Birthday: November 22, 1515
Died At Age: 44
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Also Known As: Mary of Lorraine
Born Country: France
Born in: Bar-le-Duc, France
Famous as: Regent of Scotland
Empresses & Queens
Height: 1.80 m
Spouse/Ex-: Duke of Longueville (m. 1534–1537), James V of Scotland (m. 1538–1542), Louis II d'Orléans
father: Claude, Duke of Guise
mother: Antoinette de Bourbon
siblings: Antoinette of Guise, Charles; Cardinal of Lorraine, Claude; Duke of Aumale, Francis; Duke of Guise, Louis I; Cardinal of Guise, Louise of Lorraine, René; Marquis of Elbeuf, Renée of Guise
children: Duke of Longueville, Duke of Rothesay, François III d'Orléans, James, Mary, Queen of Scots
Died on: June 11, 1560
Who was Mary of Guise?
Mary of Guise, also known as Mary of Lorraine, was the regent of Scotland during the minority of her daughter Mary. Hailing from the Lotharingian House of Guise, she was known for her height and beauty. She spent the early part of her life in the countryside and in a convent. In 1531, she had her debut in the French court. At the age of 18, she married her first husband, Louis II, Duke of Longueville. The couple had two sons. Following Longueville’s death, Mary exchanged wedding vows with King James V of Scotland in 1538. They had two sons, but neither survived infancy. After James’ death in 1542, she became the regent and continued to serve in the position until her death in 1560. As a regent, Mary of Guise’s main objective was to maintain a close diplomatic relationship between the strong and influential French nation and the smaller Scotland, which she wished to keep Catholic and free of English influence. She proved to be unsuccessful, as, after her death, the Protestants took over the country. However, it was during the reign of her grandson, James VI and I, that the Union of the Crowns took place.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on November 22, 1515, in Bar-le-Duc, Duchy of Bar, Mary was one of the 12 children of Claude of Lorraine, Duke of Guise, head of the House of Guise, and Antoinette de Bourbon, the daughter of Francis, Count of Vendome, and French Princess Marie de Luxembourg.
Some of Mary’s siblings were Francis, Duke of Guise; Claude, Duke of Aumale; Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine; and Louis I, Cardinal of Guise.
By the standards of her time, Mary was quite tall (5’11” or 1.80 m as an adult), a trait that her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, would inherit. She spent some time in the convent of the Poor Clares at Pont-à-Mousson with her grandmother, Philippa of Guelders.
When she was 14 years old, she was taken away from the convent by her uncle Antoine, Duke of Lorraine, and her aunt Renée of Bourbon, who trained her for life at the French court.
In 1531, she debuted at the court as a guest at the wedding between Francis I and Eleanor of Austria. In time, she became a friend of both Princess Madeleine and Princess Margaret, daughters of Francis I of France.
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Mary was 18 years old when she got married for the first time, to Louis II d'Orléans, Duke of Longueville, at the Château du Louvre, on August 4, 1534, becoming the Duchess of Longueville. Their marriage was brief, but they were happy together. Louis passed away on June 9, 1537, at Rouen. At the time, Mary was 21 years old.
She had two sons with Louis, Francis (1535-51) and Louis. The latter died when he was still a child. Francis maintained correspondence with his mother when she was in Scotland. In 1545, she received a piece of string from him. He had sent it to her to let her know how tall he had become.
Not long after the death of her first husband, Mary received a marriage offer from James V of Scotland, whose first wife and Mary’s friend, Madeleine of Valois, had also died in 1537.
After Henry VIII of England learnt about the marriage negotiations, he reached out to the King of France, requesting Mary’s hand. She was well aware of his marital history and downright rejected his offer. The French King subsequently accepted James’ proposal. The couple got married by proxy on May 9, 1538, in the Sainte Chapelle at the Château de Châteaudun.
Mary came to Scotland in June 1538, at the age of 22. She and James exchanged wedding vows in person on 18 June at St Andrews Cathedral. Her mother-in-law, Margaret Tudor, took a liking to her and wrote positive things about her in her letter to Henry VIII.
Mary had two sons with James V, James, Duke of Rothesay (born May 22, 1540) and Robert, Duke of Albany (April 12, 1541). Neither survived infancy, dying on the same day on April 21, 1541.
In a letter, Mary’s mother, Antoinette de Bourbon, told her and James that they could still have children as they were young at the time. She also speculated a change of wet-nurse and over-feeding were probably the contributing factors for the deaths.
On December 8, 1542, Mary gave birth to a daughter, whom she named after herself. James passed away on 14 December, making the six-day-old girl the new queen of Scotland.
Following the death of James V, James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, was appointed the regent. Henry wanted a union between Queen Mary and his son, Prince Edward. This proposal divided Scottish nobility into those who wished for the union and those who did not and wanted an alliance with France. It was not long before the war known as Rough Wooing began between Scotland and England.
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Mary’s power in the country significantly increased despite Scotland suffering a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in September 1547, as France sent military aid.
She was nearly killed after coming to the range of English guns while inspecting the siege of Haddington in July 1548. In accordance with a resolution passed in Scottish Parliament, her daughter went to France in August 1548 to be brought up with her betrothed, the dauphin Francis, son of Henry II of France.
In the ensuing years, Mary led the Scottish campaign of driving the English out. As a result, her popularity in Scotland was at an all-time high. Following the signing of the Treaty of Boulogne in 1550, she went to France to see her family. In 1551, she travelled to England, where she met Edward VI, who gifted her a diamond ring.
On April 12, 1554, Mary was appointed the regent. She was extremely effective as a leader and installed Frenchmen in various important offices in the Scottish government, including the treasury and the Great Seal.
She solved internal disputes like the arrest of Iye du Mackay, Lord Reay, who had been the reason for certain issues in Sutherland. However, she was not as successful in foreign affairs, failing to convince Scottish lords to attack England.
Mary, a devoted Catholic, tolerated the Protestant presence in her kingdom. However, as the influence of the Scottish Protestants grew, they became a threat to her regency.
In England, after Mary Tudor’s death, her sister, Elizabeth I, ascended the throne in 1558. Unlike Mary Tudor, who was a Catholic, Elizabeth was a Protestant. The news of her ascension filled the Protestants in Scotland with both hope and fear. Elizabeth supported Scottish Protestant lords in secret. Fighting erupted all over the country, and Mary had to take strict steps to bring it under control.
During this period, she got into a bitter dispute with Scottish theologian John Knox, who later allied himself with the Lords of the Congregation. In July 1559, she became one of the signatories of the Articles of Leith. When Elizabeth I ordered an attack on Scotland, Mary demonstrated remarkable resilience and courage while leading her troops.
Death & Legacy
In 1560, while residing in Edinburgh Castle, Mary contracted an illness. She was incoherent for the next eight days, often losing her ability to speak. On June 11, 1560, she passed away due to dropsy. She was 44 years old at the time. She was buried at the church in the Convent of Saint-Pierre in Reims.
Mary was portrayed by American actress Amy Brenneman in The CW series ‘Reign’ (2013-17). Before that, French actress Fanny Ardant was cast as Mary of Guise in the 1998 Oscar-winning film ‘Elizabeth’.