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Marie was the first child of Claude I, Duc de Guise and his wife Antoinette de Bourbon (another 11 children followed). She was born at Bar-le-Duc on 20 November, 1515. Her brothers François and Charles would go on to control French politics in the time of François II (Marie's son-in-law) following his marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots.
On 4 August, 1534, Marie was married at the Louvre to Louis II, Duke of Longville. Their eldest son, François, was born in 1535 in Amiens. Louis died on 9 June, 1537, just two months prior to the birth of his second son (named Louis, after his father) leaving Marie a widow at 21. That second son survived for just four months.
Queen Consort of James V
Marie had first met James V on the occasion of his marriage to Princess Madeline, the daughter of King François I. When James became a widower it was his father-in-law who suggested the idea of the union of the two recently bereaved, young friends of his. However Marie was also being courted by the recently-widowed Henry VIII1. Marie is said to have responded to Henry's comment that he wanted a big wife: 'I may be big in person, but my neck is small' - a dig at Henry's penchant for dispatching wives he didn't like2.
Because they were third cousins, both being descended from Arnold, Duc de Gueldres, dispensation was received from the Pope, and a proxy marriage took place at Chateaudun on 9 May, 1538. A month later, the new Queen sailed for Scotland. Their marriage took place on 18 June at St Andrew's Cathedral, Fife3.
Marie gave birth to their first child, James, on 22 February 1540. He was taken away from his mother soon after, as was the way with Scottish heirs, to be raised and educated at St Andrew's. While at Stirling, pregnant with a second child, reports came to the Queen that her son James had been taken ill. Marie gave birth to a second son, Robert, at Falkland Castle. Though James initially recovered from his illness, within the week of his brother's birth, reports came again that James was ill once more. The King left at once for St Andrew's but by the time he arrived his heir had died. Sadly, while he was away at St Andrew's, Robert also passed away.
Regents of Scotland
In 1542, the Queen was with child yet again. In August that year, the army of Henry VIII of England marched northward when James V refused to pay homage to England. As his own sister was the Scottish King's mother, Henry foresaw no problem in getting what he believed was due to him, but his outrage at the refusal brought the uncle and nephew to war. Though the first victory went to the Scots at Hadden Rig, by the time battle reached Solway Moss in November, James was slightly injured and had to be carried to Falkland Palace. He had a nervous breakdown there, and eventually died on 14 December.
Just a week earlier, a daughter Mary had been born. On the event of her father's death, Mary became queen of Scotland, with her mother acting as her Regent.
Marie, along with Lord Hamilton, Earl of Arran and the State Governor, kept the infant Queen away from the clutches of her grand-uncle Henry VIII, who still had his eyes on the Kingdom just north of his border. The other problem facing Marie was that Lord Hamilton was second in line to the throne after her infant daughter, and was concerned he might at some point decide to remove the only obstacle in his path to the throne. So while her husband was being buried in Edinburgh, Marie started guarding her daughter, the new Queen, within the confines of Linlithgow Palace.
Hamilton soon gathered enough status within the Privy Council in Edinburgh to force Marie to stay with the Queen in Stirling Castle, with his own retainers highly placed on her staff, and preventing the Queen Regent from fleeing to France for protection and support. Meanwhile, south of the border Henry VIII was preparing for a political match to bring peace in Britain by having the infant Queen of the Scots married to his only son Edward. In 1543, a Treaty of Greenwich was signed by Hamilton which said that Mary would marry Edward when she turned eleven. This lead to open dispute between Marie and Hamilton.
Marie played to Hamilton's main rival the Earl of Lennox and promised her daughter to him instead. Lennox had been summoned from France by Marie in order to bolster her presence in the Privy Council. However, unbeknown to Marie, Lennox was also corresponding with Henry VIII and news soon reached the English court about the rival offer of marriage. Suspicious of the pro-English lords in her entourage, Marie had them all arrested.
In 1543, Henry VIII's troops destroyed parts of Edinburgh including the Abbey and the Palace of Holyrood House. By the end of the year, he had also seized several Scottish ships. These acts of war on Henry's part were deemed to have invalidated the Treaty of Greenwich - as well as his son's proposed marriage to Mary. Another two years down the line, the Scots mounted a resistance at Ancrum Moor, Roxbourghshire; Henry responded by burning Kelso and Melrose.
In 1547, Henry died and the Earl of Somerset marched on Scotland demanding that the five-year-old Queen should marry the young King Edward VI, a match Henry had been brokering since the accession of the baby Queen. Marie knew the only option was a show of strength. However Hamilton was proving ineffective in command of the troops. The pain of the previous years of war was heightened by defeat at the Battle of Pinkie in September 1547. Marie called on the French for support. The result of this agreement with the French was the betrothal of the Queen to François the Dauphin of France. The French King sent a ship to safely transport the bride to his court, for her own safety, and she set sail on 7 August, 1548.
With her daughter safely in France, Marie continued her co-regency with Arran. The war with the English was finally concluded in 1550 and she then travelled to France to spend a year with her family. She returned via England, being entertained at Hampton court by King Edward VI. Her aim by then had changed - she sought to become the sole Regent for her daughter. Fortunately, Hamilton didn't oppose her plan, having been titled by the French King in recognition of the marriage. He resigned his office on 12 April, 1554, leaving Marie to be invested as Queen Regent.
Marie proved to be a capable Regent while her daughter remained in the French court. She set about bringing peace, justice and prosperity to the Scots, with the support of the French, in many aspects. In April 1558, the marriage of Mary to François finally took place. Within the year, Mary was Queen of both Scotland and France.
Marie however encountered resistance at the start of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland during her sole regency. John Knox had begun to preach his sermons in Edinburgh and, much to the Queen Regent's distress, the new Protestantism was going about breaking up images and desecrating churches. It led Scotland to the point of civil war, with Hamilton siding with the Protestants. England supported Hamilton's cause but the French helped Marie to fortify the docks at Leith, which served Edinburgh.
In November 1559, with the French threatening to seize Edinburgh, Marie returned there but almost immediately became seriously ill. An English army invaded Scotland in March 1560 and at the start of April the court was prudently moved from Holyrood House up to Edinburgh Castle. Marie carried on with the affairs of state trying to arrange a peaceful solution, even though all the while she was growing weaker. She summoned her final council on 7 June, 1560, and died just four days later. Her body was embalmed and transported from Leith back to France. She was laid to rest at the convent of St Pierre, Rheims, where her sister was the abbess.
Later in 1560, Marie's son-in-law François II died after a reign of just 18 months, leaving Mary a childless widow. Mary returned to Scotland just over a year after her mother's death to assume the throne in her own right, but to a very different state from the one she left as a child.