The Forgotten Queen of Scots: Madeleine of Valois | History Hit

The Forgotten Queen of Scots: Madeleine of Valois

Amy Irvine

08 Jun 2023
Madeleine d'Ecosse (from Portrait de Madeleine d'Ecosse, by Corneille de Lyon)
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Musée des Beaux-Arts de Blois / Public Domain

Madeleine of Valois was a French Princess who played a brief but significant role in European history as the first wife of James V of Scotland and, for a short time, the Queen of Scotland.

Madeleine’s poor health meant she died only six months after their wedding day – her short time as Consort led her to receive the nickname the ‘Summer Queen’ of Scots. Despite her short reign and tragically young death, Madeleine left both a direct and indirectly lasting impact on the tumultuous political landscape of Scotland.

Who was Madeleine of Valois and what impact did she have?

Early life

Madeleine of Valois was the fifth child and third daughter of King Francis I and Claude, Duchess of Brittany.

She was born at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye in France on 10 August 1520. Frail since birth, Madeleine was raised in the mild climate of the Loire Valley region to protect her from the cold.

When Madeleine was 3 years old, her mother died, and she, along with her younger sister Marguerite, was raised by their paternal aunt, Marguerite of Navarre. However, after their father remarried Eleanor of Austria, Madeleine became part of her household.

By the age of 16, Madeleine had developed tuberculosis, the same illness that likely claimed her mother’s life.

Marriage to James V

Madeleine’s marriage to James V was a result of diplomatic alliances between the Valois and Stuart dynasties.

The Treaty of Rouen, signed three years before Madeleine’s birth, aimed to strengthen the ‘Auld Alliance’ between France and Scotland after Scotland’s shattering defeat by England at the Battle of Flodden. One provision of the treaty was the marriage of a French princess to the Scottish king. King James V was only 5 years old at the time of the Treaty, thus negotiations on the marriage did not begin until 1530.

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In April 1530, John Stewart, Duke of Albany, was appointed commissioner to finalise the royal marriage between James V and Madeleine – the French King Francis I’s eldest living daughter. However, due to Madeleine’s poor health, Francis proposed an alternative French bride, Mary of Bourbon, from his extended family, who was to be given a dowry as if she were the French king’s daughter.

James V agreed to marry Mary, and travelled to France in 1536 to meet her. However, upon his arrival, Mary didn’t appeal to him and instead he became enamoured with Madeleine, promptly asking her father Francis I for her hand in marriage. Initially, Francis I refused, fearing that Scotland’s climate would worsen Madeleine’s fragile health.

Smitten by 16 year old Madeleine’s delicate beauty, James V continued to press Francis I to permit the marriage. Madeleine also made her desire to marry James very obvious, thus despite his reservations, Francis I reluctantly granted them permission. The marriage contract was made at Blois, where Madeleine renounced her claims to the French throne, and Francis I provided a substantial dowry.

James V and Madeleine were married on 1 January 1537 at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris – Madeleine was 16 and James was 30. The union was celebrated with four months of festivities, strengthening the bond between France and Scotland and fulfilling the terms of the Treaty of Rouen. Due to Madeleine’s health, their journey to Scotland was delayed until spring.

Left: Madeleine de Valois. Right: Portrait of James V of Scotland by Corneille de Lyon. Centre: Coat of arms of Madeleine of Valois as Queen consort of Scots

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Madeleine’s illness and death

James and Madeleine eventually sailed for Scotland, arriving on 19 May 1537, yet by this time, Madeleine’s health had deteriorated further, and she was very unwell when the royal couple landed at Leith. Despite this, Madeleine is said to have kissed the ground upon arriving in her husband’s kingdom.

In preparation for her arrival, James had ordered improvements to Falkland Palace and the Chapel Royal, and was also in the process of building new tennis courts, and had added a French-style tower to Holyrood Palace.

However, Madeleine fell seriously ill shortly after arriving in Scotland, possibly due to tuberculosis. She was bedridden and unable to fullfill her role as queen consort. Despite her illness, Madeleine’s presence brought a touch of French culture and refinement – known for her beauty, grace, and intelligence, Madeleine quickly became beloved by the Scottish court.

Although expressing some improvement in a letter to her father from Edinburgh on 8 June 1537, James V was concerned enough to also write to him requesting the physician Master Francisco to be sent. Madeleine later wrote that Francisco would only be needed to perfect her cure.

Plans were underway for Madeleine’s coronation as Queen of Scotland, yet her health continued to decline. A month later, she died of tuberculosis in her husband’s arms on 7 July 1537 at Holyrood Palace, aged 16 – just 6 months and 7 days after their wedding. She was interred in the Royal Chapel at Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh, next to King James II of Scotland.

Her death left James V devastated, and plunged Scotland into mourning.

James V’s remarriage

Following Madeleine’s death, James V sought another French bride to maintain the Franco-Scottish alliance.

David Beaton was sent to France to negotiate with King Francis I for James to marry his only surviving daughter, Margaret. However, Francis instead offered Mary of Guise, the recently widowed Duchess of Longueville and a close friend of Madeleine, as a bride.

Thus, less than a year after Madeleine’s death, James married Mary of Guise. They had two infant sons: James and Robert; however, both died in 1541. Their third child, a daughter named Mary, was born on 8 December 1542.

James V only outlived Madeleine by 5 years by the time of his death on 14 December 1542, aged 30, shortly after the Battle of Solway Moss. This subsequently left his 6 day old daughter, Mary, as the heir to the Scottish throne, who later became known as Mary, Queen of Scots. James was buried beside Madeleine in Holyrood Abbey.

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Madeleine’s impact on political dynamics

Madeleine’s short reign means that her legacy is often overlooked by the events that followed her death. However, her marriage to James V (with the intention of strengthening the alliance between France and Scotland) played a significant role in the political dynamics between Scotland, France, and England during a crucial period that shaped the balance of power in Europe.

Madeleine’s death left James V without a direct heir, contributing to the succession crisis that unfolded in Scotland after his death when his daughter Mary ascended the throne at just 6 days old.

Madeleine’s legacy on art and culture

Despite her short life, Madeleine also had a notable impact on the arts. She had a deep appreciation for music and supported several musicians and composers of the time, contributing to the flourishing of the arts in the French court.

In the realm of art, Madeleine is often depicted as a symbol of youthful beauty and elegance. Paintings and portraits of the time depict her grace and refinement, highlighting her status as a princess of the Valois dynasty.

Although her time as Queen of Scotland was brief, Madeleine of Valois remains an intriguing figure. While she may be less well-known compared to other Scottish queens, her role and the impact of her untimely death should not be overlooked.

Amy Irvine