Mary of Guise Was a Medieval Power Player

Medieval Power Player

Mary of Guise, artist Corneille de Lyon
Mary of Guise, artist Corneille de Lyon. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Dates: November 22, 1515 - June 11, 1560

Known for: Queen consort of James V of Scotland; regent; mother of Mary Queen of Scots

Also Known as: Mary of Lorraine, Marie of Guise

Mary of Guise Background

Mary of Guise was born in Lorraine, the eldest daughter of the duc de Guise, Claude, and his wife, Antoinette de Bourbon, daughter of a count. She lived in the ancestral castle vacated by her paternal grandmother when her grandmother entered a convent, and Mary herself was educated at the convent.

Her uncle Antoine, duc de Lorraine, brought her to court where she became a favorite of the king, Francis I.

Mary of Guise was married in 1534 to Louis d'Orleans, the second duc de Longueville. They named their first son after the king of France.  The couple attended the wedding of James V of Scotland to Madeleine, second daughter of the king.

Mary was pregnant when her husband died in 1537. Their son, Louis, was born almost two months later.  The same year, Madeleine had died, leaving the king of Scots a widower. James V was the son of James IV and Margaret Tudor, elder sister of Henry VIII.  At about the same time that James V was widowed, Henry VIII of England lost his wife, Jane Seymour, to death after the birth of Henry's son Edward. Both James V and Henry VIII, uncle of James V, wanted Mary of Guise as a bride. 

Marriage to James V

After the death of Mary's son Louis, Francis I ordered Mary to wed the Scottish king.

 Mary tried to protest, engaging Marguerite of Navarre (the king's sister) in her cause, but she eventually capitulated and married James V of Scotland in December. Leaving her surviving son with her mother, pregnant with her twelfth child, Mary went to Scotland with her father, sister, and a considerable number of French servants.

When she did not get pregnant, Mary and her husband made a pilgrimage in 1539 to a shrine which was supposed to help barren women.  She was shortly thereafter pregnant and then was crowned queen in February 1540.  Her son James was born in May.  Another son, Robert, was born the next year.

The two sons of James V and Mary of Guise, James, and Arthur, died in 1541.  Mary of Guise gave birth to their daughter Mary was born the next year, on December 7 or 8. On December 14, James V died, leaving Mary of Guise in a position of influence during her daughter's minority. The pro-English James Hamilton, second earl of Arran, was made regent, and Mary of Guise maneuvered for years to replace him, succeeding in 1554.

Mother of the Young Queen

Mary of Guise overturned Arran's betrothal of the infant Mary to England's prince Edward and was able to marry her instead to the dauphin of France, part of her campaign to bring Scotland and France into a close alliance. The young Mary, Queen of Scots, was sent to France to be raised in the court there.

After sending her daughter into Catholic France, Mary of Guise resumed suppression of Protestantism in Scotland. But the Protestants, already strong and led spiritually by John Knox, rebelled.

Drawing armies of both France and England into the conflict, the civil war resulted in Mary of Guise being deposed in 1559. On her deathbed the next year, she urged the parties to make peace and declare allegiance to Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary of Guise's sister was abbess at the Convent of Saint-Pierre in Reims, where Mary of Guise's body was moved and interred after her death in Edinburgh.

Places: Lorraine, France, Edinburgh, Scotland, Reims, France

More About Mary of Guise

  • Ritchie, Pamela E. Mary of Guise in Scotland, 1548-1560: A Political Study
  • Marshall, Rosalind. Mary of Guise. January 2003