The Wedding Feast of James II, King of Scots and Mary of Guelders

Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy was always interested in making international alliances. The most common method for making these types of agreements would be through diplomacy, treaties and marriages. Most princes in the fifteenth century had sisters or daughters for this purpose but Philip didn’t have any daughters. Consequently, he utilized the various nieces in his family network.

Mary of Guelders was one of Philip’s great-nieces and she had lived at the Burgundian court since she was twelve years old under the tutelage and guidance of Philip’s third wife, Isabel of Portugal. As early as 1447, a marriage between Mary and James II, King of Scots was considered with the blessing of King Charles VII of France. A commercial treaty was negotiated first and then a marriage treaty was signed in April of 1449. Philip paid the dowry and for the ships to take Mary to Scotland. She sailed from Sluis on June 12 at 4:00 in the morning and with favorable winds, arrived on the Isle of May a week later. From there she came ashore in Scotland at Leith.

Mary and James were married at Holyrood Abbey on July 3. Immediately after the wedding ceremony, Mary was dressed in purple robes lined with ermine. A French chronicler remarked about the unusual and peculiar style of the robes. Mary returned to the altar of the abbey to be duly anointed and crowned queen. Then followed a magnificent wedding feast. The French chronicler D’Escouchy describes it:

“When the king and queen were seated, the first dish to be brought in and presented to them was a boar’s head, which had been painted and stuffed, on a huge plate. Round the head were a good thirty-two banners, with the arms of the king and the other lords of the country. Then, the stuffing was set on fire, to the great joy of everyone in the room. Next, a fine and beautifully-made ship was brought in, which had a forecastle, masts with a top, and cords of silver. Then the earl of Orkney entered, with four knights, followed by the meat course, comprising various dishes. Each dish was brought in by some thirty to forty people, all carrying plates…and, as each plate was set down, the waiter knelt until the person served had started eating…..

At another table, a patriarch, three bishops, an abbot and other clerics, were merrily celebrating their king’s wedding. These five prelates were drinking heavily from a huge wooden goblet, without pouring anything back; for wine and other drinks seemed in as plentiful supply as sea-water. The same thing happened at the table of knights and squires of Scotland. This feast lasted four or five hours, during which time a very large number of dishes were served.”

Oh to have witnessed this scene! It must have been colorful and noisy with delicious aromas and it sounds like the clergy was having a great time. To top it off, this turned out to be an exceptionally suitable marriage.

Further reading: “Philip the Good” by Richard Vaughan, “In the Shadow of Burgundy: The Court of Guelders in the Late Middle Ages” by Gerard Nijsten