The Baptism of Elisabeth of Valois, Princess of France

Miniature of Elisabeth de Valois as a child of about six

Elisabeth of France was born on April 2, 1545 at the royal palace of Fontainebleau. She was the second child of King Henri II, then Duc d’Orléans and his wife Catherine de’Medici. She was born during the reign of her grandfather King Francois I shortly before the peace of Ardres. The Peace of Ardres was signed in 1546 between England and France and ended a two year war between the two countries. Under its terms England received indemnity from France and was allowed to retain the French port of Boulogne for eight years.

The English ambassadors would attend and participate in the impressive baptism of Elisabeth. They were John Dudley, Lord Lisle and Admiral of England and Thomas Lord Cheney, Warden of the Cinque Ports and High Treasurer. In preparation for the ceremony, the Cour du Donjon of Fontainebleau was hung with silk damask and rich tapestries from Lyon. A raised platform had been built in the center of the donjon which was adorned with a blue silk canopy decorated with golden stars. Under the platform were nine buffets loaded with an exquisite display of gold plate, jeweled cups, ivory carvings and precious jewels. The treasure was watched over by the Swiss Guard.

A gallery had been erected from the royal apartments to the Chapelle de la Sainte Trinité. The walls were hung with the heraldic devices of King Francois and King Henry VIII and the floor was covered with costly Persian carpets. On June 3, the baptism began with a procession down the newly constructed gallery. First came two hundred gentlemen of the King’s household richly dressed and carrying battle axes. Next came heralds with tabards and batons followed by princes and nobles walking two by two wearing their robes and orders. Elisabeth was carried in the arms of Thomas Lord Cheney.

The baby had on a long robe held up and supported by four noblemen. The godmothers of the baby followed and included Queen Eleanor, wife of King Francois and Jeanne of Navarre, Francois’ niece. Numerous noble ladies processed along the gallery behind the godmothers. At the door of the chapel, the party was met by the Cardinal de Bourbon who was attended by many bishops and cardinals all arrayed in their pontifical splendor and wearing their miters.

Music filled the chapel as the procession made its way to the platform. The king and the child’s parents were in a glazed gallery to the right of the baptismal font. The Cardinal de Bourbon asked what the child was to be named and the English ambassador came forth and called out the name Elisabeth. Her name was then shouted out by the heralds of France and England to the sound of trumpets. The ceremony proceeded and Elisabeth was blessed by all the prelates in attendance. That evening, King Francois presided over a state banquet followed by ballets and pageants. The next day a tournament was held with a mock combat between Elisabeth’s father Henri and the count of Laval. Of course the dauphin won the combat and drove the count of Laval and his men from the field.

Catherine de’Medici decided Elisabeth would be taken to St. Germain-en-Laye where she was given full authority over the rearing and education of her daughter. A large household was established for the princess and she was brought up and educated to fulfill her destiny: to become Queen of Spain.

Further reading: “Elisabeth de Valois, Queen of Spain, and the Court of Philip II” by Martha Walker Freer