It doesn’t take long to tell the story of Queen Claude’s three short-lived daughters, Louise, Charlotte, and Madeleine. It is sadly true, though, that until recently little information is available about the lives of young female children as this brief entry illustrates. Marguerite, the fourth and youngest, was the only one who lived long enough to make a mark on the world in her own right.
Many believe that because children often died young, parents did not love their children as deeply or mourn their loss as profoundly as we do. There is no evidence that this odd notion is true. Then, as now, we rarely know which children will live. Although in many parts of the world, our children’s chances are higher than during the Renaissance, we love them all and pray they all will thrive.
The Three Short-Lived Daughters’ Early Lives
King François and Queen Claude eagerly awaited the birth of their first child, who turned out to be a girl. Princess Louise was born on 15 August 1515 at Blois, while King François was already in Italy fighting the first war of his reign. She was both a disappointment (since she was a girl) and a great joy to her mother. Claude named her Louise to honour François’s mother.
Born just fourteen months later in Amboise on 23 October 1516, Charlotte, the couple’s second girl and child, was an even greater disappointment. So bitter was François that she was not the longed-for dauphin he did not attend her baptism although he was nearby. They named her for King Charles 1 of Spain, which proved an unfortunate omen.
Fifth child and third daughter, Madeleine, saw the light of day at St-Germain-en Laye on 10 August 1520. She arrived just six weeks after the great Field of Cloth of Gold pageant. The event that had exhausted her mother and King Henry had infuriated King François. He delayed the event until late in June to treat with Emperor Charles V, rendering its magnificent display void of diplomatic meaning.
As with much else in the royal family’s life, Duchess Louise took it upon herself to regulate the royal nursery. This included setting the responsibilities of the various offices, deciding the rules and regulations, and overseeing the children’s health. She also decided they would spend the cold winter months at Amboise and the warm summer weather at Blois.
Gouverneurs to the Royal Children
In 1518, King François appointed Monsieur and Madame de Brissac as Gouverneur and Gouvernante to the expanding royal family. [NOTA: Count René de Cossé, seigneur of Brissac — whose wife, Charlotte Gouffier de Boisy, was sister to one of François’s favourites, Artus Gouffier Lord of Boisy, and first cousin to another, Anne de Montmorency — received many other honours from King François including the governorships of Maine and Anjou.]
Father: François d’Angoulême, Duke de Valois, King of France (12 September 1494- 31 March 1547).
Mother: Claude de Valois, Queen of France and Duchess of Brittany (13 October 1499-20 July 1524).
The Three Short-Lived Daughters:
Louise (19 August 1515–21 September 1517): died young, engaged to Charles I of Spain almost from birth until death.
Charlotte (23 October 1516–8 September 1524): died young, engaged to Charles I of Spain from 1518 until death.
Madeleine (10 August 1520–7 July 1537), married James V of Scotland and died after seven months. Children: none.
François (28 February 1518–10 August 1536), succeeded Claude as Duke of Brittany, but died unmarried and childless.
Henri (31 March 1519–10 July 1559), succeeded Francois I as King of France and married Catherine de’ Medici with whom he had ten children.
Charles (22 January 1522–9 September 1545), died unmarried and childless.
Marguerite (5 June 1523–14 September 1574), married Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, in 1559 and had one child.
Louise — Claude’s Short-lived First-Born Daughter
When Duchess Louise, who was regent, first heard that she had a granddaughter, she blamed Claude for the unwelcome news, since she like François wanted an heir for France. François, learning he had a daughter, reacted with much more moderation and sent Claude a ring of great value along with his letter of delight. Taken from her mother immediately, Princess Louise had a wet nurse and nursemaids to care for her as was traditional while Claude remained in seclusion. When she reappeared after the traditional forty days and was churched, she set out with Louise at the end of September. Starting at the Abbey of Notre-Dames-des Fontaines, they thanked God for the king’s victory at Marignano. Then Queen Claude and Duchess Louise with an entourage of thirty chariots and two hundred cavaliers travelled on a seven-month journey to join the king. They met finally at Sisteron near Geneva on 20 January 1516.
An Early Betrothal
Princesses always provided the benefit that they could seal alliances, and Princess Louise was no exception. France needed to seal the treaty of Noyon between King François and the newly anointed King Charles I of Spain. So, two days before her first birthday, on 13 August 1516, the infant Princess Louise betrothed King Charles — the same man to whom her mother had been betrothed fifteen years previously.
Princess Louise died at 25 months old with convulsions while the king, queen and Duchess Louise travelled in Brittany. It was Claude’s first and last visit to her Duchy. When she and Louise were staying at the Château de Plessis-en-Vert the news arrived that princess Louise had died on the night of 21 September 1517. Heartbroken, Mourning her short-lived daughter, Claude immediately joined the king while Louise travelled to Amboise to oversee the temporary coffining of her little namesake granddaughter. She expected the king and queen to follow her, but they did not. Princess Louise’s lead coffin went into the crypt at Blois temporarily, where it waited until Claude’s burial nine years later at St. Denis in November 1526.
Charlotte —Claude’s Short-lived Second Daughter
When Charlotte was one-year-old, her father betrothed her to King James V of Scotland as a result of the 1517 Treaty of Rouen. In 1518, after the short-lived Princess Louise’s death, King François I negotiated King Charles of Spain’s betrothal to Princess Charlotte instead. As a result, François jilted King James and Scotland. The Hapsburg betrothal lasted until the child died in 1524 despite the many tensions that developed between the Valois and the Hapsburgs. They increased after Charles won the hotly contested election as Holy Roman Emperor.
