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18 March 2008

Another Mary

Amanda’s wonderful post about Mary Boleyn got me thinking about one of my other favorite 16th century Marys: Marie de Guise. Poor Marie has also suffered at the hands of the film industry. She was grossly maligned by the movie “Elizabeth”. Here’s the real story.

Considered as a bride by Henry VIII of England after the death of his third wife, Jane Seymour, Marie reputedly repudiated Henry with the comment that although she might be a tall woman, she had a very small neck. (The actual story behind Marie’s refusal of Henry’s offer is more complicated, but far less fun). At the urging of King Francis, Marie accepted Henry’s neighbor to the north, King James V of Scotland.

James was no prize, either as a husband or as a king. In 1542, the Scottish army was routed by an invading English force at Solway Moss while James dallied with a mistress nearby, leaving the English to rampage unchecked throughout the Lowlands. As James took to his bed with shame, news was brought to him that the Queen had been delivered of a daughter. According to contemporary chroniclers, the superstitious king recalled an old prophecy foretelling the fall of the Stuart monarchy with a female heir. “It came with a lass, it shall go with a lass,” sighed James V, turned his face to the wall and died. He left his Queen with a six day old baby, a marauding English army, and a group of squabbling nobles all fighting for ascendancy, several claiming the right to the throne themselves.

In the south, Henry VIII immediately proclaimed himself Suzereign of Scotland, claiming right to overlordship by virtue of his relation as great-uncle to the infant Mary Queen of Scots. All that stood between these formidable men and the Scots throne was one frail infant—and her mother.

Marie de Guise could easily have cut and run, going home to the cultured life of the court in France. Her son from her first marriage, the young Duc de Longueville, begged her to return, sending bits of string to show her how much he had grown and reiterating how very much he missed her. Instead, Marie de Guise plunged into the tangled politics of her adoptive country, fighting to keep her infant daughter safe and to protect the country that was her child’s legacy.

Young Mary’s existence was a precarious one. Henry VIII pressed to have the child betrothed to his own young son, Edward, Prince of Wales, propounding various schemes to make off with the tiny queen by either stealth or force. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that young Mary would not long survive an English marriage; Henry made clear that should the baby marry his son and then just happen to die of natural causes, he considered the throne of Scotland to be his. Nor was the baby safe at home in Scotland. The Earl of Arran, the regent, pressed his own claim to the throne, spreading rumors that the infant Mary was a frail child, unlikely to survive. In a desperate move to protect her child, Marie de Guise summoned the English envoy, Sir Ralph Sadler, to attend on her at Linlithgow, stripping the baby bare to prove what good health she was in. Marie had gone on the international record to establish that if her baby died, it wouldn’t be by natural causes.

Trying to keep her child safe from both Scots nobles and the English king, Marie forged alliances first with Cardinal Beaton and the so-called French party (Scots lords who favored an alliance with France), then with rival lords of the so-called English party (Scots lords who favored—you guessed it—an alliance with England), using the latter to make her first bid for the Regency in 1544 by staging a rival parliament where the lords of the English faction pledged that they did “bind and oblige us, and promise by the faiths in our bodies, and have given our oaths upon, that we shall maintain and defend the Queen’s Grace our Sovereign Lady’s mother in… the authority of all things.” Stirring words, no? It was a grand gesture, but a short-lived one. The Earl of Arran quashed Marie’s bid for power. It was only ten years later, in 1554, that Marie was finally able to wrest away the Regency from the Earl of Arran. She served as regent from 1554 until her death in 1560.

These days, if Marie de Guise is remembered for anything at all, it is for her decision to send the child Queen Mary out of Scotland, to be raised at the court of Henry II of France. But she did a great deal more than that. During her time as Regent, Marie repaired Scotland’s financial base, working to improve the mining industry, pushing improvements in agriculture, and putting forward legislation for everything from a uniform system of weights and measures to statutes forbidding the peeling off of bark from fruit trees. She was a learned woman, a patron of the arts, and a shrewd politician. And, against all odds, she kept her daughter alive. Thanks to Marie de Guise, the princess who inherited the throne of Scotland at six days old did survive to claim her throne. (Even if Marie’s daughter Mary did rather botch it—despite all the glamour and the romance, I’m not a Mary, Queen of Scots fan).

The sixteenth century was a glorious time for reigning queens.

Do you have a favorite queen? My two are admittedly rather recherché. There’s Marie de Guise and then there’s Caroline of Ansbach, Queen Consort of George II, about whom I’ll have to write a post some other day….


