Reassessing the complicated legacy of the much-maligned Mary Queen of Scots

I have often read and heard critics blaming Queen Mary Stuart (1542-1587, r de facto 1542-1567, de jure 1542-1587) for her perceived lack of ruthlessness and fatal inaction in not moving harshly or swiftly enough against her Protestant enemies in Scotland. While I agree that it would have been ideal had she been able to do these things, practically she never could have realistically hoped to have done so without bathing her kingdom in bloody religious wars. While I naturally would have liked to have seen Knox arrested and either executed or at least permanently exiled as a heretic and traitor, and her brother James Stewart, Earl of Moray tried, attainted, and beheaded as such after the Chaseabout Raid, the reality is that Mary had no large enough power base of her own in Scotland to carry out such justice. She simply had no political support system loyal to her and powerful enough to help her carry out such objectives to solidify her control and weaken or eliminate her enemies.

Had her mother the dowager Queen and Regent Marie de Guise (1515-60) lived just a year longer, to 1561, long enough for Mary to return home and receive command of her mother’s army of French troops, Mary could have had this powerful army at her back and either subdued the Calvinist Lairds of the Congregation, or at least forced them to tolerate Catholicism. Had Marie de Guise died at age 65 (1580) and not 45 (1560), and Mary been able to benefit from her brilliant political insight as a veteran political actor, Queen Mary almost certainly could have kept her throne, in part because Marie de Guise would have strongly pushed for a second French marriage for her widowed daughter and thus the disastrous Darnley marriage and all its problems could have been avoided.

Had Marie de Guise lived longer, and the majority of the Lowland Scots gentry and burghs thus not gone over so strongly to the Calvinist Reformation attempt of 1560, the Reformation could either have been avoided outright, defeated in the early 1560s with Catholic Highlanders’ and French armed support, or partly undone early on in Mary’s personal reign in Scotland. Even if Marie de Guise had died in 1561, with French troop support the young Queen Mary could conceivably have raised the Catholic Highland clans in a bloody religious war to massacre or drive out Lowland Protestant Scots — just as her hated mother-in-law Catherine de Medicis, widow of Henri II and mother of three French kings, did intermittently in France against the Huguenots.

Had Mary done this successfully, she might have kept her throne and even ultimately restored Catholicism in Scotland (allowing, in her characteristic leniency, for some religious toleration for Protestants like the future French king Henri IV de Bourbon) but it bears examining: at what cost could Mary have prevailed? Protestant critics damn her either way — her weakness and lack of ruthlessness enabled Moray and Knox to ultimately triumph and defeat and depose her. Yet what would they say and write had Mary openly defied them, worked to isolate them politically, and ultimately confronted them with arms?

The reality is that this aggressive course of action was never an option for Mary. In 1561, with no French troops to support her and no veteran, experienced politician mother to guide her in governing and establishing effective control over Scotland, the politically weak and isolated Mary, with few trustworthy allies and even less military strength at her disposal, diplomatically and sensibly chose to work toward maintaining an uneasy, fragile peace with Moray and Knox — in other words, with the new pro-English Reformation establishment– instead of risking civil war.

The extreme weakness of Mary’s political position from 1561 can be illustrated by the fact that, in the opening months of her personal reign in Scotland, the Queen’s Catholic chaplains were set upon by a violent Calvinist Edinburgh mob inflamed by Knox’s preaching, and the priests were nearly torn to pieces for the “capital offense” of offering Mass for their Sovereign Queen’s worship. What had been the State religion of Scotland in 1559 was, two years later, banned and outlawed. Thus, only a year after the tenuous, English (and thus, Elizabeth)-backed establishment of the Calvinist Kirk, the young Catholic Queen Mary could barely worship freely in her own country! In this same time period, Mary felt obliged to permit the heretic Knox to lecture her about her “Romish superstitions and idolatry”, and effectively allowed the Calvinist Kirk, her ideological enemy, to shore up its power in the Lowlands. Mary thus, essentially, tragically recognized the brutal Scottish Reformation that had occurred only a year earlier as a fait accompli.

