There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots: Part One: Birth of a Queen

Our in-depth discussion of the life of Mary, Queen of Scot’s begins! In France! Just like Reign!


Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary Queen of Scots by Jennifer Morag Henderson

Embroidering Her Truth: Mary Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter

Mary Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy

Mary Was Here: where Mary Queen of Scots Went and what she did There by Historic Scotland

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Vulgar History Podcast

There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots: Part One: Birth of a Queen

May 24, 2023

Ann Foster:
Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. My name is Ann Foster, and this is a very special episode. So, this season, we’re looking at the story of Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s a season called There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots, and this is the first episode where we’re actually talking about Mary, Queen of Scots herself in a direct way. We’ve previously talked about her grandmother, Margaret Tudor, her mother Marie de Guise, and her mother-in-law, Catherine de’ Medici, and today we’re talking about Mary, herself. We’re beginning a long journée of discussing the whole situation of Mary, Queen of Scots. 

And I do want to say, because she’s kind of a big name, some people might be listening to this, and this is your first time listening to Vulgar History or whatever… So, just so you know what’s going on, my name is Ann, hi. And what this podcast is doing is talking about the stories of women in history in a way where there are jokes, we have a nice time, there are some strange-seeming – to you, maybe, a newcomer – inside jokes that, like, if you listen to other episodes, you’ll get it. But anyway, I’m going to swear, I’m going to talk very conversationally, that’s the deal, that’s what this podcast is about. There are so many other podcasts that tell stories of people, including the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, in a very historical, scripted way and if that’s what you want, that’s not what I’m giving you. [chuckles] I’m here to have a casual chat. I also see this podcast as, kind of, a dialogue. So, there are a couple of things in the episode that in previous episodes this season, I’ve gotten some facts not quite right, so I welcome well-intentioned corrections, especially of historical facts that I just flat-out get wrong and I’m going to mention some of those in this episode. 

Anyway, I hope you’re here for a good time because, I mean, Mary, Queen of Scots’s story, it’s famous, and what’s interesting about it is she has, for a long time, been a person I’ve been interested in. You should also know if you’re a newcomer to this podcast, that the TV show Reign, I consider to be the finest television series ever made so I’m going to be mentioning that as well, a lot. And honestly, it was that show that first started me learning more about Mary, Queen of Scots because the whole story… There are so many people in it, as a historical enthusiast, there are other stories that are more straightforward to understand. Like, if you look at the story of Cleopatra, or something, or even the story of Henry VIII and his six wives, there’s a narrative there that you can distill and abridge to explain it pretty well. Mary, Queen of Scots’s story – and why I’ve held off doing it on this podcast for so long even though she’s a person who is of great interest to me – is that it is so complicated. We’re in multiple different countries, there are so many characters. 

In this episode, Part One, we’re going to be focusing on the early years of her story, which is, I have to say, from just my past research I’ve done and then in researching this podcast as well, I realized is something I hadn’t really dived into a lot and it’s not a thing that people tend to dwell on when they’re retelling her story in things like movies or biographies because stuff happens, certainly, but it’s kind of like, the next part of her story is where things get more… I don’t know, there’s an impression that things get, not more interesting, but more, kind of like, telenovela adjacent. But I’m going to say it was like that from the beginning, for sure. But anyway, I was prepping for this podcast, and I was like, “I know the story,” blah-blah-blah. But I was looking back at past things I’ve written about Mary, Queen of Scots and I have a sentence or two being like, “Yeah, she grew up in France and then she came back to Scotland,” so it’s like, “Thanks past me for not delving into this.” But also, you know what, “Thanks past me.” Because since the last time I researched this, there are more books that have come out that really tell her story in new and interesting ways and it was really, I was just sending messages to a friend of the podcast and frequent collaborator, Lana Wood Johnson, being like, “Oh my god, Lana, did you know this? Did you know this?” And Lana, Mary, Queen of Scots is also one of her girls, she’s also a person in history– She’s read and re-read the classic Antonia Fraser biography of Mary, Queen of Scots over and over. And there are details I was telling Lana that she also didn’t know!

So, this is the story and I’m going to be telling this from a point of view of explaining everything because even to people who know this story, like myself, a refresher is useful. But also, I have been reminded by two different people have actually messaged me in the last little while, the last few months, listeners, members of the tits out brigade– New listeners, just so you know, the fandom of this podcast is called the tits out brigade and they are a brigade and they’re impressive and great people and welcome, now you’re one of them, if you’re listening to this, you’re in the brigade. Anyway, so two tits out brigade members separately messaged me just to say, they’re enjoying the podcast – obviously, I mean, that’s why they’re in the brigade – but also, I haven’t ever done an episode about Queen Elizabeth I, for instance. I did a whole season previously about Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth appears there, here, and there; she’s popped up in a couple of other episodes too, generally just being mad that somebody got married without her permission. But these people were saying that they didn’t know the story of Queen Elizabeth so they’re kind of coming at it sideways from me inserting her as, sort of, a tertiary character in these other people’s stories. And one of them mentioned that they kind of don’t know the story of Anne Boleyn either and I was like, “You know what, I can’t assume anyone listening to this knows any facts, so I’m just going to try to explain everything.” And I hope that if you do know this story really well, especially I know people in Scotland who know the story really well and the place names, and pronunciations, please know I’m doing my best. 

So yeah, this is Part One of numerous episodes about Mary herself. I thought I was going to be able to cover twice as much in today’s episode as I was able to because there’s a lot, there’s a lot; this is going to be numerous episodes. I wanted to let you know also, I always do my best to cite my sources when I’m doing these episodes in case you want to read more about this. So, I got my facts from a variety of places including, a website that, I don’t know, now in the age of ChatGPT, I feel like the way that people are like, “Oh Wikipedia, that information is not good, don’t use it as a source.” I feel like, yeah, like any source it’s fallible and it relies on the information that’s given to it by people, but it’s then vetted. Versus ChatGPT which I’ve heard or seen people have been using for historical research and ChatGPT is, like, inventing fake book names and getting main facts wrong. Anyway, you know what,, I respect them, I give them a monthly donation and I’m not going to hear any slander about them not being good. I like them as a first line of defense and a lot of what I used them for in this was just like, fact-checking, like, “Who is that one? Who is this person called James?” Reader, or listener, [chuckles softly] in the Mary, Queen of Scots Wikipedia page, there are 44 mentions of the name James and they’re not all about one person. There are a lot of people in this story, all called James. So anyway, this is where I’ve just been like, “He’s the Earl of what? Who is that?” So, fact-checking is where I was using them. 

The main books. So, there’s a book that the listener sent to me, and I’m so sorry I don’t have your name off-hand, it’s somewhere in my messages, but I super appreciate this. It’s somebody who, I forget if they’re in Scotland or they visited Scotland, and they saw that this book was in the gift shops and it’s called Mary Was Here: Where Mary, Queen of Scots Went and What She Did There, it’s a publication put out by Historic Scotland. It’s sort of like a large gift book with lots of pictures in it and it goes castle by castle and also retells the story of Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s such a lovely book and thank you so much to the person who couriered that to me. There’s also a book called Embroidering Her Truth: Mary Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter, which is a book all about textiles and embroidery and Mary, Queen of Scots and that’s going to be something, pardon the pun, that’s going to be woven throughout the whole story because she was a big embroiderer and textiles are a big part of this story. So, that’s a recent-ish book; I think it came out last year in the UK and it’s coming out in North America soon. I also looked at a book called Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary, Queen of Scots by Jennifer Morag Henderson which talks more about other parts of Scotland, besides just Edinburgh where Mary went. And then also, the biography Mary, Queen of Scots the True Life of Mary Stuart, sometimes it has different titles, sometimes it’s just called Queen of Scots, sometimes it’s called Mary Stuart. Anyway, it’s by John Guy and that’s a book that was, I guess, optioned and it was the basis for the Saoirse Ronan, Mary, Queen of Scots movie. Anyway, it’s a very thorough biography of Mary, Queen of Scots. 

And my first correction… We’re getting into the story. In, I believe the Marie de Guise episode, and that’s Mary, Queen of Scots’s mom, there was some incorrect information given in that episode about who was the first King of Scots. In that episode we said it was Robert the Bruce and that is incorrect; I was corrected by two different Scottish people and I’m here to better explain to you the history of monarchy in Scotland and this ties into the whole story because you know Mary, Queen of Scots is called Mary, Queen of Scots, she’s not called Mary Queen of Scotland. 