9 Comments:

Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

It's hard not to be a fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine, especially after all of Sharon Kay Penman's wonderful books . . .

7:51 AM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

And E.L. Koenigsburg's "A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver"....

7:57 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I've been an Eleanor of Aquitaine fan since 5th grade when I had to present a book report on her bio for history class.

I have just a mention of Marie de Guise in ROYAL AFFAIRS, as part of the Mary Q of S. entry. I'm more impressed with Marie's daughter than you are, I think, Lauren. Or at least fascinated by the tide of events she lived through. Although Mary Queen of Scots did endeavor to control her circumstances, and she had myriad obstacles to overcome, circumstances ended up controlling her. She made a number of ill-considered decisions. But I'm always interested in the "why" as much as the "what".

9:42 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Super post, Lauren! Have you read Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles? They begin when Mary, Queen of Scots, is five, just before she's sent to France. Marie de Guise appears in several of the books and comes across as fascinating woman and a skilled politician.

As to a favorite queen-- I've found Elizabeth I fascinating ever since I watched "Elizabeth R" as a child. Then my family went to England, and I got very intrigued by Lady Jane Grey--I think because she was so young when she was queen (because, sadly, she only reigned for nine days). And her learning and scholarship, at such a young age, were very interesting. Also totally agree about Eleanor of Aquitaine--I read a wonderful children's fictional biography of her as a child, and "A Lion in Winter" is one of my favorite movies.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Lauren. Speaking of Queens, I just wrote a post on Marie de Guise's mother-in-law, Margaret Tudor. I find it amazing that too such strong-willed women were able to hold Scotland strong against the English, and then Mary comes along and blows everything!

Eleanor of Aquitaine is also another personal favorite whose life was so big it took me two posts to write about her. From the time I saw the Lion in Winter through Jean Plaidy's books and then Sharon Kay Penman. She's always been a personal fave.

And after reading The Other Boleyn Girl, I have nothing but sympathy for poor Katherine of Aragon.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

Elizabeth, have you read Garrett Mattingly's "Catherine of Aragon"? He's a brilliant historian, and his biography of Catherine only makes you like her even more. She was a truly admirable character, behaving with dignity in a circumstance she could never, ever have anticipated.

Tracy, I love the Lymond books! That period of Scottish history is just so fascinating, with the so-called Rough Wooing and all the warring nobles, intriguing with foreign powers....

2:19 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Marie de Guise sounds like one tough dame. Those are always my favorite queens. LOVED Lion in Winter. I always thought Catherine of Aragon was a class act. Elizabeth I has always intrigued me. She was definitely her father's daughter.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

What a terrific post, Lauren. I had no idea.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Georgia said...

Lauren,

I must say that Carlota Joaquina (a.k.a. Charlotte Joaquina Teresa of Spain) was a rather interesting, if a bit disturbing, character. She was married to Joao VI of Portugal, and had "Maria, a louca" (the crazy) for a mother in law. She was apparently quite vile and ugly. But given her husband's lack of interest in anything other than food and concupiscent behavior; and a mother in law who was "out to lunch", she apparently ran Portugal and all its colonies in the late 18th and early 19th century (right during the Pink Carnation's era!).
The part that fascinates me most is that the entire royal family fled --under cover of darkness, and ALL disguised as women of easy virtue -- when Napoleon's troops invaded Portugual in 1807. They fled to Brazil, and the scene in the ship was reportedly tragi-comic-- down to a plague of lice that forced them all to shave their heads, thus starting a fashion of wearing turbans.
Either way, forced by circumstances they had to remain in exile until after the peninsular wars. They returned to Portugal only in 1821, when a revolution was afoot and the throne about to be lost.
Apparently Carlota Joaquina hated exile and even shook out her shoes before boarding the ship back to Portugal, so she wouldn't bring "even dust back" with her. The dislike was not sufficient to keep her from orchestrating an absurd war while there (having Brazil invade and annex Uruguay).
Once back to Portugal, Carlota Joaquina made an alliance with her youngest son Miguel, who shared her conservative views. In 1824, together they held the king prisoner in the Queluz palace, where she tried force him to abdicate in favor of Miguel. Eventually, the king received British reinforcements and reclaimed control...

A minor historical character she may be, but I must say that something about her crudeness, ambition and gumption make her an interesting figure.

10:41 AM  

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