Family trail

Follow the trail & enjoy 3 great royal residences!

> Mary of Guise Family Trail [pdf, 201kb]
Corneille de Lyon, Mary of Guise, 1515-1560. Queen of James V, Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Mary of Guise in Scotland


As a little girl growing up in France, Mary can hardly have imagined she would become queen of Scotland and one of the most powerful women the northern kingdom had ever seen. Nor could she have known how often death would deprive her of those she loved.

A young and beautiful widow, following the death of her first husband the Duke of Longueville, she arrived in Scotland in 1538 to meet her new husband James V. His own first wife, Princess Madeleine of France, had died the year before.

Mary soon had two sons but the infant princes, James and Robert, died within hours of each other in 1541 followed by the king in December 1542. Mary of Guise was left mourning at Linlithgow Palace, a widow for the second time, this time in a foreign land, cradling her six-day old daughter Mary, Queen of Scots.

Rather than being pushed aside by the Scottish noblemen who scrambled to fill the power vacuum, Mary made a stand. Using Stirling Castle as her main power-base she defended the rights of ‘The Little Queen’ and outwitted her rivals. In 1554 she became regent of Scotland.

Mary of Guise used political skill, backed by French money and troops, to repel invading English forces. The last great champion of the Auld Alliance, which had existed between Scotland and France since 1295, she fought for her beliefs right up to her death at Edinburgh Castle in June 1560. Only then did an Anglo-Scottish army overcome the determination of French defenders holding the port of Leith, making way for the Protestant Reformation to triumph.

All that Mary of Guise had worked for seemed to have crumbled. But the following year her Catholic daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots returned from France and stepped ashore at Leith to begin her personal rule of Protestant Scotland. And in 1566 a grandson was born, who later became James VI and I, uniting the Scottish and English thrones and ending centuries of strife.

Danger was never far from Mary of Guise. In 1548 she was fortunate to recover from a disease thought to be plague. Later, at the siege of Haddington, she was lucky to escape when 16 gentlemen and many others around her were killed by English gunfire.