10 May 2011

15 Minutes of Fame: Queen for Seven Weeks

Blythe Gifford
James V of Scotland is remembered primarily for being the father of Mary, Queen of Scots, but Mary, born six days before his death, was the daughter of his second wife. His first wife, Madeleine of Valois, arrived in Scotland in May of 1337. Seven weeks later, she was dead at the age of sixteen.

She had been James’ wife for less than seven months.

The cause of death was not foul play, but “consumption,” or what we would call tuberculosis. She had apparently been delicate all her life and her father, Francis I, king of France, initially proposed another member of the French nobility to be James’ bride.

James himself was only twenty five when they were married, but he had already fathered several illegitimate children. According to the Treaty of Rouen between Scotland and France, signed when he was five, James was to marry a French princess. The sickly Madeleine was the only princess available.

Negotiations went on for years and James did consider other brides in the meantime. He had had no shortage of options. Eighteen names were suggested as marriage partners, from Mary Tudor (Henry VIII’s daughter and later Mary, Queen of England) to Christina of Denmark.

But France and Scotland had been allies against England for centuries by this time, and James finally came back to the French option. At Francis’ insistence, James initially contracted to marry Mary of Bourbon in Madeleine ’s stead, but when he met Madeleine , the pair seemed to be smitten. Whether their union was ultimately a love match or merely the execution of a treaty is not entirely clear, but given Francis’ concern for his daughter, she must have lobbied him to let her marry young James. Her father obviously loved her very much, for as part of the marriage negotiations, he agreed to pay her an annual pension in addition to providing her with a dowry.

James and Madeleine were married January 1, 1537 at Notre Dame Cathedral. The wedding was an impressive affair, followed by days of jousting at the Louvre and commemorated by poems celebrating the occasion. Their marriage began with a trip to Rouen, where he paid 1100 crowns for a diamond for her ‘spousing’ ring. (A handsome sum, exceeded by the 1600 crowns he spent on fine, red Bordeaux wine.) He could afford it. Madeleine’s dowry was reported to be 225,000 livres.

Yet in Rouen, Madeleine fell ill. They delayed the return to Scotland to allow her to regain her strength, and finally landed May 19. Edinburgh had planned a celebration of her arrival and a coronation. Instead, she went immediately to Holyrood Palace, never to leave its walls alive.
In June, perhaps not wanting her father to worry, she wrote, that she was “much recovered.” But on July 7, she died in Holyrood, an uncrowned queen of a kingdom she inhabited for all of seven weeks.
She must have spent most of that time, ill in her chamber, looking out the window at a country she would never live to rule.

Blythe Gifford has written five, 14th century medieval romances for Harlequin Historicals featuring characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket, most recently HIS BORDER BRIDE. The Chicago Tribune called her work "the perfect balance between history and romance." She is working on her next book, which will again be set on the Scottish Borders.