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The English Queens of France

Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk

On an August day, over 500 years ago, Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, was promised in marriage to the French king, Louis XII.  She would wed him several months later. The spectacular ceremony in Abbeville in Northern France transformed Mary into the Queen of France.  No other English princess held that title after her.  In fact, only one other daughter of a King of England had married a King of France when Eadgifu of Wessex married Charles III almost five hundred years before Mary’s wedding day.  But the two English queens of France make very interesting reading.

Daughters of parents who grabbed the Throne

Mary and Eadgifu were both daughters of conquering kings.  Mary’s dad was Henry VII who as plain old Henry Tudor turned up at Bosworth in August 1485 and captured the crown of England from Richard III in one of the most famous battles in history.  Her mother was Elizabeth of York who had a better claim to the throne than Henry but who ended up consort rather than regnant when the victor of Bosworth married her after establishing his own hold on power first.

Eadgifu was the daughter of Edward the Elder who became King of England in 899 on the death of his very famous father, Alfred the Great.  But despite the unifying work done by Alfred, Edward still had to battle for the crown as his cousin – son of Alfred’s older brother Aethelread – also reckoned he was king.  But within a few years, Edward was in control and had even expanded his power.  Eadgifu was his first child by his second wife, Aelfflaed, who married him in the same year he became king.

Teenage brides to kings without sons

Eadgifu was about seventeen when she married the forty year old Charles III in 919 – she was born around 902. Charles had originally married in 907 and had six daughters with his first queen, Frederonne, who died in 917.  By the time he married Eadgifu he was desperate for a son and his new consort duly provided one – a boy called Louis who was born in 920.

The age gap between Mary and her French king was even greater – she was eighteen on her wedding day, October 9th 1514, while Louis XII was fifty two.  He had been married twice – firstly to his cousin, Joan, and then to Anne of Brittany with whom he had two daughters.  Queen Anne had died in January 1514 and almost immediately her widower started negotiating for a new bride in the hope of having a son.  His wedding to Mary was confirmed around six months later and soon there was a new consort in France.

Kings to the left and queens to the right

As well as being queens themselves, Eadgifu and Mary both spent most of their lives surrounded by monarchs.  Just about everyone Eadgifu was related to had a crown of some description. As well as her father and grandfather, three of her half brothers were kings of England – Aethelstan, Edmund and Eadred all ruled the realm.  Her sister, Eadgyth, married the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I, while her son, grandson and great grandson all ruled France.

Mary not only had the King of England, Henry VIII, as a brother, her only surviving sister had become Queen of Scotland.  Margaret Tudor married James IV in 1503 and their son, James, became king in 1513 on the death of his father. Margaret was regent of Scotland in the year that Mary wed Louis. Henry named his daughter with Catherine of Aragon after Mary and that little girl would also grow up to wear a crown as England’s first queen regnant.

A double dose of matrimony

Queen Mary was consort for just three months before Louis XII died – according to some reports because he was exhausted from trying to father an heir. And almost straight away, Mary traded in a promise. To get her to marry Louis, Henry VIII said that if she were ever widowed she could pick her next husband.  Mary already knew who that man would be and less than two months after her husband’s death she married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.

Eadgifu also took another husband.  Charles III was deposed in 923 and would die in prison in 929. By then Eadgifu was back in England with their son, Louis, and they only returned to France in 936 when Louis took the throne.  Fifteen years later his mum married a count called Heribert of Omois in mysterious circumstances and never set foot in England again.

And so into history

Mary and Charles had annoyed Henry with their marriage but he got over it fairly quickly when they promised to pay him a large amount of money.  They settled happily in England and had four children but Mary began to weaken and in 1533 she died at the age of 37.  But her and Charles’ granddaughter, Lady Jane Grey, was briefly queen when she was declared regnant for nine days in 1553.

Eadgifu died sometime after her second marriage and most probably before 955.  Her son’s line ruled France for fifty years until her great grandson, Louis V, died in 987 and brought the Carolingian kings to an end.  But her legacy lived on – another great granddaughter, Bertha, married the second Capetian monarch of France, Robert II.

No other English princess after Mary Tudor married a king of France. Mary and Eadgifu remain the only two English queens of France.

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About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.