Marie de Guise, later mother to Mary Queen of Scots, was born in France on 20 November 1515 at Bar-lu-Duc, Duchy of Lorraine. She was the eldest of 12 children born to the powerful Claude, Duke of Guise and his formidable wife Antoinette de Bourbon.
Although she went on to marry a French Duke and a Scottish King, Marie’s early life was not nearly as glamorous. Shortly after her 5th birthday she resided with her paternal Grandmother in a convent at Pont á Mousson. There she remained for nine years until her paternal uncle Antoine, Duke of Lorraine, came to visit his mother. Both he and his wife immediately recognised that their tall and graceful niece’s talents would be perfect for a role at the French Court of Francis I. She left with her relatives soon afterwards and once they had established her at court she became friends with Francis’s daughters Margaret and Madeleine. Marie was first officially recorded at court as a guest at Francis I and Eleanor of Austria’s wedding in 1531.
Life at court brought Marie into the orbit of many noble suitors and she married the Duke of Longville at Château du Lourve on 4 August 1534. The marriage seems to have been a love match from the beginning and within little more than a year they were overjoyed to welcome their first son, Francis in October 1535.
However, domestic contentment was short lived and in 1537 a double tragedy struck when her husband Louis died at Rouen on 9 June. The second hammer blow fell when the son she gave birth to in August followed her husband to the grave, still just a little baby of 4 months.
We can only imagine how distraught the 21 year old widow must have felt, but one thing points unmistakably to the depths of Marie’s feelings more than any other: She kept the very last letter her husband wrote to her for the rest of her life.
Now that Marie was free to marry again she became the focus of attention for two men, who like herself had both recently lost their spouses. The first was England’s King Henry VIII whose third wife Jane Seymour had died in childbirth in October 1537. He was anxious to secure a French bride in order to stop the French invading England by the back door; i.e. Scotland.
The second was King James V of Scotland who became a widower after his bride, Madeleine of Valois died after just seven months of marriage. Like Henry VIII, James V wished to secure himself a second French bride to cement the ‘Auld Alliance’ between France and Scotland. This alliance was important in that it provided a partial shield from English aggression.
It seems though that Marie herself was not keen on the English match and replied to Henry VIII’s request to his French Ambassador for a ‘big wife’ with a quick witted retort ‘I may be a big woman, but I have a little neck’. Apparently Henry’s merciless actions towards his second wife Anne Boleyn did not make him an ideal prospect as a husband.
In Mary’s eyes James V’s proposal was not that appealing either as it meant leaving her son Francis behind in France and agreeing to surrender the 3 year old’s inheritance to James V by way of her dowry. However, as with all dynastic marriages, the King, in this case Francis I had the last say and he agreed to a marriage contract with James. In January 1538 the contracts were finalised and by 18 May 1538, amid much pomp and ceremony, a proxy marriage was carried out at Notre Dame Cathedral. The proxy marriage was then cemented in June at St Andrews when the couple were married again in person.
Marie de Guise was now, just like her childhood friend Madeleine of Valois before her Queen of Scotland As she took her vows and became a wife for the second time in her young life, she could have had no idea how pivotal her actions and decisions would be to her adoptive country’s very existence.