Thursday, 16 September 2010

Mary’s suitors – Part I: The Dauphin, François

In 1554, Mary married the most eligible royal in Europe. Wealthy, heir to numerous lands, handsome and chivalrous, Philip was the ideal candidate. He was also family, and we know how keen Mary was to preserve links with her Habsburg relatives. Mary did not marry for love; she had never met Philip before agreeing to marrying him and though she quickly became devoted to her husband, her choice was based primarily on his connections. In fact, the newly crowned Mary was more interested in Philip’s father, Charles V, who she had once been betrothed to (until he discarded her for Isabella of Portugal, Philip’s mother). Charles politely declined. He was, he argued, a rather old man, tied down with numerous problems across his vast empire. But he offered her his son and Mary readily accepted.

Throughout her life, Mary had been betrothed to, or there had been talk of her being married off to, the most prestigious figures in Europe. Despite being repudiated as heir to the throne in 1533, Mary was still regarded as a promising marriage candidate. This is part one (of what will probably be many!) posts looking at the men Mary was linked to.

François, Dauphin of France

Name: François, Dauphin of France

Parents: Francis I of France and Queen Claude (Francis’s first consort and the daughter of Louis XII of France who, incidentally, had once been married to Mary’s aunt, the ‘other’ Mary Tudor).

Position: The Dauphin; eldest son of the King of France and thus heir to the throne.

Live span: 1518-36

Qualities: Was heir to the throne of France; a great catch!

Faults: Dropped dead in 1536, a significant impediment.

The moment Mary was born speculations regarding her marriage were discussed. She was not the boy Henry and Katherine desired, but the appearance of a healthy baby gave the couple hope that a brother would soon follow. In the very early years of her life, marriage negotiations were somewhat ambiguous in nature, for they treated Mary as princess but were vague on her position as heir. Naturally those who sought her as their bride were quite excited by the prospect that Mary could be queen and they the king of England.

Dauphin François was betrothed to Mary at a very young age. In fact, he was still contently growing in his mother's womb when Henry and Francis I vaguely discussed a marriage between Mary and the child Queen Claude carried. Claude’s other children were daughters so like Katherine she faced pressure to deliver the necessary prince. Thankfully she had more luck than the English queen, and on 28 February 1518, François was born. In October, the Treaty of London was signed establishing ‘Universal Peace’ and promising Mary to the future king of France. Two betrothal ceremonies were held, one at Greenwich on 5 October, and the other in Paris on 16 December.

On 5 October, two-year-old Mary was taken to court and presented to the French ambassadors for the betrothal ceremony. The man standing in for the groom was Guillaume Gouffier, Lord Admiral of France. Wearing a gown of gold cloth, a small black cap to cover her auburn hair, and covered in jewels, Mary initially stood in front of her mother until the ceremony when she had to be held up to participate. The French ambassadors asked the royal parents for their, and thus Mary’s, consent which they duly gave. Then Mary’s godfather, Cardinal Wolsey, presented a magnificent diamond ring that was placed by the Admiral on the toddler’s finger. Mary was on her best behaviour but the event was naturally confusing for the child. She assumed the Admiral was her future husband. “Are you the Dauphin of France?” she asked. “If you are, I wish to kiss you.”

Portrait of The Lord Admiral by Jean Clouet, c.1516. Musée Condé, Chantilly

Shortly after, she was returned to the comforting world of the royal nursery, where her lessons in French would soon begin. Even by the end of her life, Mary’s proficiency in French was excellent and she conversed to her eventual husband, Philip of Spain, in this language. Her progress, and especially the state of her health, was carefully monitored by the French representatives at court. She only had few occasions to be displayed to them, namely in 1522 when Francis sent several diplomats to check up on the princess who was residing in Richmond. She entertained them by playing the virginals, performing with great skill for someone of her ‘tender age’. Yet she never visited France, nor ever met her intended husband.

Henry’s alliances with the French were always uncomfortably made, unsurprising given his desire to conquer rather than befriend them. Katherine, a Spanish princess, was horrified by the prospect of a French marriage for her daughter. Her father had once been engaged in a heated war with France, continued by his grandson and Katherine’s nephew, Charles V. She had been sent to England in 1501 to marry the prince of Wales, and help foster good relations between her native country and her adoptive one. This was the task of sixteenth-century foreign princesses – to act as ‘royal breeding machines’ (to coin a famous Tudor historian’s words!) and as diplomats. Mary’s engagement to the Dauphin signified Katherine’s failure. The same year she gave birth to a stillborn daughter; it would be her last pregnancy. 1518 must have been one of the bleakest years of Katherine’s life.

Fortunately for Katherine, Henry began to lose interest in the arrangement. Queen Claude dutifully sent an image of little François for his in-laws and bride to admire, along with a beautiful jewelled cross worth six thousand ducats. But Henry was reluctant to be so benevolent in return. Significantly, he failed to bring Mary to the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520, though Francis and Claude brought the Dauphin with them. It came as no surprise when, in 1521, Henry broke off Mary’s engagement to the Dauphin and betrothed her instead to Charles V. The dauphin had been ditched.

Minature of the Dauphin by Jean Clouet, c. 1525-8. Royal Collection

Alliances were always feeble in nature and eventually the arrangement with Charles broke down. The English got a taste of their own medicine when in 1525 Charles married another cousin, the incredibly wealthy Isabella of Portugal. By 1526 a French marriage looked like a good prospect again. Unfortunately Francis had arranged another marriage for his heir, or to be more specific, it had been forced on him by Charles V. On 14 February 1525, Francis was captured in battle against the imperial forces at Pavia and to secure his freedom the French government sought an exchange – Charles may have the custody of Francis’s two eldest sons if he released the King (and the boys remained in captivity for around four years). Out of these talks came an agreement to marry the Dauphin to Charles’s niece Maria of Portugal and, given the unreliability of the English, the French regarded it as fair game to marry off the Dauphin elsewhere.[1] Thus by 1526 the Dauphin was no longer an option but Francis had other sons and he proposed that his second, Henri, duc d'Orleans, marry Mary. There was also talk of Francis being considered given that Claude had died in 1524.

Dauphin François and Mary were never betrothed again. In the mid 1530s there was some talk of a possible marriage between himself and Princess Elizabeth, Henry VIII’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, which came to nothing. On 10 August 1536, the Dauphin died suddenly at Tournon, an incident widely, and wildly, attributed to poison, resulting in the execution of one of his servants, Sebastiano de Montecuculli.[2] François’s death paved the way for his brother, Henri, to succeed to the throne. Henri was another of Mary’s one time ‘fiancées’. He would also turn out to be her main enemy.

Portrait of the Dauphin by Corneille De Lyon. Date unknown though seems mid-1530s

[1] Maria of Portugal was the daughter of Charles’s sister, Eleanor, who married Francis I in 1530. The marriage was one of the terms Charles forced upon the defeated Francis.

[2] François is said to have died after drinking contaminated water after building up a thirst playing a game of tennis. Tennis was a dangerous game for French royals. Charles VIII of France knocked himself out whilst playing the game, an injury which led to his death, and Louis X was said to have died after drinking large amounts of cold water after playing tennis for hours in the heat. Ironically, François’s brother, Henri (who became king in 1547), also suffered a sports-related death. This time it wasn’t the curse of tennis, but the ever dangerous pastime of jousting. A lance pierced Henri’s right eye and entered his brain. Physicians tried to save him but after ten agonising days he succumbed. In short, French royalty should never play sports.


  1. Just interested to know whether anyone has any details on the marriage ceremony between Mary Tudor and Philip?

  2. wow, you know history quite well.

  3. Apparently Mary married Phillip at Winchester Cathedral. I came across this information when in the town and there were details of the marriage, but I have forgotten the source. It might be worthwhile asking local historians in the city.

  4. Hi!

    Mary certainly married in Winchester; I have written a post about this: