Medicine, Magic and Music

Part 2 – Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots, also known as Mary Stuart or Mary I of Scotland, was Queen of Scotland from December 1542 to July 1567 and Queen Consort of France from July 1559 until December 1560.

Mary was the daughter of King James V of Scotland and Marie of Guise, a member of the House of Guise, which played a significant role in 16th-century French politics. Mary was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V and she acceded to the throne when her father died. She was six days old. She spent the majority of her childhood in France while Scotland was ruled by regents along, and in 1558 she married the Dauphin of France. He became King Francis II in 1559, and Mary was briefly Queen Consort, until his death in December 1560. The young widow returned to Scotland, arriving in Leith on August 19, 1561. Four years later, she married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, but their union was unhappy. In February 1567, his residence was destroyed by an explosion and Darnley was found murdered in the garden.

James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, was thought to be the master-mind behind Darnley’s death, however he was acquitted of the charge in April 1567. Twelve days later he married Mary. It has always been a question as to whether the marriage was one of force or whether she agreed or not. Another theory is that she was in complete agreement with the marriage.

Following an uprising against the couple, Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. On July 24, 1567, she was forced to abdicate in favor of James, her one-year-old son by Darnley, her deceased husband. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, she fled southwards seeking the protection of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Mary had previously claimed Elizabeth’s throne as her own and was considered the legitimate sovereign of England by many English Catholics. Unsure of what to do with the capricious Mary, and with many of her counselors perceiving her as a threat, Elizabeth had her confined in manor houses in the interior of England. After eighteen and a half years in custody, Mary was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth, and was subsequently beheaded.

Mary remains a controversial figure in history. There are a few things we know for certain. She was tall, citations note her height at 5’ 10” to six feet, her grandmother was King Henry VIII’s sister Margaret, she was the mother of James I and VI of England and Scotland, and she was considered beautiful in her own time and by our contemporary standards. As an old adage states, someone that beautiful has to be guilty, and Mary Stuart is quite possibly the best example of that statement in history. He married her handsome English cousin Henry, Lord Darnley, a reckless match which she later regretted.

Henry, Lord Darnley
Public Domain

She loved music and was skilled at playing both the lute and viola. Two of her favorite activities were music and dancing, which was shunned by the strict Protestant Calvinist beliefs of John Knox, the head of the Scottish Kirk (Church). The powerful Scottish Lairds (Nobles) were increasingly becoming members of the Scottish Kirk and frowned upon her practices as well. A truce of sorts was reached in which Mary and her court could enjoy their Catholic Masses in private. The young Queen and her entourage, known as the Four Maries, were allowed to enjoy their masquerades and merry making within the confines of the castles at the Queen’s state events. Knox felt that the young queen, and her love of dance and music had turned the royal enclaves into brothels, rather than places for honest women.  

The turning point for in Mary Stuart’s life came with the death of David Rizzio. He was an Italian courtier and musician, who rose to become the private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley, is said to have been jealous of their friendship. Darnley joined in a conspiracy of Protestant nobles, led by Patrick Ruthven, Lord Ruthven, to murder him. This murder became the catalyst for the downfall of Darnley, and it had serious consequences for Mary’s turbulent career.

Rizzio, whose name appears in records as David Riccio di Pancalieri in Piemonte went from Turin, Italy to the Court of the Duke of Savoy, at Nice, France. Finding no opportunities for advancement there, he was employed by the Count de Moretto in 1561, who was leading a diplomatic mission to Scotland. Once in Scotland, Rizzio, found that there were no further opportunities for him and he was dismissed from service. He ingratiated himself with the Queen’s French musicians. James Melville, a personal friend of Rizzio, said that “Her Majesty had three valets in her chamber, who sung three parts, and wanted a bass to sing the fourth part”. Rizzio was considered an excellent singer, which brought him to the attention of the Queen.

Having grown wealthy under her patronage, he became the secretary for relations with France in 1564, after the previous secretary of the post retired. This post attracted a quarterly salary of £20. Ambitious-seeing himself as all but a Secretary of State, Catholic and a foreigner, Rizzio was much too close to the Queen. Rumors swirled that Mary was having an affair with the Italian Fiddler, as some called him and that her child was possibly his.

Maty witnessing the death of Rizzio
Public Domain

Jealousy on the part of the vain and arrogant Lord Darnley led to his murder in the Queen’s presence, in her supper chamber in the Palace of Holyroodhouse after the royal guards were overpowered and the palace was turned over to the control of the rebels. Commanded by Patrick Ruthven, they demanded Rizzio be handed over. The Queen refused. Rizzio then hid behind Mary but was seized and stabbed to death in the presence of the Queen. He was stabbed 56 times on March 9, 1566 by Lord Darnley and his co-conspirators. The Queen was seven months pregnant at the time of the murder.

After this violent struggle, Rizzio’s body was thrown down the main staircase, stripped of its jewels and fine clothes. He was buried within two hours in the cemetery of Holyrood. Records state that his body was removed by the Queen’s orders and deposited in the sepulchre of the Kings of Scotland.

Mary’s turbulent life continued. Lord Darnley was dead with a year, and a few years later the beautiful Scottish Queen escaped into England in hopes of being rescued from her own nobles by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. This ended badly as well, with her execution in 1587 on charges of high treason against her cousin. And it all began because she wanted a fourth musician in her chamber. It should be noted that her son was born heathy and although he was taken from her at an early age, he eventually become King James VI and I, the first Stewart King of Great Britain.

Next stop in Medicine, Magic and Music: The Healing Properties of Music observed in the Lives of Anne Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots & Elizabeth I is a look into how music and the arts flourished in the reign of Elizabeth I.

Reveal: The Project

Ralph Sadler was born in Hackney, Middlesex, the elder son of Henry Sadler, a minor official. At approximately seven years of age, Sadler was placed in the household of Thomas Cromwell. He was an intelligent and resourceful child who was taught many skills-learning to read and write, becoming fluent in French, Latin and Greek, and given knowledge of the law. He eventually became a courtier and diplomat who served four Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. 

Sir Ralph and Mary Queen of Scots

In April 1540, Sadler was made principal secretary to King Henry VIII. In the same year, he was knighted, made a privy councillor, and began more than 30 years of service. Sadler survived Cromwell’s fall from power and execution but during the power struggle following Cromwell’s death he was arrested and sent to the Tower for a time. He was able to clear himself and was released in a few days, returning to the council chamber. He played a leading role in the examination of Catherine Howard and her relatives in November 1541, regained the King’s trust and was knighted for his part in holding matters of state while the court went on a summer progress.

On the accession of Mary I to the throne, after the resolution of the succession crisis, Sadler lost most of his offices, including master of the great wardrobe, he was removed from the commissions of the peace and excluded from the Privy Council. For a short time in 1553 he was under house arrest. For the rest of Mary I’s reign he did not sit in any parliament, remaining in semi-retirement at Standon, Hertfordshire.

During the reign of Elizabeth I he was restored to favor and sent to Scotland in 1559 to arrange an alliance with the Scottish Protestants. He eventually became one of the architects of the Treaty of Edinburgh. In 1568 he was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. When Mary, Queen of Scots, fled to England, Sadler was unwillingly appointed to meet with Scottish commissioners, becoming a reluctant jailer of the Scottish Queen. From summer 1584 to spring 1585, Mary was housed at Wingfield Manor and Tutbury Castle, under Sadler’s charge. During that time, Elizabeth grew increasingly disturbed by the presence of Mary Stuart on English soil and Sadler was instructed to restrict her freedom, being required to post guards around the area where Mary was held. Eventually, Sadler sat on the council that sentenced Mary to death.

Sadler married Ellen Mitchell circa 1534. They had three sons and four daughters, one being Sir Thomas Sadler who was named for Cromwell. Sir Ralph died March 1587 and was rumored to be the wealthiest commoner in England. His aging tomb is in St. Mary’s Church, Standon Hertfordshire.

Tomb of Sir Ralph Sadlier

Sir Ralph Sadleir (1507-87), the great Tudor statesman and long-time resident of Standon, England asked to be buried ‘not with anie pompe after the worldly manner, but in such sorte as shall be seemlie and requisite for a Christian man’. His son, Sir Thomas, decided to ignore his wishes and commissioned elaborate, ornate tombs for his father and himself commissioned from the leading London workshops of the Tudor Era. The magnificent tombs of Sir Ralph Sadleir (1507-1587), his eldest son Thomas and the latter’s wife Gertrude are a part of the rich heritage of the Tudor Era.

Sir Ralph, described on his memorial as ‘’faithful to the state and beloved of his countrie’’, served Tudor monarchs as courtier, soldier and statesman. The passage of over 400 years has left the memorials in need of repair and refurbishment. Sadlier’s part in the acclaimed Wolf Hall trilogy by Hilary Mantel–in which he features prominently–has acted as a catalyst to get the needed repairs made.

DONATE TODAY to Sadlier Tombs Refurbishment Project!

Unidentified man by Hans Holbein, thought to be Ralph Sadlier

Nikolaus Pevsner, the noted twentieth century art historian and author of the Buildings of England series, wrote enthusiastically about the Sadleir tombs in the volume on Hertfordshire.

Patrons of this project include renowned author Hilary Mantel whose works include the acclaimed Wolf Hall trilogy tracing the life of Thomas Cromwell.  The first two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, both won the Man Booker Prize. The third, The Mirror and the Light, has been described by the Financial Times’ critic as ‘majestic and often breathtakingly poetic’.  A major character in all three is Rafe Sadler (Sir Ralph Sadleir) who grew up in Cromwell’s household and served Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I.

Ms. Mantel writes of him, ‘Ralph Sadleir was a great Tudor survivor whose story should be better known, and I am proud to have been able to play a part in introducing him to the reading public. What I would like to see is a full modern biography, surely overdue – but meanwhile I can think of no better project than to conserve his family monuments’

Dame Hilary Mantel

PATRONS

-DAME HILARY MANTEL, DBE FRSL

Author of the double Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall trilogy

-THE COUNTESS of VERULAM, CVO DL

Artist & former Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire 

-THE VISCOUNTESS TRENCHARD

Resides at Standon Lordship & is a former High Sheriff of Hertfordshire

These pictures show examples of the conservation, repair and refurbishment required.

DONATE

Marie de Guise

by Amy Blakeway


For over half the sixteenth century Scotland was ruled by children. In an age when the monarch’s will was the axis upon which political life turned and his or her authority was the source of all justice, periods without an adult ruler, known as royal minorities, were dangerous times indeed. Of course, six-day olds or four year olds did not actually control the country, but the question of who should rule on their behalf was a fraught one – and the person who answered it rarely satisfied everyone. Contemporaries said that Regents ‘bore the person of the monarch’ – that is, they were the monarch for the time. This total control over royal power made their rule potentially dangerous.

Because of a preference for appointing the adult heir to the throne as regent, usually, regents were men: six out of eight in the sixteenth century. However, female regents could be appointed in their husband’s will, or if a monarch was living abroad and needed to delegate their power during their absence. This is what happened in 1554: Mary, Queen of Scots was living in France and, since she was betrothed to the French heir to the throne, would be for the foreseeable future. Claiming that (aged just over eleven) she was now an adult, Mary ordered that James Hamilton, earl of Arran should give up the regency to her mother, Marie de Guise. Since the scheme was really masterminded by the powerful Henri II of France, the Scots had little choice but to agree.

Marie de Guise followed in the footsteps of other Stewart wives and mothers in the previous century, such as Joan Beaufort, mother of James II, and Mary of Gueldres, mother of James III. Between 1513 and 1514 Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII of England’s big sister and the widow of James IV, was regent for her son James V – she lost power when her remarriage meant she passed into the legal control of her new husband. But Marie de Guise was different: all these regents were only ever temporary rulers, who would give power when their child came of age. As Mary would remain in France with her husband, Marie de Guise was a new kind of regent, a permanent ruler on behalf of a perpetually absent monarch.

Despite widespread anxiety about women rulers, a dowager queen was a sound choice as regent for the simple reason that she loved her children. Shakespeare didn’t write Richard III in a vacuum and the fear that an ambitious uncle would take a leaf from Richard III’s book, kill his nephew and steal the crown, was frequently voiced. By contrast, it was assumed a mother would protect her children – and female regents manipulated that rhetoric to their own advantage, perhaps never more skilfully than Catherine de Medici, regent for her young son Charles IX of France.

However, Queen Mothers were not only defined by their gender. Their nationality posed problems for their candidacy as a regent. Catherine de Medici was Italian. Margaret Tudor was English, and Marie de Guise herself was French. Could a foreign-born woman really have Scotland’s interests at heart? For Marie de Guise, the mixture of gender and nationality combined with the extra-flammable ingredient of religious tension in a lethal cocktail which eventually caused her downfall.

Ironically, given that Marie would end her life as the hated face of French power in Scotland, in France she would have been regarded as slightly foreign. Her father, Claude, Duke of Guise, was one of the Princes Étrangers (stranger Princes) at the French court – this title denoted membership of an independent sovereign dynasty. They were descendants of the independent Dukes of Lorraine, whose lands would only be incorporated into France in the eighteenth century.

Marie arrived in Scotland in 1538 to marry James V – it was the second marriage for both of them. He had previously been married to Madeline, the sickly daughter of Francois I. Marie had in fact attended their marriage in Paris, accompanied by her first husband, Louis, duc de Longueville.

As Queen consort she brought considerable cultural capital to Scotland, corresponding with relatives in France to arrange for craftsmen to come over and remodel the royal palaces, and securing technical know-how for the Scottish mining projects. References to her ‘chariot’ suggest she may have been the owner of the first, or at least one of the first, carriages in Scotland. She also fulfilled her main job as Queen consort: to get pregnant and produce, preferably male, children, although sadly two boys she had in 1540 and 1541 lived only a short time.

In other words, Marie de Guise was a model Queen consort, but there is no evidence to suggest that she sought political influence. After James V died in 1542 no-one suggested that his widow should become regent: Marie de Guise’s job was to bring up the new Queen.

This poses an interesting question: how did Guise move from an apparently apolitical royal spouse in 1542 to becoming regent and ruling Scotland?

The process had begun by 1544 when she and a group of the nobility dissatisfied with the regent Arran, proposed a scheme that she should share power with him. Unsurprisingly, he rejected this and for a few months Marie de Guise tried to head up an alternative government. However, this failed – even the English, with whom the Scots were at war, were reluctant to negotiate with her. She and Arran made it up by the autumn and seem to have managed a working relationship of sorts until she took power in 1554.

Even when Guise was part of Arran’s regime, the fact she controlled a third of the crown lands posed problems for the regent. Crown revenues were reduced, and a rival source of patronage had the potential to eat away at his support. However, she enjoyed the trust of the King of France and in fighting the ongoing war against the English French support was crucial. This increased after 1548 when the Treaty of Haddington between France and Scotland promised French support for the war effort and arranged for Mary’s marriage to the Dauphin, Francois. This treaty meant that Mary would be absent from Scotland on a permanent basis and so created the circumstances which eventually developed into Guise becoming regent.

Many historians identify Marie de Guise’s visit to France from August 1550 until November 1551 as another key moment in her gradual ascent to the regency. Accompanied by many Scottish nobles, Guise certainly played a central role in French court life during this period and negotiated continued French support for Scotland. What is less clear, however, is whether these negotiations included discussion of the possibility that she herself would become regent, and, if so, whether Guise herself arrived in France ready to discuss this, or whether it emerged during the conversations.

Once she arrived back in Scotland, however, it was only the rapidly changing international situation in late 1553 which made the possibility of Guise becoming regent a reality. Mary Tudor’s accession to the throne of England meant the strengthening of France’s great rivals, the Hapsburgs, Mary Tudor’s maternal relations and the family from whom she sought a husband. Scotland needed to be bound more securely to France and following months of intense negotiations Arran agreed to resign the regency.

