Mary Queen of Scots - Jacob Abbott

The Great Wedding

When Mary was about fifteen years of age, the King of France began to think that it was time for her to be married. It is true that she was still very young, but there were strong reasons for having the marriage take place at the earliest possible period, for fear that something might occur to prevent its consummation at all. In fact, there were very strong parties opposed to it altogether. The whole Protestant interest in Scotland were opposed to it, and were continually contriving plans to defeat it. They thought that if Mary married a French prince, who was, of course, a Catholic, she would become wedded to the Catholic interest hopelessly and forever. This made them feel a most bitter and determined opposition to the plan.

In fact, so bitter and relentless were the animosities that grew out of this question, that an attempt was actually made to poison Mary. The man who committed this crime was an archer in the king's guard: he was a Scotchman, and his name was Stewart. His attempt was discovered in time to prevent the accomplishment of his purpose. He was tried and condemned. They made every effort to induce him to explain the reason which led him to such an act, or, if he was employed by others, to reveal their names; but he would reveal nothing. He was executed for his crime, leaving mankind to conjecture that his motive, or that of the persons who instigated him to the deed, was a desperate determination to save Scotland, at all hazards, from falling under the influence of papal power.

Mary's mother, the queen dowager of Scotland, was of a celebrated French family, called the family of Guise. She is often, herself, called in history, Mary of Guise. There were other great families in France who were very jealous of the Guises, and envious of their influence and power. They opposed Queen Mary's marriage to the dauphin, and were ready to do all in their power to thwart and defeat it. Queen Catharine, too, who seemed to feel a greater and greater degree of envy and jealousy against Mary as she saw her increasing in grace, beauty, and influence with her advancing years, was supposed to be averse to the marriage. Mary was, in some sense, her rival, and she could not bear to have her become the wife of her son.

King Henry, finding all these opposing influences at work, thought that the safest plan would be to have the marriage carried into effect at the earliest possible period. When, therefore, Mary was about fifteen years of age, which was in 1557, he sent to Scotland, asking the government there to appoint some commissioners to come to France to assent to the marriage contracts, and to witness the ceremonies of the betrothment and the wedding. The marriage contracts, in the case of the union of a queen of one country with a prince of another, are documents of very high importance. It is considered necessary not only to make very formal provision for the personal welfare and comfort of the wife during her married life, and during her widowhood in case of the death of her husband, but also to settle beforehand the questions of succession which might arise out of the marriage, and to define precisely the rights and powers both of the husband and the wife, in the two countries to which they respectively belong.

The Parliament of Scotland appointed a number of commissioners, of the highest, rank and station, to proceed to France, and to act there as the representatives of Scotland in every thing which pertained to the marriage. They charged them to guard well the rights and powers of Mary, to see that these rights and all the interests of Scotland were well protected in the marriage contracts, and to secure proper provision for the personal comfort and happiness of the queen. The number of these commissioners was eight. Their departure from Scotland was an event of great public importance. They were accompanied by a large number of attendants and followers, who were eager to be present in Paris at the marriage festivities. The whole company arrived safely at Paris, and were received with every possible mark of distinction and honor.

The marriage contracts were drawn up, and executed with great formality. King Henry made no objection to any of the stipulations and provisions which the commissioners required, for he had a secret plan for evading them all. Very ample provision was made for Mary herself. She was to have a very large income. In case the dauphin died while he was dauphin, leaving Mary a widow, she was still to have a large income paid to her by the French government as long as she lived, whether she remained in France or went back to Scotland. If her husband outlived his father, so as to become King of France, and then died, leaving Mary his widow, her income for the rest of her life was to be double what it would have been if he had died while dauphin. Francis was, in the mean time, to share with her the government of Scotland. If they had a son, he was to be, after their deaths, King of France and of Scotland too. Thus the two crowns would have been united. If, on the other hand, they had only daughters, the oldest one was to be Queen of Scotland only, as the laws of France did not allow a female to inherit the throne. In case they had no children, the crown of Scotland was not to come into the French family at all, but to descend regularly to the next Scotch heir.

Henry was not satisfied with this entirely, for he wanted to secure the union of the Scotch and French crowns at all events, whether Mary had children or not; and he persuaded Mary to sign some papers with him privately, which he thought would secure his purposes, charging her not to let the commissioners know that she had signed them. He thought it possible that he should never have, occasion to produce them. One of these papers conveyed the crown of Scotland to the King of France absolutely and forever, in case Mary should die without children. Another provided that the Scotch government should repay him for the enormous sums he had expended upon Mary during her residence in France, for her education, her attendants, the celebrations and galas which he had provided for her, and all the splendid journeys, processions, and parades. His motive in all this expense had been to unite the crown of Scotland to that of France, and he wished to provide that if any thing should occur to prevent the execution of his plan, he could have all this money reimbursed to him again. He estimated the amount at a million of pieces of gold. This was an enormous sum: it shows on how magnificent a scale Mary's reception and entertainment in France were managed.

These preliminary proceedings being settled, all Paris, and, in fact, all France, began to prepare for the marriage celebrations. There were to be two great ceremonies connected with the occasion. The first was the betrothment, the second was the marriage. At the betrothment Francis and Mary were to meet in a great public hall, and there, in the presence of a small and select assemblage of the lords and ladies of the court, and persons of distinction connected with the royal family, they were formally and solemnly to engage themselves to each other. Then, in about a week afterward, they were to be married, in the most public manner, in the great Cathedral Church of Notre Dame.

The ceremony of the betrothal was celebrated in the palace. The palace then occupied by the royal family was the Louvre. It still stands, but is no longer a royal dwelling. Another palace, more modern in its structure, and called the Tuileries, has since been built, a little farther from the heart of the city, and in a more pleasant situation. The Louvre is square, with an open court in the center. This open court or area is very large, and is paved like the streets. In fact, two great carriage ways pass through it, crossing each other at right angles in the center, and passing out under great archways in the four sides of the building. There is a large hall within the palace, and in this hall the ceremony of the betrothal took place. Francis and Mary pledged their faith to each other with appropriate ceremonies. Only a select circle of relations and intimate friends were present on this occasion. The ceremony was concluded in the evening with a ball.

In the mean time, all Paris was busy with preparations for the marriage. The Louvre is upon one side of the River Seine, its principal front being toward the river, with a broad street between. There are no buildings, but only a parapet wall on the river side of the street, so that there is a fine view of the river and of the bridges which cross it, from the palace windows. Nearly opposite the Louvre is an island, covered with edifices, and connected, by means of bridges, with either shore. The great church of Notre Dame, where the marriage ceremony was to be performed, is upon this island. It has two enormous square towers in front, which may be seen, rising above all the roofs of the city, at a great distance in every direction. Before the church is a large open area, where vast crowds assemble on any great occasion. The interior of the church impresses the mind with the sublimest emotions. Two rows of enormous columns rise to a great height on either hand, supporting the lofty arches of the roof. The floor is paved with great flat stones, and resounds continually with the footsteps of visitors, who walk to and fro, up and down the aisles, looking at the chapels, the monuments, the sculptures, the paintings, and the antique and grotesque images and carvings. Colored light streams through the stained glass of the enormous windows, and the tones of the organ, and the voices of the priests, chanting the service of the mass, are almost always resounding and echoing from the vaulted roof above.

The words Notre Dame  mean Our Lady, an expression by which the Roman Catholics denote Mary, the mother of Jesus. The church of Notre Dame had been for many centuries the vast cathedral church of Paris, where all great ceremonies of state were performed. On this occasion they erected a great amphitheater in the area before the church, which would accommodate many thousands of the spectators who were to assemble, and enable them to see the procession. The bride and bridegroom, and their friends, were to assemble in the bishop's palace, which was near the Cathedral, and a covered gallery was erected, leading from this palace to the church. through which the bridal party were to enter. They lined this gallery throughout with purple velvet, and ornamented it in other ways, so as to make the approach to the church through it inconceivably splendid.

Crowds began to collect in the great amphitheater early in the morning. The streets leading to Notre Dame were thronged. Every window in all the lofty buildings around, and every balcony, was full. From ten to twelve the military bands began to arrive, and the long procession was formed, the different parties being dressed in various picturesque costumes. The ambassadors of various foreign potentates were present, each bearing their appropriate insignia. The legate of the pope, magnificently dressed, had an attendant bearing before him a cross of massive gold. The bridegroom, Francis the dauphin, followed this legate, and soon afterward came Mary, accompanied by the king. She was dressed in white. Her robe was embroidered with the figure of the lily, and it glittered with diamonds and ornaments of silver. As was the custom in those days, her dress formed a long train, which was borne by two young girls who walked behind her. She wore a diamond necklace, with a ring of immense value suspended from it, and upon her head was a golden coronet, enriched with diamonds and gems of inestimable value.

But the dress and the diamonds which Mary wore were not the chief points of attraction to the spectators. All who were present on the occasion agree in saying that she looked inexpressibly beautiful, and that there was an indescribable grace and charm in all her movements and manner, which filled all who saw her with an intoxication of delight. She was artless and unaffected in her manners, and her countenance, the expression of which was generally placid and calm, was lighted up with the animation and interest of the occasion, so as to make every body envy the dauphin the possession of so beautiful a bride. Queen Catharine, and a long train of the ladies of the court, followed in the procession after Mary. Every body thought she  felt envious and ill at ease.

The essential thing in the marriage ceremony was to be the putting of the wedding ring upon Mary's finger, and the pronouncing of the nuptial benediction which was immediately to follow it. This ceremony was to be performed by the Archbishop of Rouen, who was at that time the greatest ecclesiastical dignitary in France. In order that as many persons as possible might witness this, it was arranged that it should be performed at the great door of the church, so as to be in view of the immense throng which had assembled in the amphitheater erected in the area, and of the multitudes which had taken their positions at the windows and balconies, and on the house-tops around. The procession, accordingly, having entered the church through the covered gallery, moved along the aisles and came to the great door. Here a royal pavilion had been erected, where the bridal party could stand in view of the whole assembled multitude. King Henry had the ring. He gave it to the archbishop. The archbishop placed it upon Mary's finger, and pronounced the benediction in a loud voice. The usual congratulations followed, and Mary greeted her husband under the name of his majesty the King of Scotland. Then the whole mighty crowd rent the air with shouts and acclamations.

It was the custom in those days, on such great public occasions as this, to scatter money among the crowd, that they might scramble for it. This was called the king's largess; and the largess was pompously proclaimed by heralds before the money was thrown. The throwing of the money among this immense throng produced a scene of indescribable confusion. The people precipitated themselves upon each other in their eagerness to seize the silver and the gold. Some were trampled under foot. Some were stripped of their hats and cloaks, or had their clothes torn from them. Some fainted, and were borne out of the scene with infinite difficulty and danger. At last the people clamorously begged the officers to desist from throwing any more money, for fear that the most serious and fatal consequences might ensue.

In the mean time, the bridal procession returned into the church, and, advancing up the center between the lofty columns, they came to a place called the choir, which is in the heart of the church, and is inclosed by screens of carved and sculptured work. It is in the choir that congregations assemble to be present at mass and other religious ceremonies. Movable seats are placed here on ordinary occasions, but at the time of this wedding the place was fitted up with great splendor. Here mass was performed in the presence of the bridal party. Mass is a solemn ceremony conducted by the priest, in which they renew, or think they renew, the sacrifice of Christ, accompanied with offerings of incense, and other acts of adoration, and the chanting of solemn hymns of praise.

At the close of these services the procession moved again down the church, and, issuing forth at the great entrance, it passed around upon a spacious platform, where it could be seen to advantage by all the spectators. Mary was the center to which all eyes were turned. She moved along, the very picture of grace and beauty, the two young girls who followed her bearing her train. The procession, after completing its circuit, returned to the church, and thence, through the covered gallery, it moved back to the bishop's palace. Here the company partook of a grand collation. After the collation there was a ball, but the ladies were too much embarrassed with their magnificent dresses to be able to dance, and at five o'clock the royal family returned to their home. Mary and Queen Catharine went together in a sort of palanquin, borne by men, high officers of state walking on each side. The king and the dauphin followed on horseback, with a large company in their train; but the streets were every where so crowded with eager spectators that it was with extreme difficulty that they were able to make their way.

The palace to which the party went to spend the evening was fitted up and illuminated in the most splendid manner, and a variety of most curious entertainments had been contrived for the amusement of the company. There were twelve artificial horses, made to move by internal mechanism, and splendidly caparisoned. The children of the company, the little princes and dukes, mounted these horses and rode around the arena. Then came in a company of men dressed like pilgrims, each of whom recited a poem written in honor of the occasion. After this was an exhibition of galleys, or boats, upon a little sea. These boats were large enough to bear up two persons. There were two seats in each, one of which was occupied by a young gentleman. As the boats advanced, one by one, each gentleman leaped to the shore, or to what represented the shore, and, going among the company, selected a lady and bore her off to his boat, and then, seating her in the vacant chair, took his place by her side, and continued his voyage. Francis was in one of the boats, and he, on coming to the shore, took Mary  for his companion.

The celebrations and festivities of this famous wedding continued for fifteen days. They closed with a grand tournament. A tournament was a very magnificent spectacle in those days. A field was inclosed, in which kings, and princes, and knights, fully armed, and mounted on war horses, tilted against each other with lances and blunted swords. Ladies of high rank were present as spectators and judges, and one was appointed at each tournament to preside, and to distribute the honors and rewards to those who were most successful in the contests. The greatest possible degree of deference and honor was paid to the ladies by all the knights on these occasions. Once, at a tournament in London, arranged by a king of England, the knights and noblemen rode in a long procession to the field, each led by a lady by means of a silver chain. It was a great honor to be admitted to a share in these contests, as none but persons of the highest rank were allowed to take a part in them. Whenever one was to be held, invitations were sent to all the courts of Europe, and kings, queens, and sovereign princes came to witness the spectacle.

The horsemen who contended on these occasions carried long lances, blunt, indeed, at the end, so that they could not penetrate the armor of the antagonist at whom they were aimed, but yet of such weight that the momentum of the blow was sometimes sufficient to unhorse him. The great object of every combatant was, accordingly, to protect himself form this danger. He must turn his horse suddenly, and avoid the lance of his antagonist; or he must strike it with his own, and thus parry the blow; or if he must encounter it, he was to brace himself firmly in his saddle, and resist its impulse with all the strength that he could command. It required, therefore, great strength and great dexterity to excel in a tournament. In fact, the rapidity of the evolutions which it required gave origin to the name, the word tournament being formed from a French word tourner, which signifies to turn.

The princes and nobelmen who were present at the wedding all joined in the tournament except the poor bridegroom, who was too weak and feeble in body, and too timid in mind, for any such rough and warlike exercises. Francis was very plain and unprepossessing in countenance, and shy and awkward in his manners. His health had always been very infirm, and though his rank was very high, as he was the heir apparent to what was then the greatest throne in Europe, every body thought that in all other respects he was unfit to be the husband of such a beautiful and accomplished princess as Mary. He was timid, shy, and anxious and unhappy in disposition. He knew that the gay and warlike spirits around him could not look upon him with respect, and he felt a painful sense of his inferiority.

Mary, however, loved him. It was a love, perhaps, mingled with pity. She did not assume an air of superiority over him, but endeavored to encourage him, to lead him forward, to inspire him with confidence and hope, and to make him feel his own strength and value. She was herself of a sedate and thoughtful character, and with all her intellectual superiority, she was characterized by that feminine gentleness of spirit, that disposition to follow and to yield rather than to govern, that desire to be led and to be loved rather than to lead and be admired, which constitute the highest charm of woman.

Francis was glad when the celebrations, tournament and all, were well over. He set off from Paris with his young bride to one of his country residences, where he could live, for a while, in peace and quietness. Mary was released, in some degree, from the restraints, and formalities, and rules of etiquette of King Henry's court, and was, to some extent, her own mistress, though still surrounded with many attendants, and much parade and splendor. The young couple thus commenced the short period of their married life. They were certainly a very young couple, being both of them under sixteen.

The rejoicings on account of the marriage were not confined to Paris. All Scotland celebrated the event with much parade. The Catholic party there were pleased with the final consummation of the event, and all the people, in fact, joined, more or less, in commemorating the marriage of their queen. There is in the Castle of Edinburgh, on a lofty platform which overlooks a broad valley, a monstrous gun, several centuries old, which was formed of bars of iron secured by great iron hoops. The balls which this gun carried are more than a foot in diameter. The name of this enormous piece of ordnance is Mons Meg. It is now disabled, having been burst, many years ago, and injured beyond the possibility of repair. There were great rejoicings in Edinburgh at the time of Mary's marriage, and from some old accounts which still remain at the castle, it appears that ten shillings were paid to some men for moving up Mons Meg  to the embrasure of the battery, and for finding and bringing back her shot after she was discharged; by which it appears that firing Mons Meg was a part of the celebration by which the people of Edinburgh honored the marriage of their queen.