Friday, 15 May 2009

Mary’s betrothal to Henri, duc d'Orléans, 1527

I thought it would be interesting to do some occasional posts on various images of or connected to Mary.

When most people think of Mary they frequently picture the notable portraits of her as queen – namely the wonderful Hans Eworth of Antonis Mor images. The very young Mary can often be overlooked, although admittedly we have few images of her as a preadolescent.

This image of Mary is from a marriage contract between herself and Henri, duc d'Orléans (second son of François I of France). Henri is depicted on the left and between himself and Mary is Hymenaeus, the God of marriage. The marriage contract was ratified on the 18th August 1527 and signified a peace treaty between Henry VIII and François. There had previously been discussion of a marriage between the widowed François and the eleven year old Mary, although it was decided that the eight year old Henri would be her prospective husband.

Mary had previously been betrothed to Henri’s elder brother, the dauphin of France (the heir to the French throne) although the match broke when Henry repudiated the peace treaty between England and France and betrothed Mary instead to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (who was Katherine of Aragon’s nephew, hence Mary’s first cousin). After Charles subsequently abandoned Mary to marry Isabella of Portugal, Henry turned back to France and the treaty of Amiens was made.

Accompanying this newfound friendship between France and England was the exchange of honours. François installed Henry as a knight of the Order of St Michael in November 1527 and in the same month Henry made the French king a knight of the Garter. The statutes of the Order of the Garter that was presented to François can be seen to the left. At the bottom there is a woman holding together the Tudor rose and the French fleurs-de-lis, indicating the unity between the two kings. She is Concord and it has been suggested that she is representing Princess Mary, whose marriage to the French prince would cement the treaty.

Ultimately Mary and Henri did not marry – talk of the marriage dissolved with the alliance and when Mary’s status was attacked by father’s decision to annul his first marriage. The year in which Henry VIII officially annulled his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and Mary was subsequently illegitimatised marked Henri’s marriage to Catherine de’Medici. Both Henri and Mary would go on to be monarchs – Henri became his father’s heir in 1536 and ruled as Henri II (1547-1559). Despite the peaceful tone of the treaty that once promised Mary and Henri to each other, the pair would ultimately engage in conflict and it was to Henri that Mary lost Calais.


Charles Giry-Deloison, ‘A Diplomatic Revolution? Anglo-French Relations and the Treaties of 1527’, in David Starkey (ed.), Henry VIII: A European Court in England (London, 1991), pp. 77-87.

David Starkey, 'The Order of the Garter and St Michael', in David Starkey (ed.), Henry VIII: A European Court in England (London, 1991), pp. 94-99.


  1. Fascinating to learn about these twists and turns of history. Thank you.

  2. I love your blog. I found the link on the Tea at Trianon blog and I always enjoyed the videos you posted on Youtube. I will be sure to visit this great blog more often.

    This was a very informative post. In addition to being betrothed at one point to older brother of Henri, I believe there were negotiations many years later regarding a marriage between Mary and the younger brother, Charles. If I'm not mistaken, it was the failure of this match that led Mary to make the comment - and I'm paraphrasing here - that as long as her father lived, she would only be the Lady Mary, the most unhappy lady in Christendom.

    Interesting to think she was thought of as a potential bride - at different points of time - for all 3 sons of Francis I, not to mention for Francis himself...

  3. Thank you Andy!!

    There was indeed talk of a betrothal between Mary and Charles, duke of Angoulême (later duke of Orleans). Talk had emerged in the early 1530s and was revived again in 1536 (according to historian David Loades, Henry had told the French that he would legitimise Mary if they agreed to a marriage between herself and Charles on condition that Charles remain in England. Henry’s chief concern was securing his own position and evidently he did not want to gain an ambitious son-in-law who he could not monitor – and importantly not monitor Mary who he did not want to leave the realm). Further discussions of the union occurred in the early 1540s and continued on till Charles’s death (which I think occurred in 1545).

    I believe the statement that Mary was the ‘most unhappy lady in Christendom’ was made by Nicholas Udall, a scholar who wrote a tribute to Mary (around the mid to late 1540s). His comments were in response to the failure of all marriage talks concerning Mary, including discussions regarding a union between Mary and Philip of Bavaria. Udall’s claims may be true; Mary by the 1540s was rather mature by sixteenth-century standards to be unmarried. Mary had also been raised as a princess and was therefore bought up to believe that she would make a good marriage and have children. However Udall’s comments seem to overlook the fact that although single, Mary remained a prominent figure in Henry’s court and received wide support and praise. She was in no sense a recluse and she had far more independence than a married woman of her status would have had. She could, and did, enjoy herself – she liked to dance and to gamble and seems to have run up a number of debts! And she had a number of friends and developed a good relationship with her final stepmother. So she may have been unhappy over her unmarried state, but she appears to have adapted herself to the situation and enjoyed herself as much as she could.

  4. Thanks for the additional information, LMS! It would have been better for Mary, I think, had she had the chance to marry earlier. Philip of Bavaria might have been a good match, despite their religious differences. I can't forget Hilda Lewis' interesting dramatization of their encounter in her book "I am Mary Tudor" - which I think is the best work of fiction on Mary's life that I have read. So interesting. Marrying early might have made her future time as Queen a bit easier without having to worry about marriage and producing an heir at her advanced age.

  5. Philip of Bavaria was an interesting choice and his name has been discussed a lot recently online (I assume it is because he featured on a certain TV show :). Admittedly I question whether Mary would have been happy with him. Certainly his faith would have been an issue and Mary even remarked that if she had to marry him on her father’s command she would prefer not to convert to his faith. Whilst Mary was not as bigoted as the traditional image of her relates - she did make friends with individuals who were linked at times to religious reform - she ultimately regarded these views as heretical and she may have been comfortable marrying outside the Catholic faith. Furthermore the English stipulated that if Philip married Mary she was to lose her claim to the throne, and as Mary sincerely believed in her right to be one of Henry’s heirs, this may have caused problems. Philip was said to have made demonstrations of admirations for Mary and even allegedly kissed her, although like all early modern marriages between notable persons the motives were political rather than romantic and I think Mary would have understood this. After all when Philip found out that Mary was not to be given a place in the succession if she married him he left England suddenly, slightly less infatuated with his future bride! Nonetheless political unions could develop into some more – Mary appears to have respected and loved her husband Philip of Spain dearly although they married for dynastic concerns. But admittedly I think Philip of Bavaria’s faith would have got in the way.