Queen of Scotland: Mary of Guise
An influential regent and mother
Mary of Guise was born on 22 November 1515 in Bar-le-Duc in the Lorraine region of France. She was the daughter of Claude of Lorraine, Duke of Guise and Antoinette of Bourbon. In 1530 her uncle, the Duke of Lorraine, brought her to the royal court. Being from a dynastic family, she was always going to marry into royalty.
Her first marriage, at the age of eighteen, was to Louis II of Orleans, Duke of Longueville. She had two sons Francis and Louis, before her husband died of smallpox in 1537. Sadly her youngest son also died in infancy.
She had little time to grieve. The Scottish king, James V, had lost his wife and wanted to marry a French noble lady to maintain Scotland’s ‘auld alliance’ with France. Although Mary had no intention of marrying the king or leaving her home, she was forced to marry in May 1538 and leave her older son Francis behind while she started a new life in Scotland.
Regent of Scotland
Mary had two sons. James was born in 1540, and Robert followed in 1541, but they both died in April 1541. She became pregnant the next year, and Mary, her daughter, was born in December 1542, just six days before the king died. With the king of Scotland dead, Mary assumed she would be named regent, but instead, the position was given to the Earl of Arran.
Unhappy with this turn of events, Mary rallied her supporters, and in 1544, they tried to take control, but Arran remained unreachable, holed up in Edinburgh castle. However, they managed to make a truce, and in 1554, Arran finally surrendered the regency on the condition that he would be her heir.
Mary inherited a country rife with violence. The English constantly warred with the Scots and as well as that there was ongoing clan warfare. Religion was amongst the causes with Protestants rebelling against Catholics. As Mary was a Catholic and wanted Scotland to become a Catholic country, she came under attack from the pulpit and from a group of protestant nobles called the Lords of the Congregation.
The earl of Arran led the Lords of the Congregation in revolt against Mary. The English backed them with soldiers Elizabeth I sent to swell their troops, but Mary drew on her own allies, and her supporters were reinforced with soldiers from France. After many months of fighting and civil unrest, Mary was forced to retreat to Edinburgh and then Dunbar, where she signed a truce that promised religious tolerance. She was described as having the “heart of a man of war.”
Mother of Mary, Queen of Scots
While Mary had had to deal with the ongoing war in Scotland, she had decided to send her daughter to France. The earl of Arran had wanted James V’s daughter to marry Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII. But Mary saw no benefit in allying with England and instead wanted her daughter to marry into France.
Mary, her daughter, was born in December 1542, just six days before the king died
The young girl who would become known as Mary, Queen of Scots, married the French dauphin, Francois, in 1558. Two years later, an English army invaded Scotland, and Mary was forced to seek shelter in Edinburgh castle. Once there, she fell ill, and knowing she was dying, she sent for the Lords of the Congregation. She asked that they look to her daughter as their new sovereign and begged them to maintain the ‘auld alliance’ with France.
She took to her bed and made her will on June 8, 1560. She died three days later of dropsy at the age of 45, although it has been rumored that she was actually poisoned. Mary had been a strong and influential leader doing what she thought best for a country that was continually at war. Her body was secretly returned to France, and her daughter was able to say her final goodbyes at her mother’s funeral at Fécamp in July 1561.
A deeper dive – Related reading from the 101:
- Skol! 1,100-year-old Viking beer hall unearthed in Scotland | History 101
A fantastic discovery in the land Mary of Guise loved
- Is the Loch Ness Monster mystery solved? | History 101
One of Scotland’s oldest mysteries