24.8.12

Renaissance Weddings

‘The marriage arrangements have been successfully concluded.’ Ferdinando I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, beamed exultantly upon his niece, Marie de Medici. ‘In return I have agreed to release France from its indebtedness, the balance to be given in cash to a total sum of 600,000 crowns, which will represent your dowry.

Poor Marie. She was but a pawn in a game of politics.Marriage was rarely about love, but generally about money, land, estates, politics or power. Henry IV knew that France was in a parlous state, and much as he might wish to marry Henriette d’Entragues, his mistress, he must do his duty and marry an Italian Princess. Henriette dubbed her ‘The fat banker.’
Here she is as she appeared when arriving at Marseilles.

To any marriage, the bride was expected to bring a dowry and a bridal trousseau.A daughter of the bourgeoisie might have brought linen, household goods, pewter plates, candlesticks, or even livestock. Marie brought jewels in addition to the vast sum paid by her uncle. But then she was a royal princess.This property was not hers to keep. On marriage it passed into the possession of her husband, as did she herself. If the marriage was annulled, as in the case of Marguerite de Valois, Henry’s first wife, then the bridal dowry would be returned, and sometimes too her dower estates. Except in Margot’s case she had to fight for the return of hers, and until the finances were agreed between herself and Henry, she refused to grant him the divorce he craved to marry Marie de Medici.

Royal brides often went through a proxy marriage first, as the intended husband was more than likely thousands of miles away, and she would not be allowed to embark on such a journey without that security. It was as binding as the true marriage ceremony, which followed when the bride and groom actually met. This is a later picture of Henry IV of France. No doubt he was more handsome in his youth.


For Marie’s proxy wedding, The Duc de Bellegarde, Grand Equerry of France, together with an entourage of forty nobles, reached Livorno on the 20th of September. Seven days later he entered Florence, and on 6 October 1600, the proxy wedding took place, the Grand Duke Ferdinando himself standing in for the absent husband. His Eminence made his entry on horseback beneath a canopy held high by eight young Florentine nobles, preceded by all the ecclesiastical and secular bodies, sixteen prelates, and fifty gentlemen bearing halberds.

Afterwards would come the celebrations with a ball and banquet, hunting-parties, jousts, races, tilting at the ring and other sports, while the nights would be filled with dancing, plays, masques and ballets. The bride would then set out to go to her husband, a journey across land and sea which might take weeks or even months. And often within a day of meeting, the ceremony proper would take place. Here is a picture of Marie's wedding.


Dressed in a gown of crimson, blue and gold, fashioned in the Italian style and glittering with jewels that represented a goodly portion of her dowry, she looked a queen in every respect, even one not yet crowned. About her neck she wore the valuable pearl necklace, given to her by the King, but the most magnificent ornament consisted of an octagonal diamond brooch. Worn on her stomacher it was framed by several smaller stones, each enclosing a portrait in enamel of one of the princes of her house, beneath which hung three large teardrop pearls. It became known as the Queen’s Brilliant.

And so the bride would be wedded and bedded to a perfect stranger, stripped of her possessions, her ladies-in-waiting often returned whence they came, and a whole new way of life in a foreign land would begin. Within days of Marie de Medici’s marriage, Henry returned to Henriette, a pretty little madam, but a very ambitious lady who was to cause Marie no end of problems.



The Queen and the Courtesan can be found as a paperback or ebook here:
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