The Queen of Scots was a French girl and her name was not Mary: it was Marie!
By Linda Root
Marie Stuart is not the same persona as Mary Tudor (Mary I of England) who historians sometimes call Bloody Mary: Nor is she the same person as Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s favorite sister who was briefly queen consort of France but never a queen in her own right. The confusion would not have occurred but for the insistence of contemporary historians that the Queen of Scots be given the English name of Mary, a politically motivated misnomer. Her father James V of Scotland died when she was six days old and the Scottish influence on her childhood died with him. Her mother Marie of Guise had been in Scotland for four years when he died. The House of Guise had a mixed Franco-Germanic heritage which they traced to Charlemagne. Following French assumption of suzerainty over Lorraine, Guise scions were French princes. They were as powerful as they were arrogant and looked upon Scotland as a Provence with bad weather.
The Queen of Scots was at least as French as her mother, who had been educated in Joinville under the tutelage of her devoutly religious mother Antoinette de Bourbon, who dressed as a nun and wore a cilice. The Queen of Scots was schooled in the royal nursery at Saint Germain-en-Laye, her curriculum dictated by queen consort Catherine de Medici and the king’s mistress Diane de Poitiers. Her education was identical to the one received by Catherine’s daughters, princesses Elisabeth and Claud. Their tutors were renaissance scholars. Diane was a patroness of the arts and a fashion icon, an ideal role model for a future queen.
Assertions of historians that Marie Stuart spoke no French when she arrived in France at age five seem implausible. Traditionally, young Scottish monarchs lived at Stirling, but Marie Stuart remained in her mother’s French-speaking household until she was five. The Dowager’s advisers were the Frenchmen de Thermes and d’Oysel, and her household staff and ladies-in-waiting were predominantly French. It is disingenuous to believe that she spoke Scots to her infant daughter when she barely knew it herself.
When the queen was five she was sent to France to evade an English army scouring Scotland in hopes of hauling her to a forced betrothal to Edward VI. Before she sailed, she was affianced by proxy to the four-year-old dauphin. Hers was not a flight into an unfamiliar world. Scottish aristocrats were often educated at the Sorbonne. France granted dual citizenship to Scots. Fashion at the Scottish court was French. Marie of Guise consulted Diane de Poitiers on her wardrobe. Three of the four Scottish girls selected to accompany Marie to France—the Four Maries– had French mothers. Even they were hustled to a convent school in Poissy and the other Scots were sent packing. Any trace of Scottishness that Marie retained was systematically eradicated. Below is a note she wrote to her mother when she was seven. Voila! It is a note written by a French girl.
The assertion that Marie Stuart was an unhappy child who was abused by Queen Catherine and corrupted by Diane de Poitiers is a construct of historians who wish to cast Marie Stuart as a perennial victim. Henri II doted on the charming child slated to become his daughter-in-law, and neither of the two women competing for his affections would have dared abuse or malign her. It is more likely that she played them off against each other. She learned poetry from Ronsard and history from Brantome, but her ability to manipulate those around her came from her uncle Charles. In addition to being Christendom’s second most powerful prelate, he was the richest man in France. His position as his niece’s mentor insulated her from exploitation by all but her uncle’s.
It benefited the king’s dynastic plan for his son to have a perfect wife. Francois stuttered and his nose ran constantly. Having Marie at his side was a necessary accouterment. The wedding went forward in 1558, in hopes that Francois’s testicles would eventually descend into his scrotum and the dynasty would be saved. Meanwhile, illusion was enough. Unfortunately, in the autumn the new dauphiness misstepped, and it was her uncles and Henri who tripped her.
To understand the interplay between the Tudor and Stuart dynasties, forget what you remember of The Tudors and Cate Blanchett’s portrayals of Elizabeth. The acting and sets are better than the history. In spite of myriad novels and movies, Marie Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor never met. Do not waste time puzzling over how Great Harry’s sister Margaret who wed and smothered the wizened King of Portugal fits into this: No such person existed. The real Margaret Tudor was Henry VIII’s impetuous older sister whom he shunted to Scotland to marry James IV before she did something outrageous. Her firstborn, prophetically named James, became James V a year later when his father died at Flodden. In 1542 he became Marie Stuart’s father. Having suffered a military rout at Solway Moss and the unwanted gift of a daughter when he needed a son, he muttered something cryptic about ‘it started with a lass and is ending with a lass’, turned to face the wall and died.
The real Margaret Tudor was Marie Stuart’s grandmother. She was also the grandmother of Marie Stuart’s second husband Darnley, son of Lady Margaret Douglas, child of Margaret‘s tempestuous second marriage to Archibald Douglas. Sixteenth century royals made a habit of marrying their cousins, which kept the Pope busy signing dispensations but did little to enhance the bloodlines. As a closet Catholic, Margaret Douglas was Mary Tudor’s favorite cousin, the Catholic choice to become her heir. But Mary declined to override her father’s Will. The crown passed to Protestant Elizabeth.
Next, Marie Stuart ventured onto the political stage and tripped. Her uncles and Henri insisted that since Elizabeth was both bastard and heretic, the Queen of Scots was England’s rightful queen. Seduced by the idea, Marie began quartering the English arms alongside those of France and Scotland. She was either deplorably naïve or as overreaching as her uncles. The pope ruled for Elizabeth. Marie Stuart had taken her first stumble on the path to Fotheringhay.
The Queen of Scots Became Queen of France Literally By Accident
In the summer of 1559, after years of war Europe was at peace. The court was celebrating the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis in a series of tournaments at La Tournelles. Late in the final day of jousting, Henri neglected to lower his visor and Gabriel Montgomerie’s lance entered his forehead near his eye. Before nightfall , Catherine sent Diane packing. A few days later, Henri died. Marie Stuart was the French queen consort and immature Francois was king. Catherine allied herself with the Guises and rode to the Louvres in the same coach as the new queen while Francois II paraded beside the Duke of Guise. Marie Stuart had attained the status she had dreamed of since childhood, and the Guises ruled France.
Marie Stuart’s time as a French Queen Consort did not last long:
Under the Salic law that prevailed in France, women could not ascend the throne. Marie Stuart never reigned there. Assertions that she controlled her husband and thus ruled France are misguided. Her uncles controlled them both. They governed while the young royals amused themselves by hunting the white stag. Enemies of the ultra-Catholic Guises plastered Paris with posters asking “Ou est le roi?”
In the spring of 1560 the anti-Guise faction launched a plot to free Francois from his wife’s relatives. But too many conspirators were involved and the plan was leaked to Catherine. The assault against the vacationing royals at Amboise ended in a rout. A grisly purge of anyone with a link to the rebels followed. The Loire ran red with the blood of peasants whose only sin was giving water to a soldier. Marie watched the executions from a gallery window. Each day’s slaughter was followed by fireworks and water sports until the court was forced to move to Chenonceau to avoid the stench of rotting corpses hanging from the battlement.
There was brief rejoicing when Marie missed a menses and began wearing a smock, but is was as illusory as Mary Tudor’s false pregnancies. Apparently the queen was still a virgin. The smock was discarded and the dynastic aspirations of the Guises soon followed. After hunting in a mild snowstorm, Francois developed an ear infection that migrated to his brain. He died in December of what doctors called ’brain fever.’ His mother left his deathbed long enough to convene the Estates General. The king died that night and on the following day the second son of the woman Marie Stuart scornfully called ‘the Italian shopkeeper’s daughter’ became Charles IX and the shopkeeper’s daugher was named his Regent. The Guises retired to Joinville.
The Queen’s return to Scotland was a last resort:
She spent the next five years trying to regain the status she lost when Francois died. Her quest began in Europe as she shopped for a husband of similar rank. Her first choice was Don Carlos of Austria, the Spanish Infante, Philip’s son to his first wife and double cousin Maria of Portugal. Carlos was not only physically deformed: he was mentally ill. His homicidal outbursts were aimed at Philip who had no desire to let him breed. Besides, Philip had promised Catherine to nix any marriage that might weaken the position of Marie’s old friend, his consort Elisabeth Valois, who was pregnant.
Charles IX was another possibility. The nine-year-old was infatuated with his pretty sister-in-law. Catherine made short shrift of that. She had no desire to reinstate her condescending daughter in law just when she was rid of her. Disconsolate Marie visited her grandmother, and her uncles snubbed her. After her half brother Lord James Stewart arrived to entice her to Scotland to assume personal rule, they thawed. Having Scotland in their clutches was better than nothing.
When the queen’s flagship entered Leith harbor ahead of schedule, there was no one to greet it.. The convoy carrying her livery, horses and household goods had been confiscated by Elizabeth. The queen requisitioned a burgess’s house to rest and wash, and then set out for Edinburgh on a borrowed horse. The exceptionally tall female rider with porcelain skin and auburn hair attracted a crowd that followed her to Holyrood. That night they serenaded her from the courtyard. Her apartments at Holyrood were not ready for her arrival, and neither were the Scots.
…On that note, her reign began
Linda Root is a former homicide prosecutor and the author of four historical novels set in Marie Stuart’s Scotland. Root lives in Yucca Valley, California with husband Chris and two mixed giant Alaskan Malamutes Maxx and Maya. Her fifth book of the series, 1603: The Queen’s Revenge, is scheduled for release in early 2014. Check out the first four in the series by clicking on the following links: The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, The Midwife’s Secret: The Mystery of the Hidden Princess, and The Other Daughter: the Midwife’s Secret II.