Thoughts on my trip to Linlithgow Palace

In the early 1500s, Northern Europe was in religious ferment, with the Catholic Church being challenged in many countries by the new Protestant religion. Both of these churches struggled for supremacy, and both churches were bigoted and intolerant, seeing their rivals as heretics rather than fellow Christians.

Scotland was a poor nation with a small population, and although difficult to give a true and accurate number it is generally accepted that the population of Scotland be around 600,000 by the mid-16th century, whilst at that same time, the population of England and Wales would have been around 4,000,000 and France – the European superpower, approaching 20,000,000. Therefore Scotland was never a threat to English power unless it was allied with France.

In many ways Scotland at that time was not unlike Afghanistan today; a country with a weak central government, where much of the real power lay with warlords. And the similarity did not stop there, much like Afghanistan the country had been racked by war and the intervention of foreign powers. In the case of Scotland, we had England and France, in Afghanistan, the French, the British, the Russians, (although they were fighting on behalf of the central government against rebel fighters in the pay of the CIA) and NATO forces under US control.

I was reminded of all of this as I sat on the grass bank on the grounds of Linlithgow Palace, where in 1542 a young girl was born to Marie of Guise the second wife of King James V of Scotland. Marie had been married to Louis, Duke of Longueville, who died of smallpox, leaving Marie a widow of only 21 years, with two young sons, one of whom was to die in infancy. Her name was linked to Henry V111 as a possible marriage; Henry was reputed to have said, that he was a big man and needed a big wife, (Marie was nearly 6 foot tall as would her daughter grow to be) replied to friends – that although she was big, she had but a little neck. This was in reference to Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn’s remark when she was going to the executioner’s block, about having only a little neck.  

The King of England at the time was Henry V111, who had usurped the Pope’s authority and taken over, what was formerly the Catholic Church of England. The lines were now drawn; the Scottish King was a Catholic (as was his wife from the strong French Guise family.) This made for a fractured relationship between James and Henry and therefore between Scotland and England.

Marie gave birth to two sons by James V, both boys died in infancy within days of each other, in April 1541. Marie’s third child by James V was Princess Mary, who would become Mary Queen of Scots.     

When James learned of the birth of a daughter he is reported to have said,

“It came wi’ a lass, it will go wi’ a lass”

James 1 of Scotland was the first Stuart to become king through his marriage to Robert Bruce’s daughter. James thought it unlikely that a woman could successfully rule Scotland, and therefore he expected Mary’s reign to be short-lived, and for Mary to be the last Stuart monarch.

Mary was to spend the first seven months of her life in the palace at Linlithgow and was Christened in the Church of St Michael and at that time just outside the palace walls.

Following the death of her father, Mary as queen became a great prize, she had a kingdom to pass on and also a strong claim to the English crown, (a double-edged sword as it turned out.) it is to Mary’s credit that she was to rise above her expected role of marriage (as junior partner) for at that time it was male relatives that controlled the destiny of royal or aristocratic young women.  

Marie of Guise was very protective of the young queen, following the death of her father. The Scottish nobility was in dispute over who was to be regent and to have custody of Mary, having custody would allow the noble to control Scotland – rule in her name.

On the other side of the Scottish border Henry (like Broderick), had a ‘cunning plan’ he would have his five-year-old son, Edward, marry the infant Mary. This way he would win Scotland (something he could easily have done through invasion but holding it indefinitely against guerrilla warfare would be very costly.)

The Protestant lords wished for the marriage to go ahead for they saw Henry as an ally in their battle against Catholicism.

Mary’s mother was a committed Catholic, and French, and not only wished for her daughter to be brought up in the Catholic faith but for Scotland to remain a Catholic country, so she opposed the marriage.

In July 1543, after much politicking and no doubt, large bribes by Henry, the seven-month-old Mary was contracted by the Scottish Parliament to marry Prince Edward when she reached her 10th birthday, (The Treaty of Greenwich).

It was at this time that Marie moved her daughter from Linlithgow to the much more defensible Stirling Castle. Mary travelled in a litter with an escort of 3,500 troops provided by the nobles who were still in support of Marie; the fear was always that the infant would be kidnapped, for her mother was trying to get the Treaty of Greenwich annulled much against Henry’s will. So the risk from agents in the pay of England was real.

On the 9th of September 1543 in the Chapel Royal in Stirling Castle the nine-month-old, Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland – the coronation ceremony conducted by Cardinal David Beaton, the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland was very much in keeping with the Catholic tradition.  

The way that James’ ancestors from James 1st to James 4th met their ends gave some indication of the difficulty of ruling Scotland at that time.

James the first was stabbed to death in a sewer while trying to escape from a group of rebel nobles.

James the 2nd died when one of his canons exploded at the siege of Roxburgh Castle, which was being held by the English.

James the 3rd was killed or murdered, immediately after a battle against rebel nobles who wanted James’ son to rule instead.

James the 4th was killed by English soldiers when leading his troops at the Battle of Flodden. James the 4th was the last British monarch to die in battle. After James British monarchs allowed their armies to be led by professional soldiers, if they did attend the battle, they stayed well back!

This was the monarchy that Mary was heir to!

My next journey on the trail of Mary Queen of Scots will be Stirling Castle and the continuation of this story

Stay safe.   

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