Marie de Guise, for some reason, is only famous because she had a daughter whom you’ve definitely heard of, Mary, Queen of Scots. You’ll hear Marie de Guise’s name said as Mary of Guise, but I find it less confusing to call her Marie, especially because this is a time where literally everyone is called Mary. Marie is the French way to say it, and Marie was French, so I guess it makes enough sense to call her Marie de Guise.
So, Marie de Guise was born in the small town of Bar-le-Duc, Lorraine, on November 22nd, 1515. Okay, so why exactly was a French aristocrat born in a small town? Because her mother was giving birth and there was no time to get her to a huge palace or something to give birth in. Marie de Guise was the first child of Claude of Lorraine, the Duke of Guise. I will always think of Claude as a female name and you’ll never stop me. Anyways, Claude’s wife was Antoinette of Bourbon, and both Antoinette and Claude have very short Wikipedia pages, so they’re not really super-important to the story.
Marie was the first out of eleven children, which, in any era, is a lot. She had two other sisters, and eight brothers. Some of those siblings became very important, but the only ones you should remember for this story are her two brothers, Francis and Charles of Guise. Sort of important sidenote: her brother Francis’s son had a daughter, Louise of Lorraine, who became Queen of France. The Guise family was obviously very important.
Marie went to go live with her aunt, Philippa of Guelders, who lived in a convent in Northeastern France. The convent must have been a very healthy place to live, because Marie grew to the height of nearly six feet, which, in any era, is quite a bit of height. When Marie was fourteen, her uncle visited the convent and was pretty impressed with Marie. Obviously and thankfully, he didn’t marry her himself, but just put in a good word for her. He decided that if Marie stayed at the convent, she’d be wasting her time, so he brought her to court.
Marie easily made friends at court, and Madeleine and Marguerite became her new friends. Oh, and they just happened to be the king’s daughters. So, Madeleine, Marguerite, and Marie were all best friends, and oh, look! There’s a really powerful guy coming to find a wife! King James V of Scotland, the son of Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret, needed a wife, and, just like a lot of other royal dudes did, he decided to marry a French lady to get a cool new alliance.
So, his choices were Madeleine, Marguerite, or Marie, and, because Madeleine was the older one and her family was more powerful than Marie’s, he chose her. Marie wasn’t too sad about that and moved on with her life, but her uncles were obviously frustrated. Marie went to her friend’s wedding, and then was probably a little lonely and wondering what to do when Madeleine went off to Scotland.
Her family arranged for her to marry the Duke of Longueville, Louis II d’Orléans. She was only eighteen, which is much better than getting married at like, twelve, and Louis wasn’t much older. It seems like almost every French royal is named Louis sometimes, but there aren’t that many in our story today.
So, just like her mother, Marie gave birth to some children, just not as many. She had two sons with Louis; the first one was Francis, Duke of Longueville, and Louis of Longueville, who died in childhood. Guess who also died? Just Marie’s husband. So, after not being married for a long time, at only twenty-one, Marie was a widow.
That was no problem, though, because a lot of people thought being an ally of France and also getting a new beautiful and intelligent wife who could give him a bunch of sons was a good deal. But one thing to mention before we talk about Marie getting married again: she actually really liked Louis, her first husband, and kept his last letter, which is still around.
So, there were two guys who wanted to marry Marie. James V of Scotland, who had married Madeleine earlier. So, what happened to Madeleine? She died six months after marrying James, and he just wanted an alliance, so he was completely fine with any French princess. He couldn’t marry Marguerite, because she was already married, so Marie was the next best choice. And the other guy is someone you’re probably familiar with—if you’ve heard anything at all about this time period, you probably know about him.
His name was Henry VIII, and he was King of England. At the time, Jane Seymour had recently died, and he was looking for a new wife. This time, he decided he wanted a political marriage like he’d had to Catherine of Aragon all those years ago, and he was looking around Europe for a good princess to marry. Marie made it onto his “maybe I’ll marry her” list, and she knew he was thinking of marrying her. Because he’d just beheaded Anne Boleyn, his famous second wife, and everyone was still talking about him, Marie actually said:
I may be a big woman but I have very little neck.
That’s right, Henry, she has very little neck for you to chop off her head. Amazing Marie, whom I’m in love with by this point, was kind of nervous, but the French king decided to not let her marry Henry, much to her joy. The French king didn’t exactly choose James, he basically told the Guise family: “I won’t like you if you let her marry Henry”, and so, she didn’t get to marry Henry, which is always a good thing. Henry ended up choosing Anne of Cleves, whom I also love and could talk about forever.
Anyways, her uncles took care of the whole negotiation thing and made sure it was amazing for both her and them, and Marie was off to Scotland. She wasn’t particularly excited to go to Scotland, because she would have to leave her son behind. Her husband and other son had just died, and she’d lived in France her whole life, so she wasn’t enthusiastic about having to leave. Whether she liked it or not, she had to go, and so, she was off to Scotland to become Queen.
Marie was obviously expecting her marriage to go like everyone else’s and be really weird and bad and just not really good, and have her husband’s family hate her. But actually, Marie’s new mother-in-law, Margaret of England, the daughter of Henry VII and sister of Henry VIII, became her new best friend. Margaret’s sister, Mary, was actually Queen of France very briefly, for around three months, and this whole era and all the people in it are so interesting. Marie also got along well with her husband.
Anyways, as Marie was expected to, she started having children. She gave birth to a son, James, and another son, Robert. They both died in childhood, but there was a backup child. And who was this backup child? Oh, just a little girl who would never inherit the throne anyway. She’s still worth mentioning, though. Her name was Mary, after her mother, and she was also really cool, like her mother.
Shortly after all these children were born, James V died. He was still pretty young and nobody expected he’d die so soon. People thought there would be plenty of time for Marie to have a son and for that son to grow up before James died, but there wasn’t. The new Queen of Scots, Queen Mary, was only six days old, so guess who was ruling Scotland? Oh, just our really cool, really amazing Marie.
So, do you remember Henry VIII? Of course, you do. Henry was still around and still thought he could marry Marie, but he also wanted his son, Edward, to marry Queen Mary, and have some sort of Scotland and England unite thing, but that’s going to happen in less than a century anyway, so why can’t you just see the future, Henry?
Marie also didn’t have much neck this time, and at this time, he’d just beheaded K. Howard, so she was probably even less willing to marry him. But can we just think about how Marie could’ve been either Henry’s fourth or sixth wife, but rejected him both times because she just didn’t feel like marrying a guy who’s just killed his wives? Marie also decided that she didn’t want her daughter to end up in Henry’s court, so she also passed on the whole “let’s get our baby kids married” thing.
Henry was pretty angry, and for the literal thousandth time this century, attacked Scotland. This whole thing was literally called the “Rough Wooing”, because of the whole marriage thing, and it continued on for a while. I guess Henry was pretty mad about being rejected.
Anyways, even though Marie could’ve been a really good regent, and was pretty much calling the shots at this point, she wasn’t going to get to be the actual regent. That position went to a man whom Marie was not at all fond of, and Marie even tried to get him replaced as regent but was unsuccessful. Marie did stick around in Scotland, though.
So, Marie went to go watch a siege, because Scotland was still at war with England, but the English were like, really close to them, and Marie and her friends were in the range of the English guns. So, sixteen people were just shot and died right next to Marie, but she came out of the whole thing unharmed. Marie gave one of her men the money that would’ve been equivalent to his pay for a month just for protecting her at this whole thing. The Scots ended up winning the whole war, and Marie wrote:
The English had left nothing behind but the plague.
Next, Marie decided that England was not where she wanted her daughter to be, so she started negotiating for her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, to marry Francis, the son of King Henry II of France. You’re probably familiar with this whole thing if you’ve ever watched Reign. So, Mary was sent to France to be raised in her future husband’s country, and she would spend a long time there, which you’d know if you’ve watched Reign.
After Mary went to France, Marie decided, “Hey, why don’t I go to France?” and because Marie does whatever she wants, she went to France. Marie was able to see her whole family again, including her son from her first marriage (remember him?). This whole time, she’d only been talking to him by letter, so it must have been nice for her to see her son all grown up in person. BUT THEN, he just dropped dead, and it just had to be when Marie was right there, which must have been doubly devastating.
Marie still spent a lot of happy time in France, a place she’d always loved, but eventually, she had to leave. Queen Mary stayed there because she was betrothed to Dauphin Francis, and Marie went up to England. Henry VIII had died (and everyone had breathed a sigh of relief, don’t tell me you didn’t), so his son was now the boy-king Edward VI.
Marie was obviously in England to meet Edward, which she did. He was very respectful to Marie, and, according to only Wikipedia so far, gave her a diamond ring that had belonged to Catherine Parr. I’m only adding that detail because I think it’s very nice for Marie to have a ring that had once belonged to the equally amazing Catherine Parr. Another thing: Marie could’ve been King Henry VIII’s sixth wife if she had wanted to, but that role ended up going to Catherine Parr.
