Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Friday, November 22, 2019

Marie de Guise, Queen and Regent of Scotland

Marie de Guise, queen and regent of Scotland (born 22 November 1515)

As I have noted many times in the years since I began writing this blog, its title--"The Monstrous Regiment of Women"--is drawn from the virulent political pamphlet published by the Scottish religious reformer John Knox

Knox published his blistering assessment of female rule, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, in 1558. His bitter, almost pornographic, indictment of "gynecocracy" was quickly followed in print by a series of pamphlets that echoed, expanded, disputed, and countered his argument that female rule was unnatural, unlawful, and contrary to scripture.

From Knox's point of view, the political situation could hardly seem worse. Not only had Mary Tudor succeeded to the throne of England, but Mary Stuart, wife of the dauphin of France, had become queen of Scotland, while her mother, Marie de Guise, was acting as regent in Scotland on Mary's behalf.*

Marie of Guise, c. 1537
portrait attributed to Corneille de Lyon
The daughter of Claude of Lorraine, duke of Guise (after 1528), and Antoinette Bourbon, Marie was the couple's firstborn and only child for the first four years of her life.

But after the birth of a son and heir in 1519, her father sent his daughter to the convent Clarisse to Pont-à-Mousson. There Marie joined her paternal grandmother, Philippa of Guelders. After an active career in Lorraine, where she had served as regent for her son, the duke of Lorraine (Claude's elder brother), the dowager duchess had retired there. (As only one more indication of Margaret of Austria's powerful influence for a generation of early-modern women, a young Philippa of Guelders spent time in her court.)

Marie remained in the convent with her grandmother until she was about fourteen years old. After visiting his mother in the convent, the duke of Lorraine must have seen the potential in his niece--he arranged for Marie to leave the convent and to prepare for a life in the French court. She made her first appearance there in 1531. A politically advantageous alliance was soon arranged. 

On 4 August 1534, when she was eighteen years old, Marie of Lorraine was married to Louis II d'Orléans, duc de Longueville and comte de Dunois. Her first child, a boy named François, after the French king, was born just over a year later. But Marie's husband died in 1537, just three years after their marriage. A posthumous son, Louis, was born two months after his father's death--and four months later, the baby was also dead.

Within months, it was clear that a second marriage would be arranged for the young widow. James V of Scotland, whose wife had recently died, was looking for a new queen, as was Henry VIII of England, whose offer was rejected by Marie in December 1537--the English king is said to have told the French ambassador that he was a big man, in need of a similarly sized wife (Marie was quite tall). Marie is said to have replied that, though she was a big woman, she had a very little neck (referring to Henry's execution of his second wife, Anne Boleyn).

Happily for Marie, the French king decided to reject Henry's offer and to accept that of James of Scotland. Less happily, marriage negotiations were immediately underway--she was not eager for a second marriage. Despite her wish to delay, by January of 1538, just seven months after her first husband's death, the marriage contract with Scotland was complete.

The couple were married by proxy in France on 9 May 1538. On 10 June, Marie, now queen of Scotland, left France for her new home. As was customary, she left behind her three-year-old son.

After her arrival in Scotland, the new queen worked to reconcile her husband and his mother, Margaret Tudor, whose second marriage, subsequent divorce, and remarriage, had strained relations with the Scottish king. 
Marie gave birth to her son James in May 1539 and quickly became pregnant again. The second child was also a boy, but disaster struck in April 1541 when the two young princes died within a week of one another. Margaret, who knew only too well the pain of losing her children, comforted her son and his wife. Margaret Tudor herself died as the year ended, on 18 October 1541.

Double portrait of James V of Scotland and Marie of Guise,
artist unknown

Marie of Guise gave birth to a third child, a girl to be named Mary, on 8 December 1542. But the king of Scotland died just six days later, on 14 December. At her father's death, Mary Stuart became queen of Scotland. 

During the regency of James Hamilton, earl of Arran, Henry VIII made every effort to secure the marriage of Mary, queen of Scots, to his son, the infant Edward, moving from promises and inducements to war, when negotiations failed. Instead, Mary Stuart was betrothed to the French dauphin, another François, and in 1548 the little girl was sent to France to be reared alongside her future husband. 

Marie of Guise, the dowager queen, meanwhile, remained in Scotland. Only after the war with England ended and a treaty had been signed did she travel to France to see her young daughter. In September 1550 she left Scotland for the continent. She landed in Normandy and was able to travel to Longueville to reunite with the fifteen-year-old son from whom she had been separated a dozen years earlier. 

She also reunited with her daughter, the queen of Scotland, and she was able to visit with her recently widowed mother, Antoinette of Bourbon. (Marie's father, Claude of Bourbon, had died in April 1550). But before Marie of Guise returned to Scotland, she suffered one more blow--her son, François, died, still not sixteen years old.

Although the regency of Scotland had been in the hands of James Hamilton, earl of Arran, since James V's death, he was replaced as regent in April 1554. Marie of Guise's position as queen regent was "ratified by the Estates of Scotland." She served as regent until her death in 1560 and seems to have taken to heart the advice of her brother, the duke of Guise, to "deal in Scotland in a spirit of conciliation, introducing much gentleness and moderation into the administration of justice." 

She attempted to steer a judicious middle course for herself, acting in Antonia Fraser's words, "gently and slowly by the use of Parliament," introducing more equitable administration of the law into a country "where administration was either non-existent or archaic in the extreme," aiming for stability in economic matters, and proceeding with "balance and political acumen" in her dealings with the Scots lords, whom she judged to be "jealous and suspicious." She knew the difficulty of her task: "whenever it is a question of meeting out justice or punishment," Marie wrote, the lords "find these things insupportable, thinking always that one wants to give them new laws and change theirs, which in fact have much need of amendment."

Her family predicted that her "tender" methods would result in her failure. Her enemies condemned her as full of "craft and subtleties"; she had a "queenly mind," but "the heart of a man of war." John Knox, her most virulent critic, described her regency in an oft-quoted passage: "a crown [was] put upon her head, as seemly a sight . . . as to put a saddle upon the back of an unruly cow." But her supporters described her differently. The Catholic bishop John Lesley judged her to be a "princess most prudent and very well instructed in sweetness, comely and honest manners and integrity of life":  
Through use and experience, she knew much of our affairs and was very expert, in so far that none was of the nobility and of the common people except very few obscure persons whose engine, mind and manners she knew not perfectly and very well. . . . [S]he did justice with all diligence all her days. . . . [S]he likewise in virtues and many offices of humanity far overcame many other women. . . . [T]herefore she won the hearts of all . . . with wit and wisdom.
Lesley's view was surely as partisan Knox's, but, as Rosalind Marshall writes, "it is interesting to note" that the English chronicler Holinshed's estimation of the regent is much closer to Lesley's than to Knox's: In his view Mary of Guise was "wise and very prudent." During her regency "she kept good justice and was well obeyed in all parts of the realm." 

Marie of Guise, regent of Scotland, died in the sixth year of her regency, on 11 June 1560. She was forty-four years old.

In her extraordinary nineteenth-century history, Lives of the Queens of Scotland and English Princesses Connected with the Royal Succession of Great Britain, Alice Strickland provides an extended narrative of Marie of Guise (whom she refers to as Mary of Lorraine). The biography spans volume 1 and volume 2

In her 1969 biography of Mary, queen of Scots, Antonia Fraser (quoted here) writes about Mary's mother, Marie of Guise.

Rosalind Marshall's Mary of Guise (2001) is also quoted here. 

For a more recent biography, see Melanie Clegg's The Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise (2016). 

*This post has been adapted from The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe.