Madeleine was born in August 1520; she was the fifth child of Francis I of France and his wife, Queen Claude. After the death of her mother, Madeleine and her sister were raised by their aunt Marguerite of Navarre.
At the time of Madeleine’s birth, the French and the Scottish were allies. The Auld Alliance linked France and Scotland from the late Thirteenth Century, up until James VI of Scotland and I of England united the crowns of England and Scotland. To cement this alliance, it was proposed that James V, King of Scots would marry a Princess of France. Madeleine was a sickly child and her father King Francis worried about his frail daughter travelling to Scotland and living with the harsh climate. Instead, a match was suggested for James with the daughter of a Prince of the Blood; the Duke of Vendôme.
In 1536, after much negotiation, James agreed to marry Marie de Bourbon and travelled to France to settle the marriage.
James V did not find Marie of Bourbon attractive upon meeting her, so he continued on his journey to meet with Francis I. At the French court, James met Madeleine, and the two apparently fell in love. James V renewed his interest in taking her as his wife, and after Madeleine pleaded with her father to allow the marriage, Francis agreed. James V and Madeleine married at Notre Dame in January 1537. The marriage brought a great amount of money into Scotland from Madeleine’s dowry, and Madeleine had to renounce any claim her descendants would have to the French throne.
After a prolonged stay in France and months of celebration, Francis I eventually allowed his daughter to depart. As Madeleine’s health was still declining, her family would have been aware that their goodbyes were possibly final. Madeleine and her husband reached Leith in Scotland in May 1537, where she knelt down and kissed a handful of Scottish sand when she disembarked from the ship. The couple spent a happy two months together before Madeleine sadly died of tuberculosis on 7 July; she took her final breath in the arms of a heartbroken James. Madeleine died before her coronation had taken place.
The most interesting part of Madeleine’s story is what happened after her death. King James V was still without an heir; he had to remarry quickly. Francis I arranged for him to marry the recently widowed Marie de Guise, who had also been a potential bride for Henry VIII. The marriage took place less than a year after Madeleine’s death. Marie and James had three children together, two sons and a daughter. Two of the children, Robert and James, died young, but their daughter went on to become Mary, Queen of Scots. She was proclaimed Queen at just six days old.
The death of Madeleine of Valois at the age of sixteen changed the history of Europe. If she had lived, there would have been no Mary, Queen of Scots and her son James I would not have succeeded Elizabeth I to the English throne. Charles I would never have been born, so perhaps the civil war and interregnum would never have happened in England. We would have had no Charles II and in France, Philippe I, Duke of Orléans’ two wives Henrietta and Elizabeth Charlotte would not have existed as they were both descendants of James I. The Hanoverians would never have succeeded to the British throne so that the Victorian era would be known by a different name. Even the current Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II would not be here today if Madeleine had lived to produce an heir.1