Crowning a Queen of Scots: the case of Marie of Lorraine (1540)

Mid-June 1538. Marie, a young princess of 22 and mother of a small son, embarked without her child on a vessel, left the French coast, crossed the North sea and arrived with her retinue on the east coast of Scotland. The previous month, this eldest daughter of the duke of Guise and dowager duchess of Longueville had married by proxy a widowed man of 24, the king of Scots James V.

Shortly after Queen Marie’s arrival, the marriage was celebrated again in the great abbey church of St Andrews. However, unlike any of the other foreign princesses who, since 1424, had become Queen consort, Queen Marie was not crowned or anointed on her wedding day. In fact, her coronation took place eighteen months later, and this time in accordance with a tradition established in 1449. Queen Marie was crowned and anointed on February 22, 1540 in the church of Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh. There are no extant images and only a few short descriptions of the ceremony, but the new Queen of Scots may have worn a dress similar to the robe of Margaret of Denmark, Queen consort of King James III, as shown on the Trinity Altarpiece :

Hugo van der Goes, Trinity Altarpiece panel, c. 1470, detail: Margaret of Denmark, Queen of James III. Scottish National Gallery, Edinburg. Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020, RCIN 403260.

Only two contemporary descriptions of the coronation of a Queen consort of Scotland have survived, the first (1449) concerns Queen Marie of Guelders, the second (1503) Queen Margaret Tudor, and both young women were married and crowned on the same day. How is the long wait of Queen Marie to be explained? Why is this event not echoed in literature, poetry or in any contemporary letter? Who was invited and furthermore, is it likely that a jousting was held on that day of February 1540, in the heart of the Scottish winter?

On coronation day 1540, Queen Marie’s robes may also have ressembled those of Queen dowager Margaret, her mother-in-law who, on the day of her own coronation in 1503, had worn a sumptuous robe of crimson velvet and cloth of gold, and a precious imperial crown.

Book of Hours of James IV, c. 1503, detail: Margaret Tudor, Queen of James IV. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna. © ÖNB/Wien, Cod. 1897, fol. 243v.

The initial research on Marie of Lorraine’s coronation was shared at a colloquium that took place in the city of Nancy (Lorraine, France) on November 7th-8th, 2019, entitled « Sacres et couronnements dans l’Occident chrétien ». The resulting article (in French) is now available (April 27, 2023) in « Sacres et couronnements en Europe. Rite, politique et société, du Moyen Age à nous jours », edited by Jean-François Gicquel (d. 2021), Catherine Guyon and Bruno Maes, at Presses Universitaires de Rennes (PUR).

This rather late publication date is finally quite on time: on Saturday May 6th, 2023, at Westminster Abbey, will take place the coronation of King Charles III and his Queen consort Camilla, who had to wait for much longer to be crowned!


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