So, it’s always been a role that’s the monarch of the people not of the land which is a distinction that is important. So, according to tradition, the first King of Scots was Kenneth MacAlpin, who founded the state in the year 843. And originally, this was the Kingdom of the Picts which became known as the Kingdom of Alba in Scottish Gaelic, which later became known in Scots – Scots being its own language, which is different from English but kind of sounds like English with a really strong accent, the same way that, I don’t know, like, German kind of sounds like English with an accent. Anyway so, Scots and English, instead of the Kingdom of Alba started calling it Scotland and Kenneth MacAlpin is the first King of Scots. And then, you know, England… I said this out loud as just thinking to myself in a previous episode where it’s like, “Were England and Scotland just always at war?” Yes, listeners. Yes. Because they share a land border, it’s not like there’s a river or there’s two different… It’s just, like, now you’re in Scotland, now you’re in England; of course, that would kind of go back and forth where exactly the border is and there would be fighting. Kenneth MacAlpin, first King of Scots, and then England took over for a while. But then in 1306, Robert the Bruce successfully won the land back from England. 

Robert the Bruce had a daughter called Marjorie, great name, love the name Marjorie. Is that not a Taylor Swift song title? Anyway, so Robert the Bruce had a daughter called Marjorie. Marjorie married… Basically, there’s a whole thing about the Stewart family, she married someone who was a Stewart and that kind of combined the Bruce family with the Stewart family and so then the first Stewart monarch was Robert the Stewart in 1371. So, Robert the Stewart was the grandson of Robert the Bruce. There’s a thing about how the Stewart dynasty started with a lass, started with a woman, and that woman was Marjorie. And then later people are going to be like, “It went in with a lass and it went out with a lass,” and the lass, or girl – which I think ‘lass’ is Scots word for ‘girl’ – was Marjorie, the daughter of Robert the Bruce. So, it’s like, Robert the Bruce had a daughter called Marjorie, Marjorie married a guy and then their son was– Actually, her spouse was Walter Stewart, the 6th High Steward of Scotland. So, Marjorie and Walter had a baby, and that baby was King Robert II of Scotland, the first Stewart monarch. 

I’m just going to say now, hot take, based on what I’ve been reading, the Stewart dynasty was a disaster top to bottom, T to B. And I don’t mean them personally doing things that were disastrous, it’s just, like, I think there’s kind of a curse because shitty things just kept happening to, like, almost all of the Stewart monarchs. So, Robert the Stewart was in his 40s or 50s when he came to power so he couldn’t rule “vigorously” because I guess maybe he had some illnesses or things. And then his son, also called Robert, suffered lasting damage in a horse-riding accident so he also wasn’t able to rule, “vigorously.” And then there was a series of regencies like a bunch of, just, a boy king. I think it was, yeah, five boy kings happened. 

So, when you have a boy king, then someone needs to be the regent, someone needs to do the day-to-day ruling-type stuff. Enter the Scottish asshole lords, who we’ve mentioned before in the Marie de Guise episode. If you haven’t heard those episodes yet, just know, there are these men who are the nobles of Scotland and they’re just this amorphous blob of, just, suck. They’re the Scottish asshole lords. And they got more and more power because every time the new king ended up being a boy because the dad died, then they were like, “Oh well, the King is a child so we, the asshole lords, need to rule in his stead.” So, they just, kind of like, generationally acquired more and more power and influence. So yeah, they usurped power from the crown so when those boy kings – like, these five boy kings – became adults, they would try to attempt to address the issues created by having been a boy king but then they would die leaving the next boy king and it just kept happening. So, the powerful nobility became increasingly intractable, a word which, here, means assholes. 

Then we have James I, so he attempted to straighten this out, curb the disorder of the realm, and he was assassinated. And then there’s James II, this is of Scotland; James II of England, whole other guy, years later. James III King of Scots was killed in a civil war between himself and the nobility, the civil war was led by his son, James IV. So, James IV did an okay job of suppressing the asshole lords and trying to be like, “Okay, I’m going to be the king and I’m going to have some power here. Let’s go.” He was the one who was married to Margaret Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII, but then James IV died in a battle and then Margaret Tudor stepped up to be regent for this next boy king but eventually she was unseated by the asshole lords. And that boy king, the son of Margaret Tudor was Mary, Queen of Scots’s dad, James V, or as I’m going to call him, J5. 

So, J5 married a French woman named Marie de Guise. He also prior to that, and during that I’m going to say, had a whole lot of illegitimate children. So, Mary, Queen of Scots had numerous half-siblings, several of whom are going to come up in this story. But Mary, Queen of Scots was the first legitimate child, born to the wife of J5. And, here we are, she’s born. 

So, Mary, she’s born on December 8, 1542, at Linlithgow Palace in Scotland. And so, I was telling you about that book that was written by Historic Scotland, and it talks about all the palaces and where Mary went and when. She went to so many different places and I feel like one of her legacies is just to the tourism industry of Scotland because she went to so many places and every place can be like, “Mary, Queen of Scots was here.” So, if you’re there, if you visit there, one of the places to visit would be Linlithgow Palace, that is where she was born. 

It was snowy because it was Scotland in December and I’m not going to architecturally describe all the palaces because there are, like, 75 characters to tell you about also, but Linlithgow is notable, and it recurs so I’m just going to tell you what’s up with it a little bit. So, Mary, Queen of Scots’s mom, Marie de Guise, was born and raised in France, very French person, she’s also from the de Guise family who are wealthy and powerful. And Marie de Guise, she liked French architectural style, she liked French fashion style. So, she had redesigned Linlithgow Palace, which was already kind of built in a quasi-French style, but she redesigned it in the manner of a French château. So, this was one of her fav places to go; she did not want to be in Scotland but if she’s going to be there, she’s going to make it feel like home to her. 

And just a moment to pause and talk about her de Guise family because they’re very important and if you haven’t listened to the Marie de Guise episodes yet, here’s what’s up. So, the de Guise family was one of the most powerful noble families in France. It was comprised of a lot of very powerful men – some of these were her uncles, some of these were her brothers – all under the leadership, the matriarch of this family was Marie de Guise’s mom, Antoinette de Bourbon, who was very powerful and good at what she did and really allowed this family to just rise, and rise, and rise, and keep flourishing. I was going to almost do an episode about Antoinette de Bourbon, but it wasn’t a Vulgar History episode because she just, like, did great. There’s not any drama; when she was faced with a challenge, she met it and overcame it. It’s a good way to live your life but not a Vulgar History-type story. 

So, Mary, Queen of Scots is born in Linlithgow Palace; her mom, Marie de Guise, and her dad, J5, not on the scene for her birth because he was off fighting the English. There’s a whole thing and long-time listeners of this podcast know, I’m not here to share with you the stories of battles and, like, paperwork of treaties, but there are some that I’m going to have to describe to you in this podcast because otherwise the story won’t make any sense. 

So, just know, if you picture geographically, we’ve got England, Scotland is to the north of England and France is, like, to the east of that. They’re all kind of close together. And so, the Scots considered England the auld enemy, auld is a word in, I’m going to guess, Scots language. So, because England and Scotland had been at war, on and off for hundreds of years, right, Scotland was an ally of the French, French was an ally of Scotland; the main thing they had in common was Scotland and France both hated England. And so, France kind of saw Scotland could be, kind of like, little France, like France could maybe make that be France and then once they had that they could maybe take over England. Whereas England was like, “We could take over Scotland and then we could take over France.” So, England and France were much bigger, more powerful countries, both had their eyes on Scotland. And so, Scotland, they’re allied with the French against the English, basically. This is why Mary’s dad J5 had married a French woman, Marie de Guise, just to keep that alliance clear in everyone’s minds. 

So, just for contrast, England at this point, like, the 16th century, had a population of around 3.5 million; Scotland had a population at this time of around 850,000. So, England is much bigger, there are more people there, more population density. At this point in Edinburgh, which was the largest Scottish town in the south, the Lowlands of Scotland, there were about 13,000 people there which was about one-fifth the population of London, so England was just a bigger place. France, also a bigger place, more people. But Scotland was just located in this really useful spot that both England and France, kind of, wanted it, wanted to take over. 

And let’s talk about Scotland in this era for a minute because that’s also important. I mentioned the Lowlands before. So, between about a third and half of the population lived in the Highlands which is toward the north of Scotland. If you think of things like Outlander, the TV show, that’s the Highlands. So, about a third to half the population lived there, wearing their kilts, speaking their own language, having their clans, and then the rest of the population, so two-thirds ish, lived in the more prosperous and cosmopolitan Lowlands region. So, the King, J5, was advised by the asshole lords, AKA, technically the Scottish Parliament, and this is meant to represent the whole country, but it did not. So, the Highland clans, as you may know, again from Outlander, which is set, like, 200 years after this or, like, the movie musical, Brigadoon. So, the Highland clans consider themselves separate and there was an unspoken rule that the Highlanders and the Lowlanders didn’t fuck with each other, they just kind of, like, ignored each other and that’s how we could get on with our days. So, many highlanders spoke Gaelic, or Gallic, rather than Scots and this added to the cultural differences. So, while Scotland, is it a kingdom? Is it a country? All one thing, there was the King of Scots, but there was a real division between the Lowlands and the Highlands. 

So again, Mary is just being born, she’s a little baby, J5 is off fighting the English and speaking of the English, and the King of England at this point was goddamn Henry VIII who I feel needs no introduction. But just so you know, he had six wives, the musical Six will explain that whole story to you. And if you’re familiar with Henry VIII’s deal, at the point where Mary was born, he was between, he was currently single, he was between his fifth and sixth wives. So, Catherine Howard had been executed 10 months before Mary, Queen of Scots was born and 7 months after Mary, Queen of Scots was born, Henry VIII married his sixth wife, Catherine Parr who I talked about in a previous episode in a previous season. So, this is like, late-career Henry VIII and he had spent most of his adult life really hating Scotland, hating the Scots, the Scottish people. He didn’t like how they allied with the French, he wanted to conquer Scotland so that he could then take over France and have one big empire that’s, like, where France would be under this domain also. That was his big goal. Anyway, so that’s who the King of England is at this point. 

J5, Mary’s dad, lost a battle, he was upset about that because it was a pretty major loss. He was not on the scene as Mary, Queen of Scots was being born but then a messenger came and told him that his wife had a baby and he was like, “Great!” But then he found out it was a girl, and he was just like, “Nooooo, oh no,” because, just, you know, this is, like, a sexist, misogynist, patriarchal culture and a son would just be easier. There had been so many boy kings and it hadn’t been great, but everyone was used to that. But a girl queen, he’s just like, “Well, that’s it then for this dynasty.” And this is where he allegedly said, “It will end as it began. It came from a woman, and it will end in a woman,” or “It came from a lass, and it will end wee a lass.” By which he means, the Stewart dynasty started with Marjorie, and I guess he’s saying, “Well, now that this daughter has been born, God dammit, the dynasty is going to end.” Au contraire! But that’s spoilers. 

And I’m really trying to be mindful, in this episode and in all the Mary, Queen of Scots episodes, to not let you know what’s going to happen next. I’m coming from a place and a lot of the biographies I read are also coming from a place where you kind of assume that a reader might know this story so you just kind of want to tie things to what happens in the future. But a lot of you don’t know this story and I want you to be as shocked and appalled by the plot twists as possible. So, we’re going to meet lots of people and I’m not going to tell you what way to think about them, maybe they’re going to be okay, maybe they’re not. I’m just going to try and be, like, really in the moment here. 

Anyway, so James, to him, he’s just like, “Well, fuck this Stewart dynasty. That’s done. The end.” And then he died of illness, his symptoms included, “Marvelous vomit and a great lax,” AKA diarrhea, so probably dysentery from drinking water with poo in it as so many people died of before we, the human race, knew to not shit near your water source. So, J5 himself, he had become king aged 17 months when his own father had died and now, he, like, in the Stewart way was leaving a new baby monarch. The asshole lords were just, kind of, like, “Yes, we’ve come to expect this.” Anyway, so you think 17 months old is young to be a monarch, guess what? Mary, Queen of Scots, 6 days old and she is now the Queen so, like, let’s go. 

So, Mary herself. She was named Mary after her mother, so her mother is Marie de Guise, but the Scots and English version of Marie is Mary. And also, this is an era in time where people really, just, spelling, even within a document, I think, you’re just kind of like, “Meh, how are we going to spell this today? I don’t care.” So, she’s named Mary after her mother which long-time tits out brigade members will know, there is a Vulgar History bingo card, you can find it on my highlights on Instagram, maybe I’ll put it on the website too. Anyway, one of the spots on the bingo card is, “When a woman names a daughter after herself,” because I just love it. I appreciate that. I think there’s been so much in history where a man names his son after him so when a woman names the daughter after herself, I think that’s great, and I feel like let’s bring it back. She’s also named Mary because her birthday was December 8th which is a day celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church as the day that the Virgin Mary had been conceived. Her mother was a big ol’ Catholic, so too was Scotland a Catholic nation. That becomes important later. 

So, as she was 6 days old, obviously, they had to find someone who was an adult to be in charge of running everything, AKA a regent. And so, I think largely because of the succession of boy kings, and the ascension of the asshole lords, monarchy in general as an institution in Scotland was not as strong as in other countries. Like, in England, Henry VIII had ultimate power. Over in France, the French king had so much power and influence. But in Scotland, it was kind of, like, the monarch and/or regent had to keep a delicate balance of the constantly scheming, asshole lords, who kind of saw themselves… They just kind of saw themselves as, like, co-kings and you couldn’t just tell them what to do because then they would assassinate you as they had done to previous kings. Anyway, so they’re like, “Who is going to be the new regent?” So, of course, all the asshole lords are like, “Me!”, like all of them and then there’s infighting. 

One candidate for the role of regent is a guy called David Beaton who is a Catholic cardinal and had been friends with Mary’s dad, J5. And David Beaton, like, I know I was just like, “I’m going to let you discover for yourself”… He sucks, just know, he sucks. And if you know the musical Brigadoon – I don’t know how much of a niche reference that is, I’m a big theatre kid, so to me, it’s not – but there’s a song in that where there’s a character in it called Harry Beaton who runs away and there’s a song where they’re kind of yelling in this echoey way, they’re, like, yell-singing, “Haaa-rrry Bea-tooon” so every time I have the name David Beaton in my notes, I have it written out like, “Daaa-vid Bea-tooon.” Anyway, he sucks. So, one of the things he did was he faked a will because J5 died and no one thought he was going to, which it’s like, given the previous five monarchs of Scotland, maybe you should have written a will; you’re going off to war, write a will. Anyway, he hadn’t. But David Beaton was like, “He totally did write a will, and wouldn’t you know, he left everything to me including I should be the regent or king,” or something. Everyone was like, “No, fuck you, you’re obviously lying,” and he was. But he had, like, a faction, he was kind of like the most powerful Catholic asshole lord, so the Catholics were like, “Great, him. He can be the regent, even though he sucks.” 

The other option for regent was a Protestant person named James Hamilton the Earl of Arran. We’re going to call him Arran because he’s going to be in this a lot and like I mentioned before, 44 different people named James. So, Arran was actually next in line to the throne after Mary because even though J5 had had all these illegitimate children, that’s not how things worked for King of Scots, illegitimate children wouldn’t be named the next king. So, Arran, his paternal grandmother was the eldest daughter of James II so basically, he’s a distant relative, he’s descended in a roundaboutsy way from the kings of Scots and so he was chosen as Regent Arran. And basically, everybody supported him because David Beaton sucks. Marie de Guise did not support him but we get into that in the Marie de Guise episodes, and one of the reasons she did not support him is he was Protestant and she was Catholic and she was like, “I feel like if we choose a Protestant regent, this country is going to become Protestant and that’s, like, the number one thing I don’t want to have happen.” 

Note about Arran, he also sucked, there are no good options here. So, here’s some description of him from, like, biographies. So, “He was weak, vacillating, cowardly,” and he throughout his life would switch back and forth between being Catholic and Protestant, just like a little greabley worm, depending on what would suit him better. So, he’s not like, “I’m Protestant and this is meaningful to me!” He was just like, “I’ll choose whatever religion I need to get some more power,” or whatever. So again, another reason why Marie de Guise didn’t want him, because he sucked. Marie de Guise is a great source for a great quote, she is responsible for a great quote, “Where is your God now, John Knox?” which is available on merch at But here’s another great Marie de Guise quote. She described Arran as, “A simple and the most inconstant man in the world, for whatsoever he determined today, he changeth tomorrow.” So, he would just change depending on whatever. 

This all happened. Henry VIII down in England he’s like, “Great, here’s my plan. I propose you send baby Queen Mary, Queen of Scots to England, she’ll grow up here.” And Henry VIII at this point had a five-year-old son who was called Edward and he’s like, “We’ll send Mary here, she can marry Edward when they come of age and then they’ll be kind of like co-monarchs, and eventually that will lead to England subsuming Scotland and all being one big country. Thank you so much.” Marie de Guise was like, “Fuck you, no,” and then she used her cleverness and beauty to usurp control from the asshole lords. Again, that’s all in her episode, can’t get into that here, we’ve already been talking for a really long time. 

So, knowing that Henry was just, kind of like, really excited to invade Scotland some more, she moved baby Mary from Linlithgow to a castle called Stirling which was better fortified, so it would be harder for people to come and try to kidnap her or whatever. Stirling is a castle – which you can still visit today in Scotland – it’s a fortress at the top of a steep rock and it’s also near enough to the coast that, like, ships could get there so if France was going to come and help out, they could easily reach her there. She said, “I’m going to do this,” and Arran, who was technically in charge, was like, “Mm, not going to let you do that.” And she was like, “Watch me,” and she did. 

And so, at this point, as she’s like going to Stirling, another guy comes on the scene who unfortunately matters and his name is Matthew Stewart the Earl of Lennox, we’re going to call him Lennox for short. So, Lennox was the head of a minor branch of the Stewart family, every goddamn person in this story has the surname Stewart because Stewart was a family before they were the monarchs, and then all the kings had illegitimate children so it’s just, like, the last name of everybody. Anyway, Matthew Stewart was a French subject, he was also one of the asshole lords. So, should something happen to Arran, he had a claim to maybe be a good regent next too. He also had a scheme that he was like, “Mmm, if I can seduce Marie de Guise then I can marry her and then I’ll be the regent and maybe kind of the king, and then I can take over,” blah-blah-blah. And Marie de Guise was like, “Whatever, this guy is useful.” So, she got him to provide bodyguards. And when you think bodyguards you think, maybe one guy, maybe ten guys. Lennox provided 2,500 cavalry and 1,000 infantry and that was who escorted Marie de Guise and baby Mary to Stirling and to safety. Guess what? They got there safely!

So then, the asshole lords are just scrambling, scrambling. Arran, like the greabley little guy he is, agreed to work together with David Beaton because I don’t care but whatever. All this put together means that Mary got to be crowned as Queen at a little coronation for a baby, little baby coronation, little baby crown. So, Marie de Guise, she’s 28 years old, gorgeous, I didn’t mention that in this episode yet, but she is and people mention that she’s really charismatic as well. She’s like 6 feet tall, and I don’t mean, “She’s like 6 feet…” She literally was 6 feet tall; she was so tall for a woman in that era in that time and place. Gorgeous, beautiful, so smart, like, every scheming asshole wanted to marry her or get her to marry their son, or marry themselves to the baby, or have their son marry baby Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s just a woman and her daughter and everyone was like, “If we can marry either of them, we, the men, will have so much power and take over Scotland.” But Marie de Guise played them off each other masterfully, again we talk about that in the Marie de Guise episodes. 

So, one of the guys who wanted to marry her was Lennox. Another guy who is, like, a main guy who wanted to marry her was named Patrick Hepburn, no relation to my cat whose name is Hepburn, no relation, I just really want to emphasize. So, Patrick Hepburn was the Earl of Bothwell, and he was a shitty person who had been exiled by J5 to Denmark for being “Unruly.” So, like, I don’t know if Denmark was previously like how for a while England would send prisoners to Australia, was Denmark just a place you send people to? I don’t know. Anyway, he was just newly back in town being like, “What’s up fellow Scots?” And eventually, he spread a rumour that Marie de Guise was choosing him which was not true, but Lennox heard the rumour, believed it, and was so mad that he switched teams entirely, he suddenly decided to team up with Henry VIII. He went to England and married Henry VIII’s niece, who is called Margaret Douglas, who we’ve spoken about in a previous episode in a previous season, the Women Trapped in Towers season. And they’re going to have a son who is going to become important later on, so I wanted to let you know who he was and how he sucked. 

Anyway, wars are happening, England and Scotland. Mary is a literal toddler and she’s kept safe in Stirling Castle but the people around her had a plan where if shit got real, they would maybe take her off to the Highlands where she could maybe be better hidden if needed. Scotland did not do amazing in these battles, everyone blamed Arran, because he probably was to blame. Meanwhile, Marie de Guise was popular, and she managed to get a seat at the table with the asshole lords, and her French relatives, the de Guises, helped out with war stuff. Also, I love this detail I hadn’t read before, they heard that she didn’t have any good wine on hand, so they sent her good French wine from France which, god knows, she needed at this point. 

Anyway, David Beaton is still on the scene and he’s just being, like, Catholic and there’s a guy who he decided to execute by… what do you call it when you, like, light them on fire? But he also put gunpowder on the fire, so it was really dramatic. But the guy who he burned was actually really popular and also nice and even the Catholics liked him, so it was a pretty shitty thing to do. This made people upset, especially the Protestants and so, he got himself assassinated by a group of asshole lords from his own hometown including a man named Norman Leslie, who I’m just mentioning. He doesn’t come up in the story again, I don’t think, but I… I’m not descended from Norman Leslie but there is the surname Leslie in my heritage, and I like to think that maybe someone who I’m descended from was involved in killing this shitty guy. [laughs] And I like this detail too, so David Beaton, they came in, they captured him in his house, and then before they assassinated him, they forced him to listen to a long-winded sermon. They’re just like, “Rah, rah, rah Protestantism is great. Blah blah blah.” And then he was stabbed, and his naked body hung from the castle walls by knotting sheets together to make a rope. I share these details just to say, this is what it was like in Scotland at this time, the asshole lords were just like, stabbing people. A bunch of them after this stayed in his home and then they kind of barricaded themselves in there. Anyway, the French eventually got them and captured them and sent them off to France and one of those people was John Knox, who we’re going to talk about later. 

Anyway, so he’s dead, David Beaton, he was the chancellor. So, the asshole lords are like, “Shit, we need a new chancellor because we just killed that one.” And so, as the new chancellor, they chose a man who was the Earl of Huntley, AKA George Gordon, and I think you’ll understand why I refer to him solely by his nickname which was Cock o’ the North. So, Cock o’ the North was extremely influential and important, and we will talk to him in later episodes in more detail, but I just wanted to let you know that this is when he’s on the scene, in this context. He was a Catholic and all the people in the northern bits of Scotland, like the Highlands and also other parts in the north, saw him as, kind of like, their leader, not their king but you know how in Game of Thrones, Ned Stark was in charge of northern Westeros? It’s kind of like that vibe. But Cock o’ the North, cooler than Ned Stark. 

Anyway, so Henry VIII died and his son, Edward became boy king over there, so many boy kings in this story. So much has been going on. When they first were like, “He should marry Mary,” he was 5, now he’s 9, and then two months later, the king in France died leaving the new king in France was an adult Henri II who is the husband of Catherine de’ Medici, who we’ve talked about before in previous episodes. And so, the de Guise family, Mary’s maternal family, were super powerful, and they were heavily advising the King and they were like, “You know what? You should have your son,” the French dauphin – which is the word for heir to the throne in France – the de Guises were like, “You should marry the dauphin to Mary, Queen of Scots, our baby niece.” 

At around the same time, goddamn John Knox is here. So, David Beaton had been assassinated by the asshole lords for burning a man. So, the burned man had been one of John Knox’s mentors, John Knox was described as one of his bodyguards. So, John Knox was one of the people who stayed in the castle after the assassination then they were captured by the French, and then he, along with these other guys, were forced to row in French galleys – which was their version of prison – for 18 months, which is big Jean Valjean energy from Les Misérables. Anyway, but then it’s just, like, England, France, Scotland, who is allying with who and when, where, and why? But at this point, for some reason, the English arranged for his release and so we went to London, and this is because England, Edward is the new king, Protestantism is happening there and they’re like, “Well, these Jean Valjean guys are Protestants so all right, John Knox goes to England.” The person who mediated his release was a young secretary named William Cecil, who is going to become important later. John Knox got a job as chaplain to the boy King of England. I regret to inform you; John Knox is going to come up numerous times throughout the rest of these episodes. 

Anyway, more wars are happening, Mary, age 4.75 had to be carried away at one point to Inchmahome Priory, a remote spot on an island in the Lake of Menteith, which just seemed like a safer place for her to be for a while. And there are these beautiful trees there that apparently date back to her time there and so you can picture this little, almost 5-year-old Mary being like, “Everything is chaos, but it’s nice here, I guess.” So then, Arran, still there, made a deal with the French king in which Arran was named the Duke of Châtellerault and he was promised a bride for his son who we’re going to call Arran Jr. because his son is also called James. And then also, plans were finalized to marry Mary, Queen of Scots to the French Dauphin Francis, who is one year younger than her. And so, you know what, at this point, it’s like, “Thank god she’s going to France, Scotland is just like… who wants to be there at that point?” 

So, to get ready for this international move, Mary was moved to Dumbarton Castle, which used to belong to goddamn Lennox but had been confiscated from him when he switched to team Henry VIII. Well, there she caught either measles or smallpox which was just like, “Fuck, what are we going to do if she dies?” But she did not, she got better. So, one day in late July, Mary aged 5-and-a-half kissed her mother goodbye and boarded the royal galley of Henri II. So, the journey was rough, there was something, like, they got on the ship and had to stay on the ship for a week before the ship could even set sail because the journey was so rough. But this is where we learn that Mary, Queen of Scots had a superpower that I share, which is iron stomach; I do not get carsick, I do not get seasick. I don’t know why I’m so lucky, but I do not, and neither did she. Everyone else on the ship was puking their guts out and she was fine. 

