There’s not a lot to tell about Mary Stuart’s life before she became Queen – she was only six days old when her father, James V, died. He learned of her birth on his deathbed, responding with the not-too-optimistic, it came with a lass and will pass with a lass. For the first few years of her life, it seemed as if he might be right.
Right away, Henry VIII tried to secure the infant Queen as a bride for his son, Edward, who was then six years old. This was hugely important to England. First, because it was the perfect way (in England’s eyes!) to unite the two countries, and second, to prevent Mary from marrying a French prince (if that happened, England would find itself surrounded by Catholic powers on two fronts – and France would be able to use Scotland as a springboard to the attack on England they were always threatening). Scotland and France had been allies for centuries – Mary’s mother herself was French (Marie de Guise) – so that possibility was actually highly likely.
On July 10, 1543, the Treaty of Greenwich was signed, promising that Mary would marry Edward when she turned ten, and move to England then for Henry to oversee her upbringing. But shortly after that, Henry decided throw his weight around: he arrested Scottish merchants headed for France and impounded their goods – and that led the Scottish Parliament to reject the treaty. Henry reacted badly (did you expect anything different?): he began a war in 1544 that would last for seven years, sending Edward Seymour, then Earl of Hertford, and John Dudley, then Viscount Lisle, with instructions to burn Edinburgh. They did as told, England. Scotland was incensed by what they called the “Rough Wooing”, and support for an English marriage largely vanished. Still, the English persisted.
Henry died in January 1547, when his son Edward was only six. Edward Seymour took power as Regent (he also took the title Duke of Somerset but that’s another story) and continued the punitive policies. After a heavy defeat in 1547 at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, Scotland turned to France for help. A treaty was signed promising military support – and Mary’s marriage to the young Dauphin of France, who would later take the throne as Francis II. With her marriage agreement in place, the five-year-old Queen was sent to France to spend the next thirteen years at the French court.
Those thirteen years would be the happiest of Mary’s life. What came afterwards was much more of a challenge…
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