‘As a sinner I am truly conscious of having often offended my Creator and I beg him to forgive me, but as a Queen and Sovereign, I am aware of no fault or offence for which I have to render account to anyone here below.’ Mary, queen of Scots to her jailer, Sir Amyas Paulet; October 1586
‘Woe is me!’: The tumultuous early years (1542-1547)
In November 1542, King James V of Scotland, lay dying at his beloved Falkland Palace, built just five years earlier. He was devastated by his army’s defeat by the English at Solway Moss and saw little hope for the future. At Falkland, he was told that Mary of Guise, his French-born wife once wooed by Henry VIII, had given birth to a daughter at Linlithgow Palace on December 8. This was a feast-day in honor of the Virgin Mary and many took it as a good omen for the little princess; for her father, however, it was otherwise. Upon receiving news of Mary’s birth, he reportedly said, ‘The devil go with it! It will end as it begain. It came from a woman, and it will end in a woman.’ This was popularly (and famously) repeated as ‘Woe is me! It came with a lass, and it will pass with a lass.’ James’s ancestor, Robert II, had become King of Scots in 1371. The son of Robert the Bruce’s daughter Marjorie and Walter, the High Steward of Scotland, Robert was nearest in succession to the throne. He called his new dynasty ‘Stewart,’ a variation on his father’s title as Steward; in France, it was spelled Stuart. James V believed this lineage had ended with his daughter’s birth. He certainly never contemplated that his grandson would one day rule both Scotland and its greatest enemy, England. He died within a week of Mary’s birth and, before she was even a year old, the child was crowned queen of Scots.
The leaders of Scotland were faced with the unappetizing prospect of both continued English belligerence and internal squabbling over who ruled in the infant queen’s place. Regencies were not democratic; one party, and its leader, would dominate the others. Naturally, Mary’s mother fought to gain preeminence. Her wealthy Guise relatives sent money and soldiers to her aid; she bribed various lords and advocated a pro-French foreign policy. Under French protection, she argued, Scotland would be safe from its great enemy, England. Bribes and debates helped her cause; most importantly, she kept physical possession of her daughter.
On 1 July 1543, the Treaty of Greenwich was grudgingly approved by the Scots. It promised that Mary would wed Henry’s only son and heir, Edward, born in October 1536, when she was ten years old. Henry VIII would pay her considerable dowry and provide tutors for her education. The treaty was not popular and revoked before the year ended. Henry had bullied the Scottish regent, the earl of Arran, into agreement and continued to send his army north. And in 1546, he also encouraged the murder of David Beaton, Cardinal-Archbishop of St Andrews, James V’s former confidante and Arran’s greatest rival. Arran was pro-English and, as the grandson of James II’s eldest daughter, heir apparent to the Scottish throne if Mary died. His royal blood was the primary reason he was selected Regent (or Governor); his personality and intellect were not equal to the task. And the wily Beaton, who loudly questioned Arran’s legitimacy and was appointed Chancellor, allied himself with Mary of Guise to encourage a pro-French and pro-Catholic alliance. When the Scottish parliament tired of the power struggle between Mary of Guise and Arran, it was Beaton who negotiated a compromise – Mary would attend privy council and parliamentary meetings and Arran would seriously consider her ‘counsel and advice’. It was a temporary reprieve; both sides remained wary and duplicitous. In the end, the matter was decided by the increasingly erratic and despotic Henry VIII.
On 29 May 1546, Cardinal Beaton was murdered at St Andrews Castle. The assassins had been encouraged and partially funded by Sir Ralph Sadler, Henry VIII’s ambassador to Scotland. Sadler and his royal master assumed that Beaton’s death would signal the end of the pro-French party. They were sadly mistaken; with the pragmatic Beaton gone, his party was reenergized and even more determined to thwart the English.
More importantly, public opinion, always skeptical of English motives, pushed for a French alliance. Mary of Guise was a popular figure. She seemed to rise above the petty squabbles of the various lords; she was considered generous, kind, and committed to Scottish independence. Beaton’s death marked her political ascendancy. Most pro-English lords allied with her; the Catholic early of Huntly was chosen to replace Beaton as Chancellor. Arran was disgraced and struggled to regain control. Almost two years of intermittent fighting began.
The battle of Pinkie and the journey to France (1547-1548)
In January 1547, Henry VIII died; like Mary, his nine-year-old son, Edward, ruled in name only. Though Henry had appointed a council to rule, not wishing to give one man too much power, his wishes were promptly ignored and Edward’s maternal uncle titled himself duke of Somerset and Protector of England. Somerset had fought in Scotland and his policy was merely a continuation of Henry’s; he would enforce the discarded Treaty of Greenwich by aiding the pro-English faction in Scotland. Money and arms were sent to the rebels. And in late August 1547, Somerset himself led an army north. This last ‘rough wooing’ was characterized by a change in tactics. Somerset decided to build permanent English forts in Scotland, effectively occupying and controlling the country. As his army marched north, a fleet of English ships patrolled the coast, prepared to fire on any town which resisted.
On 10 September, the inevitable clash occurred near a small town called Pinkie. Somerset was met by the largest army in Scottish history, roughly 12,000 troops gathered to block the road to Edinburgh. On one side, they were bordered by the sea; on the other, by a thick marsh. Somerset could leave Scotland or he could attack. Instead, he ordered his troops to seek a defensive position. As they did, the Scottish troops attacked. There was a brief moment when the Scottish troops were dominant; but then the English cavalry charged and their heavy guns fired. When their leader fled the battlefield, the Scots were left confused and demoralized. The English proceeded to kill roughly 10,000 of their enemy. It was a disastrous defeat. In Edinburgh, the little queen of Scots was sent to Inchmahome Priory, on an island in the Lake of Menteith.
Somerset was confident of further victory. Rather than hurry into Edinburgh, he set about building forts and sending for more troops and supplies from England.
Unfortunately for his plans, King Francis I of France had died just two months after Henry. The new French king, crowned Henry II, was pro-Guise; they were his chief advisors and determined to aid their embattled niece in Scotland. So while his father had been content to provide occasional and mostly symbolic support, Henry II sent skilled soldiers and vast amounts of money. With Somerset now occupying Scotland, the ‘auld alliance’ was renewed to spectacular effect. Mary, queen of Scots was promptly betrothed to the dauphin Francis, Henry’s eldest son and heir. Even Arran made his peace with the French, accepting the duchy of Châtelherault in return for his change of heart.
And so in July 1548, just five years old, Mary, queen of Scots sailed to her mother’s homeland. This marked the triumph of Mary of Guise after years of struggle and sacrifice. She remained in Scotland to protect her daughter’s position and continued to be an astute and persuasive politician. Over the years, however, the Scots began to chafe at French influence, much as they had resented the English. They wanted independence above all else, but nationalism was at the mercy of powerful nobles who fought amongst themselves rather than for their country.
Their young queen sailed from Dumbarton Castle to France in Henry II’s royal galley, taking a roundabout route to avoid the English navy which still patrolled the Channel. She was accompanied by several children of the Scottish nobility, among them four young girls who would become her lifelong friends and champions. The ‘Four Maries,’ as they came to be known, were Mary Fleming, Mary Seton, Mary Beaton and Mary Livingstone. Their journey began in rough weather and took eighteen days. They reached St-Pol-de-Lèon near Brittany in late August, where Mary rested before continuing to the outskirts of Paris.
According to contemporary reports, she was an exceptionally lovely child (even in an age when most noble women were accorded the title of ‘fair’ or ‘beautiful’), intelligent and full of vitality. One French observer who accompanied her wrote admiringly, ‘It is not possible to hope for more from a Princess on this earth.’ Certainly Mary’s future appeared glorious; not merely queen of Scotland, but also queen of France and recognized by Catholic Europe as heir to the English throne. No one could have predicted the chaos and misery to follow.
‘La petite Royne’: Happiness in France (1548-1560)
Mary was given a royal welcome in France by King Henry II. As she was sovereign in her own right and betrothed to his son and heir, he ordered that she would have precedence over his own daughters. He was delighted with her appearance and manners, remarking, ‘The little Queen of Scots is the most perfect child I have ever seen.’ He referred to her as ‘his very own daughter’. Mary’s maternal grandmother, Antoinette de Guise, wrote to her daughter in Scotland that Mary was ‘the prettiest and best for her age that you ever saw. ….She has auburn hair, with a fine complexion, and I think that when she comes of age she will be a beautiful girl.’ And Mary’s half-brother (from Mary of Guise’s first marriage), the duc d’Longueville, was equally impressed with her beauty and spirit.
Her future husband was less physically impressive. The dauphin was a year younger than Mary, and much smaller physically. He was shy and diffident, often stammering and awkward at the courtly gestures even children were expected to master. Henry II wanted his children and Mary to ‘become used to each other’s company’, as he told Antoinette de Guise. To that end, he ordered the royal children to be educated together. This saved Henry a considerable amount of money. By merging the royal households, he did not have to pay for individual establishments. It also allowed him to dismiss most of Mary’s Scottish attendants, whose wages he paid. Even the ‘Four Maries’ were sent to a convent school at Poissy.
This new arrangement, which lasted roughly four years, alleviated the king’s one concern with Mary – her inability to speak French. Surrounded by Scottish attendants, she was not learning French as quickly as he hoped. Now she would learn French by necessity. She quickly grew fluent, and French came to be her preferred language. She was also educated in the same manner as the dauphin; she learned Latin, Italian, Spanish and a little Greek. She was taught elaborate court dances; she sang and played the lute. She later learned to ride and hunt, wearing breeches in the Florentine manner. Her favorite feminine pursuit was embroidery, which she learned from Henry II’s personal embroiderer.
The royal household regularly traveled from one beautiful palace to another, from Fountaineblea to Meudon, or to Chambord or Saint-Germain. She grew fond of her future husband, almost protective, and he was soon comfortable in her company. Their tutors encouraged mock-flirtatious behavior between them, which pleased the king.
In April 1550, Mary received word that her mother was coming to France, spurred by both the desire to see her daughter and the recent death of her father. Mary was overjoyed; she had not seen Mary of Guise for almost two years. She wrote to her grandmother that the visit ‘will be to me the greatest happiness that I can desire in this world.’ The Scottish regent was accorded a lavish reception at Rouen, the capital of Normandy. The choice of locale was deliberate, for Normandy was the closest French province to England and, of course, birthplace of the king who had conquered England in 1066. Henry II wished to remind the English of Mary’s lineage, for she had a powerful claim to the English throne via her paternal grandmother, Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of King Henry VII. As of yet, with King Edward VI and his Catholic half-sister, Mary, still alive, this claim did not matter. But one could not predict the future – and the French king was too astute and fond of provoking the English to let the matter rest. Much of the pageantry reminded revelers of Mary’s claim, and reinforced it in her young eyes.
Mary of Guise and her large entourage (composed of almost the entire Scottish nobility) remained in France for over a year. The visit was politically successful and personally important to Mary, now almost nine years old. But it could have ended in her death. In April 1551, a plot was discovered to murder the young queen of Scots by poisoning her favorite dessert, frittered pears. The conspirator was a former mercenary who had been captured by the French during battle in Scotland. Mary was too young to be troubled by the news, if she heard it at all, but it distressed her mother terribly. Worse was to come for Mary of Guise; in September, the duc d’Longueville died in her arms. He was the last of her four French sons. Broken-hearted, she briefly considered remaining in France with Mary, her only surviving child. But she remembered her duty to maintain the ‘auld alliance’ and keep the Scottish throne secure. Mother and daughter parted for the final time in late spring 1551.
The royal children’s household was disbanded in March 1553 when the dauphin was considered old enough for independence. Mary’s status was now questionable, largely because the French queen, Catherine d’Medici, brought her daughters, Elizabeth and Claude, into her household, where they slept in a dressing-room. This was barely acceptable for French royal princesses but for Mary, queen in her own right, it was impossible. Her Guise relations were acutely sensitive in matters of status. Mary must now have her own household. But who would pay for it? Already, the young queen displayed a remarkably generous temperament. She could afford to be generous, of course, but she was not required to be; she paid her servants handsomely and sought regular pay increases for them. And she supported a large group of entertainers – actors, singers, acrobats, etc – as well as various pets and stables. According to one of her Guise uncles, the sum total of her annual expenditure amounted to roughly 60,000 francs. This was half the regular income of the Scottish crown, a very large sum, though still less than the dauphin’s annual allowance. It would have bankrupted Scotland if Mary of Guise had not been personally wealthy.
However, even the generous 60,000 francs estimate was too little. Henry II attempted to intervene, advising Mary to not follow the royal court on progress. It was far too expensive and served little purpose. But she was now eleven years old and beginning to be assertive. She wished to follow the court and so she would. Soon enough, her servants could not be paid. She outgrew her clothes and could neither afford to alter old gowns or purchase new ones. Word spread that the Scottish queen’s credit was bad.
The situation was partially resolved by the resignation of Mary’s governess, an older woman who had clashed with her charge over what she considered profligate spending. But a series of illnesses which rendered Mary bed-ridden also (inadvertently) saved her money. In 1554, she suffered from the dreaded smallpox. Attended by Henry II’s personal physician, she survived – and her skin remained unblemished. Over a year later, both she and the dauphin fell ill with the ‘sweat’. Mary did not recover completely for several months. Unfortunately, her former governess had meanwhile slandered her to Catherine d’Medici, implying that Mary preferred the king’s mistress to his queen. Catherine already distrusted the ambitious Guise family; this slander merely contributed to her dislike of Mary.
After her illness, her education and travels continued, as did pursuits unique to royalty. She chose the marigold flower as her emblem. For her motto, she created an anagram of her name as spelled in roman letters – ‘Sa Virtue m’Atire’ (‘Its virtue always draws me’) – in reference to the way marigolds always turn to the sun. She had always been aware of her royal position but adolescence spurred both her pride and occasional stubbornness. In January 1558, her uncle, Francis, the duc d’Guise, captured the port of Calais from the English. It was a momentous victory, which further strengthened the Guise position at court. The English were devastated, particularly their ailing queen, Mary I, who was now beginning the final year of her reign. Married to the Spanish Emperor Charles V’s son, Philip II of Spain, she was Catholic and thus recognized as a legitimate queen in Europe. But her marriage allied her to France’s political enemy; relations between the two nations were barely cordial. The capture of Calais, the last English outpost on the continent, was followed in mid-April by another great triumph for the Guise family. On Tuesday, 19 April 1558, before a great crowd in the Louvre, her uncle, the Cardinal of Lorraine joined the couple’s hands. Now fifteen and fourteen respectively, they pledged themselves to one another and exchanged rings. Their official marriage date was set for the following Saturday, the 24th, at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Unbeknownst to most of the court, Henry II had begun preparations for the ceremony several months earlier. It was to be the grandest royal wedding in French history. Was Mary nervous now that the date was finally set? Far from it; she wrote to her mother on the morning of the wedding that she was ‘one of the happiest women in the world’.
Mary chose a dramatic white gown for the service, a scandalous choice since white was the traditional French color for mourning. Convention would not prevent her from appearing as beautiful as possible on this incredible day. White flattered her fair skin and vivid auburn hair. The gown was lavishly embroidered with diamonds and other jewels; two maids of honor carried its long train. She wore a pendant necklace, a wedding gift from Henry II, and a magnificent gold crown, studded with large, costly jewels, upon her head. Her hair was loose and fell to her waist. She and Francis were married by the Cardinal-Archbishop of Rouen, who performed the ceremony upon a stage before the large crowd of officials and excited Parisians. After the nuptial mass was heard in the royal closet, the couple paraded upon the stage once more as the heralds tossed coins to the crowd. A private banquet followed; Mary’s golden crown had grown too heavy and Henry II ordered one of his courtiers to hold it above her head while she ate.
The state banquet began at five o’clock, with a procession to the Parlement of Paris. Mary rode with her mother-in-law in a rich litter. The dignitaries gathered for this public celebration were not disappointed. Elaborate dishes and pageants continued throughout the evening and into early morning, followed by a three-day celebratory tournament. These events provided Henry II with another opportunity to provoke the English. Many of the pageants directly referred to Mary’s status as heir to the English throne; the king’s favorite poets recited odes to the eventual union of France, Scotland and England. ‘Through you,’ the poet du Bellay said to Mary, ‘France and England will change the ancient war into a lengthy peace that will be handed down from father to son.’
These declarations did not merely trouble England. The proud Scots were already skeptical of French influence. It seemed as though Henry regarded their country as a mere appendage of his own, a vassal state of sorts. Informed of the upcoming marriage, they thought it wise to remind Mary and Henry II of the original marriage treaty which had promised to respect Scottish independence. Mary signed a new declaration which promised the same. The Scots were placated, but still wary. And they had good cause for concern. A mere three months after the wedding, Henry II forced the French parliament to confer French citizenship upon all Scottish citizens. And, even more troubling, Mary herself had already signed documents which promised the Scottish throne to the French king and his successors, if she died without issue. She also renounced any previous declarations she had made upon the subject.
And so, at the age of fifteen, Mary assured her Scottish subjects of their independence while secretly promising Scotland to the French king. She had signed both documents; her seal was on both. Which was binding? For the French, the answer was clear enough. For Mary, it was less clear. Did she even understand the documents she signed? She was a queen, but also just fifteen. And she trusted her father-in-law and Guise uncles implicitly. She had no cause to doubt their loyalty or judgment. And she had little cause to like the Scottish courtiers who had arrived for the wedding, among them her twenty-seven year old half-brother, Lord James Stuart. Later titled the earl of Moray by Mary, he was already a calculating politician. As James V’s illegitimate son, he understandably chafed at possessing royal blood yet being denied the throne. His adult life was spent accumulating power and influence. He never cared for Mary, believing her to be vain and emotional, ill-suited to her high station. But Mary was always too enamored of family ties; she treated him kindly, called him ‘brother’, rewarded him with high office and titles. Like so many others, he would betray her and work secretly against her rule. Mary’s natural high spirits and generous character prevented her from making a shrewd assessment of others. She lacked the ability to separate her private personality from her role as queen.
Lord James was a devout Protestant, as were many of the most powerful Scottish lords. Their dislike of the French was based upon patriotism and religion. Mary was not nearly as devout a Catholic as she would become later in life, but it was her religion and there was no hope of her conversion to Protestantism. The Scottish lords were in a quandary. They assented to Mary of Guise’s plan to offer the ‘crown matrimonial’ to Francis, an honor which Philip II of Spain never received in England. But they balked at sending the crown itself and seemed to think better of the offer.
The Guise family and Henry II were troubled by these developments, but the death of Mary I of England on 17 November 1558 briefly eclipsed Scotland. For Mary had been childless and her half-sister, the twenty-five year old Elizabeth was considered illegitimate by both English and European law. Her claim to the throne rested entirely upon Henry VIII’s will, for he had left her the throne after Edward VI and Mary I. Yet during his life, she had been known as ‘the Lady Elizabeth’, not Princess of England. And her succession was by no means assured. Henry II seized his chance. Mary was proclaimed ‘Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland’. It was not an unforeseen development, for Elizabeth was not merely illegitimate (and declared so by the English parliament in 1536.) She was also a Protestant. Mary I had been a devout Catholic and spent her reign realigning England with the papacy. If Elizabeth was crowned, England would be lost again. The French cloaked their ambition in generous terms. They wished to save England from damnation. And so Mary and Francis’s royal arms were quartered with those of France, Scotland, and England.
Informed of this action, Elizabeth was furious. She never forgot or forgave this early insult and it irrevocably shaped her opinion of Mary. A dedicated scholar, Elizabeth possessed formidable intelligence. In this, certainly, she differed from Mary. But she was also the veteran of three reigns, all of which had featured various intrigues against her. She was not raised in secure opulence like Mary, nor was her future ever less than clouded. Her early life made her circumspect, cautious, and pragmatic. At twenty-five, she was a survivor whose improbable succession seemed nothing less than a miracle, as she herself remarked, ‘A Domino factum est illud et est mirabile in oculis nostris.’ (‘This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in Our eyes.’) Already an astute politician, she always accorded Mary the respect and honor of her position as sovereign Queen. But Elizabeth did her cousin a disservice as well, for she assumed Mary viewed her position much as Elizabeth did, as a sacred duty which required sacrifice and an essential loneliness. Mary, however, never contemplated ruling alone, nor did she wish to; she would happily accept the role of Queen Consort and ignore state business, relying upon those she believed were more qualified than herself. This attitude was encouraged by her family and the French king. In fact, Mary often signed reams of blank parchment for various officials, a dangerous practice for it required her to trust the bearer. In light of this practice, it is possible she never even read the infamous proclamation tying the Scottish throne to France.
When the royal arms were quartered, Elizabeth naturally assumed Mary was deliberately challenging her right to rule England. She wisely decided to mull over her former brother-in-law’s marriage proposal. As leader of the greatest Catholic power in Europe, Philip of Spain essentially controlled the pope. And believing Elizabeth might marry him, he countered French efforts to have the pope declare Elizabeth’s rule invalid and Mary queen of England. Though a devout Catholic, and increasingly pious as he aged, Philip was also a realist. Spain and France were forever struggling against one another for preeminence in Europe. If Mary were declared queen of England, the French would become more powerful and wealthy. And so, for political purposes, he succeeded in keeping the pope silent on the matter. The French were enraged. Elizabeth waited until Philip’s support was openly declared before turning down his proposal.
Mary’s Guise relatives were further alarmed when Henry II began to favor other nobles. Perhaps he resented their influence, or perhaps he simply didn’t want to risk a costly war with Spain. As queen of Scotland, Mary signed a treaty of friendship with England, referring to Elizabeth as ‘her cousin and good sister’. Her Guise uncles had left court to plot a spectacular return. Mary herself was adrift without their guidance. The dynastic plan which had guided her youth was lost. In the summer of 1559, she fell seriously ill after a series of lesser illnesses in the spring. Many believed it was the result of stress. But concern for Mary’s health was forgotten on 30 June, when Henry II was injured during a joust. His family, including Mary and the dauphin, waited at his bedside for ten days. He died of a stroke on 10 July. Once more, the political life of France did an about-face. The Guise family were once more in power. They immediately proceeded to Paris, where Francis was quickly proclaimed King and the court entered mourning. The new king was kept at a Guise palace near Paris while Mary remained in the city.
Francis was crowned King Francis II at Rheims, as tradition dictated. But it was hardly a glorious beginning. A thunderstorm marked his official arrival in the city; as a result, several important attendants fell ill. The coronation was delayed a day. It took place on Monday, 18 September 1559. Francis was crowned by Mary’s uncle, the Cardinal of Lorraine. Mary herself was not crowned that day. Traditionally, French queens were crowned at the Abbey of St-Denis weeks or months, even years, after their husband’s coronation. French law forbade sole female succession to the throne. It also denied any equality between king and queen. The queen could not share power, nor interfere in matters of government. She was merely the highest-ranked dependent in the land. And so Mary watched her husband’s coronation as a spectator, sitting with her mother-in-law and Francis’s three sisters. Once more, Mary’s gown caused a controversy. After wearing white on her wedding day, she now wore white to the coronation, though Catherine d’Medici and the royal princesses were in black, the color of mourning in Catherine’s native Florence. Though technically Mary wore the correct color, she was deliberately setting herself apart from the other royal ladies. This flair for dramatic gestures could be considered tactless or high-spirited. It did nothing to endear her to Catherine d’Medici who, as a challenge to the Guise family, would not accept the traditional title of ‘Dowager Queen’. Instead, she insisted upon ‘Queen Mother’, a subtle hint that she would refuse retirement and continue at court.
The coronation banquet was a disaster. As a newly-crowned king, Francis was required to eat alone in the middle of the hall, a separate and sacred figure amongst his nobles. But he was tired and irritable after the long day. He abruptly left about halfway through the feast, leaving the guests to wander about in confusion.
Mary’s uncles, meanwhile, were enjoying their newfound power. While the new king hunted and their niece suffered sporadic illnesses, they reasserted her right to the English throne. The new royal seal bore the legend ‘Francis and Mary, By Grace of God, King and Queen of France, Scotland, England and Ireland’. Even the royal dishes were engraved with the English arms. There is no evidence either Mary or Francis encouraged these decisions. They were rarely consulted by her uncles; in fact, their behavior towards Mary was often condescending and arrogant.
And worse for Mary’s future, they were meddling in Scottish affairs. The Cardinal of Lorraine constantly urged Mary of Guise to destroy Protestantism in Scotland. For Mary’s mother, this was an impossible demand. She had negotiated a fragile peace in a troublesome country; she also recognized the primacy of the new faith in Scotland. In late 1559, she was faced with open rebellion after Elizabeth of England definitively established the Protestant faith in England. The pro-English party in Scotland allied itself with the Protestants. They were determined to reject French control of their country. But they were mostly alarmed at Mary of Guise’s attempts to centralize political power. Scotland was a fractious mix of proud and independent nobles, none of whom considered loyalty to the crown important. They were essentially kings in their own fiefdoms, negotiating with neighboring lords, paying occasional taxes and visiting court when it suited them.
The English were prepared to bide their time. They cloaked any territorial ambitions in moderate language. They merely wished to support their fellow Protestants, they assured the rebellious nobles, who now called themselves the ‘Lords of the Congregation’. Led by the earl of Argyll, the most powerful noble in Scotland, and Mary’s half-brother James, once more playing both sides against each other. He assured Mary of Guise of his loyalty while writing to William Cecil, Elizabeth’s secretary of state, for money and arms to drive her from Scotland. Cecil was willing to risk open support of their cause, but Elizabeth was not. Unlike her favorite councilor, she believed implicitly in the sacred role of the monarchy. An anointed queen, crowned by right of hereditary descent, could not be overthrown simply because her subjects differed in religion. In this, Elizabeth may have been considering her own rule, for if she encouraged Scottish rebellion on religious grounds, could not Catholic nations likewise encourage her Catholic subjects to rebel?
The Lords of the Congregation had formidable opponents within Scotland as well, led by James Hepburn, the earl of Bothwell. But Mary of Guise had fallen seriously ill. The rebels deposed her in late October and she retreated to the fortress of Leith. She later returned and fought successfully to regain Edinburgh. But Cecil had finally convinced Elizabeth and his fellow councilors to send money and two thousand troops to Scotland. Elizabeth almost instantly regretted the decision; it merely confirmed her abhorrence of foreign entanglements which sapped English wealth and prestige. The English and Scottish rebels signed the Treaty of Berwick on 27 February 1560, which committed England to protecting Scottish independence (an ironic protection since it merely traded, once more, French dominance for English.) Mary and her mother were equally helpless, particularly since the Guise brothers were too involved in a power struggle with Catherine d’Medici to assist them. It was Catherine d’Medici, flexing her new political power and increasing influence with her son, that suggested Philip of Spain as the mediator between France and England.
‘Adieu France’: A new beginning (1560-1561)
Mary’s uncles were now prepared to sacrifice her completely for their ambitions. If Philip would ally himself with their cause, they would surrender her dynastic claim to England to Philip. Mary confronted the Cardinal of Lorraine; he offered empty excuses and she burst into tears and fell ill yet again. Her letters to Mary of Guise were full of assurances that she would persuade Francis to send troops and money; she lamented their separation and the hardships her mother endured on her behalf. On 11 June 1560, Mary of Guise died. The news arrived in France on 18 June, but Mary was not told for over a week. When the news was finally broken, she collapsed in an agony of grief. It was exacerbated in early July when the Treaty of Edinburgh was signed.
Negotiated by Philip of Spain, this treaty marked the end of Guise influence and seriously damaged Mary’s position as queen of Scotland and France. It is important to note that neither she nor Francis were consulted about the treaty. In it, France officially recognized Elizabeth as the rightful queen of England; Francis and Mary would no longer quarter the English arms and they recognized Elizabeth’s innocence of any involvement in Scottish affairs. French troops would leave Scotland. The newly formed council of Scotland, dominated by the Lords of the Congregation (itself controlled by Lord James), would rule Scotland while Mary was absent. Furthermore, if Francis and Mary disregarded any of the provisions in the treaty, England could legitimately offer support to any Protestant rebellion.
Mary did the only thing she could do – despite enormous pressure, she refused to ratify the treaty. When Elizabeth’s ambassador to France, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, spoke with her, she was evasive and non-committal. The treaty was, after all, a complete disaster from her point of view. It also represented the destruction of all her mother had fought and sacrificed for, – and Mary, still grief-stricken, could not allow this final insult. She did pointedly remind Throckmorton of her special place as Elizabeth’s ‘nearest kinswoman’ and offered to send a portrait to her ‘good sister’.
The year 1560 held one last tragedy for Mary. Her husband, never particularly healthy, returned ill from a hunt in mid-November. He was dizzy and complained of a buzzing noise in his ear. A few days later, he collapsed at Mass; a persistent and nauseating headache began; fluid leaked from his ear. At first an ear infection was suspected, but he quickly grew worse. He quite possibly had a brain tumor. Mary and her mother-in-law, whose dislike was now open knowledge, bickered over who would nurse him. Both refused to leave his bedside and even tasted his food to protect against poisoning. Poor Francis suffered terribly. He was pled, given purgatives and laxatives; doctors even planned to drill inside his skull to stop the leakage. Before they could, the leakage stopped only to reoccur in far more copious amounts. Francis was delirious and incoherent. By December, it was clear he was denying, though officially his illness was still denied. He bled profusely from the nose and mouth and was occasionally seized by convulsions. On 5 December, three days before Mary’s eighteenth birthday, he was too exhausted to move or speak; he died later that evening.
Mary kept vigil over his body that night. Meanwhile, her ten year old brother-in-law was proclaimed King Charles IX of France. Catherine d’Medici was named regent of France. The Guise brothers made a last attempt to marry their niece to the new king, but Catherine was contemptuous and dismissive. Likewise, she refused to allow Mary to wed Philip of Spain’s young son, Don Carlos. Catherine’s own daughter Elizabeth was married to Philip himself; she would not allow Mary to undermine Elizabeth’s position. The Guises recognized the end of their ascendancy. They withdrew with their retainers to their vast estates. Mary was left alone in Paris. The day after Francis’s death, she turned over the royal jewels to Catherine and moved from the royal suite to a smaller, more private room. There is no doubt she was grief-stricken, but the marriage had not been a love match. She had cared for Francis in an almost maternal fashion; there was never a passionate attachment. And, as she passed the ritual forty days in seclusion, it perhaps occurred to Mary that her marriage had signaled the end of the happy years in France.
She came to the bleak realization that her future lay in Scotland. She was not wanted in France; she could conceivably join her Guise relatives, but she had no desire to be a pawn in their struggles against Catherine. She was still a worthy match for ambitious princes and nobles. The kings of Denmark and Sweden, the dukes of Bavaria and Ferrara, and the Holy Roman Emperor seeking a new daughter-in-law – all made their intentions clear. And so did Henry Darnley, the fourteen year old son of Lady Margaret Douglas and the earl of Lennox. Related to both the Stuarts and Tudors, he was already attractive, ambitious and arrogant.
Mary rejected all suitors, instead appointing a new, smaller household as Dowager Queen. Her selections point to her new preoccupation with Scotland. Most were men with recent experience of the country. Her mother’s chief lieutenant gave her apt advice regarding Lord James, acknowledging his treachery while emphasizing his essentially pragmatic character. Unlike many of the other Lords, James was not particularly religious; he simply allied himself with the Protestants to gain personal power. If Mary could gain his loyalty, she was assured of a successful rule.
The discussions of Scottish affairs were mixed with visits from the English ambassadors. Throckmorton was now joined by William Cecil’s close friend, the earl of Bedford. They pressed Mary once again to ratify the Treaty of Edinburgh. She eventually refused point-blank, arguing that she could not ratify a treaty created without her participation. This was an understandable position. Elizabeth herself believed the treaty to be ill-conceived; she had not wanted to interfere in Scotland at all. But Cecil and other English nobles considered Mary’s refusal a sinister reminder of her dynastic ambition. While Mary rejected the treaty because it subjugated Scotland to English interference, Cecil and others believed she rejected it because of its other provision – namely, recognition of Elizabeth as the rightful queen of England.
This misunderstanding, so basic and unavoidable, would make a peaceful co-existence between the two countries impossible.
Before leaving France, Mary planned to travel throughout the countryside, bidding farewell to her various relatives. But her journey was interrupted by the arrival of her brother Lord James Stuart. They spent almost a week together, discussing the state of her realm. The expulsion of French troops had lessened anti-Catholic feeling in Scotland. Despite John Knox’s fiery sermons, most Scots were either Catholic or mildly Protestant. They were not religious extremists. For his part, Lord James distrusted both sides. He told Mary she must respect the religious differences among her people, which she already planned to do, and practice her Catholic faith in private.
Elizabeth refused to issue a safe-conduct passport for Mary’s journey home. This was merely a courtesy, requested by Mary in case her ships were unexpectedly forced by the weather to dock in England. When it was refused (though Elizabeth relented when it was too late), Mary sailed from Calais instead on 14 August 1561. She was once again accompanied by the ‘Four Maries’. Her impressive composure deserted her as the coast of France disappeared from view. She reportedly said, ‘It’s all over now. Adieu France. I think I shall never see your shores again.’
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Mary Queen Of Scots Story Part 1" https://englishhistory.net/tudor/mary-queen-of-scots-story-part-1/, March 6, 2015