And so, who else was on the ship? Well, she was accompanied by her own court including four friends whose names were all Mary. They were four girls, her own age, all called Mary. I saw a rumour that they all had to change their names to Mary so they could have the same name as her but, just, no, everyone just had the same name. The four Marys – I’m not getting into them too much now because they’re going to have their own episode later – were the daughters of some of the most noble families in Scotland: Beaton, Seton, Fleming, and Livingston. So, Mary Fleming is one of the Marys, apparently, when they were stuck on the ship for a week and they couldn’t leave, she’s got an attitude, she’s got some personality, she’s just like, “Get me off this ship!” They wouldn’t let her. 

Also coming along was a governess. So, Mary Fleming is one of the four Marys, her mom, Janet, is also the governess to Mary, Queen of Scots. I just need to let you know that Janet Fleming was gorgeous, she was curvaceous and vivacious and just know that people in France are going to be very interested in her. Also on the ship was one of Mary, Queen of Scots’s illegitimate half-siblings, a half-brother, whose name is James Stewart, which is also the name– Again, lots of people called James, had to think of a nickname and the first one that came to mind was James Stewart, Jimmy Stewart, the Hollywood actor from It’s a Wonderful Life and Vertigo. So, I’m going to always call this guy Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, by which I mean, Mary, Queen of Scots’s illegitimate half-brother. So, he was older than her, he was 17, she was 5, he was going to Paris to go to university. So, Mary eventually arrived. Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici at this point had, I think, four children. So, Mary was 5, Francis her child fiancé was 4, and then there are also girls, Elisabeth, there’s Claude, a younger brother named Louis, who would sadly die of measles before his second birthday and later four more children join the nursery, Charles, Henri, Marguerite, AKA Queen Margot, who we’ve done an episode about, and then another son also called Francis. So basically, she’s coming over and she gets to grow up in the royal nursery with the princes and princesses who were, like, of similar age. That’s nice. 

So, Mary at this point spoke Scots and almost no French, so it became a French immersion situation. In fact, the four Marys were sent away because they didn’t want her to have too many Scottish people around her, they wanted her to be surrounded by basically French people only. So, the four Marys were sent off to a convent school elsewhere but don’t worry, they’re going to come back. Her governess, Janet, became a mistress of the King because she was gorgeous, she was fubs and gorgeous. She ended up having his child and at that point, she was sent back to Scotland and Mary got a different governess who was not sexy. But yeah, she was deliberately severed from her native culture and encouraged to form new attachments with her new French acquaintances. Because she was being sent to France to be the Queen of France, presumably, she would live in France for the rest of her life. 

So Francis, her boy fiancé, was known to be frail and sickly so she, quite astutely, this little 5-year-old Mary, figured out she needed to compensate because the two of them are to become a team, she knew they were going to get married when they got older. So, she had to, kind of like, mask his deficiencies and be like, “Oh, what my husband meant to say was this.” And she was good at it, she grew very close with him, they delighted in each other, and they got along super well. Again, he’s just one year younger than her so they’re similar in age, their delight in each other caused one observer to remark, “The Dauphin cares for her and cares for her like his sweetheart and his wife and it is easy to judge that God caused them to be born for each other.” And if you’ve watched Reign the TV show, like, Mary and Francis, I ship it, those two together. So yeah, she’s just growing up in France. 

Two years later, she’s just in France growing up, and I’m going to explain her education stuff in a minute, but she didn’t see her mom for two years. Marie de Guise came to visit because her dad had died, and she wanted to check in and see what was going on in France. While she was visiting though, a plot was uncovered to assassinate Mary, Queen of Scots which is one of those from the David Beaton assassination, like, these guys, not John Knox, a different guy. So, this guy came to France with a plan to assassinate Mary by poisoning her, by getting in cahoots with the chef, he wanted to poison her favourite dessert, frittered pears. But then he was found out, the guy was discovered, he fled to first Ireland and then to Scotland, but he was caught and sent back to France for trial and execution. So, again, Season 1, Episode 1 of Reign starts with someone trying to poison her, so like, accurate. Anyway, so that all happened, she didn’t die, Marie de Guise wound up going back to Scotland. Also, during the same time… Marie de Guise had had, we talked about this in the other episode, but she had had a son with her first husband who was in France and that son died while she was visiting so, sad. 

Anyway, in her absence, Mary, Queen of Scots, her new mentor was her mother’s brother Charles, or as I call him, Uncle Charlie the Cardinal of Lorraine. He was the boldest and most experienced politician in Henri’s court. Her other uncle Francis Duke of Guise also helped out in a mentor sort of way, and he’s sort of like a surrogate father, and she would always love him the rest of her life, she really looked up to him and had a close relationship with him. When she was 11, Uncle Charlie came up with a plan to declare her of age, which usually would be when she was 15 or 18. He wanted to be like, “She can be Queen now, so she doesn’t need a regent anymore,” because they wanted to dismiss useless Arran and name Marie de Guise as the regent and the French king agreed and then this happened. So, at this point, Mary, she wasn’t in the nursery anymore, she had her own household, she was also in the midst of various growth spurts, she needed lots of new outfits, and she wanted to keep up with all the trends like getting monograms sewn onto her dresses and stuff. 

And at around the same time, so when she was, like, a tweenage person, she fell seriously ill for the first time we know of. She’d had measles before, but this was startling to people. So, Mary in general, it’s sort of giving me Empress Sisi energy, she’s very athletic, she loved to go horseback riding, and she was, like, playing tennis. She was very athletic and seemingly quite healthy, but she had this health crisis. And this recurs in her life so I’m going to talk about it for just a minute. So often, this was triggered by anxiety or stress, and sometimes these periods – not periods like menstrual periods –these attacks, for lack of a better word, sometimes would last for days, sometimes for weeks, and afterward she would bounce back, like, almost right away. So potentially, like her later descendant George III, the husband of Queen Charlotte, some people theorized she might have had a condition called porphyria, which is, like, a thing that lies dormant most of the time but can be triggered and when it comes out, the symptoms would be similar to what she had, which is vomiting, abdominal pain, overwhelming depression, crying, and mood swings. 

So, we’re going to talk about her health in other, later episodes. But periods of stress, I think because of the stress she would lose her appetite, not be able to eat, porphyria could be triggered by fasting or not eating enough, and so then she would get these… these things would happen, doctors obviously useless. The mood swings of it all, later in her life, Mary would wear an amethyst ring that she believed had magical properties, like people believe in crystals and stuff now, that this could help her melancholy, her mood swings. She got really seriously sick at this point, I think she also, this was maybe not a porphyria attack, but I wanted to talk about that, at this point it sounds like it might have been sweating sickness and she was ill for months, her fiancé Francis also got this at the same time but both of them recovered. 

So, her education. She was really well educated. This really switches depending on where we’re talking about on this podcast and what country or whatever. But in this era, the French king was really into education, including for girls and women. So, she was educated basically identically to Francis the Dauphin. So, the other princesses did as well, they were all schooled together. So, she learned Latin, Greek, Italian, and Spanish. Her education was overseen by Catherine de’ Medici, Diane de Poitiers, who is the mistress, the very influential mistress of the King, and her Uncle Charlie. And it’s not like they were there directly tutoring her, but they helped choose her tutors and things like that. It was noted, when she was 12, one of her assignments was to deliver a speech – not a prepared speech but one that she made up on the spot – in Latin, she had to present it to the King, to Catherine de’ Medici, and to her uncles. But she got to choose the topic and the topic she chose was a defense of the education of women, so that speaks to her interests. So, she studied the classics, but she was much more enthusiastic about French poetry. In fact, she became patron to a poet named Ronsard, she helped him to publish the first edition of his works. And she supported other French poets as well and the poets she supported, they were loyal to her throughout her life; they sent her verses providing emotional reassurance during some of her bleakest and most anxious moments. 

Her hobbies included singing, dancing, playing the lute, the clavichord, and the harp. She was talented, she was fine at all these things but where she really excelled was at dancing. The King saw that she was really good at dancing, so he hired an Italian dancing master to help train her up even more and she sought out every opportunity to perform dancing whenever there was some sort of party. She was really good, everyone said she was really good. She also loved embroidery, she had a personal embroiderer who embroidered her outfits and stuff, but this person taught her. Catherine de’ Medici encouraged this interest because Catherine de’ Medici – and I didn’t know this, so I didn’t mention this in her episodes – she herself was a skilled embroiderer. She had been trained back in her days when she was at a convent in Florence and the convent she happened to be at, Catherine de’ Medici, as a girl was one where the nuns were famous for their needlework. 

Mary also loved making preserves like marmalade. She specialized in making a kind of French marmalade and to do so, she put on an apron, she’d boil quinces and sugar with powder of violets in a saucepan for hours before laying out the slices of crystalized fruits. The four Marys also helped out with this jam hobby, and, in fact, a play kitchen was made in their apartment so they could play and pretend like they were cooking and housekeeping. They liked to pretend to be servants or peasant women organizing their domestic routines and doing their own shopping and that continues throughout their life, but we’ll talk about that in another episode. But they do like disguises, let’s just say, some of which include pants. 

So, Mary loved animals, she loved pets, and she wanted as many as possible around her. She loved dogs, especially terriers, and spaniels. At one point, she had 16 dogs and kitchen staff were given, just, standing orders to save table scraps to feed her dogs. She also loved, she was a horse girl, again, the Sisi vibes are here. So, she wanted to ride horses, but she was a kid, and she couldn’t fit on a horse, so she rode ponies, and then as she got taller, she rode horses. She also enjoyed falconry which is, like, where you have a falcon, and you wear the leather glove, and it lands on your arm and flies away and comes back. She had her own pet falcon and apparently, she took to this really quickly; she was able to cast off and reclaim on her own without help from the falconers and there’s the Royal Diaries series of children’s books from the early-2000s, and the one of Mary, Queen of Scots, on the cover, I think she’s doing falconry, let me know if I’m right. She also loved hunting which was a thing all the rich people liked to do. 

Crucial detail, so Catherine de’ Medici had the habit of when she went out hunting or horseback riding, she would wear trousers inside of her skirts so that she could ride astride. Instead of ladies in oldie times in some societies had to sit sideways on the horse, that’s how Empress Sisi would ride. But Catherine de’ Medici just rode horses in what I would call “the normal way” with your legs spread apart and the horse under you and to do that you would wear pants. Mary, Queen of Scots did this as well. She loved horseback riding with pants under a skirt. She also learned to play tennis and golf. Fun fact, playing golf in France, it was a tradition that the French military cadets would carry the clubs for royalty. So, the word cadet which means ‘younger brother or younger son,’ travelled with Mary when she would later return to Scotland, she pronounced cadet, ‘caddie’ with her accent and that is golf now, people have a caddie, that was her. Remember that episodes from now when we’re doing significance because she popularized golf. I just like this detail, at one point the king had bears, literal bears sent for the entertainment of the royal children. I don’t know what he thought would happen, but the bears damaged the home of a neighbor and it’s like, “Yeah, maybe don’t bring bears to your castle.” 

Mary was, like her mom, beautiful. Everybody complimented her and not in a fake way because she was so important, she was very lovely to the aesthetic standards of the era. She had a very pale, peaches and cream complexion, which is what people wanted in this time and place. She also had red hair that she wore in a way that I keep seeing described as crimped, so in, like, very tight curls. And if you look at the portraits of her, along the hairline, it’s really, it looks like she has a perm. So, either she had really curly hair or the Marys helped her do that, more on a future episode. She was also very tall.  Her height was probably, like her mom, somewhere between 5-foot-10 and 6-feet tall, and at this point in time, a 5-foot-44 woman was considered tall, so she was just like, striking, stunning, red hair, pale skin, super tall, really graceful and elegant and people who met her were just like, “Oh my god, she’s gorgeous.” 

She was also trained in spy craft, so how to write secret letters using cyphers, not to leave letters around where anyone could find them. That being said, she was also, she had people advising her, mainly her uncles and she just trusted them, she was very trusting. Is this going to be a problem later on? We’ll see. But for instance, as an example of her just trusting and doing what she was told, she would sometimes send her mother blank pieces of paper with her signature at the bottom so that other people could write on it what it was supposed to say, which could be dangerous in, you know, an asshole lords scenario. I don’t think anything bad ever came of that, but it shows that she’s very trusting. Also, when she wrote, I found this endearing, she often started out writing very neatly on the first page, but by the second or third page, she began to rush. And if you look at her embroideries, it’s similar, I think she liked to get stuff done quickly. 

Anyway, so she was really highly educated, her uncles had wanted that, and the King had wanted that but the joke’s on them because in so doing, they taught her how to think independently and how to question what they told her and also how to debate really well; she learned how to argue a case and spot the strength and flaws in the reasonings of others. So, they’re like, “Oh shit, this isn’t a pawn anymore, this is an intelligent, glamorous person.” 

So, she got married when she was 15 and Francis was 14. They were married at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and everyone in town showed up, kind of like how there was just the coronation of Charles III in England, it’s kind of like there’s a procession, there’s a carriage, and the streets are lined with people who want to see a spectacle. And in fact, knowing that, the King had arranged the marriage ceremony to be largely outdoors; there’s, kind of, a stage set up outside with an awning over it. So, the ceremony was preceded by months of negotiation between Scottish asshole lords, led by Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, Mary’s half-brother. And in fact, he was there, he witnessed the wedding, he was among the crowds outside of Notre Dame and he had been hanging out – remember he was going to university in Paris – he had been spending his time with English and Scottish exiles who were all kind of like, “We like being Protestant, we don’t like having French Catholic troops in Scotland.” And he was like, “Ooh, I don’t know if I’m a fan of this wedding I’m watching that’s Catholic.” 

Anyway, Mary looked incredibly amazing. She wore a white dress which was an unconventional choice because in France at this time, white was the traditional colour for mourning not celebrating. But here’s the thing, she knew white was her colour, she knew she looked good in white and so she was just like, “Fuck you, my wedding dress is going to be white.” She wore her hair long, flowing free, which was also unconventional. So, her white gown had a long train, she had her long, flowing auburn crimped hair, and she also had a purple velvet overmantel, which is kind of like a cloak, embroidered in gold with the arms of Scotland. And her white dress was covered with jewels, like, literal diamonds. On her head, she wore a crown ablaze with diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and pearls. So, just picture this also outside on a sunny day, just the way the light would catch her, it would just look like an angel. I also want to note that her very impressive crown during the wedding banquet became too heavy for her to wear so an attendant had to just hold it above her head for her which is, like, a power move. 

Anyway, so they got up on the stage and the, sort of, awning/tent outdoor wedding venue was a blue silk canopy decorated in the fleur de lis done in gold thread and it was a really happy time for her. That morning she wrote a letter to her mother that said that she was one of the happiest women in the world. In Scotland, her mother arranged celebrations including processions, bonfires were lit. Everyone was like, “Woo! Our Queen got married, yay!” People just like a reason to celebrate. 

And then, in a section that I have in my notes called “Goddam Paperwork,” I truly don’t want to have to tell you about treaties, because that’s not the sort of history that I’m personally interested in and I’m bad at explaining it, but this is an important one. So, the de Guises were, like, so in control of so much stuff right now, they were so influential. So, this document was prepared by them that said basically, that Scotland belongs to France now, if Mary dies without having any children then Francis, her husband, will take over and the French royal family will be in charge of Scotland, Scotland is now Little France. The asshole lords – and for once I’m like, “Yeah, I can see this.” – were mad about this because Scottish independence was, and is, a fundamental part of Scottish nationalism. They were just like, “No, we don’t want Scotland to be mini-France.” Arran, in fact, joined with the Protestants to oppose this, everyone in Scotland was on board to be like, “No, we don’t like this.” But even just the existence of the document and hearing about it made the asshole lords even more determined to maintain their own rights and privileges because remember, there’s not a powerful king or queen in Scotland, they were just like, “This is why there can’t be one, because they’ll do shit like this.” 

Anyway, meanwhile in England, last time we checked in there, Edward had been the boy king. He died and then he, Jane Grey was the Queen for nine days and then the next monarch was Mary I. She died after a short period of rule and then she was succeeded by Henry VIII’s only other legitimate child, Elizabeth I who was, at this point, 25 years old. So, Mary was 15, and Elizabeth is 25, so they’re both young women but she’s adult-aged. Crucially, Elizabeth chose as her Chief Minister a guy named William Cecil who we mentioned before, he was the one who helped negotiate John Knox’s release. William Cecil, going to be really important in this story so remember that name. But here’s the thing, the de Guises were like, “Wait. The Queen of England is this 25-year-old Elizabeth? This is a great opportunity for us, the de Guises,” because basically all of France was like, “We don’t accept her as Queen of England, no thanks.” And I’ll explain why. 

So, some people, Catholic people in this era felt that Elizabeth was illegitimate, like, she was literally an illegitimate child of Henry VIII, is what some people believed, because she kind of was and she kind of wasn’t. So, the thing is that Mary, Queen of Scots’s claim to the throne of England at this point, compared to Elizabeth’s, her claim was at least as strong as hers, potentially stronger. So, Mary’s claim would be through, her grandmother being Henry VIII’s sister. And if Henry VIII had died without any children, who are you going to go to next? Mary, Queen of Scots was a good candidate in that family tree sort of way. 

And so, Catholics thought that Elizabeth was illegitimate because… So, Elizabeth I was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. So, Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII had gotten married while Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was still alive. The Pope and the Catholic Church did not recognize Anne Boleyn as Henry’s lawful wife because Catherine was still alive, and they didn’t believe in divorce. So, Henry, this was fine, Elizabeth was born 9 months after Henry and Anne got married but then later, Henry turned on Anne Boleyn; he divorced her and then executed her. When she was executed at that point, Elizabeth was literally declared to be illegitimate by an act of parliament in a clause that had at that point never been repealed. And then Henry VIII died years later and the whole thing is, there’s a case for why one might consider Elizabeth to be illegitimate if you were a Catholic person who didn’t want her to be the queen. Whereas Mary, Queen of Scots, there’s nothing illegitimate about her claim whatsoever, it’s a direct line from king to queen, to whatever. 

So, the de Guises were like, “Great.” So, they, in France, just proclaimed Mary was Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland. And it’s not like they were like, “Oh because she’s illegitimate.” They were like, “She’s Protestant, and we don’t want a Protestant queen. But what we can say is she’s illegitimate, and we don’t want an illegitimate queen,” that was easier to defend. So, Uncle Charlie ordered… So, the heraldic arms of England, it’s just that thing that looks like a shield, so they made a new heraldic arms that was part France, part Scotland, part England just to be like, “It’s all one country now.” And they had it put on all the dishes, all the plates, and also all the furniture that Mary and Francis had. This was a very provocative thing to do. And then an English guy was visiting France, he saw this and was like, “Oh Jesus.” he drew a picture, he’s like, “This is what they have on their plates,” and he went and told William Cecil and William Cecil was like, “Ooh, I can use this for my own scheming reasons.” And apparently that drawing of this heraldic plate, William Cecil kept it in his desk for, like, decades because he’s just like, “Oh, that’s treason.” 

The de Guises didn’t stop with just plates; letters and official documents were sent out to the rulers of Europe, like other countries were being like, “Hey, guess what? Francis and Mary are the King and Queen of Scotland, England, and Ireland. Don’t worry about it. That’s just happened.” By that summer, when Mary was making her way to church, people would be like, “Make way for the Queen,” to get people to get out of the way, and they started yelling, “Make way for the Queen of England.” Like, what was happening was not subtle, you couldn’t confuse what was happening, they were literally being like, “Oh, she’s the Queen of England, and everyone in France thinks that now.” In Reign, the TV show, there’s a scene where Mary and Francis went to a jousting tournament, I think, and she showed up wearing red and gold which were the colours of England and everyone was like, “[gasps] Herman, my pills!” Again, Reign, accurate in that sense. But like, just saying she was the Queen of England isn’t enough to make that be true. 

So, the de Guises went to the Pope to be like, “Make this official please,” but the Pope was like, “Mmm, no.” And why was the Pope like, “No”? Because he was pals with… Spain! enters the chat. So, the King of Spain at this point is goddamn Philip, who is the one who was married to Mary I and was a shitty husband to her. Anyway, so the Pope was bros with Philip of Spain and Philip of Spain wanted Spain and England to get along for, like, various reasons, one of which was he wanted Elizabeth to marry him. So, the Pope wouldn’t make this official, and then eventually, this is all just kind of getting weird so eventually the King of France was like, “The de Guises are getting too powerful here. So, let’s make France and Spain be friends now to challenge England,” which he did by… So, remember Mary had grown up with the French princes and princesses, one of them was called Elisabeth. They were best friends, her and Elisabeth, they would make marmalade, and they would play-act being peasants. Anyway, Elisabeth was married off to Philip in Spain and we’re going to talk about her and that marriage in a future episode. So, Mary’s BFF, shipped away, very sad. Fun fact, that marriage is the marriage being celebrated in the pilot episode of Reign the TV show. 

So, basically, the de Guises and Mary had to U-turn and be like, “Let’s stop calling you Queen of England because that didn’t work.” As I mentioned before, when Mary was stressed, her chronic illness would trigger. And so, it was around this point that she had what seemed like a porphyria attack because she was trapped between what her uncles wanted and what the King wanted and she’s like, “I just want to make marmalade, vibe out, do some dancing.” And then at a jousting tournament, her father-in-law, the King, got a splinter in his eye that went to his brain and killed him! So, he died. Well, he died slowly actually, he was just gruesomely injured. Mary and Francis watched day and night by his bedside for 10 days and then he died of a massive stroke. 

So, Mary, five months short of her 17th birthday, was now the Queen of France. And so, it was time for the coronation, but they just had the wedding, which was happy and nice but now it’s like, this is a pretty bleak coronation of a boy king. This occurred at Reims, the holiest city in France and a traditional spot for coronations. Mary watched as a spectator because the ceremony for queens was held separately and often later. Like, for instance, Catherine de’ Medici hadn’t been crowned until two years after her husband. So, Mary was just watching this happen which is too bad because she was kind of the star quality, Francis was like, she loved him, and he was sweet and nice, but he didn’t have that it factor. Also note, the reason why coronations were separate for kings and queens is the Queen of France was a dependent of the King, not a partner of the King. She was a consort and if he died, she wouldn’t take over. This was really showing, the King is in charge and she’s just the wife of the King. 

So, for this event, Mary sat with Catherine de’ Medici and the remaining princesses who were all wearing black which was weird in that time and place. So, black was the colour in Italy for mourning and Catherine de’ Medici was from Florence, so she was wearing the colour of Italian mourning, black, which was weird. And Mary was like, “Mm, I look better in white,” and white is the colour of mourning in France for royals so she wore white, and this made her stand out. She was described by somebody who saw this as “A dove amongst crows.” Speaking of birds, the coronation ceremony lasted for more than five hours and ended on an exhilarating note when hundreds of songbirds were released, in the cathedral, not outside of but inside of. History does not record how they were shooed out afterward or how they cleaned up the inevitable poo they would have left. 

Anyway, so now Francis is the King and Catherine de’ Medici is stepping up, taking more control. So, the de Guises are still there but Catherine suddenly has more power and so she just, kind of, sat back and let the de Guises be too ambitious to make everyone turn against them, which they did. Anyway, Mary was doing poorly. Her health was poor for basically a year. She had fainting spells, I don’t know if this was the porphyria maybe, some people thought maybe she had tuberculosis, she was just, kind of like, low energy, couldn’t keep food down, fainting all the time. And you know, because stress is always a factor in when she gets ill, what was stressing her now that she was Queen of France? And it was goddamn Scotland. 

So, back in Scotland, her mother, not doing great, Bob. Her mother was having a rough time of things because Elizabeth, the Queen of England now, and her right-hand man, Cecil were just really pouncing on this opportunity to try and take over Scotland. And part of their strategy was, “Well, England is a Protestant country, the asshole lords want Scotland to be a Protestant country, so let’s work together maybe.” So, Marie de Guise was like, “That’s not how anything works, can you please just let me have more power?” The asshole lords were like, “Uhh, no.” Marie de Guise was becoming increasingly unpopular, she raised taxes and stuff which, like, she had to do, in her defense, but you know, that’s not ever a popular thing. So, the asshole lords turned against her fully, led by a guy called the Earl of Argyll, who was a Protestant who owned huge amounts of land in the Gaelic-speaking Highlands where royal control was the weakest as well as other areas. He was the only noble with the resources to muster a full-sized army on his own, without Marie de Guise helping out. And you know who joined his team is Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, Mary’s half-brother. And then things are spiraling. 

John Knox returns to Scotland from where he’d been in exile in Geneva. Why? I don’t care. And he teamed up with these guys like, “Ooh, I smell like there’s an incel avengers activating and I need to be a part of it.” So, his whole thing was, he was a preacher who gave speeches being like, “Women are terrible! Everyone should be Protestant!” And everyone’s just like, “Woohoo!” He was really charismatic as a speech-giver, he was very persuasive. Anyway, everyone got really excited now that he’s there and he got everyone really mad and church buildings were ransacked in acts of civil disobedience, people were just, like, trashing Catholic stuff because they’re all like, “Wooo! We want to be Protestant incels like John Knox.” And then Arran and his son Arran Jr. joined this mob as well, they switched back to being Protestants because they’re just, like, dweebs. 