Mary’s enemies would later claim that she subverted the ceremony which appointed her regent by wearing the crown which belonged to her daughter – and that to make matters worse it was the French king’s representative who placed it on her head. Her arch-rival John Knox remarked that seeing Marie crowned in this way was ‘as seemly a sight (if men had eyes) as to place a saddle on the back of an unruly cow’. But, there is no corroborative evidence for this story and the only authors who mention it were not in Edinburgh when Guise became regent. It’s far more likely that this was either a fabrication or a wilful manipulation of the fact that the crown was moved from in front of Arran to Guise to symbolise the transfer of power. This story was designed to signal Guise’s dangerous ambition and so that she was dangerously unsuitable to rule.

Nevertheless, for the six years of her regency, she took her duties as regent seriously. For example, she held numerous justice ayres – peripatetic justice courts which moved around Scotland – this was particularly significant because dispensing justice was understood to be one of the key aspects of being a good ruler.

Even so, by 1555 the reality of an absentee Queen and a French regent who appointed French advisers to key posts was beginning to bite home. Parliament passed an act complaining that many Scots had been ‘speiking aganis the quenis grace [Marie de Guise] and sawing evill brute anent [spreading evil rumours about] the Maist Christin King of Frances subjectis send in this realme for the commoun weill’ and laying down heavy penalties for those who opposed it. In October 1557 the nobility refused Guise’s orders to invade England – they claimed that this was not in the best interests of Scotland, but only an attempt to please the French. John Knox reported that Guise was furious, but other evidence shows she and the nobility did manage to rebuild relations and remained on friendly terms for another year. When they did desert her, and explained to the public in Scotland and potential allies abroad why they were resisting their lawfully appointed regent, the nobles cited their religious concerns but, more importantly, their fear of French rule overturning Scottish laws and an eventual French conquest of Scotland.
Was there any truth in this? Marie always denied it. However, she had appointed trusted French officials to major roles in Scotland. She also at times viewed Scotland as a country which needed to be changed, and once wrote to her brother ‘God knows…what a life I lead. It is no small matter to bring a young nation to a state of perfection’.

From September 1558 onwards the growing Protestant party in Scotland became increasingly vocal. But it was only in May 1559 when this spilled over into violent rebellion against the regent – and even after this, it took many months of temporary compromise for key nobles to desert Guise. John Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland is one of the most important sources we have for this period. However, the fact he was absent from Scotland for much of Guise’s regency, combined with his obvious self-interest in the events he discussed, also makes it one of the most problematic. His attitude to Marie de Guise can only be described as venomous. For instance, he claimed that Marie de Guise persuaded the reformers to agree to Mary’s marriage to the Dauphin. Once they had agreed, she ‘began to spew furthe and disclose the latent venom of her dowble harte’. When the Archbishop of St Andrews executed the reformer Walter Milne, Knox said that Guise ‘as a woman born to dissemble and deceave’ was so persuasive in claiming that she had no foreknowledge of the execution that the Protestants, ‘suspecting nothing that the Queen consented to the foirnamed murder’ continued to seek out her support.

Knox’s need to justify the rebellion which he encouraged against Marie de Guise lead him to portray her as a dangerous villain, a French, Catholic, Woman, driven by ambition, which led her to bribe, deceive and corrupt those she encountered. It’s impossible to know which of these concerns prompted her subjects to rise against her in rebellion, but, it’s clear that by 1559 the exercise of power had transformed this once conforming Queen consort into a very dangerous woman indeed.

Amy Blakeway is a lecturer in History at the University of Kent. She is interested in the power and politics of sixteenth-century Scotland and the author of ‘Regency in Sixteenth-Century Scotland’. She currently lives in Canterbury but comes to Edinburgh whenever she can.

Article courtesy of the Dangerous Women Project, University of Edinburgh. Please contact Dr Ben Fletcher-Watson with any questions.

Support the Dangerous Women Project!

Original listing here

Feature image: Attributed to Corneille de Lyon (1500/1510–1575) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons