IN this series about powers behind the Scottish throne through the ages, I am dealing in this latest column mainly with one of the few women on the list, Marie de Guise, mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, who acted as Regent of Scotland for her daughter. I wrote a column on her life back in 2019, but today I am concentrating on the time when she was not just the power behind the throne, but quite literally sat on it.

In order to tell her story as regent, I must first recount what happened to James Hamilton, the second Earl of Arran, who was her predecessor as regent for the young Mary.

I left him last week holed up in Edinburgh Castle after the disastrous Battle of Pinkie Cleugh on September 10, 1547, when the Scottish army was routed by the invading force led by the Duke of Somerset who was determined to impose the terms of the Treaty of Greenwich and force the Scottish Parliament to accept that Queen Mary should be married to King Edward VI of England – the only legitimate son of Henry VIII, who had died earlier that fateful year.

The nobles of Scotland were still very much split into the pro-French, pro-Roman Catholic faction against the pro-Reform, pro-English faction. Though as I said last week, the boundaries between them were not hard and fast and individuals often changed their loyalties – usually depending on who was in the ascendancy at the time.

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After Pinkie, Somerset’s troops occupied areas and castles at Haddington, Lauder and Roxburgh. Despite torching Leith and ransacking Holyrood Abbey, they left Edinburgh largely alone, not least because the castle was impregnable. Somerset’s plan to live off the land soon fell apart and the English invasion force simply ran out of money, with the vast majority of troops heading home.

They also faced a much more united Scottish nobility, no doubt because quite a number of leading families had suffered losses at the hands of the English, though at Pinkie it was mostly common folk who perished, which is probably why it is not remembered as a second Flodden.

After the battle, there were immediate fears for the safety of Queen Mary, but Marie de Guise acted swiftly to move her child away from the conflict zone to the sanctuary of Inchmahome Priory at the Lake of Menteith.

Arran had survived an earlier attempt by Marie de Guise and her supporters at forcing him from the regency, but he now had to deal with a Regency Council, which called a convention of the Three Estates only a month after Pinkie. Now Arran showed his political deftness and was one of the chief leaders of the move to seek help from Scotland’s oldest allies, France.

Tall and still glamorous, Marie de Guise came from a very powerful family who were close to the French King, Henri II, and she was able to assure Arran that help would be forthcoming. But there was a price to pay – as she had once planned with Cardinal Beaton, Queen Mary would be married to the French crown prince, the Dauphin.

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At first Arran rejected the idea, no doubt because he wanted his own son to marry Mary, but after the English invaded the south east of the country early in 1548, Arran came round to the idea of the French marriage. When the English seized the town of Haddington in what is now East Lothian, Arran and the Council acted to seek French armed assistance as soon possible – Henri agreed, on condition that Mary went to France immediately.

Arran ordered the removal of the young queen to Dumbarton Castle and from there the five-year-old was safely transported with her ‘Four Marys’ attendants to the French court where she was soon everyone’s favourite. Henriwas as good as his word and sent 6,000 of his best troops – some of them German and Italian – to Leith, and they immediately joined in the siege of Haddington.

ON July 6, 1548, the Treaty of Haddington was negotiated by Arran and the following day the two nations formally agreed the marriage between Mary and the Dauphin while three fortresses in Scotland – Dunbar, Eyemouth and Inchkeith - would be ceded to King Henri’s army.

The English garrison in Haddington had obviously not read the script and beat off the French attack, and then continued to hold out until it was relieved some weeks later by an English force – many English troops stayed in their redoubts until France, England and Scotland agreed a peace in 1551.

The treaty was a personal high point for Arran. King Henri rewarded him with 12,000 livres, and made him the Duke of Chatelherault, a title that remains in his family today even though it was cancelled some time later.

It was also the best outcome for Marie de Guise, as her daughter would be queen of both Scotland and France, and maybe even England – about which more later.

Given her daughter’s future, Marie de Guise was now the chief power behind the throne and she acted like it – in 1550 she decided to visit her son, Francois, Duke of Longueville, and her daughter Mary in France. It was an epic diplomatic mission with numerous Scottish nobles in her retinue, and with King Edward VI giving the Scottish Queen Regent safe conduct and a sort of invitation to visit England.

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Marie’s visit started well – she brushed aside the etiquette to embrace her daughter – but ended in tragedy when her son Francois took ill and died in her arms. She might well have stayed in France but decided to go back to Scotland after she received an appeal from pro-French Catholic nobles to return ‘for the execution of justice and the ordouring of the countrye’.

On the return journey her ship was blown ashore at Portsmouth and the teenaged King Edward VI insisted that she come to London. She met his sisters, the future queens Mary and Elizabeth, and Edward was so impressed with the lovely and charismatic Marie that he gave her a diamond as a personal present.

She and Arran now jointly ran Scotland, including agreeing the border with England in 1552, but Marie was always looking to have the role of regent for herself.

Her turn came about in 1554 when Queen Mary came of age in France. Under French law and as decreed by Henri II, she was thus able to choose her own regent – Arran knew what was coming and formally surrendered his role on April 12, 1554.

He stayed around the court, however, calling himself Duke of Chatelherault and probably waiting to see which way the ‘Protestant Wind’ would blow as the cause of reform was gathering pace. We’ll see what Arran did later.

Mary had become become regent in a time when women were just not allowed to be powerful.

As I wrote in 2019, the chronicler George Robert Lindsay penned this piece of misogyny: “Queine Regent reft (wrested) frome the Duik the authoritie quhair of money of Scotland war nocht content knawin of wemen the facultie that thay ar nocht constant in thair qualities hairfore thay ar nocht abill to reule a regioun nor of ane countrie to have dominioun.”

ANOTHER chronicler of the age, George Buchanan, saw things differently and wrote of her qualities as a woman of courage. He wrote that she “variously affected the minds of men … had a singular wit … amind very propense to equity, and she had quieted the fiercest Highlanders by her wisdom of valour.”

She also made what we can now see was a terrible mistake right at the start of her regency, when despite Arran’s advice, she allowed herself to be ‘enthroned’ and the Scottish crown placed upon her head. More tactless still, the crowning was carried out by the French ambassador, Henri Cleutin, seigneur d’Oisel et de Villeparisis, who many people saw as the real ruler of Scotland. Certainly that’s what England’s spies reported. This gesture annoyed even the Catholic nobles who were no more willing to be ruled by France than by England.

It was Arran’s own half-brother, John Hamilton, who had become Archbishop of St Andrews on the death of Cardinal Beaton, and unlike his predecessor, he did not believe in burning Reformers at the stake. Neither did Marie de Guise – most of the time – and together they reached several accommodations with the Protestant leaders to allow some limited reforms in the Catholic Church in Scotland such as the catechism that became known by his name.

Though devoutly Roman Catholic all her life, Marie de Guise made it known from the outset of her regency that she would be tolerant of the new religion as far as possible. She was as good as her word, allowing Lutheran preachers into Scotland and providing a safe haven for English Protestants once the English Queen Mary came to the throne and started her bloody persecutions.

There was one man who above all did not approve of that tolerance policy – John Knox, who in 1549 had been set free after his spell as a French galley slave.

When she was still on her tour of France and England, Marie learned of Knox’s intention to return to Scotland and foment a revolutionary reformation.

She was very wary of Knox after his success preaching in England, which in turn led to him going to Geneva to learn his more extreme form of Protestantism from John Calvin.

Marie’s policy of religious toleration worked for a while, but the cause of the Reformers was winning, and in late 1557 a group of nobles including the Earls of Argyll and Morton – we’ll meet him next week – formed a covenanted group who called themselves the ‘Lords of the Congregation’.

Now the Reformation had an organised leadership and though at first they were much on their own, gradually many more of the aristocracy joined them while the ordinary citizens of Scotland were clearly turning against Catholicism.

Marie de Guise changed her policy and now confronted the Refomers, who neatly turned the argument into a debate about patriotic loyalty – how could Marie de Guise with her French advisors and French army be trusted to run Scotland?

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I suspect the briefing against her actually started back in 1556 when she asked the Three Estates for a perpetual annual tax to help her run the country and for there to be an immediate inventory of all land and property to help collect the tax. Their reply is still on record, stating that they “meant not to putt their goodes in inventory, as if they were to make their last willes and testamentes.”

She had one final triumph to oversee – in 1558 in a magnificent wedding ceremony her daughter Mary was married to the Dauphin Francois.

In the end it was her Frenchness and her religion which really changed her fortunes. Protestant preachers were declared outlaws, and to cap it all, in 1559 John Knox returned with his cauld blast from Geneva and preached his astonishing sermon at Perth which ended with the local people effectively destroying much of the Catholic Church’s property in the town.

Marie de Guise led an army against them but people flocked to the Reformers’ cause and eventually she had to sign a peace treaty with the Lords who had already voted her out her office.

Though only 44, Marie de Guise succumbed to dropsy (oedema) and her health failed rapidly.

She died on June 11, 1560 – her body was eventually taken to France where her monument at the Convent of St Pierre Les Dames was torn down during the French Revolution.