On 10 August 1520 Madeleine of Valois was born in France as the fifth child and third daughter of King Francis I of France and his first wife, Claude, Duchess of Brittany.
Three years before her birth the Franco-Scottish Treaty of Rouen was made to bolster the ‘Auld Alliance’ after Scotland’s defeat at the Battle of Flodden. An important provision of the treaty was a marriage between the Scottish King, James V, and one of the French princesses. Madeleine was chosen to fulfil the treaty but she turned out to be a sickly child who had contracted tuberculosis before she reached her sixteenth birthday. Given her poor health, John Stewart, Duke of Albany, who was acting as commissioner to facilitate the marriage provision, proposed Mary of Bourbon instead. Mary was granted a dowry as if she was a French princess and James V travelled to France in 1536 to meet her.
However, fate had other plans and upon meeting Madeleine James V became enamoured of the delicate princess and asked her father, King Francis I, for her hand. Francis initially refused James’s request as he feared the harsh climate of Scotland would prove fatal to his frail daughter’s health but James persisted and Francis reluctantly granted permission for the marriage to go ahead when Madeleine made clear that she too desired the match.
The marriage contract was made at Blois and Madeleine renounced her and any of her heirs’ claims to the French throne. In case Madeleine outlived James, she would retain for her lifetime assets which included the Earldoms of Fife, Strathearn, Ross, and Orkney with Falkland Palace, Stirling Castle, and Dingwall Castle, with the Lordship of Galloway and Threave Castle.
Madeleine and James married on 1 January 1537 at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and her dowry, provided by her father, gave the Scottish treasury a much needed boost. After months of marital celebrations, the couple sailed for Scotland in May 1537 but the journey was difficult on the already-frail Queen and she was very sick upon their arrival at Leith on 19 May.
Less than a month later, on 7 July 1537 Madeleine died in her husband’s arms in Edinburgh. She was interred in Holyrood Abbey and James V went on to marry the widowed Mary of Guise.