Why did she do this? The Queen clearly felt she had no better or realistic alternatives besides accepting the status quo as she found it. Arriving in Edinburgh after over a decade of exile in France, where she had been queen consort to François II, Mary had no real political power base loyal to her in Scotland in 1561. She was, culturally, a Frenchwoman, and many of her subjects, especially Protestants, regarded her with suspicion as a foreigner. Abroad, Catholic Valois France was now ruled de jure by her young brother-in-law Charles IX, but governed de facto by her hateful mother-in-law the regent Catherine de Medicis, under whom the Guise Catholic League and Huguenots would soon become embroiled in bloody religious wars. To the south, newly-Protestant England under her cousin Elizabeth (previously Catholic under Mary I Tudor, but now once again Anglican since November 1558) had actually worked before Mary’s 1561 return to Scotland to actively undermine the regent Marie de Guise and the Catholic Scottish-French “Auld Alliance”. Elizabeth herself had politically, financially, and intellectually supported the Scottish Reformation and invaded Scotland to weaken Mary’s mother and her French alliance, and thus the English Queen was hardly going to support any attempt by Mary to reimpose Catholicism, restore the Auld Alliance, or weaken the new Protestant Kirk in any way.

Perhaps, by affecting a politique conciliatory approach toward the Lairds and the Kirk til she managed to build up her own political support base to oppose them, Mary hoped to bide her time and ultimately isolate and outmaneuver Moray and outlive Knox and then begin, having raised Prince James as a Catholic, to gradually undo the Reformation. Alas, she never could, and thus it is hardly surprising that the baby James VI’s first regents were his mother’s enemies: his paternal grandfather Lennox, Darnley’s father, and his half-uncle, Mary’s great enemy and half-brother the cunning bastard Moray. The vile Knox preached the main sermon at the baby king’s spurious coronation, which, despite his mother baptizing him a Catholic, was done according to Kirk rites.

Remember, a forced abdication as Queen Mary’s was — signed at knifepoint at Loch Leven castle immediately after she miscarried twins by Bothwell — is completely legally invalid. Thus, from a monarchist perspective, Mary remained the sole and rightful Scottish Sovereign and queen regnant until her equally unlawful execution, a regicide, at Elizabeth’s orders on 8 February 1587.

Protestant critics of Mary from 1567 through to today blame her, also, for not doing enough to punish Rizzio and Darnley’s killers. Again, practically, what could she have done? Her own horrid, feckless husband Darnley actively supported and colluded in the first murder, a murder which seriously endangered Mary’s life as well as her pregnancy with the future James VI. As for the second murder, which Queen Mary was slanderously accused of having either participated in or directed via the forged Casket Letters, the act itself, and her subsequent defense of, likely rape by, and politically disastrous marriage to Bothwell all served the ends of those who wished to overthrow her. Effectively, the Darnley murder enabled her Protestant enemies — chiefly Moray, Knox, and Buchanan — to produce the effective political propaganda — Mary as Jezebel, siren, as adulterer and murderess — needed to further isolate, delegitimize, and ultimately (illegally) depose her by July 1567.

The reality is that sadly, in 1561, Queen Mary, unlike Elizabeth in 1558, had terribly disobedient subjects among the effective leaders of Scotland; their goals and interests were diametrically opposed to her political and literal survival. She returned to her kingdom only a year after the violent Calvinist Reformation, in which many centuries of Roman Catholic religious art, architecture, liturgical and musical patrimony, and local traditions were abruptly destroyed and iconoclastically overturned in the wake of Mary’s mother Marie de Guise’s untimely death.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the new Calvinist de facto rulers of Scotland in power at the time Mary returned to her kingdom in 1561 as the young, widowed queen dowager of France — the Lairds of the Congregation led by Moray and the vile Knox — all had strong and obvious political, ideological, and material interests in toppling her from the throne as soon as possible. Removing Mary would enable the Lairds and their allies in the new Kirk to preserve and strengthen their extremely new, vulnerable Protestant establishment by ensuring that the young Catholic Queen was deposed before she could become powerful enough to undermine or oppose them. This would in turn ensure that her baby son and heir would be raised a Protestant and taught to hate her. James’ long minority would free them to continue to appropriate large sums from the national treasury, especially the vast, illegally and violently acquired, looted wealth of confiscated monasteries, abbeys, stripped cathedrals, shrines, and church benefices.

In hindsight, it certainly seems a shame that Queen Mary did not act swiftly to arrest Rizzio’s murderers and execute them to reestablish a degree of political authority, but one must seriously ask: Who would have obeyed her order to arrest them, and how could she have ensured their conviction? Most of the leading Scots nobles at her court either wanted Rizzio dead, lost nothing by his death, or had actively conspired toward his murder. Probably only Bothwell was personally loyal enough to the Queen to have dared to arrest these murderous lairds, but he, one man without a great clan army at his back, would hardly have been able to deal with all her enemies.

In all seriousness, one must remember that the idea of any armed Englishmen bursting in on Queen Mary Tudor or Queen Elizabeth I dining at supper and holding a gun to her stomach, and proceeding to stab to death one of her closest male friends and advisors was *unthinkable*. The Scottish crown in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries simply didn’t possess the same level of enforceable political authority as did the English crown, nor did the Scots monarchs enjoy the same kind of personal security, inviolability, or prestige as did the English monarchs after 1485 when Richard III of York fell in battle to Henry VII Tudor at Bosworth Field. From Henry VII’s accession-by-conquest in 1485 to Henry VIII’s death in 1547, England enjoyed over half a century of rule by adult kings who were usually powerful enough to keep their leading nobles under control either through careful patronage and politicking or overt force.

Scotland’s vying noble houses and factions, on the other hand, consistently maneuvered politically to their own ends at the Crown’s expense. While England had its own share of murdered monarchs and forced abdications (Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, and the princes in the tower including Edward V), in Scotland literally *all* of Mary’s recent predecessors as kings from James I onward had either died in battle (or shortly thereafter) or been murdered. This meant that for most of the fifteenth century and all of the sixteenth, Scotland’s monarchs ascended the throne as infants, with the effective rule of the country in the hands of successive partisan, factional and self-interested regents. After 1485, no English King died in battle or by murder; in contrast, James III was murdered in 1488, leaving his minor son as heir, while James IV himself died in battle at Flodden in 1513. James V thus became King as a babe and himself died of psychological collapse in 1542 following a devastating loss to the English at Solway Moss and the depressing news that his queen had given birth to a daughter.

Mary’s paternal forebears James I and James III had both been murdered, while both her father James V and grandfather James IV came to actually rule only after long, highly factional, divisive, and partisan minorities. Thus, compared to her English paternal great-uncle Henry VIII and her cousins Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I, as Queen of Scots, Mary Stuart simply didn’t have a comparable level of actual, real command over Scots nobles, nor of practical political power and enforceable royal authority, as did these English sovereigns over their nobles.

It is true that Moray and Elizabeth’s chief Privy Councilor Cecil were essentially working in tandem to orchestrate every aspect of Mary’s eventual downfall, and profiting from and exploiting her political missteps (chiefly marrying Darnley, not executing Moray, and sparing and then marrying Bothwell). Had Mary done the sensible thing and left Scotland for France in 1568, she likely would have lived in comfortable retirement on her dower estates into old age, perhaps remarried to a rich, powerful French prince or become an abbess like her aunt Renee. Had she done the latter, she would have certainly died in her bed. Had she done the former, she perhaps might have launched an armed attempt to retake her throne with eventual French or Spanish military and financial support. She may well have been successful at retaking Scotland and reclaiming her throne, especially in the 1570s when James was still young and his regents divided among themselves. Yet by 1568, when confronted with the life-altering decision of where to flee, Mary had few allies still in power in France: the hostile Catherine de Medicis remained in effective control and offered her no real support, and the Queen Regent viewed Mary’s powerful Guise family as just as dangerous to her sons’ crown as the Huguenots. Thus, a French welcome for the exiled Mary was hardly guaranteed in 1568, and, had Mary sailed for France, she could potentially have faced house arrest or internal exile on Catherine’s orders. The other alternative was of course the one Mary ultimately chose to take: England, and Elizabeth. Why did she make this decision which, in hindsight, seems so fatal?

Perceptions of a man or woman’s honor meant a great deal in early modern Europe, and a person’s honor was held to reflect on their family’s status, dignity, and prestige (hence why Scots law and custom at the time obliged a rape victim — such as Mary probably was — to marry her attacker). This prioritization of honor was especially the case among kings and queens and great nobles; note that this valuing of honor does not mean that all rulers and nobles actually *were* truly virtuous and honorable, but that they all felt they had to be *seen* as such in order to maintain their prestige and dignity. Hence why at the height of the Darnley murder scandal, Elizabeth repeatedly wrote to Mary expressing her grave concern for Mary’s life, but especially for her honor — -her reputation which had been so sullied by the rumors of her alleged complicity in her husband’s murder. Thus, in 1568, Mary could not possibly have conceived that her own flesh and blood, her friendly sister monarch Queen Elizabeth, was capable of being so deceitful as to first detain and then ultimately imprison her once she arrived in England seeking assistance to regain her lost throne. Elizabeth’s audacious actions toward Mary– refusing to see her in person, keeping her detained in northern castles, staging a stacked hearing to purportedly determine the authenticity of the Casket Letters, and ultimately holding her sister queen prisoner — not just Elizabeth’s ultimate decision to bring Mary to trial and execute her — outraged Catholic Europe at the time precisely because they were seen as being so dishonorable.

On the coronation and anointing of French monarchs

Titled women of the French nobility (duchesses and countesses) could inherit land and titles from their fathers if they had no surviving male issue to succeed them, but from antiquity the throne and crown of France adhered to Salic Law, which permitted succession to the throne only through the male line and excluded all females. A central theological and ceremonial reason for why the French monarchy did not permit female succession was the highly sacramental nature of the coronation rites, in which the king exercised a quasi-sacerdotal role and held certain sacred instruments which, it was believed, women could not touch. While queens of France were customarily crowned and anointed at their husband’s accession, this was often done in a separate ceremony. While French kings were most often crowned at the Reims Cathedral. French queens were crowned most often at the St Denis Basilica.

Thus, due to the strict enforcement of Salic Law, France has never had a female monarch. Reflecting their crucial importance in dynastic marriages, however, several queens of France were the daughters of previous French kings or reigning provincial dukes whose fathers, lacking any surviving male issue, married them to the men who ultimately succeeded to the French throne as king. Numerous French queen mothers also governed as regents on behalf of their underage sons until they reached their majority.

Three examples of French queens who were themselves the daughters of French kings or powerful dukes were 1) Queen Anne de Bretagne (1477-1514), consort to King Charles VIII from 1491-98 and then after Charles’ death consort to King Louis XII from 1499 to her own death, reigned as Duchess of Brittany in her own right from 1488; Anne’s daughter Queen Claude (1499-1524), consort to Francois I (1515-24) and daughter of King Louis XII, reigned as Duchess of Brittany in her own right after her mother’s death in 1514; and Queen Marguerite (1553-1615), consort to France’s first Bourbon King Henri III de Navarre/ IV de France (1572-1599), sister to French kings Francois II, Charles IX, and Henri III, who was the daughter of King Henri II and (from 1559-89) the powerful Queen Mother and regent Catherine de Medicis.

BNF - Latin 9474 - Jean Bourdichon - Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne - f. 3r - Anne de Bretagne entre trois saintes (détail).jpg

Jean Bourdichon – Les Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne, painted between 1503 to 1508 while Anne of Brittany was Sovereign Duchess of Brittany and Queen consort of France.

Treaty with the Kingdom of England which Anne of Brittany, Queen of France, signed and sealed in her capacity as the reigning Duchess of Brittany.

