The Scottish Queen

Mary Queen of Scots. What new is there to say? She is one of the most well known historical figures in British history, and her dramatic life of passion and intrigue has enthralled people for centuries. Yet today I want to focus on a very specific moment in her early life, one that often gets overlooked.

That is the death of her first husband King Francis II of France.

Why you ask? Good question, and I’ll tell you the answer. The death of Francis changed EVERYTHING! A complete sliding doors  moment that ultimately changed the course of British history.

Francis and Mary

To summarise how this marriage came about in the first instance though…

Mary became Queen of Scots in 1542 at only a few days old after the premature death of her father King James V of Scotland. Her mother was the French noblewoman Mary of Guise, and Scotland and France had a strong relationship known as the Auld Alliance. When Mary was still only a young child, King Henry VIII of England instigated the ‘Rough Wooing’ to betroth Mary to his son Prince Edward, the heir apparent of England. On the European stage the young Queen Mary was a fantastic marital prize as she came with a crown. During this time not many women had ruled independently in Europe and it could be assumed whoever married Mary would rule Scotland. Henry VIII’s attempt to secure a marriage treaty was not his only reason for the ‘Rough Wooing’. He wanted to break the Auld Alliance and prevent France using Scotland as a spring board to invade England in the future. Scotland and England have had a long and acrimonious history (despite previous intermarrying within the Scottish and English royal families with Prince Edward actually being Mary’s cousin) and many Scottish nobles weren’t a fan of what this alliance would mean for Scotland’s independence. It was decided Mary would be betrothed to the Dauphin of France, Francis. Aged 5 she was sent to France  and was brought up alongside her future husband. In 1558 Francis and Mary were married with much splendor, and the next year the teenage couple became King and Queen of France after King Henri II of France died following a brutal jousting accident.

So what should have happened, had things gone to plan, is that Mary would have had children to secure both the throne of France and Scotland and they would have then ruled the thrones of France and Scotland. It was highly unlikely that anyone ever expected Mary to rule Scotland herself in her own right. Becoming Queen of France had been the plan for Mary for over 10 years, so when Francis died so young and unexpectedly in 1560 not only was it heartbreaking for Mary on a personal level, but it also threw her life plan into complete disarray. The fact that she willingly signed a document that would allow Scotland to be subsumed by France should she die without issue, suggests she was not attached to her homeland or protective over its independence.

Had Francis not died her disastrous subsequent marriages to Lord Darnley and the Earl of Bothwell would never have happened, she would never have been in the position of having to navigate the complex religious issues in Scotland as a Catholic Queen of country that had just gone through a Protestant Reformation, and she would have been less vulnerable to the machinations of Elizabeth I England who ultimately ended Mary’s life. These dramatic events all caused Mary much hardship, losing her son, her crown and ultimately her life. Yet it all started in 1560 with the death of the sickly Francis. In history we don’t always look at the what ifs, after all they didn’t happen so arguably of what use can they be? Yet the rise in alternate histories (like Fatherland and Man in the High Castle) suggests we are still very much interested in how differently things could have gone. Sliding doors moment happen in all our lives, and when they’re playing out on the European stage like with Mary Queen of Scots it becomes all the more fascinating to consider what might have been.

Mary wrote a poem about Francis after his death which encapsulates her grief which I think is the note to end this post on. So in her own words…

In my sad, quiet song,
A melancholy air,
I shall look deep and long
At loss beyond compare,
And with bitter tears,
I’ll pass my best years.

Have the harsh fates ere now
Let such a grief be felt,
Has a more cruel blow
Been by Dame Fortune dealt
Than, O my heart and eyes!
I see where his bier lies?

In my springtime’s gladness
And flower of my young heart,
I feel the deepest sadness
Of the most grievous hurt.
Nothing now my heart can fire
But regret and desire.

He who was my dearest
Already is my plight
The day that shone the clearest
For me is darkest night
There’s nothing now so fine
That I need make it mine.

Deep in my eyes and heart
A portrait has its place
Which shows the world my hurt
In the pallor of my face.
Pale as when violets fade
True love’s becoming shade.

In my unwonted pain
I can no more be still,
Rising time and again
To drive away my ill.
All things good and bad
Have lost the taste they had.

And thus I always stay
Whether in wood or meadow,
Whether at dawn of day
Or at the evening shadow.
My heart feels ceaselessly
Grief for his loss to me.

Sometimes in such a place
His image comes to me.
The sweet smile on his face
Up in a cloud I see.
Then sudden in the mere
I see his funeral bier.

When I lie quietly
Sleeping upon my couch,
I hear him speak to me
And I can feel his touch.
In my duties each day
He is near me alway.

Nothing seems fine to me
Unless he is therein.
My heart will not agree
Unless he is within.
I lack all perfection
In my cruel dejection

I shall cease my song now,
My sad lament shall end.
Whose burden aye shall show
True love can not pretend
And, though we are apart,
Grows no less in my heart.

What do you think about Mary Queen of Scots? Are there any other big sliding doors moments in her life you think we should consider? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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I studied Mary Queen of Scots during my undergraduate dissertation so a lot of this knowledge is just in my head, however, some good resources are:

National Museum of Scotland:

National Trust for Scotland:

Marie Stuart Society:

5 thoughts on “The Scottish Queen

  1. Thank you for this great post. I’ve been browsing your blog all morning and I found so many interesting articles! Instant favorite 🙂
    I’m looking forward to your future posts

    Liked by 1 person

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