“All I can tell you is that I account myself one of the happiest women in the world”
– Mary, Queen of Scots to her mother on the morning of her wedding.
I haven’t had all that much time for blogging this year, what with trying to finish my second full-length novel for Harper Impulse and the trifling occupation of planning my wedding (just over ten weeks to go!). But I’ve been dipping in and out of a non-fiction book on French history and couldn’t resist a mini-blog post on the subject of Mary, Queen of Scots’ first wedding dress.
I’ve already mused about the reasons for Queen Victoria deciding to wear white lace at her wedding to Prince Albert, but I had never known that – three hundred years earlier – the infamous Marie Stuart – or Mary, Queen of Scots – had insisted on wearing white for her marriage to the Dauphin of France in April 1558.
Mary – the daughter of Marie of Guise and the late Scottish King, James V – was the granddaughter of one of Henry VIII’s sisters, and seemed to have that famous Tudor style in spades. White was her favourite colour – it supposedly flattered her pale complexion and set off her striking auburn hair and golden-hazel eyes. Her insistence on wearing that particular colour would have no doubt raised perfectly plucked eyebrows amongst the French court, as white was considered their colour of mourning for royalty. Nevertheless, it appears that Mary got her way and arrived in triumph at the Notre Dame Cathedral in “a robe whiter than the lily, but so glorious in its fashion and decorations that it would be difficult, nay, impossible, for any pen to do justice to its details.” Her train was twelve yards long and was made so heavy by all the jewels set within it that it had to be carried along by two of her ladies as she walked. To set it all off she wore a golden crown and a matching pendant absolutely crammed with precious stones. The courtier Pierre de Brantôme described her as ‘a hundred times more beautiful than a goddess of heaven … her person alone was worth a kingdom.”
To Mary – or Marie as she referred to herself, tellingly – this was all she had ever wanted. She had been betrothed to the Dauphin and living in France alongside him since the age of 5. Despite the fact that she had been the Queen of Scotland since she was six days old she had been raised to see the Queen of France as her ultimate position, and as part of her dowry with the Dauphin François had agreed to sign over her rights as heir to the throne of England to him, as well as allowing France to completely annex Scotland.
It’s not very hard to imagine the elation that ‘Marie’ would have felt on that day, 24th April 1558, as she processed through Paris in a gown that we are still talking about over 450 years later, to marry her beloved childhood friend and take up her destiny. Of course, Mary would never know real happiness – or real queenship. Her husband the Dauphin only ruled as Francis II for about eighteen months, and when she was made to return to Scotland after his death it was to hatred, conspiracy – even rape and forced marriage – until she was forced in 1567 to abdicate her Scots throne in favour of her baby son. And, as we all know, the story of the woman who had been that girl-bride all in white ended at Fotheringhay Castle on a freezing February morning in 1587, on a scaffold draped all in black.