Claude of France, Duchess of Brittany.jpg

Claude de Bretagne, fille de France, daughter of King Louis XII and Queen Anne, Duchess of Brittany in her own right from 1488 to her death. Claude succeeded her mother as Duchess in 1514 and became Queen of France in 1515, dying in 1524.

Portrait of Henri III, King of Navarre (he himself succeeded his mother Jeanne d’Albret, who reigned as Jeanne III from 1555-1572) and from 1589 King of France, and his consort Queen Marguerite, fille de France, daughter of King Henri II of France and Catherine de Medicis. Marguerite’s mother Catherine de Medicis, infamous as a poisoner, allegedly had Henri’s Calvinist mother Queen Jeanne III of Navarre poisoned, and the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre (Catholics killing Huguenots) which followed Henri and Marguerite’s wedding seems to have taken place with Catherine’s foreknowledge, if not her explicit permission. Henri narrowly escaped the massacre with his life.

An overview of the French Sacre from 1364 to 1825 (from King Charles V de Valois to Charles X de Bourbon):

Like the English coronation ritual, the French ritual after being subject to considerable influence from the Roman ritual in the 12th and 13th centuries reverted to earlier French forms in the 14th century. The Roman text and ritual, however, were not completely abandoned but combined with the earlier texts and ritual so that this fourth and final recension was nearly twice the length of the earlier recension.[5]

The king spends the night before his Sacre at the Palace of Tau and is awakened in the morning by the clergy and officials involved in the coronation ritual. They assist in dressing the king for the Sacre and the king then chooses which of his nobles will serve as the Hostages for the Sainte Ampoule and the clergy, as well, also swear to return the Sainte Ampoule to the Abbey of St. Remi after the Sacre.

The king enters Reims Cathedral after the singing of the canonical hour of Prime. At the king’s entrance into the cathedral a prayer is said and, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the hymn ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’ is sung. Upon his entrance into the choir the prayer, “God, the Ruler of heaven and earth, etc.” is said and Terce is sung as the abbot and monks of the Abbey of Saint-Remi come in procession bringing the Sainte Ampoule in its reliquary hanging by it chain around the abbot’s neck while four monks in alb bear a silk canopy over him. Upon arriving at the entrance of the cathedral the Archbishop of Reims and the other archbishops and bishops present solemnly swear to return the Sainte Ampoule to them after the Sacre. Then the abbot and monks enter the cathedral and proceed to the altar, everyone bowing reverently as they pass before them.

The coronation proper begins with the bishops’ petition that the traditional rights of the Church be maintained and the king’s reply, followed by the king’s taking of the coronation oath[6] in the Bourbon era on the Reims Gospel. Then the Recognition takes place followed by the singing of the Te Deum. Then the prayer, “Inscrutable God, etc.” is and then the buskins and spurs are placed upon the king’s feet and his invested and gird with the Coronation Sword, Joyeuse, with the formula “Accept this sword from our hands, etc.” Then the antiphon: “I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). The king removes his coat and other outerwear and the special silver lachets on his silk shirt are opened to expose his chest, upper back and the joints of his arms. While special versicle and response and a collect (unique to the French rite) are said, a paten with Chrism on it is place on the altar, the Abbot of St. Remi presents the Saint Ampoule to the Archbishop, who with a small golden stylus removes a small particle from the contents of the Sainte Ampoule and carefully mixes it with the Chrism on the paten.

The king kneels while the Litany of the Saints is chanted by two archbishops or bishops, concluding with two prayers. The Archbishop then says the formal prayer of consecration:

God eternal, All powerful, Creator and Governor of the Heavens and the Earth, Maker and Disposer of angels and of men, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Thou who madest Abraham Thy faithful servant to triumph over his enemies, who hast raised to the highest in the Kingdom David, Thy humble servant, and hast delivered him out of the mouth of the lion, and out of the paw of the beast, and likewise from Goliath, and from the malicious sword of Saul, land from all his enemies, and has enriched Solomon with the wondrous gift of wisdom and of peace, forgive and accept our humble prayers, and multiply the gifts of Thy blessings on this Thy servant, who with all humble devotion, we, with one accord, choose for King, and we beseech Thee encompass him evermore, and in all places with the right hand of Thy power, so that strengthened by the fidelity of Abraham, possessed of the patience of Joshua, inspired with the humility of David, adorned with the wisdom of Solomon, he may be to Thee ever pleasing, and walk evermore without offence in the way of justice, and henceforth in such wise succour, direct, guard and uplift the church of the whole kingdom, and the people belonging thereto, may he administer with puissance and right royally the rule of Thy power against all enemies visible and invisible, may he not abandon his rights over the kingdoms of the Franks, the Burgundians, and of Aquitania, but aided by Thee inspire them with their sometime loyalty so that made glad by the fidelity of all his people, and provided with the helmet of Thy protection, and ever guarded with the invincible buckler, and compassed about with the celestial armies, he may happily triumph over his enemies, cause the infidel to fear his power, and with joy bring peace to those who fight under Thy banner. Adorn him by many a gracious blessing, with the virtues with the which Thou hast enriched Thy faithful ones aforesaid, counsel him richly in the government of the kingdom, and anoint him plenteously with the grace of the Holy Spirit.[7]

The Archbishop, sitting, then anoints the king with the Chrism in the form of a cross on the top of the head, on the breast, between the shoulders, on both shoulders and on the joints of both arms, each time saying:

I anoint thee with the holy oil in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.[7]

And all, within the sound of his voice, each time respond: “Amen”. While this anointing was taking place the choir sang the Antiphon:

Zadok the priest and the prophet Nathan anointed Solomon King in Jerusalem, and did proclaim this right joyfully, saying, May the king live forver.[7]

The Archbishop then said these prayers:

God Almighty anoint Thou this king to the government, as Thou hast anointed those priests, and kings and prophets and martyrs, who by faith have subdued kingdoms, exercised justice, and obtained the promises. May this Thy most holy unction fall upon his head, descend within, and penetrate even unto his very heart, and may he by Thy grace be made worthy of the promises, the which the most famous kings have obtained, so that in all happiness he may reign in this present life, and may be one with them in Thy heavenly kingdom, for the sake of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who was anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, and by virtue of the cross has triumphed over the powers of the air, and has destroyed Hell, and vanquished the kingdom of the Evil One, and is ascended into Heaven as conqueror, to whom belongs all victory and glory and power, and who lives with Thee, and reigns in unity with Thee and the Holy Spirit to all eternity.

O God, the Strength of the Elect, and the uplifter of the humble,who in the beginning didst punish the world with a flood of waters, and didst make known by the dove carrying the bough of olive, that peace was yet anew restored to the earth, and hast with the holy anointing oil consecrate as priest Aaron Thy servant, and by the infusion of this unction hast appointed the priests and kings and prophets to govern the people of Israel, and hast by the prophetic voice of Thy Servant David foretold that with oil should the face of the church be made to shine, so we pray Thee, all-powerful Father, that Thy good pleasure may be sanctified in the blessing of this Thy servant with the oil of this heavenly dove, so that he may bring as did the dove of old, peace to the people committed to his charge. May he follow with diligence the example of Aaron in the service of God, and may he ever attain in his judgments to all that is most excellent in wisdom and equity and with Thy aid, and by the oil of this unction, make him to bring joy to all his people through Jesus Christ our Lord.

May Jesus Christ our Lord and God, and Son of God, who by the Father was anointed with the oil of gladness above all others who are one with Him, by this present infusion of the sacred unction pour upon thy head the blessing of the Holy Spirit, and make it go even unto the innermost recesses of thy heart, so that thou canst by this visible and material gift, perceive the things invisible, and after having with right moderation accomplished the temporal kingdom, mayest thou reign with Him eternally for the sake of Jesus Christ our Saviour.[7]

