François Clouet, « La mere de la Royne descos de la meson de guise » © British Museum, London, Gg 1.420
September 18, 2014. For the first time in History, a referendum has given the Scottish people the choice to revert to independence. For centuries, Scotland has been an independent kingdom, but no one ever dreamt of asking the Scots by whom they wished to be ruled. Their kings descended from powerful Scottish families, and their queens from princely and even royal families of foreign countries such as England, Denmark or France. One of these foreign rulers was Queen Marie of Lorraine-Guise.
Lorraine, Bourbon, Guise
Mary of Lorraine was born the first child of what would become one of the most powerful families in sixteenth century France, the Guise. Her time was marked by profound social and religious changes in Europe. In today’s France, a few historians still know of her existence, but there is almost no knowledge about her in the general public. There are several reasons for her disappearance from French History books.
A sixteenth century noblewoman, Marie was all her life guided, or better say, ordered around by her most ambitious family. It all started with her father Claude, a younger son born into the family of the dukes of Lorraine, who served the French king Francis I. His father’s wishes and later his military bravery made him first a Frenchman, then in 1527 the first duke of Guise and governor of Champagne and Burgundy. Claude of Lorraine fought in Italy and Germany and was in his youth one of king Francis’ I closest allies. After duke Claude’s death in April 1550, Mary’s brother Francis of Guise became head of the family and, together with his younger brother Charles, cardinal of Lorraine, continued to influence the life and decisions of his sister in Scotland.
The pious life of Mary’s mother inspired French historian Gabriel Pimodan a biography published in 1889, entitled « Antoinette de Bourbon, the mother of the Guises ». According to Pimodan, her significance was the mothering of numerous male Guise descendants. Unlike her mother Antoinette, Marie of Guise did not make twelve children, she ended up with only one, and on top of that a girl. However, she too is known as the “mother of Mary Stuart” but did not have the good fortune to deserve a French biography. Marie had only the one daughter, as all her four sons died young. Both Guise women were much more than a “mother of”. Antoinette was a long-living and influent duchess, and her eldest daughter Marie started as duchess of Longueville herself before becoming in 1538 Queen of Scotland. In April 1554, her daughter the Queen of Scots nominated her in her absence Queen regent of Scotland. Powerful women such as Diana of Poitiers, the influent mistress of king Henry II, have a bad reputation in France. Ruling without a man, or with a “weak” man at their side, has always been a bad idea for a powerful woman. In the eyes of her sixteenth century French contemporaries, Marie “Royne d’Escosse” lived in a remote, cold and barbarian country. After her death at Edinburgh castle in June 1560, her personal qualities and her courageous struggle to uphold her daughter’s throne in Scotland was recognized and remembered in France. Today, she is all but forgotten.
The Guise family, too close to the throne of France
Marie was a Guise and the first child born into a highly ambitious family. Like all Guises, she was born and raised a Catholic. Unlike her mother Antoinette and her younger brothers, Mary seemed to have been more tolerant and adaptive. She did not live to see her once powerful male brothers and nephews murdered one by one. Her eldest brother Francis duke of Guise was stabbed to death by a Protestant in 1563. His son Henry, third duke of Guise, was assassinated by men of the French king Henry III at the château of Blois in 1588. At the end of the sixteenth century, the once glorious name of Guise was doomed.
Bar, Lorraine, France: “It’s complicated”
Another reason why Marie of Lorraine never got much attention in France might be that she was foreign born. The small duchy of Bar, her birthplace, and the much greater duchy of Lorraine had been independent for centuries. Her father Claude had been naturalised French by king Francis I, but the Guise family members were still regarded as strangers in the French kingdom. Lorraine, ruled by Claude’s elder brother duke Anthony, was still linked to Emperor Charles V, the hated enemy of France. From the mi-sixteenth century, Lorraine became the centre of a long fight between France and the Holy Roman Empire; even today, Lorraine is sometimes regarded as not entirely French.
Only mother of Mary Stuart?
Marie of Lorraine is mother to the very famous Mary Queen of Scots, a VIP in European history. Therefore, her mother queen Marie only appears as “mother of Mary Stuart”, like Antoinette is the “mother of the Guises”. In September 1550, when queen Marie came back to France from Scotland to see her family, her beloved daughter and her son Francis of Orléans from her first marriage to the duke of Longueville, she might have dreamt of staying in France. However, after the death of her son in September 1551, she left for Scotland. Did she obey the French king Henry II and her two brothers Francis, duke of Guise and Charles, cardinal of Lorraine, who ordered her to go back to Scotland and defend her daughter’s kingdom against England and the Scottish Protestants? Did she go back by her own strong will to fulfil her destiny as Queen of Scotland, to ride out in the battlefield against the English like Joan of Arc another woman from Lorraine had done a century before, to fight for the rightful Stewart sovereign like Joan of Arc had done for the rightful French king? She might not have forgotten that the English army had burned and destroyed the palace and abbey of Holyrood near Edinburgh, and the tombs of her husband James V and her two baby sons back in 1544.
At the end of her life, Marie of Lorraine-Guise and Scottish Queen regent fought the army of Queen Elizabeth I of England, another powerful unromantic female ruler, and yet another Renaissance woman who had decided she didn’t need a man to rule her realm, nor her life.
Read more about Mary of Guise on marieguiselorraine2015.com.