Mary Marries Merrily

Mary, Queen of Scots wed François, the Dauphin of France, at Notre Dame de Paris in a lavish ceremony (did they have any other kind for a royal wedding??) on 24 April 1558.

Francois_II and Mary_Stuart wed

The young couple, who had been raised together since Mary was 5 years old and the Dauphin only 4, seem to be mutually and sincerely attached to one another … as “in love” as two young teens could be. Affection for one another had certainly been encouraged from the day of Mary’s arrival at the French court, but there was also a natural affinity between them. The groom’s father, King Henri II of France, said that “from the very first day they met, my son and she got on as well together as if they had known each other for a long time”.

And why wouldn’t the Dauphin love Mary?

Vivacious, beautiful, and clever (according to contemporary accounts) … At the French court, she was a favourite with everyone, except Henry II’s wife Catherine de’ Medici. Mary learned to play lute and virginals, was competent in prose, poetry, horsemanship, falconry and needlework, and was taught French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Greek, in addition to speaking her native Scots.

Their marriage was a perfect manifestation of the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland, but it was also France’s triumphant (and not so secret) attempted annexation of Scotland. Mary, who was more French than Scots by this time, had signed a secret agreement with the French crown declaring that Scotland would become part of France if she died without heirs of her body.

If King Henry VIII of England had still been alive on Mary’s wedding day he would have pulled out what remained of his hair in vexation. HE had wanted to annex Scotland via marriage between Mary and his son, the future King Edward VI. When the queen was only an infant, Henry had bullied the Scots into signing the Treaty of Greenwich on 1 July 1543, theoretically agreeing “that at the age of ten Mary would marry Edward and move to England, where Henry could oversee her upbringing.” When the Scots Parliament sensibly rejected the treaty, Henry tried to force them to honor it via warfare, which became known as the “Rough Wooing”. After Henry’s death, Edward VI’s repellent uncle, the Duke of Somerset, tried to continue the rough wooing, but did it so poorly that the French were able to smuggle little Mary out of Scotland and into Paris.

In spite of the Auld Alliance, many Scots nobles (especially Protestant ones) were unhappy that their country was become another Brittany, subsumed by French interests. In May 1559 a congregation of Scottish lords revolted against Mary’s mother, Marie of Guise, who was serving as Scotland’s regent. Marie sent word to France, and her daughter and son-in-law were quick to send troops to quell the uprising. However, Mary’s clearly loyalty to the French did nothing to endear her to her subjects.

Mary and her husband also went out of their way to offend Elizabeth I of England. Most Catholics still considered Elizabeth as nothing more than Anne Boleyn’s bastard, and therefore Mary Stuart, the eldest descendant of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret Tudor, was seen as the real queen of England by many people, both in England and abroad. Henri II of France had infuriated Elizabeth by declaring Francois and Mary the king and queen of England, and quartering their arms with the royal arms of England. Elizabeth was so irked that in January 1560 the English fleet blockaded the French military base at the port of Leith.

Francois and Mary acted to resolve the situation, but when their peace negotiators, the Bishop of Valence and Charles de La Rochefoucault, arrived in Scotland they were not welcomed. Rather, they (and by extension, the French) were perceived as interlopers who had no right to tell the Scots what to do or how to do it. With nearly zero standing to back their demands, on 6 July 1560, the Bishop and de la Rochefoucault had no choice but to agree to he Treaty of Edinburgh,  which was “disadvantageous” to French interests in Scotland. The treaty specified that “Francis II and Mary Stuart had to withdraw French troops and stop displaying England’s arms”. Incensed, the king and Mary refused to sign the treaty.

Mary further alienated her subjects when she and her husband refused to admit the right of the Scots parliament to establish Protestantism as the state religion. Mary had been raised to be as devoutly Catholic as the Pope, and her refusal to abide by Scotland’s legalized Protestantism was (correctly) seen by her natal subjects as one more sign that Mary was more Queen of France than Queen of Scots. 

Scots were unlikely to ever forget or forgive their queen’s preference for France over her native country, but if Francois had remained alive, and Mary had remained in France as it’s queen, producing a joint heir to the thrones, Scotland and France might have tried to work out their differences. Sadly for Mary, her husband was not long for this world.

The health of the king deteriorated in November 1560. On 16 November he suffered syncope. After only 17 months on the throne, Francis II died on 5 December 1560 in Orléans, Loiret, from an ear condition. Multiple diseases have been suggested, such as mastoiditis, meningitis, or otitis exacerbated into an abscess … On 23 December 1560, the body of Francis II was interred in the Saint-Denis by the Prince of La Roche-sur-Yon.

Mary was grief-stricken. Unfortunately, her former mother-in-law, Catherine de Médici, was now Regent of France. The dowager queen had never stopped being jealous of Mary and hating the beautiful girl, so she moved to force the young widow to return to Scotland. For Mary, this was exile into hell on top of bereavment. The French court was all that was sophisticated, while Scotland was considered nearly barbarian and its court little more than a group of well-dressed savages. Moreover, she had to be well aware that the Scots had no reason to love her, inasmuch as she had proven herself more French Catholic than she would ever be Scots Protestant.

As it so happens, the move to Scotland did not work out well for her … but her move to England worked out even worse.

Share This:

2 thoughts on “Mary Marries Merrily


  1. It was asking too much of a 5 y.o. child NOT to become French as it was. She should have had a priest or a counselor to help raise her still a Scott while growing up. Pitty, because it ended up costing her her head.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *