Marie de Guise – Part One

The month of November marks the anniversary of the birth of Marie de Guise, mother of Mary, Queen of Scots. Marie has always fascinated me, so to commemorate the occasion I’ll be posting a series of posts about her life. Lets start at the beginning …

On 20 November 1515 at the chateau of Bar-le-Duc in North East France, the eldest of twelve children was born to Antoinette de Bourbon  by her husband, Claude of Lorraine, later Duke of Guise. The child was a girl, named Marie.

Antoinette de Bourbon

The marriage of Marie’s parents was happy, and had indeed been a love match. Claude, a military hero, had at one time been offered the hand of Princess Claude, the daughter of King Louis XII in marriage, but had tactfully refused her because he was already in love with Antoinette. The couple were married in Paris in the church of St Paul in the summer of 1513, settling soon afterwards at Bar-le-Duc.

Despite the couple’s domestic happiness, on 13 September 1515 Claude left his now pregnant wife to partake in the Battle of Marignano with two of his brothers. The result was that he was almost killed. While his younger brother lost his life, Claude himself sustained twenty-one injuries. His survival was miraculous, and due in part to the bravery of his esquire, Adam Fouvert, who had himself been killed in a heroic effort to protect his master. Defying expectations, Claude recovered from his injuries and was able to return to his wife several months later and meet the baby daughter who had been born in his absence for the first time.

Baby Marie had been christened in the church of the castle of her birth on 2 December 1515. She had probably been named as a compliment to her maternal grandmother, Marie of Luxembourg, who together with her paternal grandmother, Philippa of Gueldres, played the role of godmother to her new granddaughter.

For the first four years of her life, Marie was an only child. In 1519 however, she was joined in the nursery by a brother, Francis. It was at this point that Marie’s family moved to Joinville Castle in the upper valley of the Marne, the former home of Marie’s grandmother, Philippa of Gueldres. Philippa had recently retired to the convent of Poor Clares

Joinville from the gardens  

at Pont-a-Mousson. It was here that Marie would pass a great deal of her childhood.

Joinville was a luxurious residence that had been enlarged and beautified in recent years. It boasted extensive gardens and orchards, and Marie’s mother was responsible for adding a new gallery. The family were well looked after, for more than a hundred servants were employed in the household. These included musicians, cooks, two doctors and a surgeon. The household was largely supervised by Marie’s mother, for her father was frequently absent.

King Francis was at war with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and the King’s business occupied much of Claude’s time. When the King invaded Italy in 1525, Claude remained behind as principal advisor to the King’s mother, Louise of Savoy.

King Francis

The campaign resulted in disaster when Francis was captured by the Emperor’s forces at the Battle of Pavia. Negotiations for his release were ongoing, and during the King’s absence Claude led a successful march against the Lutherans before the Treaty of Madrid was signed, leading to the King’s release. Grateful for Claude’s loyalty during his absence, Francis rewarded Claude by creating him Duke of Guise.

Despite his frequent absence from home, Claude and Antoinette sired a total of eight sons and four daughters. Sadly, Antoinette also suffered from several miscarriages and still-births. Marie meanwhile, was at some point sent to live with her grandmother at the Convent of Poor Clares, possibly with the intention that she should become a nun. It was not to be, and when Marie was around fourteen years old she was visited by her uncle, Antoine, Duke of Lorraine. Impressed by his niece, Antoine decided that she was not to be wasted in a convent. Marie was tall, with auburn hair and attractive features, and would make for a very useful bargaining counter in the marriage market.

Marie’s uncle, Antoine

Marie accompanied her uncle to Nancy, and from there to the French court. It was on 5 March 1531 that Marie made her debut at the coronation of Eleanor of Austria, the new wife of King Francis. Marie was presented to the King and Queen, and was invited to ride in the royal procession at the Queen’s ceremonial entry into Paris. This was a significant honour, but unfortunately it had to be postponed several times due to torrential rain. When at last it did take place, Marie rode behind the Queen and that evening attended the royal coronation banquet.

In the following years Marie became a regular presence at the court of Francis and Eleanor, and was a popular figure. She was particularly favoured by the King and his daughter, Princess Madeleine, to whom Marie became close. The French court was the very centre of splendour and elegance, and must have been a great contrast for Marie to the time she had spent with her grandmother at the convent of the Poor Clares.

At the end of 1532 Marie was seventeen years old and thoughts soon turned to her marriage. Her family may have been cherishing hopes that she would marry the French heir, the Dauphin Francis, or his brother Henri, but in 1533 Henri was married to the Italian Catherine de Medici. The Dauphin, meanwhile, remained single. The following year Marie was finally betrothed, her future husband being Louis, duc de Longueville. Her father was prepared to offer no more than 80,000 livres as a dowry – nowhere near enough – and the shortfall was provided by the King himself, who paid a further 40,000 livres. On 4 August 1534, Marie was married to Louis in the Chapel Royal of the palace of the Louvre in front of the entire French court. It was one of the grandest and most glittering ceremonies ever – the wedding celebrations were lavish, and included ‘jousts and tournaments for sixteen days, in great triumph.’

Marie’s marriage made her a duchess, and her marriage was a very happy one. She remained at the royal court, where she and her husband regularly attended the King and Queen. Before long, however, Marie became pregnant, and on 30 October 1535 – a little over a year after her wedding she gave birth to the couple’s first child. Much to her delight it was a son, named Francis after the King.

Marie soon returned to court, and on the first day of 1537 was among the guests at the wedding of her friend, the Princess Madeleine, to James V of Scotland at Notre Dame. Marie had no idea that James would one day become an integral part of her life.

James V

By this time Marie was once again pregnant, and she retired to Chateaudun to await the birth of her second child. Her husband Louis was on progress in Normandy, so did not join her. However, he soon became ill and wrote to inform his wife of his illness; ‘I am anxious to let you know that I have had a headache for the past five or six days. Today, however, the doctors have diagnosed my illness as chickenpox. The rash is well out now and they assure me that I am almost better, for which I am very glad.’ Sadly, his optimism was misplaced, and tragedy struck when on 9 June Louis died, leaving Marie a widow at the age of twenty-one. Marie was devastated, and she kept her husband’s last letter for the rest of her life. More sad news was to follow when she received word that her friend Madeleine, Queen of Scots, had died in her husband’s arms after just a few months of marriage on 7 July at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The distraught Marie was left to give birth to her second child alone. On 4 August she was blessed with another son, named Louis after his father. Still in mourning, Marie may have been hopeful that she would be able to raise her sons in the peace of the French countryside, but if this was her desire then she was to be sorely disappointed. Only two months after the death of her husband, King Francis informed her that she was to marry the widowed James V of Scotland. Although devastated at the loss of his wife Madeleine, the Scottish king was keen to arrange another French marriage and was enthusiastic at the prospect of marrying Marie. Marie, who had only lost her husband in June, was horrified at the prospect of another marriage. She wrote to Francis begging him not to force her to marry the Scots King. Her pleas fell on deaf ears, and the marriage was duly arranged, much to Marie’s unhappiness.

Soon after Marie was dealt another blow when the youngest of her two sons, Louis, died in December. Despite being overwhelmed by grief, King Francis ordered that the Scots marriage should still go ahead. These were trying times for Marie, who realised that despite her grief at losing her husband and her youngest child in such a short space of time, she had no choice but to marry James V.


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