The Rough Wooings: Mary Queen of Scots 1542-1551

The Rough Wooings: Mary Queen of Scots 1542-1551

The Rough Wooings: Mary Queen of Scots 1542-1551

The Rough Wooings: Mary Queen of Scots 1542-1551


Mary Queen of Scots was a daughter of debate from the week of her birth. The Rough Wooings for her hand in marriage were the last major war between Scotland and England. This is the story of her beginning, which involves the major figures of early modern history - such as Henry VIII and Francois I.


The day of 8 December in 1542 was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Sometime, probably on this very day, Marie de GuiseLorraine, Duchesse de Longueville and Queen of Scotland, second wife to her second husband, King James V of Scotland, was delivered of her fifth full-term child, a girl who very shortly was given her Christian name, Mary. Had her father lived to sire yet more children (highly likely given his redoubtable sexual potency and the obvious child-bearing capabilities of his wedded wife), the life of Princess Mary would have been interesting, but probably not very important. Fathers often react to the birth of their children with emotion. James did and died. Birth and death thus is all. James Stewart was the only surviving offspring of the union of his father, James IV, killed at Flodden 9 September 1513, and his mother, Margaret Tudor, elder sister to Henry VIII of England. Had he been possessed of brothers, the eldest would have succeeded as king. But Mary was ‘unique’ and thus on 14 December 1542 became Queen of Scotland.

Mary’s first public act on the stage of history was, of course, the actual moment when she physically emerged from her mother’s womb in the Queen’s bedroom at Linlithgow Palace. Royal births especially were public occasions. There had to be as many witnesses as possible for the start of such an individual’s life on this earth. She would then be under constant gaze (at meals, during walks, whilst taking a bath or during acts of urination and defecation), for she was the most important human being in this political and social unit: the kingdom of Scotland. It must never be possible for anyone to say that this woman was a changeling: not the legitimate offspring of her predecessor, the king.

Mary’s second public act would be her almost immediate baptism at the Kirk of

1 The weather was ferocious (‘tempestuous’ is the word Antonia Fraser employed in 1969): bitter cold and the Tweed deep in ice. Every history of Mary’s life begins with the weather, from D. Hay Fleming to the plethora of popular pot-boilers ground out by French hacks once mass literacy and cheap printing emerged in the nineteenth century. For this occasion in history, weather is not important (Linlithgow was quite well provided with fireplaces) and will not be further detailed.

2 The date of her baptism is not clear, but it must have been at this time.

3 One should not forget that when Princess Margaret was born, 21 August 1930, at Glamis Castle to the then Princess Elizabeth of York, the Home Secretary, J.R. Clynes, waited outside the delivery room so as to be the first to see this heir on behalf of Ramsay MacDonald’s government. Princess Margaret Rose was the first child in a direct line of succession to the British throne to be born in Scotland since Charles Is birth on 19 November 1600. I am grateful to Mrs. June Cross for telling me of the occasion and to the Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother for supplying me with details from the records.

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