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The tragic tale of Madeleine of Valois – the ‘Summer Queen of Scots’

Madeleine of Valois was a French Princess who married James V King of Scots (The Scottish King had the title King of Scots rather than King of Scotland). The marriage was part of the Treaty of Rouen between Scotland and France. As part of that Treaty, James was promised the hand in marriage of a French Princess. Initially, James was contracted to marry another member of the French Royal Family. However, she didn’t appeal to him, and when he arrived at the French court, he wanted only Madeleine and the French King was convinced to allow their marriage to go ahead. Due to Madeleine’s poor health, the marriage would be a short one. She died only six months on from their wedding day. Because of her short time spent as Consort, she received the nickname the ‘Summer Queen of Scots’.

Madeleine was born in Saint-Germaine-en-Laye west of Paris on the 10 August 1520. She was the 5th child of Francis I, King of France and Claude Duchess of Brittany. Her health was fragile, and for that reason, the decision was made to raise her in the Loire Valley where the climate was more warm and temperate. Her mother died when she was three-years-old, and she was raised by her aunt, Marguerite of Navarre, until the remarriage of her father to Eleanor of Austria who accepted Madeleine into her household. By the time she was 16, Madeleine had developed Tuberculosis, the disease which probably took her mother’s life.

In 1517, three years before Madeleine’s birth, the Treaty of Rouen was signed between France and Scotland. It was a treaty of mutual assistance if the English attacked either country. As part of that Treaty, the French King promised marriage between the Scottish King and one of his daughters. As King James V was only a five year old at the time of the Treaty the negotiations on the marriage did not begin until 1530. Madeleine was then the eldest living daughter. However, King Francis was concerned because of her fragile health she would not survive the harsh Scottish weather and it’s sometimes violent political climate. So he proposed an alternative bride from his extended family Marie of Bourbon who he would regard as a daughter and provide a dowry. In 1536 King James V travelled to France to meet his prospective bride, however on meeting Marie he was not impressed by her. He travelled to the French court, met Madeleine, and the two of them fell in love. They both persuaded King Francis to agree to the marriage which he eventually did. James and Madeleine were married in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on 1 January 1537. King Francis provided a very generous dowry which greatly bolstered the Scottish Treasury.

The wedding was followed by four months of festivities. It felt appropriate due to Madeleine’s health to delay their journey to Scotland until the Spring. They departed France in a fleet of 10 ships and arrived in Leith on 19 May 1537. Madeleine kissed the earth when she arrived in her husband’s kingdom. In preparation for her arrival, James ordered improvements to Falkland Palace and the Chapel Royal. He was also in the process of building new tennis courts and had added a tower built in a French style to Holyrood Palace. A coronation was also planned for Madeleine. However, her health suddenly deteriorated, and she died in the arms of James on 7 July 1537. She was a month short of her 17th birthday. She was buried with great pomp and ceremony in the Royal Chapel of Holyrood Abbey. A year later James married again to Marie of Guise the widowed Duchess of Longueville and a good friend of Madeleine. He would only outlive Madeleine by five years dying in 1542 age 30. Having already lost two infant sons, he left a six day old daughter to succeed to the Scottish throne. Her name would become well known to history, Mary Queen of Scots, but that is another story. James was buried beside his Summer Queen in Holyrood Abbey.

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