Mary, Queen of Scots: Life Story

Chapter 7 : Scottish Affairs

Meanwhile, religious differences were also manifesting themselves in Scotland. Marie of Guise was fighting a civil war with the Lords of the Congregation who were attempting to oust her from the role of regent so they could institute a Protestant religious settlement.

Marie’s view was that the Lords were motivated more by rebellious motives than religious ones. She called for aid from France and Mary and François authorised the sending of troops in November 1559. To counter this, the Lords turned to England, now once again led by a Protestant government. Although Queen Elizabeth herself was somewhat reluctant to send troops against her northern neighbour, she was prevailed upon by Sir William Cecil and other Protestant ministers to give secret aid to the Lords of the Congregation. In 1560 they signed the Treaty of Berwick and troops were sent north.

Marie fought a strenuous rearguard action, but died in June 1560. Almost immediately, a treaty was agreed between the Lords and the English government – the Treaty of Edinburgh. Whilst commissioners of François and Mary had taken part in the discussions, Mary refused to ratify the treaty, either then or later. It provided that neither England nor France would send troops into Scotland and that she and her husband would recognise Elizabeth’s title to the throne of England. Mary was badly affected by her mother’s death, and collapsed into debilitating illness for some weeks.

The Scots Parliament abolished the power of the papacy in Scotland, and introduced a Protestant Confession of Faith. It became illegal to hear the Catholic mass in the country. Mary never gave formal royal assent to this bill, either. James Hamilton, formally Earl of Arran, but now Duke of Châtelherault, was once again installed by Parliament as a figure-head regent, whilst real power was largely in the hands of Mary’s half-brother, Lord James Stewart.

This exposure to the difficulties in Scotland and the discussions over the various treaties with England led Mary to take a more active personal role in politics. The English ambassador at the court of France, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, noted that she had a strong opinion on the rebellious activities of her Scottish subjects. She pointed out to Throckmorton that Elizabeth would be better served by having her cousin promptly obeyed in Scotland, than by supporting a nest of rebels, whose presumption might spread.

Throckmorton also observed that Mary was almost constantly in the company of her mother-in-law, and that the two queens were the most dominant figures in King François’ life. How Mary would have fared had she remained as Queen of France is unknowable – it is likely that she would have exerted considerable influence over her husband and it may be that the tragic events of the Wars of Religion would have played out differently. Mary, like her mother, and unlike her uncles, never exhibited religious intolerance, and in alliance with Catherine, who also sought conciliation, they might have been able to avert the atrocities to come.

But on 16th November 1560, François complained of a severe earache. His condition rapidly deteriorated and by 27th November it was obvious that he would soon die. Mary and Catherine attended him lovingly, but he died an agonising death from an abscess in his inner ear on 5th December.

Mary was devastated by grief. Francois had been her closest companion since she was five, and the whole thrust of her upbringing had been to cast them in the role of monarchs, spouses and lovers. She withdrew to her chambers, draped in white.  Queen Catherine, who had once seemed so attached to her daughter-in-law, requested an inventory of the crown jewels, and their return to her, as Queen-Mother of the new king, Charles IX.

The question arose as to what Mary should do now. She was entitled, by the terms of her marriage treaty, to either remain in France, or return to Scotland, with the link between the two countries broken. Those around her assumed that what she did next would entirely depend on her second husband, for it was assumed, almost before poor François was cold, that she would remarry as soon as possible.

There was a wide field of candidates – many of whom were also courting Elizabeth of England: Don Carlos of Spain, the mentally-challenged son of Philip II of Spain; Archduke Charles, son of the Emperor Ferdinand; Châtelherault’s son, the Earl of Arran – also mentally unstable; Eric of Sweden; and even Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, son of the Earl and Countess of Lennox, and Mary’s cousin. Another possibility was a second marriage into the French royal family, to her eleven-year-old brother-in-law, Charles IX.

After her period of total seclusion ended, Mary received the English ambassador, who wrote that, now the queen was not subject to the submissive role of wife, she was showing herself as having

‘both a great wisdom for her years, modest and also of great judgement in the wise handling (of) herself and her matters, which, increasing with years cannot but turn greatly to her commendation, reputation, honour and great benefit of her and her country…she thinketh herself not too wise, but is content to be ruled by good counsel and wise men.’

She had informed him that her uncles had no say in Scottish matters, they being ‘of the affairs of France’. This extolling of Mary’s willingness to listen to advice was a hint that Elizabeth, who was being talked of as headstrong and frivolous, and mired in the scandal of the death of Amy Robsart, wife of her favourite, Lord Robert Dudley, might do well to emulate her cousin.