In June 1538 Marie de Guise married James V of Scotland in a magnificent ceremony in the Cathedral at St Andrews. Marie had arrived in Scotland just days earlier, having left behind her native France and her young son from her first marriage. The celebrations for her wedding were even more splendid than those she had enjoyed for her first marriage, and included hunting, hawking, banquets and tournaments spread out over forty days. After going on a short progress around the country of which she was now queen, Marie made her formal entry into Edinburgh on St Margaret’s Day, 16 November. An observer noted that she ‘made her entrance in Edinburgh with great triumph, and as with order of the whole nobles. Her Grace came in first at the West Port and rode down the High Street to the Abbey of Holyrood, with great sport played to Her Grace all through the town.’ There were pageants and banquets, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse – where Marie was to take up residence – had been specially prepared for her arrival. Tapestries were hung, archery butts set up in the gardens, and Marie’s own coat of arms had been carved on to the front of the palace. No expense had been spared, and it was a royal welcome to remember.
Marie had an advantage that many foreign brides were denied in that she had already met her second husband prior to their marriage. At twenty-six, James V was an attractive man who had endured a troubled childhood. When he was only a year old, his father, James IV, had been killed by the English at the Battle of Flodden, and his mother, Margaret Tudor, had enjoyed an adventurous marital history. By the time of his marriage to Marie, James had acquired a reputation as a womanizer and had already sired seven illegitimate sons and two illegitimate daughters. Moreover, as a result of his unstable upbringing he suffered from periods of emotional instability.
Though Marie had been reluctant to marry James, and had been separated from her family – in particular her young son – she immediately embraced her new country, and quickly won the hearts of her new people. She was noted for her charitable deeds, and visited almshouses, paid for the education of poor children, and provided money for the poor. Her husband treated her with kindness, and they conversed together in French, although Marie immediately began to learn Scots. During their first Christmas together at Holyroodhouse, the couple exchanged lavish gifts of gold rings, gold chains and gold bracelets, and presided over the festivities in sumptuous outfits of cloth of gold and crimson velvet. At New Year 1539, they departed for Linlithgow Palace, and spent much of the first part of the year travelling between royal palaces.
Not only did Marie enjoy a good relationship with her husband, but she also managed to win over his formidable mother Margaret, and showed herself willing to accept James’s bastard children. She was particularly fond of his daughter, Lady Jane Stewart, who she took into her household and treated as her own daughter. She also remained in close and regular contact with her family in France, and messengers were regularly sent between Scotland and France, while Marie’s young son from her first marriage was encouraged to refer to his new stepfather as ‘Papa the King of Scotland.’ James V joined in with the correspondence with his wife’s family, and after sending his mother-in-law Antoinette a portrait of himself, Antoinette wrote to her daughter, teasing that ‘I find his picture so handsome that you would be jealous if you knew how much I loved him.’
Despite her domestic happiness, it was not until over a year after her wedding that Marie fell pregnant, having made a pilgrimage with her husband to St Adrian’s Shrine on the Isle of May in August 1539. Shortly afterwards, James began to plan Marie’s coronation, which took place on 22 February 1540 in Holyrood Abbey. The royal jeweller was instructed to make a new crown for Mary to wear for the occasion, using 35 ounces of gold, while a silver-gilt sceptre was also prepared. The six months pregnant Mary was dressed magnificently in robes of purple velvet and a gold belt set with a splendid sapphire. The King was dressed equally magnificently, and his crown had been remodelled especially for the occasion.
Shortly after her coronation, Marie and James moved first to Stirling Castle and then to St Andrews, where the King had decided his child should be born. They arrived there in early May to find that Marie’s chambers had been specially prepared for her confinement. Whilst they were there, news arrived that there was trouble in the Western Isles, and the King departed to deal with this personally. During his absence, it was reported that ‘the King scarce had taken anchor at Dumbarton when…. [there] came messengers that his wife was lighter of a lad, a fair and well-favoured lad unto him, both fair and lusty.’ The baby was born on 22 May, and the King was so delighted that he rewarded the messenger who brought him the news with a complete new set of black clothes. He returned to St Andrews immediately, where the baby, named James after his father, was christened a week later. Marie had done her duty and Scotland now had a prince and an heir.
Prince James’s household was established at St Andrews, where various members of staff were employed to attend to his every need. His parents doted on him, and just two months after his birth Mary was once again pregnant. She spent much of her pregnancy at Falkland Palace, before retiring to Stirling Castle for the birth of her child. On 24 April 1541 she was delivered of another son, who was christened Robert three days after his birth. The King ordered lavish celebrations for the birth of his second son, but his and Marie’s elation was short-lived.
Just a week after Prince Robert’s birth, alarming news arrived that Prince James had fallen seriously ill at St Andrews. The King hastened to be by his son’s side, but Marie had only recently given birth and was unable to travel. All she could do was wait for news. When it came it was not good: by the time the King arrived at St Andrews, the young Prince was dead. But there was to be a further devastating blow. As the grief-stricken King prepared to leave St Andrews, news arrived that his younger son had also fallen sick. He rode to Stirling, but Prince Robert died only a few hours after his father’s arrival. The young princes were buried together in Holyrood Abbey. Both James and Marie were left devastated by the deaths of their sons, it being observed by an English emissary that ‘the death of both the King of Scots sons … doth much perplex the said King and divers other nobles and councillors there.’ There were rumours that the boys had been poisoned – rumours which Marie herself seems to have believed for a brief time. At the urging of her mother however, Marie appears to have accepted that there was no truth in the gossip, and concentrated her energies on consoling her husband.
The summer of 1541 was a miserable one. The King and Queen were both in mourning for their sons, and the surviving letters between them hint at some friction between them – unsurprising in the circumstances. In October, James’s mother Queen Margaret, died at Methven Castle near Perth. Having realised that the end was near she had summoned her son, then at Falkland Palace, but the message
arrived too late. She left no will, forcing the King to travel to Perth to sort out her affairs and arrange her funeral. Reports also reached the Queen that her husband had taken a mistress, which can only have put a further strain on their relationship. Marie’s parents were concerned by the rumours, and her mother wrote to her to enquire if the reports that she was suffering ‘great annoyances’ were true. James assured Marie that the reports were nothing more than malicious gossip, and she reported as much to her mother, telling her not to worry and sending another portrait of James, soon followed by a gift of a fair diamond from the King himself. From then on relations between the King and Queen improved, and early the following year Marie was once again pregnant, the baby being due that winter. Her pregnancy, however, was overshadowed by a new threat from England. The King’s uncle, Henry VIII, was so discontented with his nephew that he began to look for proof of his own claim to be King of Scotland and seize his nephew’s kingdom. He even considered kidnapping James. In August he sent a small force north, which the Scots defeated at Kelso, but everyone knew that it would not end there. Following Kelso, King James and Queen Marie walked seven miles from Edinburgh to the shrine of Our Lady of Loretto at Musselburgh to pray for their health and for the safety of their kingdom.
James decided to seize the initiative and invade England before his uncle could invade Scotland. Riding south, as James reached the border he found himself betrayed as most of his nobles, bribed by Henry VIII, were unwilling to cross the border, convinced that defeat was imminent. This left James in a state of nervous collapse, and he returned to Marie who was now at Linlithgow, leaving most of the government of the realm in the hands of his advisor Cardinal Beaton. However, by 19 November he had somewhat recovered his nerve and took his main forces across the Solway Firth into England, whilst Cardinal Beaton was at Haddington with the rest of the King’s army. His close friend Oliver Sinclair led the King’s forces, and on 24 November they spotted the English army. Battle commenced and although few Scots were killed, many nobles were taken prisoner including Oliver Sinclair, and victory went to the English. The King had not been present, but when he heard the news he was distraught, ‘his mind near gone through dolour and care.’ He rode back to Linlithgow to be with his wife, but he did not stay there for long and rode on to Falkland Palace. There he took to his bed in a state of great depression and with a fever. His servants tried to cheer him by asking him where he would spend Christmas. ‘I cannot tell. Choose ye the place. But this I can tell you. On Yule day you will be masterless and the realm without a King.’ Shortly afterwards Queen Marie went into labour at Linlithgow, and on 8 December 1542 she gave birth to her fifth child, a daughter named Mary. But by now the health of Marie’s husband had rapidly deteriorated. He soon descended into delirium, and it became clear that the King would not survive. Cardinal Beaton was at the King’s bedside, determined that the King should name him as Regent, although he received no coherent reply to his request. King James died on 14 December, and at just six days old his daughter, Mary, became Queen of Scots. At the age of twenty-seven, Mary of Guise was widowed for a second time.