By all accounts, Charles VII of France was a weak king. In all fairness, his kingdom was ravaged by war with England. And there were self-employed bandits, called Écorcheurs, who were pillaging, ransacking and plundering the French countryside, forcing people to run and hide for their lives. Even the churches were being built like forts to protect them from the outlaws. When Charles’ son, the Dauphin Louis was born in 1423, it was a dangerous time. When Louis was two years old, his parents sent him to the Castle of Loches in Touraine for safety. He would remain here until he was ten years old when he went to join his family. By this time Louis was isolated from his family and he and his father didn’t get along.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, King James I had been seized as a prisoner by the English. He was taken to London and put in The Tower. He was detained in England for eighteen years. Before his release and return to Scotland, James married a cousin of the English King, Joan Beaufort. In April of 1424, the couple returned to Scotland and their first child, Margaret, was born on December 25 that same year. By 1430, James had become a confident, secure and independent minded King. Instead of keeping the peace with England, he started negotiations to renew Scotland’s alliance with France.
In the past, Scottish kings had been content to marry their daughters to Lairds of the native country. But King James had six daughters to marry off and he was looking to increase his power and prestige. King Charles made a concerted diplomatic choice and he chose Margaret of Scotland to be his daughter-in-law. James was happy to accept the Dauphin Louis as a son-in-law. In the summer of 1436, when Margaret was eleven and Louis was thirteen, Margaret arrived in France. On June 24th, with Louis’ mother the Queen presiding over the assembled court in the great hall at Tours, Louis met Margaret for the first time. She was pretty and delicate with a doll-like face. Louis was by far more mature looking than his bride. Louis dutifully embraced her then took her by the hand to present her to the Queen. The Queen took the young couple into her own chambers so they could have a little quiet time before supper.
The next afternoon, in the chapel at Tours, the wedding took place, presided over by the Archbishop of Reims. The wedding was really a paltry affair as far as royal weddings are concerned. The Scottish guests were hurried out of the wedding reception, clearly a breach of etiquette and an insult. It wasn’t a matter of disrespect for the bride and bridegroom and the Scots as much as it was a shortage of funds in the French treasury.
Because the couple was so young, the marriage was not yet consummated. Margaret entered the household of the Queen to further her education. Margaret was said to have had a very lovely face and was gracious and fairy-like. She quickly became the favorite pet of the King and Queen. Louis was rarely at court due to the strains between him and his father. Many times, Louis had to beg for a household of his own for his wife and himself and an allowance to keep the household. King Charles would refuse. Even when Louis needed money to pay debts, there’s a record of the king giving Margaret 2,000 livres to buy furs and silks. Margaret frequently supported the king to the detriment of her husband.
The chroniclers say Margaret had a talent for writing rhymes and poetry like her father. She was fond of court life and was popular with the courtiers but for the most part bored and unhappy. She would take to her chambers with her ladies and read and write poetry sometimes well into the night and not come to bed until Louis had been asleep for several hours.
Louis did not hide his dislike of her lifestyle creating more unhappiness for Margaret. Worst of all, once the marriage was consummated, there were no pregnancies. There is record of Margaret drinking vinegar, eating green apples and lacing her torso up in tight corsets. Perhaps she just wanted to preserve her figure but maybe she was trying to prevent pregnancy.
During the Christmas season of 1444, Margaret was reclining on her couch having one of her poetry evenings in her chamber with some lords and ladies. The only light in the chamber was from a strong fire. One of the king’s servants, Jamet de Tillay, along with the Master of the Dauphin’s Household entered the chamber. He brazenly thrust a candle in the face of the Dauphine to get a closer look at the scene. While walking out he dressed down the Master of the Household for letting such a scene occur. He mentioned the words “wanton princesses” and spoke about the tableau with others. When Margaret heard about the rumors she was distressed. She was to become obsessed with Jamet’s comments, considering them as an assault on her reputation. She accused Jamet of poisoning the minds of Louis and the King against her. Jamet protested he wanted to make amends but Margaret refused.
In the extreme heat on August 7, 1445, Margaret had joined the court in a short pilgrimage. When she returned, she stripped off her clothes and was resting in her cool stone chamber when she became ill. The next morning she was feverish. The doctors diagnosed an inflammation of the lungs. She became more feverish and wracked with coughing. She railed against Jamet again and again, saying his words were the reason for her death. At one point she was thrashing her arms and beating her chest, swearing she never did any wrong to Louis. She soon calmed down and mentioned Jamet no more until she had been given last rites and her ladies begged her to forgive Jamet. She finally relented and said she forgave him. With her dying words she swore she had remained faithful to Louis. She died between ten and eleven at night on August 16th at Châlons-sur-Marne. She was buried in the church of Saint-Laon in Thouars.
Louis had all of Margaret’s poetry and writing destroyed. Five and a half years later, at the age of twenty eight, Louis married the nine year old Charlotte of Savoy. Louis would wait until Charlotte was fourteen to consummate the marriage. They had three children who survived infancy; two daughters and a son, the future King Charles VIII of France.
Further reading: “Louis XI: The Universal Spider” by Paul Murray Kendall, “Scottish Queens: 1034-1714” by Rosalind K. Marshall