Mary of Scotland at the time
she was widowed from King
Francis II of France in 1560
Mary had become Queen Regnant of Scotland (that means Monarch in her own right, not simply Queen by marriage to a King) at the death of her Father, James V, when she was only six days old. Of course a six-day old girl (or boy) is in no position to rule a country and Scotland was ruled by Regents who exercised the royal power in Mary’s name. From her infancy there was a struggle to control the child and the country she rule. Cardinal David Beaton, Archbishop of Saint Andrews and confidant of James V, produced a will in which the King named Beaton as regent, but this will was widely regarded as a forgery and was challenged by James Hamilton, Earl of Arran who also claimed to be the legitimate regent. Arran had the support of the majority of the court and out maneuvered Beaton whom he had arrested and confined in the house of Lord Seton, but the Cardinal escaped. Beaton, of course, was Catholic and Arran Protestant and each represented the interests of his co-religionists. This Catholic-Protestant struggle would be a major theme in the life of Mary as each group tried to control her seeing as both in Scotland and England their fortunes depended on her fate. To complicate matters, as long as Mary had no children, Arran was next in line to the throne as there were no other legitimate-born Stuarts more closely related by blood. Arran’s maternal grandmother, Mary of Scotland, was the daughter of James III. So the infant queen was in the care of the Protestant earl. This boded well for the Protestant party. As a Protestant, Arran wanted to arrange a marriage for the young Queen to the young son of Henry VIII of England. This would unite the crowns of the two kingdoms and insure the triumph of Protestantism. However as Prince Edward was five and the child-Queen was less than a year old, it would be a long engagement.
In fact, it wasn’t. It was broken within the year in a very remarkable about-face. Lord Arran suddenly reconciled with Beaton, converted to Catholicism, and was given the Duchy of Châtellerault by Henry II of France in return for arranging the marriage of Mary to the Dauphin (Crown Prince of France), the future Francis II. When Mary was less than six years old she was sent to live in the French Court. Arran remained in Scotland as regent until when in 1554 he surrendered the regency to Mary’s mother, the French princess Mary of Guise, widow to Scotland’s James V. This put both Scotland and the young Queen firmly in Catholic hands. Arran would later revert to Protestantism but that is not relevant to this story other than his unsuccessful attempts in 1560 to marry his son to the newly crowned Elizabeth of England or, after her being widowed from Francis, to Mary herself. Nothing came of these attempts.
Mary meanwhile flourished in France. She had a vivacious and charming personality that won over all except her mother-in-law to be, Catherine de Medici. (No one wins a pissing contest with an Italian mother-in-law.) Moreover Mary excelled in the sports appropriate to women (horsemanship, hunting, falconry), in the arts (music, poetry, needlework), and learned French, Latin, Greek, Italian, and Spanish in addition to her native Scots Gaelic and what English she had learned in Scotland.
Mary, for her part, made a will (equivalent to today’s pre-nup) leaving the Scots throne and her claims to the English Throne (she was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII of England and next in line after Elizabeth to the Throne of England) to the French Crown. She married Francis at Notre Dame in Paris on April 24, 1558. The marriage did not last long. The king died two and a half years later at age 16. Mary returned to Scotland nine months later. This provides a natural break in Mary’s story and we will leave it here for our next posting. To this point Mary is a vivacious young queen still in her teens who is Catholic by upbringing but not particularly pious beyond what is expected of a Queen in the ceremonies of her court. In France she was in an environment where the Catholics still held the political power (though that would soon be challenged by the rise of Calvinism among the French urban middle classes), but returning to Scotland that would be very much reversed as there the Calvinists had been far more successful in gaining control of the situation. But that is for next time.