Then the Archbishop and the assisting priests and deacons the close the silver lachets of the king’s shirt which opened for the anointing.
After this, the king, standing up, was vested in the tunicle, dalmatic and royal mantle, all of ‘azure blue'[7] velvet sprinkled with fleurs-de-lys of gold, representing the three Catholic orders of subdeacon, deacon and priest.[8] by the Grand Chamberlain of France. Kneeling again, the king was anointed in the palms of both hands by the Archbishop with the formula:

Let these hands be anointed with holy oil, as kings and prophets have been anointed and as Samuel did anoint David to be king, that thou mayst be blessed and established as king over this people, whom the Lord, thy God, hath given thee to rule and govern, which he has vouchsafed to grant, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, three in person and one in unity, be blessed and praised, now and for evermore. Amen.[9]

After this the royal gloves are blessed with two prayers (adapted from those used to bless those of a bishop) and are placed upon the king’s hands. Then the ring is blessed with the prayer “Bless, O Lord, and sanctify this ring, etc.” and placed upon the king’s hand with the original French formula, “Receive the ring, etc.” and the prayer “God to whom belongs all power, etc.” Then the scepter is placed into his right hand with the formula “Receive the scepter, the sign of kingly power, etc.” and the prayer “Lord, the fount of all good things, etc.” and the Hand of Justice in his left hand with the form “Receive the Rod of virtue and equity, etc.” Then the peers[10] were summoned by name to come near and assist. The Archbishop of Reims took the Crown of Charlemagne from the altar and says the forms “God crown thee with a crown of glory, etc.”, “Receive this crown, etc.” (a conflation of the old French and the Roman forms) and the prayer, “God of eternity, the Commander of all powers, etc.” set it on the king’s head, while the other eleven peers touched it with their right hands. The Archbishop then says a number of blessings (all of them also found in other coronation rites). After this, the king was lifted up into his throne on the rood screen by the lay peers, as the Archbishop said the words “Stand fast and hold firm the place, etc.” and as the choir sings the antiphon:

Let thy hand be strengthened and your right hand exalted. Let justice and judgment be the preparation of thy Seat and mercy and truth go before thy face.

The Archbishop says the prayer “God, who gave to Moses victory, etc.” and kisses the king with the words “May the king live forever” and his cry is taken up by the peers and all the people present as they acknowledged him as their duly anointed, crowned and enthroned king.

Mass is then said, with the collect “God, who didst visit those who are humble, etc.”, the Epistle is Lev. 26:6-9 and the Gospel is Matthew 22:15-22, the king receiving Holy Communion under both species (bread and wine).[3][11] At the conclusion of the Mass the Oriflamme is blessed.

The king’s return to Paris and his Joyous Entry into the capital through the gate facing the Abbey of St. Denis (i.e., the same exit by which his corpse would later be brought for burial in the same abbey church) completed the inauguration of the French king


3. “Coronation — LoveToKnow 1911”. Retrieved 2008-10-12.

5. The following account is based on that given in Coronation Rites by Reginald D. Maxwell Woolley, B.D. Cambridge University Press, 1915 and from “Pertinent Extracts from the Ceremony of the Sacre” in The Legend of the Ste. Ampoule by Sir Francis Oppenheimer, K.C., M.G., London: Faber & Faber Limited, 24 Russell Square.

6. From 1364 to 1484, this contained a clause in which the king promised to main the rights of the French Crown (i.e., against English claims to the throne of France)

7. Oppenheimer. Translation by Mrs. Kemp-Welsh.

8. Oppenheimer only mentions the dalmatic and royal mantle.

9. Text not given in either Woolley or Oppenheimer. The text quoted is translation of Archbishop Laud for the Coronation of Charles I of England.

10. Francois Velde (2005-10-11). “French Peerage”. 2009-06-20.

11. Le Goff, Jacques (1990). “A Coronation Program for the Age of Saint Louis: The Ordo of 1250”. In Bak, János M. Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchic Ritual. Berkeley: University of California Press. Retrieved 2008-10-12.

Further Reading:

  • Menin, Nicolas. A Description of the Coronation of the Kings and Queens of France, Printed for S. Hooper, 1775.