Mary of Guise, Queen Regent of Scotland

  • Alias: Marie of Guise
  • Born: 22 November 1515
    Bar-le-Duc, Lorraine, France
  • Died: 11 June 1560
    Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
  • Cause of Death: Dropsy
  • Religion: Roman Catholic
  • Parents: Claude, Duke of Guise
    Antoinette de Bourbon
  • Spouse(s): Louis II, Duke of Longueville (m. 1534; wid. 1537)
    James V of Scotland (m.1538; wid. 1542)
  • Children: Francis, Duke of Longueville
    Mary Queen of Scots

Following the death of the consumptive Queen Madeleine, daughter of Francis I of France, James V of Scotland sent the newly appointed Cardinal Bethune to Paris in early 1538 to find him a new French bride.  The chosen spouse was Marie of Guise born in 1515, daughter of the powerful Claude, Duke of Guise. She was the widow of the Duke of Longueville, Grand Chamberlain of France, who had died in 1537, by when she had produced two sons.  She was ‘of the largest size of women with dark auburn hair and creamy skin’.  Always affable and generous, she gained many admirers with her regal confidence and intelligence. She had already been considered as a wife for Henry VIII after the death of Jane Seymour.  Although he admired her dignified bearing, the Guise family did not see a link to the Protestant English King, an enemy of France, as meeting their political interests. She herself claimed that although her figure was big, her neck was small!

Marie’s grandfather was René, Duke of Lorraine, an independent duchy between France and Germany.  In addition to vast territories there, René also held substantial estates in France, which he left on his death in 1508 to his second son Claude, who became a naturalised Frenchman.  Claude was a kinsman on his mother’s side of the Dauphin, soon to be Francis I.  In 1513, he married Antoinette daughter of Francis, Count of Vendôme, head of the powerful Bourbon family.  He pursued a brilliant military career, accompanying Francis I to Italy and surviving near fatal wounds at the battle of Marignano.  As an ardent Catholic, he became a bastion against the heretics and, in 1525, was created Duke of Guise.

During her husband’s frequent absences abroad, Antoinette settled at Joinville, a turreted castle above the River Marne, one hundred and fifty miles east of Paris on the borders with Lorraine.  Here, as a warm-hearted and perceptive mother, she raised her large family to follow their parents’ devotion to the Catholic faith.  The Guises had traditionally provided the Cardinal Archbishops of Reims, who crowned the French Kings, a position providing them with a dominant position in Catholic Church politics.  From this role, they established their political influence with the French Crown.  Joinville had its own chapel with its interior enriched with precious relics.  This was served by nine canons and four choristers, who sang at daily services. The eldest son, Francis, Duke d’Aumale, was also a brilliant general, who became Duke of Guise on his father’s death in 1550. His next brother was the politically adept Charles, Cardinal of Guise, soon to become Cardinal of Lorraine and the most influential administrator at the French Court.

Marie of Guise was initially destined for a career in the church, but after a visit by her uncle Antoine, Duke of Lorraine, he decided that his tall and elegant niece would serve the family better by making an illustrious marriage.  She returned with him to Nancy before being sent to the French Court, where she met and married Longueville in 1534.  On his death three years later, she was advised by Francis I that she would become the bride of James V in Scotland, following the death of his daughter Madeleine.  She was obliged her to leave her surviving son, Francis, in the care of her mother in France.  There are rumours that Henri II, still the Dauphin, had fallen for her and wished to repudiate the childless Catherine de Medici, so that he could marry her himself.  Certainly they were always on close terms.  This could have explained why his father wanted the glamorous widow out of the way in Scotland. Despite every effort, neither Marie not her mother could persuade him to change his mind.

The marriage, on 18 May 1538, took place by proxy with Lord Maxwell arriving from Scotland to act as proxy bridegroom at Notre Dame in Paris. Bethune escorted the new Queen from France to Scotland with a flotilla of ships and 2,000 men under Maxwell’s command.  She travelled with a household of one hundred and thirty-seven servants, some Scottish and some French, including thirty-eight women, of which six were ladies-in-waiting, nineteen maids-of-honour, twelve chamber-women and one washerwoman.   After landing on 10 June at Crail on the Fife coast, she travelled to St. Andrews, for a second wedding ceremony with James, at which Cardinal Bethune crowned her as Queen of Scotland.  There were pageants and plays performed in her honour and she tactfully claimed that Scotland was not the barbarous country destitute of comforts she had been led to believe in France.  As part of her dowry, she brought with her a modest number of French troops. She soon set about updating the Scottish royal palaces in the French style. Yet her letters to her mother show that she was secretly homesick, pining for her son, the delicate three-year-old Francis, Duke of Longueville.  James continued to court a succession of pretty mistresses and set not much store by the queen.  Yet their first son, James, Duke of Rothesay, was born on 22 May 1539, followed by Arthur, Duke of Albany, on 27 April 1541.  Tragically Arthur died two days after his birth at Stirling, and his brother, James, four weeks later at St. Andrews.  Despite their grief, Marie comforted her husband that they were young enough to produce more children, but she did not immediately conceive.

At last, on 14 December 1542, Marie gave birth to a daughter, Mary. James died four days later, distraught at the defeat of his troops fighting the English at Solway Moss. With Bethune’s help, Marie of Guise, now Queen Dowager, bravely took on the role of protecting her daughter’s kingdom.  The Guises had trained her well in the craft of Government, but little could have prepared her to deal with the unreliable Scots.  She had no confidante to turn to and communication with France took time.  She had to rely on her family’s recognition of the strategic importance of a Scottish alliance for both France and the Catholic Church.  To assure this, she determined on a marriage for her newly born daughter with an appropriate French prince, but had a battle on her hands to persuade the Protestants among her nobles to support this course of action. The Earl of Arran who was now Regent had been bribed by Henry VIII of England to promote his son Prince Edward as Mary’s husband.The Queen Dowager was still young and attractive herself and had a number of suitors from among the Scottish nobility, but saw the folly of allying with one faction to the detriment of her relationship with the remainder. Yet she enjoyed competing suits from the 3rd Earl of Bothwell and the 4th Earl of Lennox, recently returned from France.

After persistant English aggression, the Scots at last realised that they needed French help. This required them to accept Mary’s betrothal to the French Dauphin, Francis, and, in 1548, at the age of five, Mary set out for France, leaving her mother behind to maintain her Kingdom. Only once, in 1550 was the Queen Dowager able to leave Scotland to visit her daughter, but, while in France, her surviving son from her first marriage, the sixteen-year-old Duke of Longueville, died in her arms. After her return, the Queen Dowager was at last able to wrest the Scottish Regency from Arran, now Duke of Châtelherault.and she became Queen Regent. Her principal concern was to combat the growing power of the Presbyterians led by a group of nobles, known as the Lords of the Congregation, who were incited by a vituperative Calvinist preacher, John Knox. When an outbreak of violence broke out at Perth after one of Knox’s sermons, her French garrison was unable to maintain control.

Progressively the Presbyterians became better organised under the leadership of Lord James Stewart, an illegitimate son of James V, and the Queen Regent became holed up with her garrison at Leith. Although her French troops fought doggedly on her behalf, she was suffering from Dropsy and died at Edinburgh Castle in June 1560. Mary, who was now Queen of France, was distraught, and her husband Francis II died five months later. It was her half-brother Lord James Stewart, who encouraged her to return to her Scottish throne.