Aug
26
2010

What was Mary Queen of Scots’ wedding like for ordinary Parisians?

Henry IV celebrates entry into Paris 1594

No wedding pictures, but 40 years later another procession went through Paris to the cathedral.

When Mary Stuart married François, Dauphin of France, in 1558 what could the public see? For days in advance the city was busy. Workers set up theatres inside the palace, and hung draperies inside and outside the cathedral. Many people earned extra pennies constructing walkways and a stage with vineleaf decoration in the cathedral square. Dressmakers and embroiderers were in demand. Early on the wedding day itself the city was full of activity. With a grand parade due at 10 o’clock, there must have been hundreds of participants gathering as well as sweepers, street sellers etc.

Swiss guards in fine uniform armed with halberds were first to arrive in the open space in front of Notre Dame cathedral, their drums and fifes sounding every half hour. A huge crowd was waiting there, and also in nearby streets and at upstairs windows. The powerful Duke of Guise went up onto the stage to greet the Bishop of Paris and a string of nobles and gentlemen. Then he moved them on with a wave of the hand so they would not block the view for the masses.

After the guards came numerous musicians in red and yellow livery, playing trumpets, oboes, flutes, violins, guitars, and more. The reporter* found the music delightful. Next were the king’s one hundred gentlemen, followed by princes with marvellous clothing and finery. Then came three bishops wearing mitres, and after them cardinals walking behind a display of gold crosses and church treasures. At last the royal family appeared, the bride dressed in white with a jewel-studded crown. A retinue of princesses and ladies followed. Their attire was so splendid that  the writer excused himself from describing them on the grounds that he would have to be too long-winded.

The cathedral door was framed with draperies of royal blue covered with fleurs-de-lis. It was here that the king stood when everyone had arrived. He took a gold ring from his finger and handed it ceremoniously to the Archbishop who would lead the marriage service.

The public part of the celebration was reaching a climax. The Duke returned to the stage with two heralds at arms. The heralds called out “largesse” (generous gift) three times before throwing quantities of gold and silver into the crowd: coins from ducats to douzains. We hardly need the record to tell us there was “clamour” and “tumult” as people threw themselves at the money. Hats and cloaks were lost in the scramble. Some people felt so squashed they called out to the heralds to stop.

Meanwhile the royal party and their guests were at the wedding Mass inside the cathedral. Afterwards the king came out and led them all along a specially-built wooden gallery to the 12 foot high stage to let the public see them clearly. And then it was dinner, dancing, music, and entertainment for invited guests only. A large crowd hung around for glimpses of the VIPs moving from one grand building to another. They saw Mary and the queen carried in a litter, along with king, dauphin, cardinals etc. in their own. Princes rode horses dressed in cloth of gold, and ladies had carriages fitted out in crimson velvet and gold.

*1558 description republished in 19th century:
Ceremonial of the Marriage of Mary Queen of Scots with the Dauphin of France (London, 1818)

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