At the time of Queen Claude’s last illness in July 1524, her six living children resided at Amboise. They came to Blois for their last farewell to their mother. After Claude died, and her coffin lay in the crypt beside her infant daughter Louise, two of the older girls, Charlotte and Madeleine, contracted measles. To protect them, the four healthy children returned to Amboise, while the sick girls stayed at Blois.
Wardship of Queen’s Claude’s Daughters
Claude left the wardship of her children to the king’s sister, Marguerite, if her husband should die while he was out of the country. Marguerite already at Blois nursed the sick girls. As soon as Princess Madeleine recovered, she joined her siblings at Amboise. However, Princess Charlotte’s fever remained high, she developed a flux and grew steadily worse. Refusing to worry either Louise, who was extremely ill or François who was dealing with the crisis caused by Constable de Bourbon’s treason, Marguerite took responsibility for the princess. We know of her grief from her letters to her spiritual advisor, Bishop Briçonnet. The princess lingered close to death for several weeks before she died, just a few weeks shy of her eighth birthday. Marguerite, who loved the sweet, affectionate, and devout princess, undertook the unenviable task of informing her mother and brother of the child’s death. Another small coffin joined the two in the crypt of Saint Calais Chapel. So soon after Claude’s death, her family believed her two short-lived daughters accompanied her in heaven. Later in life when Queen of Navarre, Marguerite dedicated her long poem The Mirror of the Sinful Soul to Princess Charlotte.
Madeleine — The Summer Queen of Scotland
Although King François had ended King James’s betrothal to Princess Charlotte, the Scottish king still desired the French alliance and a French bride. So, in 1521 James accepted one-year-old Madeleine as a replacement. This betrothal did not last long. Both Madeleine and James betrothed several others over the years. Madeleine was a sickly child after her visit to her mother in 1524 when she contracted measles. Although she was betrothed several times during her childhood, her father worried about her frailty did not believe that she should leave France.
By 1536, King James V wished to marry a Frenchwoman to renew their ‘auld alliance’ and make a show of force against England. He preferred to marry a French princess, but King François said his daughters were unsuitable. He suggested instead Marie de Bourbon, daughter of the first Prince of the Blood, Duke Charles de Vendôme, offering to adopt her and give her a royal dowry. When King James agreed to the contract and visited Lady Marie, he refused to marry her. He appealed to King François once again for the hand of one of his daughters. King François was reluctant to enrage King Henry VIII. He temporized until he had contacted the English king and received a reluctant acceptance. [In 1536 Henry had his hands full with the Pilgrimage of Grace and did not wish to enrage the Scots into an invasion.] Only then did King François allow King James to meet his two daughters.
Not a Romantic Love Story
King James chose Madeleine as his bride. This has become a romantic story of love at first sight. The reality is more pedestrian. King James, now 27, wanted a wife to give him legitimate children and an heir. (He had already fathered nine illegitimate ones!) Madeleine at sixteen met this requirement better than Marguerite who was not yet thirteen. According to Brantôme, her father and step-mother raised objections, worried that Madeleine’s delicate health would not endure “dwelling in a barbarous land among a brutal people.” Princess Madeleine insisted upon marrying King James. She told her parents, “At least I shall be queen so long as I live, that is what I have always wished for.” [Nadine Kuperty-Tsur, “Le Journal de Louise de Savoie, nature et visées”, p. 223]. Faced with the determined couple, King François gave way and provided his daughter with an enormous dowry, which delighted the Scots. So much for romance.
The wedding took place at Notre Dame Cathedral on 1 January 1537, and the celebrations lasted several weeks. The royal couple stayed in France until May. They finally set out for Scotland on May 19 and shortly thereafter Madeleine’s ladies whispered she was with child. The couple travelled by ship from France to Scotland with their entourage and landed in Leith. Soon after her arrival in Scotland, Madeleine fell ill. She died without giving birth to a child on 7 July at Holyrood Palace and was buried in Scotland, the third short-lived daughter of François and Claude. Although King James married again, this time to Marie de Guise, when he died he was buried beside Madeleine.
Books and Articles
Susan Abernathy, Madeleine de Valois, Queen of Scotland, The Freelance History Writer.
Monique Bloks, Madeleine de Valois: The Delicate Queen of Scots, History of Royal Women
Pierre de Bourdeïlle, Abbé de Brantôme, “Mesdames Charlotte, Louise, Magdelaine, Marguerite,” Book of the Ladies. (H.P. & Co., 1899). [Available in English on Project Gutenberg].
Nadine Kuperty-Tsur, «Le Journal de Louise de Savoie, nature et visées» in Brioist, Pascal, et al., ed. Louise de Savoie (1476-1531). (Tours: Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2015). Web. <http://books.openedition.org/pufr/8342>.
Dorothy Moulton Mayer, The Great Regent, Louise of Savoy 1476—1531, Funk & Wagnalls, New York 1966).
Henri Pigaillem, Claude de France: Premier Épouse de François I, Mère de Henri II. (Paris, Pygmalion, 2006).
Winifred Stephens, Margaret of France, Duchess of Savoy. (London, The Bodley Head, 1912). Edited, Linda Ellis, 2015.