French Renaissance Paleography


London, 2 May 1581
Discours et harangue des ambassadeurs du Roy avec ceulx d’Angleterre touchant le pourparler du mariaige d’entre monseigneur le duc d’Anjou et d’Alençon avec la Royne d’Angleterre
Washington, D.C., Folger Shakespeare Library, MS V.b. 49


This is the story of the princess and the frog, or that of Queen Elizabeth I and her last serious suitor, François, duke of Alençon and Anjou.

In the context of the threat of war with Spain in the 1570s and 1580s, a matrimonial alliance between Queen Elizabeth and a French prince was considered highly desirable on both sides of the Channel. Catherine de Medici was determined to see one of her sons rule England. The first candidate in 1570-71 was her third son Henri, who would later become King Henri III of France, but he called off the match in 1572. Almost immediately, Catherine started a new campaign, offering her youngest son François, duke of Alençon and Anjou (1555-1584), as a prospective suitor for Elizabeth. From 1572 to 1583, this projected alliance, now referred to as the Alençon match, was used as a diplomatic tool to ensure peace between France and England.

Elizabeth was favorable to the match and appears to have been fond of François. She was seen wearing the frog-shaped earrings he sent her, and called him her “little frog” in the letters they exchanged. During François’s second visit in England, Elizabeth even formally announced at court her intention to marry him (22 November 1581), giving him a kiss and a ring on that occasion. Elizabeth herself may have composed the famous poem “On Monsieur’s Departure” when François sailed for the Netherlands on 1 February 1582. Nevertheless, the courtship was definitely broken off a few months later: Elizabeth’s letter from 10 September 1583, in reply to François’s request for support for his war in the Netherlands, terminated the relationship.

There were serious oppositions to the match, especially from the English Parliament and the city of London. At issue was François’s faith, as well as the age difference between the two (Elizabeth was 39 in 1572, and François, 17). Elizabeth’s childbearing ability was also a cause of concern for both sides.

The document presented here was likely drafted by Pierre Clausse, lord of Marchaumont and secretary of state, and Jean Bodin, a jurist and member of the Parlement de Paris, during an embassy to London in the spring of 1581. It appears in a manuscript compilation dated about 1575-1585, written in several contemporary hands. The collection was most probably put together in France, possibly by someone associated with royal circles. It includes different types of documents organized somewhat chronologically: treatises (on substance dualism, heretics, and good government), speeches (to the Queen Mother, the King, the French courts of justice; also pleas and remonstrances), letters (by Queen Elizabeth, and the King of Navarre, a cousin of the French royal family), poems (sonnets and acrostic poems), various decrees from the Parlement de Paris, and more. Letters by Elizabeth I, dated 1585 and addressed to the king of France and the Queen Mother, follow the documents related to the “Alençon match” (see folios 133r-143v). A veiled allusion to the match also appears in the Harangue faicte à la Royne mere du Roy à Poictiers par le seigneur de Salevert presidial de ladicte ville le lendemain de son arrivée qui fut le vingt huictiesme novembre 1575/manifest (fol. 33r), copied in the same volume.