December 14, 1542 – Mary Stuart Becomes Queen of Scotland

Mary Stuart, by Francois Clouet (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

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…

REFERENCES

Wikipedia pages on Mary, Queen of Scots, Marie de Guise, the Auld Alliance, the Rough Wooing

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December 5, 1560 – Death of Francis II of France

Francis II of France, by Francois Clouet. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

(A quick warning for those of you who clicked through after only a quick glance at the title: Francis II was the *grandson* of Francis I, that great contemporary of Henry VIII…Think Reign!)

Francis II was born in 1544. He acceded to the throne in 1559, aged only 14, after the accidental death of his father Henri II from a jousting accident. Francis was the first in a series of three French princes, children of Henri and Catherine de Medici, all of whom died young.

His main claim to fame (sounds strange to say that about a king of France  but…) was his wife. At his accession, Francis had been married to Mary, Queen of Scots, for about a year. Mary had a claim to the throne of England through her great grandfather Henry VII (Henry VIII tried to void the claim by ruling that his crown would bypass her line in the absence of heirs to Edward, Mary or Elizabeth – but her son did end up succeeding Elizabeth I). The couple had no children, whether because of their youth (he was 13 when they married, she was 15) or because of his undescended testicles (yes, the court knew and talked about these…).

His health was fragile and he left much of the responsibility for government to his wife’s uncles, from the powerful Guise family. This enraged some of the country, especially two princes of the blood who thought that they should be regents. The Guises were unpopular, and their militant Catholicism caused a worsening of the country’s religious crisis when they intensified the repression of Protestants begun by Henri II.

After Francis died from an ear abscess, his younger brother Charles inherited the throne. Charles was then only ten, and Catherine de Medici stepped in to become regent. Grand-niece of Pope Leo X, she proved to be as Catholic as the Guises – the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre of French Protestants happened on her watch (though her son was the one who actually said “Then kill them all! Kill them all!” when asked to confirm the orders). Charles IX ruled for only 14 years before dying of tuberculosis. He was succeeded by his younger brother Henri III. Then twenty-two, Henri was already king of Poland (a wonderful consolation prize for a younger son) – though he abandoned that post to take the crown of France. He was killed in 1589 by a Catholic fanatic. No sons being left to Catherine de Medici, the crown went to the Protestant King of Navarre, who took the throne as Henri IV. Henry did have to convert to get the crown, an easy decision for him (he famously said “Paris is well worth a mass”). As King, he formalized a policy of religious tolerance that finally ended France’s long religious wars…

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November 22, 1515 – Birth of Marie de Guise (Consort of James V)

Marie de Guise, painted by Corneille de Lyon c.1537 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Marie de Guise was a member of the powerful House of Guise – a family that played a major role in 16th Century France.

Marie was married at 18 to Louis II d’Orleans, the Duke of Longueville, then widowed three years later in 1537. The timing led her to become the focus of marriage negotiations with Scotland since its King, James V, had recently lost his wife (Madeleine de Valois, the fifth child and third daughter of Francis I of France). James wanted another French bride to continue and strengthen the Auld Alliance but with no more princesses available, the next best option was marriage into the semi-regal Guise family.

Francis I clearly promoted this option: he announced that he would pay a princess-sized dowry for her. This made her a much-courted bride: even Henry VIII sued for her hand (his wife Jane Seymour had just died). These plans and offers were not terribly welcome to the 22-year old widow, who had hoped to be given a little more time to come to mourn a husband that she truly loved, and who hated the idea of leaving her beloved country. Still, given Henry’s marital history and Scotland’s traditional role as a friendly nation (to say nothing of the fact that James was a ruggedly handsome 26 while Henry was 46, fully bald and already tending to fat), James was obviously the preferable outcome.

Marie impressed her new mother-in-law (Henry VIII’s sister Margaret), the nobility, the entire country. She quickly bore her husband two sons – both of whom unfortunately died before they were a year old. She had a third child, Mary, born December 8, 1542. Unfortunately, Margaret Tudor’s death the year before had removed the only pro-English voice left at court, which led to war between Scotland and England. James spent several months with his army, took sick several times. He died of a fever on December 14, shortly after a serious defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss, leaving his six-day-old daughter Queen of Scotland.

James Hamilton, the Second Earl of Arran and the most powerful man in the realm, became Regent for the young Queen, though Marie de Guise remained a powerful political player. In 1554, she took over as regent for her daughter, then eleven years old and living in France with her fiance, the Dauphin Francis. Under Marie’s regency, Scotland was completely pro-French, with many top government posts held by Frenchmen. Scotland was also adamantly Catholic. This created bad feelings with England when Elizabeth I mounted the throne. Under Henry VIII’s will, his niece Mary of Scotland was the next rightful heir – but to Catholic rulers, Elizabeth was an illegitimate usurper and Mary already the true queen.  When Mary and Francis came to the French throne in 1559, the couple exacerbated the issue by adding the arms of England to their blazon. It was a move Mary was to regret later in life.

Marie lived to see her daughter become Queen of France, and she was spared seeing that same daughter widowed in December 1560: Marie had fallen seriously ill earlier in the year, and died of dropsy on June 11th. Her body was secreted out of the country so that she could be buried in France, in the Convent of Saint-Pierre. Mary attended the funeral.

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