Mary and Francis in Catherine de' Medici's book of hours, c. 1558 ©Public Domain

How a street lost its ribald name (perhaps…)

According to the story… One day Mary Queen of Scots asked an innocent question. Following her all-too-brief marriage to Francis II, the Dauphin of France, the teenage queen consort, who had arrived speaking only her native Scot, was learning French and proved to be a quick study. At the time Francis II had been crowned King of France but, too young to rule, his mother the formidable Catherine de Medici became regent. The teenage queen consort was learning French and, always eager to expand her vocabulary, when she passed by this street in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, which was then known as rue Tire-Boudin, asked what the name meant.

Cue much embarrassed coughing and shuffling of feet. Suffice it to say that the indelicate term apparently referred to a certain activity performed by practitioners of the oldest profession, who were known to conduct their business in this street. The first part, tire, is from the verb ‘to pull’; the second part… ahem… we’ll trust that you can fill in the blanks.

No member of Mary’s entourage found the courage, or linguistic means, to explain to her the meaning of the street name, but that didn’t stop the anecdote from quickly making the rounds in court through the bouche-à-oreille grapevine.

The consensus among contemporary historians is that this story is entirely apocryphal, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story? Whichever the case, we do know that a decree in 1809 designated the street as rue Marie-Stuart, the name it retains to this day.

Read other installments in our “Read the Signs” series:
Read the Signs: Rue Crémieux in Paris
Read the Signs: Place de l’Europe- Simone Veil in Paris

Read the Signs: Boulevard Haussmann in Paris
Read the Signs: Rue du Chat qui Pêche in Paris
Read the Signs: Rue des Mauvais Garçons in Paris
Read the Signs: Avenue de Champagne
Read the Signs: Rue du Temple in Paris
Read the Signs: Rue Guy-Môquet in Paris
Read the Signs: Rue des Francs-Bourgeois in Paris
Read the Signs: Boulevard Diderot in Paris

From France Today magazine

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