Born 500 years ago this week, Mary of Guise is chiefly remembered as the mother of Mary Queen of Scots. But this remarkable Frenchwoman played a prominent role in Scottish public life for well over 20 years, before her death at Edinburgh Castle.
Here are 10 facts you may not have known about her.
SHE MARRIED A FRIEND’S WIDOWER
Mary knew Madeleine, daughter of King Francis I, and on 1 January 1537 attended her wedding to James V of Scotland.
Madeleine died a few months later, when Mary had just been widowed. Francis swiftly suggested her as a second bride for James.
Henry VIII – as James V’s powerful uncle he was also represented among the Stirling Heads
SHE TURNED DOWN HENRY VIII
Eager to rupture this Scottish-French alliance, Henry proposed marriage to Mary himself. She declined, reportedly saying she had ‘a very little neck’ – a tart reference to Anne Boleyn, whom Henry had beheaded the previous year.
THE GROOM DIDN’T COME TO THE WEDDING
Her marriage to James V in May 1538 was carried out by proxy in Paris. The bride and groom were united in Fife and the union blessed at St Andrews Cathedral
SHE BROUGHT A GOOD DOWRY
James V received 150,000 livres in the marriage contract. In return, Mary gained Stirling Castle, Threave Castle, Dingwall Castle, Falkland Palace and several earldoms.
Mary Queen of Scots, the daughter Mary of Guise fought hard to protect.
SHE HAD FIVE CHILDREN
From her two marriages, Mary had four sons and a daughter. Only the youngest, Mary Queen of Scots, grew to adulthood.
SHE WAS NO PUSHOVER
Based mainly at Stirling Castle, she spent the rest of her life defending the interests of her daughter, strengthening Scotland’s alliance with France.
Henry VIII tried to arrange a marriage between his son Edward and the infant queen. Mary of Guise thwarted him, arranging her daughter’s marriage to the French heir to the throne. In 1548, she accompanied Mary to Dumbarton Castle for her departure to France, but remained in Scotland to look after business.
From 1554, she was regent, officially governing Scotland on behalf of her daughter.
SHE MADE SCOTLAND MORE FRENCH
She brought French troops to help defend Scotland, and French engineers to improve defences at Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Leith.
John Knox was one of Mary of Guise’s fiercest critics.
HER REGIMEN WAS ‘MONSTROUS’
The Protestant firebrand John Knox criticised female rulers in his famous treatise The Monstrous Regimen [rule] of Women (1558). His main targets were the Catholic Mary of Guise and Mary I of England.
ALL POLITICAL CAREERS END IN FAILURE
Mary faced considerable opposition to her regency. By summer 1560, she had been undermined by Protestant rebels and effectively overthrown.
A plaque at Edinburgh Castle commemorates Mary of Guise, or Lorraine.
SHE DIED OF ‘DROPSY’
As her regime crumbled, Mary fell ill with painful swelling, probably caused by heart failure. This eventually affected her brain, robbing her of the power of speech.
A carved stone plaque commemorates her at Edinburgh Castle, where she died on 11 June 1560.