Chapter 6 : The Wars of the Congregation
Whether or not he had any hidden motives, James and the other Lords of the Congregation were in constant touch with Cecil, assuring him that, if England were to give a show of support, those Scottish Lords who had not joined the Congregation, but who were showing no eagerness to support the Regent, would defect to the Congregation.They also informed him, in late December 1559, that Marie had invited the Earl of Lennox to return to Scotland. Lennox had been exiled in England since the early 1540s.
Married to James V’s half-sister, Lady Margaret Douglas (who, in terms of strict primogeniture had the best claim to be the heir to the English throne after Mary, Queen of Scots), Lennox and the Hamilton family, of which Chatelherault was the head, were at daggers drawn. Lennox believed his claim to be Queen Mary’s heir was stronger than Chatelherault’s, and he had defected to the English side rather than support Chatelherault’s Regency. By inviting him to return, Marie was making it clear that she no longer trusted the Hamiltons. Arran (Chatelherault’s son) and James asked Cecil to prevent Lennox leaving England.
Matters were coming to a head as the French troops Marie had requested began to arrive.The Lords feared that if the French took Stirling from them, they would be annihilated.They sent increasingly importunate letters to England, requesting support. The French were slightly hampered by Lord Erskine’s threat to bombard Holyrood Palace (where Marie was) if they advanced. Lord James and Arran were at Dunfermline. Dunfermline is no distance at all now, with the bridge over the Firth of Forth, but in the 1550s, it would be several days march.
The French troops now assembled and took Leith – behaving as badly as conquering soldiers in foreign territories always do, and turning the population against the French alliance. Meanwhile, Elizabeth had at last consented to send support, and a number of English ships sailed up the Channel and into the Firth of Forth in January 1560. The French fleet had been badly damaged by winter storms and there were insufficient French troops to resist the English.
In February 1560 Elizabeth signed the Treaty of Berwick under which she took into her “protection” the realm of Scotland. This protection was to last for the entire duration of the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots to the King of France, and for one year thereafter, English troops would be sent to expel the French. In return the Scots would send troops to England should the French invade. As was customary, hostages were granted, including Lord James’ half-brother, Sir Robert Douglas.
By March, even the Earl of Huntly, who remained firmly Catholic, was prepared to support the Lords of the Congregation (although there may have been an element of revenge in this, as Marie had curtailed his almost-king-like powers in the north of the country). Lord James announced this additional support in one of the regular letters he wrote to Elizabeth, keeping her informed of events. James was clearly not entirely convinced about Huntly’s loyalty, as he asked Elizabeth and Cecil to keep Huntly’s letters – ‘thai wryttingis suld be kept in stoyr for all aventeures’.
There were now some 9,000 troops assembled in support of the Lords at Prestonpans. Marie, her health in terminal decline, retreated from Holyrood to the more easily defensible Edinburgh Castle, as the Congregation army, composed of English and Scots, besieged Leith, held by French and Scots.
Knowing her end was near, Marie made a final attempt to prevent civil war. She summoned a deputation, including James, from the Lords of the Congregation. The Lords complained about French influence and Marie replied that the presence of French troops had been approved by the Scottish Parliament and she would not send them away. Matters were at an impasse.
A few days later, Marie, on her deathbed, again sent for James and his colleagues. She forgave them all their offences against her and begged their forgiveness for any she had committed. She asked James and the Earl of Argyll to remain with her so James presumably was at his step-mother’s side when she died early in the morning of 11 June 1560.Immediately following her death, the French troops withdrew and, with the death of Marie, it seemed that the Protestant faction would triumph.