Princess Magdalena of Valois, king James V Stewart’s first wife

In the first half of the 16th century, France and Scotland were not only bound together by the Auld Alliance, a treaty of mutual military assistance between the two kingdoms dating at least from the 13th century. France then hosted many Scots : merchants and sailors living in the cities of Rouen and Dieppe, soldiers and men-at-arms serving in French armies, and scholars and students studying at French universities, in particular at the Paris Sorbonne. While Scotland saw mostly Scottish men leave for the continent, France sent not only many soldiers to Scotland, but also women, and amongst them, three princesses.

Margaret Tudor, the English born wife of James IV Stewart, was 16th century Scotland’s first queen. But in 1528, her son James V became of age, seized power and decided to choose his own wife not in England, but on the Continent, hesitating between Denmark and France. His choice fell on Magdalen or Magdalena of Valois (1520-1537), a daughter of queen Claude and Francis I, the powerful king of France. Magdalena was the first of three 16th century French queens of Scotland, the second and third being Marie of Lorraine, duchess of Longueville and her daughter Mary Stewart, queen of France and Scotland.

Corneille de Lyon, Madeleine de France. © R-G. Ojéda/RMN-Grand Palais

Corneille de la Haye or Corneille de Lyon, Portrait of Magdalena of France, c. 1536 © R-G. Ojéda/RMN-Grand Palais

Magdalena’s short life was swiftly made into a romantic love story between the fragile French princess and the dashing young king of Scotland. From Scottish poet Sir David Lindsay‘s Deploratioun of the Death of Quene Magdalene (1537) onwards, the sixteen year old French princess travelling in a chariot, her state of health not allowing her to ride on horseback, became the image of a sweet young lily of France meeting her glamorous prince in shiny armour. This story had to please the romantic 19th century. Scottish author Robert Chambers (1802-1871), in his Book of Days published in Edinburgh in 1869, refers to David Lindsay’s words that Magdalene loved her king « so weel, that she weld have no man alive to her husband, but he allenarly »:

The death of the French princess, Magdalen, consort of James V of Scotland, is a very affecting incident. The young Scottish monarch had voyaged to France in the summer of 1536, to see the daughter of the Duc de Vendome, with a view to marriage; but, not affecting her on intimate acquaintance, he turned his thoughts to the royal family as likely to furnish him a better bride. The king, Francis I, received him with great kindness at a place to the south of Lyon, and thence conducted him to a castle where his family was residing. He found the Princess Magdalen unable to ride on horseback, as her mother and other ladies did, but obliged by weakness of health to be carried in a chariot. ‘Yet, notwithstanding her sickness’ —so the contemporary Scottish historian Lindsay informs us—’fra the time she saw the king of Scotland, and spak with him, she became so enamoured of him, and loved him so weel, that she weld have no man alive to her husband, but he allenarly [only].’

It is remarkable that following Lindsay’s – and subsequently Chambers’ – story, the power of decision over a state mariage is abandoned to a young and fragile princess, Magdalena of Valois, who, after falling in love with a foreign prince and king, insists on having it her way. Magdalena wants to become queen and put a crown on her head. Literary motives and romance are taking over and hide the historical facts. Even the wedding and festivities are marked by fantastic events like these « profound necromancers, who by their art caused things appear which were not »:

Sage counsellors of both countries discommended the union; but the young princess easily induced her father to consent, and the consent of the king of Scotland followed. On the 1st of January, the pair were united in the church of Notre Dame, in the presence of seven cardinals and a great assemblage of the French nobility, amidst circumstances of great pomp and popular joy. ‘Through all France that day, there was jousting and running of horse proclaimed, with all other manly exercise; as also skirmishing of ships through all the coasts; so that in towns, lands, seas, firths, castles, and towers, there was no man that might have heard for the raird [uproar] and noise of cannons, nor scarcely have seen for the vapours thereof. There was also within the town of Paris, cunning carvers and profound necromancers, who by their art caused things appear whilk wes not, as follows: fowls flying in the air spouting fire on others, rivers of water running through the town and ships fechtand therupon.’ (

Furthermore, the young princess is not only beautiful and much in love with her prince, she is also the daughter of the French king, meaning she is bringing money and riches to Scotland. After all, young James V Stewart made a not so romantic bargain. According to David Lindsay and Robert Chambers, the love story continues when the young couple arrives in Leith, near the city of Edinburgh. Magdalen loves the king, but she also loves Scotland and the Scottish people, who instantly fall in love with the French princess. Magdalen’s early death highlights the romantic impact she had in Scotland. Through her death, she unites Scotland in its first general mourning:

With his young bride, and a hundred thousand crowns by way of dowry, gifted moreover with twenty war-horses, as many suits of elegant mail, two great warships, and a vast quantity of jewels and other minor articles, the young Scottish monarch set sail for his own country. Landing at Leith on Whit Sunday, the young queen, full of love for her husband and his country, knelt on the shore, took up a handful of sand, and kissed it, invoking God’s blessing upon Scotland. She was received in Edinburgh with triumphs and shows of unexampled grandeur, with, what was far better, the affectionate reverence of the entire people. But the doom had already been passed upon her. She withered like an uprooted flower, and only forty days from her arrival, lay a corpse in her husband’s palace. The death of this beautiful young creature in such interesting circumstances, made a deep impression on the national heart, and it is understood to have been the first occasion of a general mourning being assumed in Scotland. (

Historically, Magdalena was not a Scottish queen: there was no time to crown the princess before her early death. However, King James V did not die of a broken heart. After he had put his first queen in a tomb in Holyrood abbey, he went back to his papers brought from France and started looking for a replacement. He even tried to secure another daughter of Francis I, but the king of France refused.

1538. This time, there was no romantic love story. James V Stewart’s new wife was no naive little princess dreaming of kings, white horses and crowns. Marie of Lorraine, duchess of Longueville, was a young woman of twenty-two who had already lost a husband and a son. She knew James V’s first wife Magdalena. What did she feel when she came to Scotland to replace her friend, and found Magdalen’s belongings at Holyrood palace? Many thoughts and souvenirs must have crossed her mind when she knelt at Magdalen’s tomb in Holyrood abbey.

Marie of Lorraine was crowned on 22th February 1540 at Holyrood abbey, the first 16th century French princess to become a Scottish Queen in her own right.




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