The Incredible Story of Marie de Guise Part 1 – Real English

Photo of Marie de Guise on a blue background

Welcome to this month’s Real English video where I tell you about Edinburgh and Scotland’s history and culture, and you get a great English lesson looking at language in context! This month we are talking about Marie de Guise, Scotland’s other queen. Forgotten by the history books, this formidable woman held the country together through civil unrest and bankrupcy. Her story deserves to be told in as much detail as possible, so she is getting two videos in her honour!

Check out the vlog below, and read on for the interactive trasncription where I have added more vocabulary for you to learn as well as extra links to discover more about Marie de Guise, or Marie de Lorraine as she is also known!

Marie de Guise’s family’s motto was Adhuc Stac – and yet it stands

And I think this is just such a brilliant way to sum up this incredible woman. She came from a long line of incredibly impressive men and women who had great character and were incredibly strong individuals and she really was no different to them either.

For example, her dad, Claude de Guise, was found in battle trapped under a horse. He’d received 20 wounds and he’d been shot in the thigh with an arquebus and still survived. This is the kind of stuff that her family were made out of. The women in her family were just as impressive. Her mother helped run the family estate in her father’s absence, something that was very unusual for the time, and her grandmother, Philippa de Guelders, was a fierce matriarch.

Marie de Guise grew up with a lot of strong women around her and her early years were also quite unusual for the time. The first four years of her life saw her mother being very much involved in her upbringing which was something that just didn’t really happen.

She was very athletic, something that her daughter Mary would later inherit, excellent at horse riding and loved hunting. The de Guise family were also quite fanatical about their Catholic faith.

Marie de Guise grew up in a luxury surrounded by music and she also grew up seeing very much a marriage of equals.

As I said before, her father Claude let her mother Antoinette manage the family estate while he was away. And when Marie eventually went into marriage, she kind of expected it to be a similar situation.

Her father was a military hero and this was something else that Marie went on to inherit from him because when she was regent of Scotland she would personally supervise the troops and took a great interest in military matters. As you can already see, Marie de Guise was a pretty cool lady.

Despite being brought up in luxury, she wasn’t scared to get her hands dirty. A lot of this was probably down to the influence of her grandmother Phillipa de Guelders. At the age of eight, Marie was sent to study with her grandmother at the convent where she lived. She was probably initially destined to become an abbess so receiving a religious education was a very sensible step in the right direction for her.

Interestingly, her grandmother Philippa really embraced convent life. Unlike a lot of other women who would cloister themselves, Philippa made sure to be very much involved in the day to day running of the convent. She encouraged this in Marie, who also helped out around the convent and day to day tasks and Marie would retain this sense of practicality throughout all of her life.

As she grew older, she turned into an attractive, charming and extremely pleasant woman. So much so, that it was decided that a life in a convent would be completely wasted on her. So instead, she was taken to live with her uncle to prepare her for life at the French court. And at the age of 14, that’s exactly where she went.

Marie de Guise’s father was a great friend of King Francois and the king was very fond of Marie

She soon settled into court life, making good friends with the two princesses. King Francois had made women an integral part of every ceremony, different from other courts in Europe. This added to Marie’s sense of equality that she had seen with her parents’ marriage.

Despite its debauchery, she enjoyed court life. At the convent, she had learned the value of keeping silent. She was extremely admired at court for her wit, charm and ability to get on with everyone, while calmly navigating the stormy and dangerous waters of what life at court was like.

At the age of 18, she was still not betrothed to be married. This was unusual for the time, but it does show how closeknit the de Guise family were. They wouldn’t have forced her into a match she wasn’t happy with and there would have been plenty of suitors after her, desperate to align themselves with such a powerful family. She finally married Louis d’Orleans-Longueville on the 4 August 1534. The match was most likely chosen by the king and the party lasted a fortnight, and it was a very happy marriage. They had a great deal of land, but they lived mostly at court.

Both of them were quiet people who liked a quiet life with great reputations, just liked by everyone. No drama. Louis was never a closed confidant of the king, but he had the important position of Grand Chamberlain of France, a really important position in the court. And on the 30th of October 1535, Marie de Guise welcomed her first child into the world, a boy she called Francois, after the king.

Meanwhile, over here in Scotland, James V had finally taken the throne in 1528.

James had been an infant king, as his father had died when he was only 17 months old, and his mother was Mary Tudor. Now, this is important. She was the sister of Henry VIII.

She took over the regency, but not being very politically minded, it didn’t last very long. It was easy to take power from her and this saw a lot of people fighting over control of Scotland and the regency.

In 1524, James dismissed all of these regents and was proclaimed an adult ruler by his mother.

But a year later, his stepfather, Archibald Douglas, the 6th Earl of Angus, took custody of James and virtually held him prisoner for about three years, during which he encouraged really bad behaviour like gambling, womanising, and drinking. This was to make James an ineffective and weak ruler. As you can imagine, this messed James up quite a lot. Eventually, after these three years had passed, James managed to escape his uncle and take his throne.

Now, it was questionable if James would keep something called the Auld Alliance.

This was an alliance between France and Scotland that suited them very well to kind of protect themselves from English powers and English ambitions. The reason why it wasn’t clear if James would continue with the Auld Alliance was because of that connection of his mother to Henry VIII. He was Henry VIII’s nephew, and it was entirely possible that he might pursue an alliance with them.

However, he chose to keep the Auld Alliance and headed to France to try and get a French bride.

Henry VIII was not best pleased by this. During this time in France, while he was trying to find his bride, James had a brilliant time living it up in the style that his stepfather had encouraged, with all that drinking, womanising and gambling, James was after the Princess Madeleine of France, however, the king was not keen to give James one of his daughters, especially Madeleine, who was very poorly. At this point, she’d probably already got tuberculosis. Advisors felt it was too dangerous to let her go to Scotland because of both the journey and the climate, which would be really bad for her health.

To make it more complicated, King Francois had promised Henry VIII that he wouldn’t let James marry a French princess. And then this long game of will he won’t he get married started with various French nobles, including some connected to the de Guise family, and they were very excited about the prospect of strengthening their position at court.

In the end, King Francois agreed on the marriage to his daughter because she was besotted with James, and I expect he also wanted to annoy Henry VIII a little bit, too. The de Guise family were disappointedthat their matches didn’t make it, but they accepted it and moved on. The marriage went ahead, and there were two weeks of festivities.

And everyone was happy

James was delighted because the princess came with a huge dowry. King Francois was happy because his daughter was happy. Henry VIII was not happy because his nephew had chosen the French alliance instead of the English one, which probably also made Francois happy. And Marie was happy because she was pregnant with her second child and in a really happy relationship. But of course, guys, this is far too happy, right, for everything to be going okay. And this did not last long.

Princess Madeleine found the trip to Scotland difficult, and her health quickly deteriorated. When she arrived in Scotland, it didn’t improve, and after being the queen for barely two months, she died here in Holyrood Palace. And back in France, things weren’t going well either.

Marie’s husband suddenly died of chickenpox, leaving Marie de Guise widowed at the age of 21. She was, of course, devastated and she petitioned the king to let her leave court to oversee her son’s inheritance. And this was probably how she imagined the rest of her life being widowed, taking care of her two children and their estates. She would be responsible until they came of age, and she would live surrounded by her family.

But fate had other plans for Marie. James was on the hunt for another French bride. He asked Francois for his other daughter, but understandably, Francois refused. With Marie recently widowed, it seemed like the perfect solution to the problem. He suggested that she marry King’s James.

But to his surprise, Marie wasn’t keen and neither was the de Guise family

Remember, the de Guise were a really, really closeknit family. Her parents didn’t want her to leave France and her children behind her,and they were not very impressed with James’s character. While he was charming and good looking, he was also conceited, brusque, thoughtless and moody. The King forced Claude, Marie’s father, to accept, but she wouldn’t give consent

Portrait of Marie de Guise attributed to Corneille de Lyon, c. 1537

Meanwhile, back in England, Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, died in childbirth.

This meant that Henry was on the hunt for a new wife as well. He heard his nephew was into Marie de Guise and suddenly he was interested too. King Francois told him that she was promised to Scotland, but Henry didn’t take this as a no. He sent secret agents to see Marie, who told him that she had not yet said yes to the Scottish match. And Francois started to think that actually, maybe marrying her to Henry would be better. He might have been able to get more land and treaties out of him.

In a tragic turn of events, while Marie de Guise’s future husband was being decided, her second son died.

Marie was, of course, devastated. By 1538, she had lost her husband and her child and the Princess Madeleine was dead. Eventually, after a lot of chopping and changing and, of course, a lot of drama, it was finally decided that Marie de Guise would marry James. Initially horrified by a terrible dowry settlement that included the land she already owned, her family worked to get Marie a better deal, resulting in her becoming a very rich woman.

James decided not to attend his second wedding, so he sent a proxy, something that was pretty normal at the time. In this case, the Lord High Admiral. He went in his place with a diamond ring significantly smaller than the one Madeleine had had.

After a heart-breaking farewell to her little boy, Marie and members of her family sailed to Scotland. And Marie did much better on the voyage than the French princess. She arrived fit and healthy in her new Scotland. And what’s more, her first impressions were positive. She’d been told by friends and family that Scotland was a barren, primitive country, but she was pleasantly surprised and soon fell in love with it.

The royal couple had an extended honeymoon while they toured the country. And while James had already started to show that he would not be a very pleasant husband, she loved the country and was excited to start Frenchifying the court. But her status was made clear she wouldn’t be crowned Queen until she produced an heir.

Marie de Guise received a great welcome in Edinburgh. The crowds were delighted, although this might have had something to do with the free fountain of red wine that they put here outside St Giles Cathedral. She set about learning about her new country. She had lots of French people with her and she could easily have hidden in a French world, but instead she brought in Scottish courtiers and servants to learn customs, dances and the language. James’s court had been a bachelor court for over 15 years, but Marie was used to the glamorous French court where women were welcome, so she changed Scotland’s court.

This was successful on some level, but a sense of mutual suspicion remained in place between the French and the Scots. After a year, her French influence was clear in the court and she was pregnant.

She must have breathed a sigh of relief, as she would have been acutely aware of the potential power struggle and civil war that could have broken out if she’d failed. The pregnancy meant that she could officially be crowned and a lavish ceremony took place in Edinburgh during this period. Henry had sent an envoy to James to try and persuade him to break with Rome and instead trying to tempt him with getting the riches from the church. But James wasn’t impressed by the idea.

Marie gave birth to a boy, also called James, and received congratulations from around Europe.

Only four months later, Marie de Guise was pregnant again

It was during this period that James started to show his true colours. His neurotic changeability really came out when he was gripped by a paranoia and suddenly went against one of his oldest friends, Sir James Hamilton of Finnart. He ordered his arrest on a really vague charge, plotting against the King, and nobody at court knew what it consisted of. The court was shocked when he was sentenced to death and comparisons were made with Henry VIII. This, of course, made everyone worry about their position, especially if you’re a queen who didn’t want your head chopped off.

This bout of depression increased with terrible nightmares, with James waking up screaming, convinced that his old friend had come back to kill him.

After some time apart, the couple were eventually reunited at Stirling Castle. Stirling Castle is actually a great example of the work that James V did to make Scotland’s palaces fit in with the new Renaissance style.

And if you ever are there, make sure you cheque out the carved heads of Stirling Castle . They’re absolutely amazing.

In April the following year, she gave birth to another baby boy called Robert and the country was delighted. The line of succession was secure two boys, healthy princess.But this happiness wasn’t going to last long.

Just a week after the birth of Robert, her first son James died. A month before his first birthday, king James was weeping beside his son’s side when a messenger from Stirling arrived to tell him that his other son Robert was gravely ill and the Queen was frantic with worry. He arrived just in time to see his younger son pass away. In a matter of hours, the parents had lost both of their children and the line of succession had disappeared. And the grief of the parents was made even worse by the suspicions that the boys might have been poisoned by the Earl of Aaron or Lennox.

Marie de Guise had now lost three children and had to leave one behind, and someone who came from such a large, supportive and matriarchal family could never have imagined this fate for herself.

The distant relationship between the King and the Queen increased and she found his black moods really difficult to deal with. Despite being a total Francophile, James was suspicious of his wife’s morals because of her time at the French court. And Henry was still lingering around in the background. His spies told him that James wasn’t thinking of war because he was so obsessed with his suspicions about the Queen. These two kings had never actually met, so a meeting in York was suggested.

Henry wanted James to break ties with Rome, but James wanted to keep his alliance with France and so he snubbed Henry.

And this would completely change the relationship between the two countries. James depression got worse and he went back to his hedonistic ways, openly taking a mistress, further insulting Marie and making their relationship really hostile. Despite this, Marie got pregnant again, but her pregnancy was very difficult compared to the first four. The trauma from the last year, plus her husband thinking he was cursed clearly and understandably added to her anxiety.

On top of this, she had to deal with the breakdown of the relationship between King James and King Henry and the ever growing threat of war. Various raids on both sides led to Henry planning an invasion.

James got word that something was going on, so he decided to beat him to it and he planned a surprise attack on Solway Moss, but the English forces heard about it. Although the Scots outnumbered the English, they were forced to surrender due to the terrain. Several of James’s loyal lords were taken hostage and James went back to Edinburgh to lick his wounds.

The loss pushed him further into depression and he blamed everyone else for the outcome except himself

At this point, Marie de Guise was at Linlithgow Palace, now heavily pregnant

James stopped to see her on his way to Falkland Palace, which Marie wasn’t expecting, and she was really shocked by his appearance. This man, who was normally handsome and well dressed, appeared red eyed, unshaven, full of misery and exhaustion. He ranted at length about his enemies, which now, due to his paranoia, also included his own lords. Marie tried to console him, but to no end.

By the time he got to Falkland Palace, he was feverish, delirious and clearly seriously ill. He’d caught typhoid or possibly cholera when he was fighting with his troops, and his mental state meant it was unlikely he’d be well enough to fight her. The King was on his deathbed. A message was sent to Marie, but she couldn’t go to him because she was in early labour, possibly brought on by this news. On the 7th

December, when what the country most desired was a male heir to secure the line of succession. with a dangerously ill king, Marie de Guise gave birth to a girl, Mary, Queen of Scots.

To be continued…….

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