very impressed by the young Queen and Dauphine-to-be’s stature. She was taller than most girls and boys her age and unlike the constant depictions of her in the silver screen where she is all vain and clueless; she was more of a tomboy. When she played Tennis she would put on boy’s clothes and she loved exercising, riding, and doing other sports.

This is Mary in mourning. White was a color of mourning in France but two years prior in 1558, she broke tradition by wearing this color on her wedding day.
This is Mary in mourning. White was a color of mourning in France but two years prior in 1558, she broke tradition by wearing this color on her wedding day.

On the day of her wedding, she caused further stir when she came out wearing white. White was not the color used for wedding. Only other bride had used that color and broken with tradition. Her royal English cousin, Mary I Tudor; was the eldest daughter of Henry VIII by his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. When she married her first husband, Prince Arthur Tudor of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia, she had also broken with tradition and wore white and gold and Arthur, copying her, agreed to wear the same colors. Katherine had been the same age as Mary when she wed her first husband.

Besides her splendid gown, she wore a beautiful pendant around her neck engraved with her father-in-law, Henri II’s initials which she called ‘Great Harry’.

As all brides, she wore her hair down. It was a symbol of her purity, her maiden status. On her head she was a golden crown studded with rubies, diamonds and other precious gems.

Mary was seen as a valuable asset to France. Not only because of the Auld or Scottish-French alliance but because to many, she was more royal than Henry VIII’s bastardized daughters. If Mary (I) Tudor died without an heir, and many were saying she was likely to die soon since her last pregnancy turned out to be yet another phantom pregnancy, than that left the path clear for Mary who was the descendant of Henry VII through his eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor. Mary Tudor’s successor, Elizabeth, was still considered by most of Catholic Europe a bastard because of her mother, Anne Boleyn, and most of all, because of her Protestant affiliation.

And there was Mary, Queen of Scots herself. She was not only beautiful, accomplished and charming, but “naturally more intelligent and competent than the Dauphin” Dunn writes.

Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots

“She has grown so much, and grows daily in height, goodness, beauty and virtue, that she has become the most perfect and accomplished person in all hottest and virtuous things.” –Cardinal Archbishop of Rouen

Following the wedding ceremony, there was a sumptuous banquet, followed by the wedding night. Unlike the hit TV show Reign where the couple passionately consummates their union every night, it is unlikely this happened in real life. Francois was a sickly boy who –when he became King a year later- had to be helped so the weight of the crown didn’t hurt him. After he died in December 1560, there were talks of marrying her to the next in line, but this never came to be. Mary returned to Scotland, to rule a country she no longer recognized. Although she showed love to her subjects, the country she had been born into, was very different. It was torn by religion and many factions and they each conspired to bring Mary down following the murder of her second husband, Henry Stewart aka Lord Darnley.


  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals and Queens by Jane Dunn
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter

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