The Queen’s Mother: Marie de Guise

Marie de Guise

Marie de Guise

Known as the mother of the tragic Mary of Scotland, Marie De Guise was the daughter of a powerful French family. Married once, and widowed soon enough, Marie De Guise would marry a second time, making her the Queen of Scotland. Strong and dignified, it was Marie De Guise who would rule Scotland for years after the death of her husband, holding the country in line for her infant daughter. She was a woman to be reckoned with who showed her royal dignity.

A French Catholic Childhood

Marie was born in the castle of Bar-le-Duc in France on November 22, 1515. She was the child of Claude, Duke of Guise, and Antoinette of Bourbon. Marie was the oldest child of her parents union and was an only child for the first four years of her life. She was followed by Francis. Marie would go on to become one of twelve children. At the age of eleven Marie was sent to live with her grandmother, Philippa of Guelders at Pont-à-Mousson, where she received a very religious upbringing. Marie was immersed into the selfless lifestyle of a Poor Clare: cooking, cleaning and gardening. Speculation has been made that Marie may have been destined for a convent, but when her uncle Antony, Duke of Lorraine, was visiting he met Marie and was impressed by her. At fourteen Marie was tall and attractive, with a regal manner. Her uncle decided instead of shutting Marie away she should be removed from Pont-à-Mousson and prepared for a life at court. She possessed the qualities necessary for a successful career at court and most likely the Duke of Lorraine was looking to promote his own success by taking his young attractive niece under his wing.

Groomed for Royalty

Marie’s uncle hoped to boost the Guise family by using Marie to make a good match. Marie was striking with her reddish-gold hair, broad cheek bones, and small blue-grey eyes. Initially the Duke of Lorraine hoped that Marie may be able to make a match with one of the King’s sons. The King of France, Francis I, had three legitimate sons at the time that could all be considered possible suitors for Marie. To prepare Marie for such an honor Antony whisked her away to his magnificent palace in Nancy and began grooming her for her launch into French society. In 1511, the coronation of Eleanor of Austria seemed like a perfect opportunity for Marie’s appearance in society. Marie rode with her aunt and uncle to the large public event. Marie was later presented to the royal couple and greeted warmly, even being invited to ride in the royal train.

Eleanor of Austria

Eleanor of Austria

For the next three years Marie would live out her life in the extravagant court of Francis I. She would become a great favorite of the King, who treated her as if she were his own child. She also was favored by his daughters, Madeline and Margaret, who became Marie’s close friends. At the age of seventeen Marie was widely liked and the issue of her marriage became a pressing issue.

Duchess of Longueville

It is believed Marie’s parents took time in arranging her marriage because they secretly hoped she would be wed into the royal family, however, after Prince Henri’s marriage to Catherine de Medici Marie’s parents abandon that idea. After the royal marriage it was only a matter of weeks until Marie was engaged to one of three of France’s dukes. Though it was not a prince, it was the next best thing for their oldest child.

Louis II d’Orleans, the Duke of Longueville, was only five years older than Marie. He had inherited his title at a young age, due to the death of his brother. The negotiations for the marriage proved difficult, and after some back and forth the wedding took place on August 4, 1534. The royal family was present at the wedding, and it soon became clear the couple was very happy in the marriage. Just a year after their marriage Marie gave birth to their first child. A son, Francis, was born October 30, 1535. With an heir born there seemed nothing but joy between Marie and Louis. In their life they split their time between court and their estates. Marie was known for her generosity and care of those less fortunate on her lands. She exuded all virtuous qualities of a noble lady.

On January 1, 1537 Marie was honored as one of the guest at the marriage of her friend, Princess Madeline of Valois to her future husband, King James of Scotland. The royal couple remained in France until May and Marie attended them during this time. She was pregnant again and when the royal couple finally departed for home, Marie retired to Chateaudun Castle to give birth to her second child. Marie’s husband was on his annual progress during this time. An unfortunate misdiagnosis led to the death of the Duke on June 9, 1537. At twenty-one Marie was now a pregnant widow.

Chateau Chateaudun

Chateau Chateaudun

Queen of Scotland

Marie, despite the worries of her family, sailed through the rest of her pregnancy fine. On August 4, 1537 she gave birth to her second son and named him after his father, Louis. It was around this same time that Marie learned she was not the only widow. News arrived from Scotland that Madeline of Valois had dies on July 7, 1537 from her tuberculosis. The new widower, King James, grieved for his bride, but he did not waste time in seeking a replacement. Wanting to maintain his alliance with the French, James wrote to his father-in-law, King Francis, in search of a new bride.

Francis was happy to oblige James. He quickly wrote to the King that he believed the Duchess of Longueville, recently widowed herself, would make a fine match. James was thrilled and dispatched an ambassador to bring back his soon-to-be bride at once. Marie, on the other hand, was not so thrilled. Having only been widowed for two months Marie was appalled at the idea of another husband. Besides this, the reality that she would have to leave her oldest son tore at her. But Marie was born a woman, and though she was a mother twice over she was not in control of her future. Francis called her father Claud to court to arrange the marriage and Claud agreed to the match, despite his daughter’s hesitation. Marie would be the next Queen of Scotland whether she wanted to be or not.

The arrangements were messy, to say the least. The King of Scotland demanded a rather large dowry. Rather than pay for it all himself, Francis arranged to have some of it come from Marie’s jointure lands from her widowhood. The problem with this though was that her new marriage was robbing her son (now her only son, for Louis died at four months old) of his inheritance. Marie, her mother, and her father all wrote furiously to each other and eventually the King let it be known he would take no further steps without first consulting Marie. Thankful, Marie proved to be quite an adept business woman. She created what would now a days be called a prenuptial. She arranged for a return of part of her dowry if her husband should die before her and she would be able to reclaim all her possessions in his death. In exchange, she agreed not to seek out any share of James’s property or goods on his death. Marie would also be settled with several jointure lands. Overall, Marie would become a very well off widow in the event of her new husband’s death. Best of all, her son’s inheritance would not be compromised.

Marie and James

Marie and James

As was tradition of the time, the bride and groom did not really know each other and love was not at play in their match. A letter James wrote to Marie however revealed his feelings towards his position and his desire for a strong woman to stand beside him. This must have moved Marie, for she pushed the wedding plans forward and was married by proxy on May 9, 1538.

Marie and her Scottish escorts stayed in France a few more weeks before setting off for Scotland on June 10. Besides her Scottish escorts Marie was also joined by her sister Louise and her uncle Duke Antony. The voyage went smoothly and she arrived in Scotland on Trinity Sunday. She then travelled to St. Andrews where her new husband was waiting for her, and a service was held to confirm their marriage. The court stayed there for 40 days to celebrate the marriage before travelling through Marie’s jointure lands. After an enjoyable summer progress, Marie finally made her entry into the capital, Edinburgh, on November 16, 1538.

A New World

Marie adjusted well to her new life and was easily liked. She formed a relationship with her difficult mother-in-law and with many of her husband’s illegitimate children. Her primary task though was to produce an heir, and after a year of marriage and no pregnancy Marie began to worry. James had not yet had her crowned and many of Marie’s family feared he may set her aside if she did not prove fertile soon. Around September of 1539 Marie discovered she was pregnant and all fears were set aside to make way for the joy and anticipation of the royal couple. James immediately began planning Marie’s coronation, not caring if the child was a male or a female. At six months pregnant Marie was crowned on February 22, 1540.

As Marie prepared for the birth of her child her husband, James, set off to the West Isles to deal with unrest. He had barely set off when news arrived from his wife. On May 22, 1540 a son was born. The heir was baptized James and immediately given his own separate household and the title Prince of Scotland.

Despite the joy of an heir Marie still had worries. Her husband was often ill and taken to fits of depression. To make matters worse, she received news that her son James was ill. The one piece of happy news during this time was that Marie was pregnant again. She conceived just two months after giving birth to James. On April 24, 1541 Marie gave birth to another son, Robert.

Joy at a second heir was short lived. A week after Robert’s christening news arrived that Prince James was gravely ill. He died before his father could reach him. Mourning the death of their heir, news soon came that Prince Robert too was deathly ill. Robert died hours after his father received the message. The King and Queen buried their sons together and wept for their extreme misfortune.

The Queen’s Sorrow

Things were rocky for a short while between the King and Queen, as can be expected after the death of both children. After a year of mourning their relationship seemed to clear up and they had good news finally. Once again, Marie was pregnant. Her joy was overshadowed though by a threat from England. Henry VIII had sent troops to kidnap James so that Henry could claim Scotland. The English troops were defeated at Kelso, but fear of further attack had set in. James, from the urging of his councilors, decided play offense and invade England himself, rather than wait for another attack.

Mary of Scots as a child

Mary of Scots as a child

On November 24, 1542 the Scots met the English on the battlefield, this time suffering a humiliating defeat. The King was not present at that battle and was safe from harm, however many of his nobles were captured. The King left the field and rejoined his wife, who was in her final weeks of pregnancy, but he couldn’t stay long. James rode on to another castle where he was overcome with a fever. At the same time, Marie went into labor and delivered a daughter, Mary, on December 8, 1542. On December 14 James died and Marie was widowed for a second time, only this time her child was now Queen of Scotland.

The Game of Regency

-With the new Queen only days old the question of regency of Scotland came in to play. Marie believed she would become regent; mothers often took on that role, however her circumstances made this impossible in the beginning. Having just given birth, Marie could not be among society for a month. Instead she had to watch from the sidelines as Cardinal Beaton and the Earl of Arran (first in line to the throne now) struggled for control over the infant Mary and control of Scotland. Marie decided to support Cardinal Beaton only because she believed he would act in French interest. When the nobles met to choose a regent though they appointed the Earl of Arran regent with Cardinal Beaton made Lord Chancellor. The bitter rivals would now be forced to work together.

They had their work cut out for them too. Henry VIII had ceased his war with the death of King James, but now he saw a new opportunity to gain Scotland. Instead of waging war, Henry wanted a diplomatic solution: marry his son Edward to the new Queen of Scotland, Mary. Henry sent letters hinting at disaster should Marie refuse his offer. He even went so far as to release his Scottish prisoners on the promise that they too work to secure this marriage.

Marie was aware of the constant danger her daughter was in, not only from abroad but also at home. It became even more evident when Lord Arran had Cardinal Beaton seized. Marie, afraid now for her daughter, hurried to the castle where the young Queen was stationed. No sooner did she arrive before a large retinue of Lord Arran’s men came, claiming the Queen needed a larger retinue. Marie knew that if she continued to allow Lord Arran to surround her daughter then the danger would increase and young Mary may at any time be handed over to King Henry VIII. Marie tried to move her daughter to a safer castle, but Lord Arran forbid it, arousing the dowager Queen’s fears even more. She and Mary became virtual prisoners in the castle.

The Threat of England

England continued to threaten Scotland and knowing that they were not in a position for war, Scotland agreed to a treaty. The treaty would have Mary move to England at age 11 to marry Edward. Lord Arran would remain in control of Scotland at that time. Marie did not like this idea. She was not the only one either. When the treaty was announced the people rebelled and even shot at the announcer. Marie knew she would need to get out of this treaty, but she would have to be patient.

The tension between Lord Arran and Marie was building as well. When French ships arrived at the Scottish coast Lord Arran flew into a panic, believing they had come to take the Queen away, and he increased the guards and soldiers there. Marie was appalled and appealed to Beaton. It was agreed among the Scottish Lords that Lord Arran should not have control of the Queen’s person anymore, and instead her care was transferred to four Lords. Finally Marie had some freedom and her life was beginning to take a turn for the better.

Her daughter was crowned Queen of Scotland. At the same time two Lords, Lord Bothwell and Lord Lennox, were competing for Marie’s hand in marriage. Marie had no interest in marrying either, but she did wish to keep both on her side. Marie still harbored hopes of becoming regent for her daughter; she just needed the opportunity and support. She also still needed to free her daughter from English rules and support. This was accomplished on December 15, 1543 when the treaty to marry Mary to Edward was declared null because of Henry VIII’s seizure of Scottish ships. Although happy to be able to renew her strong alliance with France Marie feared the repercussions of breaking the treaty with the King of England.

Those repercussions arrived in the form of English ships in May of 1544. The Earl of Hertford led English troops with orders from Henry to destroy Edinburgh. Arran and Beaton mustered troops to defend the town, but they proved ineffective and fled. Instead, the defense of the city came from the citizens who fired handguns out their windows. They were so effective that the English began firing at random and killed more of their own troops than anybody else. However, when the English began to use their artillery, the town was no match. The Earl of Hertford set Edinburgh aflame and moved on to destroy Fife. The Earl burned several cities, ships, and homes and Scotland was devastated by the damage it sustained. Marie was particularly upset, for the Earl had also burned Holyrood Abbey where her infant sons and deceased husband lay.

Power Play

With the devastation came opportunity. The time had come for Marie to attempt to seize power. The destruction of Scotland was blamed on Lord Arran on June 3 and regency was handed over to Marie. Lord Arran fled and began fortifying Holyrood house to prevent parliament from holding their meeting to formally strip him of his power. This postponement was successful for in the end parliament revoked their original decision, leaving Lord Arran as Lord Governor, but Marie became a member of a special council that would guide the Lord Governor.

Though the issue of power had been resolved for the time being, the issue of England remained. Lord Arran led another set of troops, this time defeating the English. After the victory more good news followed and the King of France sent a legion to help the Scots against the English. The combined forces attacked the North of England and burned some towns, but all this did was provoke an English retaliation and once again Lord Hertford came to destroy. He burned the town of Melrose.

A small break for the Scots came when news arrived that Henry VIII was dead. Joyed at this news, Marie would be saddened four months later when news arrived that King Francis had also died. However, the new King was Marie’s childhood friend, Henri. She felt confident that her alliance with France would now be stronger than ever.

She would need this alliance too, for the English came in full force this time and were drawing ever closer to the infant Queen. Marie decided it would be best to send her daughter to the secluded island of Inchmahone to keep her safe. She was kept there for a short while, but when Somerset’s army moved south the Queen was brought back to her mother at Sterling. The situation was still dire for Scotland. They did not have the manpower nor the heart to take on the English. As a solution, King Henri II proposed that Mary marry his son Francis, the Dauphin of France. This would solidify the alliance and guarantee French aid in the war with England. Though Marie had her reserves she agreed in order to protect Mary’s country. The English were not pleased and attacked Scotland once again. Marie could do nothing but wait for French reinforcements to come to her aid.

A Visit to France

When the French finally did arrive they followed Marie’s orders as if she were their King. In the first skirmish with the English they killed many and took many English hostages. While the French were laying havoc to the invading English, the time came for Marie to hold up her end of the bargain and send her daughter to France to be married to Francis. Marie watched her daughter board a ship on July 29, 1548. Unfair winds however kept the ship in port for a week, but Marie could not stand to witness it so she returned to Edinburgh. Marie would receive news two weeks after her daughter sailed that Mary had arrived safely. It was a bittersweet joy.

Military fighting continued between the English, French, and Scottish. The Scottish began to win several victories, but it wasn’t until the Treaty of Boulogne on March 24, 1550 that all the fighting ceased.

Marie was no stranger to tragedy after victory, and the treaty was no exception. After the fighting ended Marie received sad news. Her godfather had died, and just weeks later her father died. Marie decided it was time to travel to France to see her family. She also hoped to gain Henri II support in her bid for regent of Scotland. In August ships came to take Marie to France, but she would not actually set sail until early September. Marie landed safely in France on September 19, 1550. Marie enjoyed her time in France with her children and felt confident that Henri would support her in her bid for regency. However, she knew she could not linger for too long and began planning her return trip in April of 1551. A threat to her daughter though caused her to delay her departure until September. Marie took her son with her, but he fell ill and died in her arms. Marie left France in October in the deepest of despair.

