On 28 October 1533, 14-year-old Catherine de’ Medici married the future King Henry II of France, also 14 years old, although his elder brother was still alive at the time, and he wasn’t expected to become King.
On 1 September 1533, the noble ladies of Florence gave a grand farewell banquet for Catherine as she prepared to leave for her new life. She then began travelling towards the coast with a huge retinue, and the wedding was set to take place in Marseilles after Nice had been vetoed by the Duke of Savoy. Shortly after her departure, an emissary of the King of France arrived with a gift of jewellery, and he ended up galloping after the party.
She arrived at La Spezia on 6 September, where she would make the sea crossing to Villefranche. It was a smooth crossing, and she waited there for a month to join her uncle, Pope Clement VII, who had been instrumental in arranging the match. Together, they set sail for Marseilles, where they arrived on 11 October. King Francis and his family entered the city on 13 October, but Catherine had to await her official entry into the city until 23 October. She rode in on a roan horse decked out in gold brocade. She wore an outfit of gold and silver silk, which impressed the crowds.1
They all met up in the audience chamber of her uncle’s temporary palace, where the King and his sons watched as Catherine curtseyed to her uncle and kissed his feet. King Francis was delighted by her and spontaneously kissed her. She also received a warm welcome from Francis’s second wife, Queen Eleanor.
On 27 October, the wedding contract was officially signed, and the couple was blessed by the Cardinal de Bourbon. This was the start of a grand ball. The religious ceremony was scheduled for the following day.
The following morning, King Francis came to collect Catherine from her chamber, and he was dressed in his finest clothes of white satin embroidered with the fleur-de-lys with a cloak of gold cloth covered with pearls and precious stones. Catherine wore “ducal robes of golden brocade with a violet corsage of velvet encrusted with gems and edged with ermine.”2 Her hair was dressed with precious stones, and she wore a golden ducal crown. The religious ceremony took place in the chapel of the Pope’s palace, and they exchanged rings and vows.
Pope Clement held a wedding banquet for the newlyweds, where Catherine sat between her husband and his brother, the Dauphin. A masked ball was held afterwards, and around midnight, the masked ball descended into an orgy.3 By then, the newlyweds had left, and Catherine was escorted to the marital bedchamber by Queen Eleanor. The bed, with its rich decorations, was said to have cost 60,000 ecus alone.4 Henry entered the room, and the ceremony of the coucher could now start.
King Francis and the Pope wanted to be sure that the marriage was consummated, and reportedly, Francis stayed in the room until he was satisfied that “each had shown valour in the joust.”5 Pope Clement came by the following morning to find the couple still in bed and blessed them.
Catherine was now a royal Duchess, and soon she would be Dauphin and later also Queen of France.