At the meeting where Marie got the ring, she was meeting with King Edward, obviously, and his sisters, the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, were also invited. Mary declined the invitation, but Elizabeth did end up attending. Because everybody wanted Marie to like them, they were all dressing all French-y, but Elizabeth decided to dress all English-y, just because she felt like it.
Okay, so, it hasn’t been so long, so you’ll probably remember Queen Mary’s regent whom Marie didn’t like at all. That guy died, and Marie could just come in and take over. She became the new regent, and she was pretty much the most powerful person in Scotland at this point. People, especially Protestants, didn’t like Marie, but it’s not like she cared.
Mary, Queen of Scots, was all grown up at this point, so guess what? She got married! And, over in France, Marie’s brothers were now the uncles of the Queen of Scotland and future Queen of France, so they were very important and powerful people over there. It was a simply amazing time for Marie and her family.
Over in England, Queen Mary I died. This is really important for reasons we’ll soon learn, but first, let’s talk about Henry VIII again. Henry VIII had been married to Catherine of Aragon and had a daughter with her, Queen Mary I (the one who just died). Then, he got rid of Catherine and married Anne Boleyn, who gave birth to a daughter, Queen Elizabeth I (who doesn’t share a name with anyone else in the story, so yay). After he’d gotten rid of Catherine and Anne, he’d had both Mary and Elizabeth declared illegitimate. After the whole Lady Jane Grey thing, Mary became Queen and had herself declared legitimate, and on her deathbed, recognized Elizabeth as her heir.
BUT, because of the whole illegitimate thing, some people didn’t think Elizabeth was the rightful heir to England. Henry VIII had had two sisters, Margaret and, very confusingly, another Mary (is that the fourth or fifth Mary so far?). Margaret (whom we mentioned became Marie’s BFF) had married the King of Scotland, James IV (Marie’s father-in-law). Henry didn’t like Scotland and excluded Margaret’s descendants from the English line of succession. Then there was Mary, whose children were Lady Frances Grey, Lady Eleanor Clifford, and all their descendants had a claim to the throne (Lady Jane Grey was Mary’s granddaughter through Lady Frances).
So, because of this not really that complicated family tree, some people thought that Mary, a granddaughter of Margaret, was actually the rightful Queen of England. On top of that, Queen Mary’s father-in-law had just died (by being impaled through the eye in a joust, but not by Francis, unlike in Reign), so her husband, Francis, was King of France.
Reign got some things right—just like in the show, Queen Mary’s family members really, really wanted England, and eventually, Mary was under a lot of pressure from Marie, Marie’s Guise brothers, and the French royal family to claim England. She did end up doing small things that meant a lot to claim England, just the way she did in the show.
Now, because Mary and the French royals were pretty much claiming England for themselves, and because they were all Catholic while England’s new Queen Elizabeth and a fair amount of Scottish people were Protestant, nobody was really happy with this situation. So, there was a rebellion. Marie, by the way, was still regent, so they were pretty much just rebelling against Marie.
It was pretty much another little war between the Protestants and Catholics of a country, only this time, France was helping Marie and her supporters, while England was helping the Protestants. Things weren’t looking good for Marie, but the French kept helping, and in Fife, Marie had a huge victory. Marie said this about John Knox, the man who was pretty much leading the rebellion against Marie:
Where is now John Knox’s God? My God is now stronger than his, yea, even in Fife.
And then the English started doing well, which was a complete disaster for Marie. Marie kept showing up at battles, being an amazing leader and just making everyone love her. And an English dude said she was “a woman with a man’s courage”, and keep in mind that she got the compliment while she was still actively fighting the English.
Marie then fell ill, and this illness was so horrible that she couldn’t even speak sometimes. Even her mind was affected. She wrote her will and died of dropsy (though some people think she was poisoned) on June 11th, 1560, at the age of 44. Her body was secretly carried out at midnight and sent to France, where she had wanted to be buried. Mary, Queen of Scots, attended her funeral. Marie ended up being buried in the church of Saint-Pierre-les-Dames, which was probably a good thing because her sister, Renée, was abbess of the convent there. At least she was buried where people who liked her were.
In Reign, Queen Mary’s half-brother (James V’s illegitimate son) makes an appearance. In real life, he took over as regent after Marie’s death. The rest of Queen Mary’s story is really complicated and interesting, and it ends with her being executed by the cousin that Marie’s family had wanted her to take England from, Queen Elizabeth I.