Marie, instead of heading straight to Scotland decided to visit the monarch she had been at war with for so long, Edward VI of England. Marie was entertained by a number of prominent lords before finally being presented to the King. They enjoyed a fine dinner together before Marie set out the next day to make her way back to Scotland, where she was greeted by a retinue of Scottish Lords.


With a rumor that Lennox planned to seize control of the government the time finally came for Marie to act. With several financial promises Marie was able to convince the Lord Governor to resign his position and promote Marie as regent. Finally, on April 12, 1554 Marie was made Queen Regent of Scotland. Marie promptly began her regency by replacing the former Lord Governor’s men with her own and seizing the property of those who opposed her and redistributing it to her supporters.

Marie spent much of her time reintroducing and reinforcing laws which had been utilized during her husband’s time. Her dream was to make Scotland a modern country.

Mary and Francis

Mary and Francis

The Lords were not so keen to back Marie up. Many of them harassed Marie about the fact that though the contract was in place the marriage between the Dauphin and the young Queen had still not taken place. Marie wrote a tactful letter to Henri to explain the concern, but it had no effect. In fact, Henri replied that he was at war with Spain, England’s ally, and he needed Scotland to distract England. Marie did not have the forces needed, but she knew she must comply with Henri’s request. She led a small force to raid the border. The raid was unsuccessful, but Marie’s brother led a successful campaign that allowed France to recapture the town of Calais and as a reward Henri pushed the marriage of Mary of Scots and his son, deciding there was no further need for delay. The two were married on April 24, 1558. The marriage was the final solidification in the friendship between France and Scotland and it greatly satisfied Marie, who was still in her heart a Frenchwoman.

New Threats

Marie soon faced a new threat. Although the fighting between Scotland and England had ceased with another treaty the English invasion had caused a Protestant upstart. Many people were converting and it was causing unrest. In one situation a statue of a saint was stolen, dragged, and burned. Marie was shocked by the demonstration. Protestants began to put their petitions before the Queen Regent, but she dismissed them claiming they were orchestrated for nonreligious reasons. Further demonstrations and debauchery would be caused by the Protestants. The more they demonstrated the stricter Marie became.

Marie was now in an unofficial war with her subjects. The Protestants grew more and more bold, and now the English were unofficially supporting them too. The Protestants seized the coining irons. Meanwhile Marie waited for help from France that would not come, for news arrived that Henri had had a fatal accident. Marie had no choice but to order her army to march even though she was greatly outnumbered. When the two armies met they were forced to negotiate and an agreement was forged. The Protestants returned the coining irons while Marie agreed to allow the Protestants their worship free of persecution. For now there was peace.

The End

The Protestants continued their rebellion and Marie could not continue to fight. She was growing ill. She wrote desperately to her son-in-law to send aid. While waiting again for French aid the Protestants marched on the castle Marie was staying in and she barely slipped away. The Lords wrote Marie attempting to deny her of her regency, but they soon discovered they did not have as much power as they supposed. Marie was soon reentering the capital and remained regent. Her illness however had grown worse. Marie didn’t have time to rest though. Elizabeth continued to send reinforcements to remove French soldiers from Scotland. Things grew worse by the hour and Marie attempted to keep things in control. She came to the conclusion that the best thing for Scotland would be to get rid of all foreigners, French and English. Marie attempted to negotiate, but the Congregation refused her terms.

On May 25 Marie’s health once again took a turn for the worst. She wrote her last letters to her brothers. By June 1 Marie was unable to eat anything. Marie knew she was dying and sent for the Lords of the Kingdom on June 7. Marie begged the Lords to maintain an alliance with France and cease their dealings with England. She also urged them to follow her daughters rule. Many of the Lords left her room weeping. On June 8 Marie drew up her will, and finally, on June 11, 1560 Marie de Guise died.

Despite all her hardship and battles with the English Marie had maintained Scotland for her daughter, though Mary of Scots herself would lose control of the country to the Protestants. Marie was remembered by many, loved by the French, disliked and admired by the English, and tolerated by the Scots. She ruled an unruly kingdom during time of unrest and managed to hold her daughter’s inheritance until her dying day.

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