Marie of Guise: Life of a Queen Consort

Marriage and Coronation

Marie was married to James V of Scotland, by proxy, at her home of Chateaudun on 29th May 1538. Her ‘spousing ring’ consisted of a single diamond of the value of 300 crowns. Hopefully, no-one told her that James’ first wife had had a ring to the value of 1,100 crowns! The tip paid to the notary who drew up her marriage contract was also less than he had received for the king’s first marriage. Whether the difference in these sums is owing to the fact that James’ first wife was a king’s daughter, whilst Marie was only the daughter of a duke, or whether they reflect the lower level of enthusiasm James felt for his second marriage, is unknown.

The other important pre-nuptial expense was the collection of the Papal dispensation required because James and Marie were third cousins - both being descended from Arnold, Duke of Guelders (1410 – 1473). The expense of fetching the necessary document from Rome was 200 crowns.

Once married, Marie set out almost immediately for the coast, probably embarking from Rouen, in Normandy. Her dowry had been provided jointly by the King of France, and her father, Claud, Duke of Guise, but she does not seem to have been given any cash in hand, as, whilst at Rouen, she was obliged to borrow 450 francs against her expected income as Queen of Scots.

The new Queen’s trip to Scotland was an opportunity for James to have wine shipped from France, and, together with her baggage, the flotilla, consisting of three galleys, carried 18 tuns of white wine and claret. Marie’s ship was named the “Riall” and had a specially fitted glass window for her cabin.

Used to the splendour of the court of France, Scotland probably seemed somewhat less luxurious to Marie. However, James, with the dowries he had received both for Marie and her predecessor was, for the only time in his life, flush with money. He was a generous, not to say extravagant man, and spent lavishly on jewellery, plate and cloth.

Marie was crowned as Queen of Scots on 22nd February, 1540. The peeresses were summoned to attend her, and a completely new crown and sceptre were made for her. Fashioned of thirty-five ounces of gold, the crown was set with stones. Her sceptre was made of 31 ounces of silver-gilt. The work, carried out by the King’s goldsmith, John Mosman, cost £45 Scots. The crown was further aggrandised in 1541 with the addition of another 35 ounces of gold.

Some of the gold used for the royal ornaments (including a basin of an astonishing 10lb weight) was obtained from the King’s own gold-mines. Expert miners had been sent by Marie’s father, Claud, Duke of Guise, in the summer of 1539 to give advice on operation of the mine. They had been given an interpreter

‘ane Scottis boy that spekis Frenche to serve them quhill thai gett the langage.’

He received fifty shillings (£2.2s) for his service of a couple of months.

Marie benefited from the gold-mine, not just for her crown, but also in receiving a gold belt of 19 ounce weight, set with a sapphire, which cost the King £20 for making.

Court Life

The King and Queen had court musicians, who received liveries twice a year. There were five Italian minstrels and four players of the viols, three of them dressed in parti-coloured red and gold, and one in head-to-foot red, with a red bonnet. They were paid the princely sum of £40 Scots. The trumpeters received about half as much. The ‘tabourer’ (a tabor is a type of drum), an older man called Anthony, objected to wearing livery, and received cash to buy his own outfit instead.

As well as the household officers, Marie had her own attendants, including her French pantryman (the officer in charge of bread) M. Beglatt. She also had a French Master of Horse – an important role as he would have attended the Queen whenever she rode, and helped her mount. The Queen’s geldings were looked after by an army of stable-hands, led by one William Gib.

Marie herself was attended by at least seven ladies, a mixture of French and Scots women. On the marriage of any of her attendants, it was customary to give clothes and money. Joanna Gresoner (or Gresmoir), who married Robert Beaton of Creich, received a red velvet gown to the value of £108 Scots to mark her marriage. This lady’s daughter, Mary, was later one of the Four Marys who were the attendants of Marie’s own daughter.

To entertain the ladies there was a female fool, called Serat, who was dressed in the usual livery colours of red and yellow, with a green kirtle. There was also a jester and a Frenchwoman, Jeanne, who was a dwarf. She was dressed in a gown of light blue velvet, with a green kirtle. Rather disturbingly to modern sensibilities, sixteenth century ladies often had dwarfs in their entourages and would send them to each other as presents.

Marie herself was sumptuously dressed. On one occasion £67 10s was spent on Venetian crimson damask for fifteen ells (about 18 yards or metres) for a gown.

During the three and a half years of her married life, Marie was pregnant three times, and she had nurses, rockers and other attendants not only for her own children, but also for her husband’s illegitimate off-spring, who were brought up in the royal nurseries.

Marie’s life as Queen Consort came to an abrupt end when her thirty-year old husband died, probably of dysentery, following a disastrous campaign against the English. For mourning wear, the Queen and her attendants received 246 ells (nearly 310 yards or metres) of ‘Paris’ black cloth at 70s the ell, as well as Holland cloth (a type of fine linen), black velvet and white satin. She also had long black cloth saddle cloths for her horses, and the chair of her ‘chariot’ was lined with black.


This article is part of a Profile on Marie of Guise available for Kindle, for purchase from Amazon.