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:


Southport Flower Show 2012

What a glorious day! After all the rain, particular yesterday when the rain sheeted down, today was warm and sunny with not a drop. Wonderful! And what a relief for the organisers. We had a great day, together with our daughter and her friend. We watched the display dog team, the falconry display and the Knights of the damned doing their jousting. Ate ice cream, marvelled at the flower displays and gardens, and bought a bit of bling from the local craft fair. Perfect. The show continues for the rest of this week. Here are some pictures to delight you.


The Renaissance Betrothal.

Popular since the Middle Ages, betrothal ceremonies frequently involved some sort of ceremony or symbolic act. This is believed to date back to the time of ancient Rome. In Anglo-Saxon England the joining of hands to seal the betrothal was common as we know from the term ‘handfasting’ to signify a betrothal. In fourteenth and fifteenth century Italy, the betrothal was sealed by a handshake between the parents, or at best the father of the bride and the prospective groom. In sixteenth century France this ritual was known as les accords.

There would be the giving of a ring, often a gimmel ring which was in two parts, one to be worn by the prospective groom, the other by the bride, the two joined together to form the wedding ring. Records indicate the drinking of wine to toast the agreement, or taking part in a sumptuous feast ‘in the name of marriage’, or simply be sealed with a kiss.

The betrothal ceremony confirmed that these two people promised to marry one another, an agreement which could be considered more legally binding than the marriage ceremony itself. Once betrothed, if a couple had sexual intercourse, then they were considered married. And a betrothal contract could only be broken if both parties agreed.

Not that the young woman concerned had much say in the matter. Marriage was less about love and more about wealth, position and power, which meant, as we romantic novelists know, plenty of opportunity for extra-curricular activity in the way of affairs. Henry IV is reputed to have enjoyed at least 60 mistresses with whom he sired numerous illegitimate children, and three or four maîtresse-en-titre.

But with Henriette de’Entragues he perhaps took on more than he’d bargained for she had set her sights on nothing less than marriage, and with it a crown. She therefore insisted upon a promesse de matrimonio before agreeing to surrender her maidenhead, allegedly still intact, and becoming his mistress. In a weak moment of overwhelming desire, Henry agreed that if she could give him a son, then he would marry her. A decision which was to create untold problems in the years ahead, and leave Henriette fighting a battle for what she perceived as her rights, at whatever the cost.

Next came the fiançailles when the bans were published. The parents, bride and bridegroom would visit the curé together to attend to this important matter. Then came the Epousailles which of course took place in church. The bridegroom was not allowed to enter without giving a considerable sum in alms, and guests were chosen to attend the wedding breakfast with an eye to the money they’d be likely to give. A bowl was handed round at dinner into which donations for a ‘nest-egg’ for the couple could be dropped.

Henry left such traditions to the bourgeoisie, but provided well for all his children, whatever their status, and was a loving father. Those he had with Henriette shared the royal nursery with the legitimate heirs he had with his queen, Marie de Medici, much to that lady’s displeasure. But Henry loved to play with them, and it was so much more practical to keep them all together in one place. The people of Paris were highly entertained by the fact that his mistress and queen were often enceinte at the same time.

The Queen and the Courtesan, published 29 June, can be found as a paperback or ebook here:


Writers Holiday

Enjoyed a wonderful week at Writers Holiday at Caerleon in South Wales. The weather was glorious, the talks and workshops stimulating, and the company most relaxing and friendly. Thanks to Gerry and Ann for such a successful week. I'm already looking forward to next year.

Here are the medieval dancers who most regally entertained us one evening, giving us some fascinating information not only about dancing, but also about costume.

And here is Jane Wenham-Jones entertaining us in her own inimitable style.

And on the last night is the wonderful Male voice choir, which I missed this year as I had to leave early, but they are a star act.

For more information check out their website: