On 8th December 1542, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, Mary, Queen of Scots was born at Linlithgow Palace, Scotland, to King James V of Scotland and his second wife, Mary of Guise.
It’s disputed on the exact date of her birth, according to John Lesley, Bishop of Ross, who had special access to official records, it’s said she was born on the 7th. Suggesting that she was actually born on the 7th, but changed to the 8th to coincide with the feast of the Virgin Mary.
Not long after her birth, she was baptised at the nearby Church of St Michael.
Whatever the date was, she was born prematurely and was the only legitimate child of James V to survive him. She was also the great-niece of King Henry VIII of England through her paternal grandmother, Margaret Tudor, Henry’s elder sister.
On the news of his wife, Mary of Guise, giving birth to a daughter, James V on his deathbed said; “it cam wi’ a lass and it will gang wi’ a lass!” Meaning the House of Stewart had gained the throne of Scotland through the marriage of Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert the Bruce, to Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland. The crown had come to his family through a woman, and would be lost through a woman. This legendary statement came true, not through Mary, but through her descendant, Queen Anne.
For more details on the House of Stewart, click here.
Six days later after her birth, on 14 December 1542, James V died, leaving the tiny infant as Queen of Scotland. James V’s death was perhaps the effects of a nervous collapse following the defeat from the Battle of Solway Moss, or from drinking contaminated water while on campaign.
Rumours plagued that Mary was a weak and frail baby, some went as far to say she was dead. It wasn’t until in March 1543, when Ralph Sadler, and English diplomat, saw the infant at Linlithgow Palace. Mary of Guise asked the nurse to unwrap Mary to prove she was indeed alive and healthy. Ralph Sadler later wrote to Henry VIII, “it is a goodly a child as I have seen of her age, and as like to live”.
Due to the fact that Mary was only six days old when she inherited the throne, Scotland was ruled by regents until she became an adult. From the beginning, there were two claims to the regency: one from Cardinal David Beaton, whose claim was based on a version of James V’s will that his opponents dismissed as forgery. And the other from the Protestant James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, who was next in line to the throne.
James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, with the support of his friends and relations, became the regent until 1554, until Mary’s mother managed to remove and succeed him.
Henry VIII of England took the opportunity to seize Scotland by proposing a marriage between Mary and his own son and heir, Edward. When Mary was six-months-old on 1 July 1543, the Treaty of Greenwich was signed, which promised at the age of ten, Mary would marry Edward and move to England, where Henry VIII would keep a close eye on her upbringing. The treaty also stated that the two countries would remain legally separate and that if the couple should fail to have children the temporary union would dissolve.
However, Cardinal David Beaton rose back to power again and began to push a pro-Catholic pro-French agenda, which angered Henry, who wanted to break the Scottish alliance with France. We also have to remember, Mary’s first husband wasn’t born yet, quiet possibly Cardinal David Beaton was hoping there would be a future heir or higher ranked noble.
As well as breaking away from England and the treaty, Cardinal David Beaton wanted to move Mary away from the coast to the safety of Stirling Castle. At first James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, resisted the move, but backed down when Cardinal David Beaton’s armed supporters gathered at Linlithgow.
On 27 July 1543, Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, escorted Mary and her mother to Stirling with 3,500 armed men. Less then two months later, Mary was crowned in the castle chapel on 9 September 1543, with “such solemnity as they do use in this country, which is not very costly” according to the report of Ralph Sadler and Henry Ray, who was Ralph Sadler’s go-between in Scotland.
What also tipped Scotland in favour of France was an incident that happened before Mary’s coronation. Scottish merchants headed for France were arrested by Henry VIII, and their goods impounded. Causing anger in Scotland, it also swayed James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran to finally join Cardinal David Beaton and become a Catholic. In December, the Treaty of Greenwich was rejected by the Parliament of Scotland.
The rejection of the marriage treaty and the renewal of the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France provoked Henry VIII’s “Rough Wooing” as they will call it. A military campaign designed to intimidate and force the marriage of Mary to his son, Edward, by mounting a series of raids on Scottish and French territory.
On 3 May 1544, Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, raided Edinburgh prompting the Scots to safely take Mary to Dunkeld.
A year later on 29 May 1546, Cardinal David Beaton was murdered by the Protestant Lairds, and then nine months after the death of Henry VIII, on 10 September 1547, the Scots suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. Fearful again for Mary’s safety, her guardians sent her to Inchmahome Priory for no more than three weeks, before turning to the French for help.
Now that France had an heir to the throne, King Henry II of France proposed to unite the two countries by marrying Mary to his three-year-old, the Dauphin Francis. The French promised military help, and a French dukedom for James Hamilton as Duke of Chatellreault, which he happily agreed to.
In February 1548, Mary was moved again to Dumbarton Castle. The English left a trail of devastation behind once more and seized the strategic town of Haddington. In June, the French cavalry arrived at Leith to besiege and ultimately take Haddington.
On 7 July 1548, the Scottish Parliament held at a nunnery near the town, agreed to a French marriage treaty.
With the marriage agreement finalised, five-year-old Mary was sent to France to spend the next thirteen years at the French court. This was obviously hard for Mary’s mother, as she had to leave her son behind in France to marry James V of Scotland. To send off your child must’ve been heartbreaking.
The French fleet, sent by Henry II and commanded by Nicolas de Villegagnon, sailed from Dumbarton on 7 August 1548, arriving a week or more later at Roscoff or Saint-Pol-de-Leon in Brittany. Mary was accompanied by her own court, including two illegitimate half-brothers, Robert and James, and the “four Marys”, four girls around her age, all named Mary. The “four Mary’s” were daughters of some of the noblest families in Scotland; Beaton, Seton, Fleming, and Livingston. Mary Fleming’s mother, Lady Janet Stewart, was appointed governess.
According to contemporary accounts, Mary was vivacious, beautiful, and clever with a promising childhood. At the French court, she was the favourite among everyone. There is rumours and speculation on the relationship between Mary and her future mother-in-law, Catherine de’ Medici. I do believe there was a special bond at the beginning, especially how Catherine saw how much Francis loved his wife-to-be. It’s not until later on in life you see that shift.
She did grow up along with the French royal children, becoming very close with Francis’s sisters, Elisabeth and Claude.
Mary learned to play lute and virginals, was competent in prose, poetry, horsemanship, falconry and needlework. She was taught French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Greek, in addition to speaking her native Scots.
Her maternal grandmother, Antionette de Bourbon, were very close. Antionette promising Mary of Guise to keep young Mary under her wing, and reporting how she was behaving and treated in France.
Portraits of Mary show that she had a small, oval-shaped head, a long and graceful neck, bright auburn hair, hazel-brown eyes under heavy lowered eyelids and finely arched brows. Smooth pale skin, a high forehead, and regular firm features. She was considered as a child pretty, but in adulthood, strikingly attractive. Luckily, when Mary was an infant she caught smallpox, but was relived to not suffer the marks.
For this time period, Mary was very tall by sixteen-century standards. By adulthood, she reached the height of 5 feet 11 inches or 1.80 m. Her future husband on the other hand was abnormally short, even for this time period. Due to the conditions of his birth, Francis was, to put it nicely, a very late bloomer. Frail and undersized, he looked up to the healthy Mary. Henry II even commented that “from the very first day they met, my son and she got on as well together as if they had known each other for a long time”. It is true, they grew up being the best of friends and companions.
On 4 April 1558, Mary signed a secret agreement bestowing Scotland and her claim to England to the French crown if she died without issue. Twenty days later, Mary married Francis at Notre Dame de Paris, making Francis King consort of Scotland.
On 17 November 1558, Henry VIII of England’s eldest daughter, Mary I of England, was succeeded by her only surviving sibling, Elizabeth I. Under the Third Succession Act, passed in 1543 by the Parliament of England, Elizabeth was recognised as her sister’s heir. Yet, in the eyes of many Catholics, Elizabeth was illegitimate, and Mary as the senior descendant of Henry VIII’s eldest sister, was the rightful Queen of England.
Seeing this opportunity, Henry II of France proclaimed his eldest son and daughter-in-law King and Queen of England and Scotland. He even had the royal arms of England quartered with those of Francis and Mary. Mary’s claim to the English throne was a perennial sticking point between the two Queens.
I think Elizabeth would’ve let her off, believing it was the works of Henry II and his advisors, but Mary continued to claim she was heir to the English throne after Henry II’s death.
On 10 July 1559, Henry II of France died from injuries sustained in a joust, two lance fragments in the eye and neck. Henry was succeeded by Francis II and Mary as King and Queen of France.
Back home in Scotland, the power of the Protestant Lords of the Congregation, was rising at the expense of Mary’s mother, who maintained effective control only through the use of French troops.
The Protestant Lords invited English troops into Scotland in an attempt to secure Protestantism, and a Huguenot rising in France, called the Tumult of Amboise, in March 1560 made it impossible for the French to send further support. Instead, Francis, Duke of Guise and Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine (brother of Mary of Guise), sent ambassadors to negotiate a settlement.
On 11 June 1560, Mary of Guise died, and so the question of future Franco-Scots relations was a pressing one. Under the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh, signed by Mary’s representatives on 6 July 1560, France and England undertook to withdraw troops from Scotland and France and recognising Elizabeth’s right to rule England. However, the seventeen-year-old Mary, still in France and grieving for her mother, refused to ratify the treaty until she could talk with her council on the matter.
Mary’s Coat of Arms while in France
Sadly, on 5 December 1560, Francis II of France died from a middle ear infection that led to an abscess in his brain. Mary was grief-stricken, she had not long ago lost her mother, but now her childhood friend and husband. By swift negotiations, Catherine de’ Medici, became regent for the late King’s ten-year-old brother, Charles IX of France.
Now that Mary was no longer Queen of France, what was to become of her? She could stay in France as was befitting of a widowed Queen, or she could return to her birth home, Scotland, and rule as their rightful Queen.
To see what is next installed with our favourite Queen, stay tuned for the next blog post scheduled on Friday 23 March.