Marie de Guise

November 22 will forever be remembered as the day a president was shot and killed, but I really prefer to remember births instead of deaths, and on this day in 1515, we had a good birthday: that of Marie de Guise, wife of James V of Scotland and mother of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Marie was born at Bar-le-Duc, Lorraine into the powerful Guise family, which wielded considerable power at the French court. She was the eldest daughter in a family of 11children that would later include two dukes and two cardinals. She became a duchess at the age of 18 when she married Louis, Duke of Longueville at the Louvre. The two enjoyed a happy, albeit brief marriage. Marie gave birth to a son, Francis, in 1537 and then found herself a widow at the age of 21. She kept Louis’s last letter to her for the rest of her life, and it can now be seen at the National Library of Scotland. She gave birth to a second son, also named Louis, shortly after her husband’s death.

In 1537, the same year as Louis’s death, James V of Scotland—who had also recently lost a spouse—started looking around for a replacement queen. He favored a French bride in order to further the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France against England. During a trip to France, James noticed Marie, who at the time was turning down a suit from James’s uncle, Henry VIII, who had also recently been widowed. James made his suit to Francis I, King of France, who accepted on Marie’s behalf and sent the happy news to her father. Marie wasn’t pleased by the idea of being forced to leave her family and homeland, but this was the 16th century and ladies of stature had little say in how their lives went. The contract was finalized in January 1538, and that May they were married by proxy at Notre-Dame de Paris. Marie departed for Scotland in June, leaving her young son behind. She landed in Fife on June 10 and she and James were married in person a few days later at St. Andrews. She was crowned as Queen Consort at Holyrood Abbey in February 1540.

Marie and James wasted no time starting a family: she gave birth to their first son, James Stewart, in May 1540. Robert followed a year later, but both boys died in April 1541. Queen Marie was soon pregnant again with the child who would become Queen of Scotland at only a few days old.

Following James’s sudden death in December 1542, the government of Scotland was handed over to James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran. Henry VIII used the chaos surrounding James’s untimely demise to try and force a marriage between little Mary and his son, Prince Edward. The Scots’ reluctance to play ball led to an English invasion known as the Rough Wooing. Marie took refuge with her daughter at Stirling Castle and started working to appease Henry by promising Mary and Edward would be engaged when Mary turned ten. Henry was not persuaded, but the Scots were soon joined in the battlefield by French troops. Marie herself visited Haddington when it was under siege in 1548 and saw 16 members of her entourage killed around her. Concluding that Scotland wasn’t safe for her daughter, she and the Scottish Parliament agreed to send Mary to France, where she would be raised alongside her future husband, the dauphin. Marie remained behind in Scotland, where she fought tooth and nail to keep her daughter’s swiftly fracturing kingdom together.

Peace was finally concluded with England in 1550, allowing Marie time to slip away to France and spend time with her daughter. She remained with the French court through the winter, then spent the summer touring the countryside with King Henry II. On her way back to Scotland, she swung by Whitehall Palace to meet the young King Edward, who gave her a diamond ring that had once belonged to Katherine Parr.

Upon her return to Scotland, Marie set about consolidating her power, and she was eventually named regent in 1554. She consulted her brothers on many matters, and she put Frenchmen in charge of the treasury and the Great Seal. The French ambassador was also permitted to attend many privy council meetings. This was not the best move—the appointments of these Frenchmen fueled the resentment of the Scottish nobility.

Despite her poor personnel appointments, Marie proved herself a fairly capable leader in a country notoriously difficult to rule. Despite her abilities, some of her orders were undermined by the nobles. At the same time, the growing influence of the Scottish Protestants was becoming a problem, particularly for the French-Catholic regent. Although Marie tolerated some Protestant preachers early on, once Elizabeth came to the English throne and Henry of France decided he needed Scottish to be a firmly Catholic country so Elizabeth could be squashed, things changed. The changes weren’t dramatic, but they were enough to stir up trouble, even amongst the powerful lords known as the Lords of the Congregation, who were starting to join the Protestant movement. Stirred up by Protestant fanatic John Knox, riots broke out and mobs started sacking religious houses. Marie sent troops to Perth to control the crowds, but they were forced to withdraw when the mob turned out to be larger than expected.

Marie put her faith in the Earls of Argyll and Moray, both of them Protestants. They abandoned her and joined the Lords of the Congregation at St. Andrews, and soon they controlled Edinburgh too. Marie retreated to Dunbar and made peace with them in July 1559, promising religious tolerance. But the fights continued, with Marie calling on reserves of trained French troops, which drove the rebels back to Stirling. Only the timely arrival of an English fleet saved the rebels from disaster.

Marie probably would have gone on fighting, but she became ill in 1560, and she died on June 11 of dropsy. Her body was taken to France, where she was buried in the Convent of Saint-Pierre in Reims, where her sister was abbess. The only one of her five children to survive her was her daughter, Mary, who was soon to return to Scotland herself. Sadly, Mary proved to be a far worse monarch than her mother, and within a few years she lost the throne her mother had fought so hard to hold for her.

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