Remember that guy I talked about before, Patrick Hepburn? No relation to my cat Hepburn. He was one of the guys who tried to marry Mary’s mom and spread a rumour that she was going to choose him even though it wasn’t true. So, he had died and his adult son, James Hepburn, took over as Earl of Bothwell. And he, to his credit, in this instance, was one of like, three asshole lords still loyal to Marie de Guise. We’re going to call this guy, for his name too is James, we’re going to call him Bothwell because he’s the Earl of Bothwell. Remember his dad, there was a whole thing, wasn’t he sent to Denmark for being unruly? Bothwell is very much like that as well, he just kind of does his own thing, he’s got maverick unconventional styles, he used guerilla tactics against Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart in a successful way. Marie de Guise was like, “This guy is helpful. He’s chaotic but as long as he’s on my side I can have use for him.” And she trusted him. So, Marie de Guise got Bothwell to hand-deliver a letter over to France to Mary to reassure her like, “Everything’s fine, stop being sick please.” Bothwell got detained on his way to deliver that letter with just, like, some stuff in, guess where? Denmark. But we’ll talk about that later. Anyway, so he brought this letter to Mary, and they met and that’s what I’ll say about that. 

Anyway, so, she didn’t feel better, Mary, because everything in Scotland is still terrible for her mom. The asshole lords have rode to Edinburgh, deposed Marie de Guise, and replaced her with themselves. They were like, “There won’t be a regent, as long as Mary is not in Scotland, the people in charge of Scotland are going to be 24 asshole lords, which is us.” Marie de Guise fought back, she never stopped fighting, and she mustered 3,000 French troops to fight back. She wanted the de Guises, her French family, to help her out but they were just getting outnumbered because, at this point, Elizabeth/England/Cecil were teamed up with the asshole lords as well. And then there was a little negotiation, a little treaty happened. Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart represented the whole asshole lords’ team in his negotiations, it was a negotiation between the asshole lords and England, and at the end, this treaty was done up saying, I think this is called the Treaty of Edinburgh, and the treaty said that basically, England supports an independent Scotland, asterisk, kind of. It basically said that England and Scotland were friends now. 

Back in France, the de Guise’s power is diminishing, the uncles were too busy trying to save themselves and their power to help their sister in Scotland, which is part of why they didn’t send help to her when she needed it. Mary, Queen of Scots is just there being like, “Oh my god, my mom.” And her mother also, side note, was really ill at this point. Everything was in chaos in Scotland, she was upset, obviously. She demanded France sent more troops to Scotland, and she confronted her Uncle Charlie, blaming him, correctly, for fucking everything up, she burst into tears and took to her bed. She does a lot of, there’s a lot of crying in this story because she is frustrated a lot. 

So, this is happening and then the treaty happened. Also involved in the treaty were Spanish King Philip, Catherine de’ Medici making this horrible treaty. So, the treaty also included that France recognized Elizabeth as the rightful Queen of England, Francis and Mary would drop their claims to the English throne, and French troops would evacuate Scotland. Mary and Francis had not been consulted about this and, like, she refused to sign off on it. Her mother died shortly after negotiations for the treaty had begun but the fact that Mary refused to ratify this document bred further distrust and ill-feeling toward her from the asshole lords. But she’s just like, “My mom just died, this is a fucking nightmare.” She was grief-stricken. Her portrait was painted around this time to send to England because amid her grief and illness and everything she’s just like, “I need a plan.” Because she saw everyone was always switching teams and who they supported. So, she was like, “If I can get Elizabeth on my side,” as like, relatives because they were cousins it’s just, like, sister queens. It’s like, “Two women in a man’s world, maybe we can be friends and the way we’re going to do that is by exchanging portraits.” So, she had her portrait sent to Elizabeth and they started being pen pals, basically. 

Then Francis, her husband fell ill, he just collapsed. And he’d always been a guy with some illnesses but stuff with his ear was happening, it’s like, “Oh, it’s an ear infection,” and that’s what I’d heard before, that he’d died of an ear infection. But it was more like, that was a secondary visible symptom, but it soon became clear that something else was happening, probably a brain tumour. So, he had violent seizures, he became unable to move or speak. Mary and Catherine were both at his side to care for him. Obviously, they fought about who could be there with him and eventually, they both were. They nursed him together, they tested his food to make sure no one was trying to poison him and unfortunately, he did die. Francis died December 5, 1560, one month before his 17th birthday and a week before Mary turned 18. 

So, he and Mary had been besties, they’d been close companions for more than 13 years. They’d been raised together knowing they’d be married so they were raised as an inseparable unit, in preparation for their joined monarchy and now he was dead. She was 18 years old, her mother had died, her best friend was off in Spain, she was a widow, and she was 18 years old. So, Mary kept a vigil that night over his dead body and Catherine de’ Medici called a secret meeting in which she was named regent for the new French king, which was Francis’s younger brother, Charles. So, Mary did the customary thing which was to go into a black-shrouded room for 40 days, which she did, wearing her white mourning clothes. A contemporary chronicler wrote, “She was brooding over her disaster with constant tears and passionate and doleful lamentations. She universally inspires great pity.” Because she was in a really shitty situation; stuff in Scotland was not doing great but here she was no longer, she didn’t have any power in France, the de Guises were falling from power, it’s just, like, what is she going to do? She doesn’t have a William Cecil there to help her out. 

In 1561, which is when this is, the poet Ronsard, the one who she was a patron of, wrote tenderly of seeing her walking at Fontainebleau, which was the property where she was. He described her white mourning gown blowing around her like a sail. So yeah, she was 18 years old, an orphan, and now a widow. She had no place in Catherine de’ Medici’s plans because she and the de Guises were like, “What if we marry Mary to Charles, the new boy king?” But Catherine de’ Medici is like, “Fuck no, I’m not going to let the de Guises get power again, you got too carried away with it, fuck you.” So, then the de Guises were like, “Okay, we need to marry her to somebody.” So, they tried to betroth her to Don Carlos, who is the only son and heir of Philip in Spain. But remember, Spain Philip was working with Catherine de’ Medici and so she blocked this plan so that didn’t happen either. If you remember on Reign, Don Carlos did appear in a very memorable sequence in a sex dungeon, but I’ll leave that at that. 

Anyway, the de Guises, they lost so much power, they ended up leaving the royal court and went off to live in their own castles by themselves and just, I don’t know, whatever. And Mary is just like, “What am I going to do?” And what she decided to do was to go to Scotland. And next week we’ll start talking about what that was like. 

So, I can’t believe I thought I was going to be able to talk about Scotland also in this episode, there’s too much France stuff to get to. I have a couple of housekeeping announcements to tell you. And you know how podcasts say that, or like, meetings are like, “Oh, let’s do some housekeeping”? I would just like to say, housekeeping is important, it is, like, you know, often has been women’s work, unpaid, not respected. So, when I say housekeeping, I mean, here are really important announcements that matter a lot. 

Firstly, so this is in the works at the time at which I’m recording this but hopefully, when this comes out, it will all be sorted. I have heard from a listener, and I’ve heard from some other people in the past as well, that it would be helpful to have transcripts of these episodes so you could read them. So, if for some reason you’re not able to listen to it or you don’t prefer to listen to it, you can read transcripts. And I am 100% working on that. Yeah, so that’s forthcoming. The reason I haven’t been able to do that in the past is mostly financial because I know there are AIs and things that one could get to do your transcripts for you, but I really wanted to work with a person to have this. Anyway, I’m in a financial situation now with people joining the Patreon and advertising and stuff that I’m able to do this. So, transcripts coming soon and thank you for reminding me that I should do that, listeners. 

Also, the store, the merch store has moved and improved. So, there are amazing new designs in the merch store. If you go to that’ll take you to what is a TeePublic store and there are all these designs. Although, I have learned that shipping is better if you’re anywhere not the US, shipping can be kind of wild there. So, I set up a parallel Redbubble store, which is So, I’ve heard someone in New Zealand say shipping was like $6 to there. So, anyway, is great if you’re in the US, anywhere else. And the new designs are incredible so because I’ve moved the store to this new place, I took the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start anew with artist-designed products which again, because of Patreon and the advertising I’m able to fairly compensate talented artists to design merch for me. 

So, what’s happening in the store right now? We’ve got the much requested, by you, was not planning to do this but you all wanted it so it’s there, “Where is your God now, John Knox?” has been designed by Jennifer Ferguson, who is an artist and also tits out brigade member. We’ve got the “Renaissance Reformation Girl Squad” new logo as well as “Goth Queen Mom Friend,” designed by Karyn Moynihan from the Sweet Valley High, Double Love podcast. There’s a beautiful, two different options for Catherine de’ Medici’s “Flying Squadron,” designed by Jan Jupiter, who is also the artist from the Netherlands who designed the “Chevalière d’Éon” merch we were using for the fundraiser which I’m going to talk about in a minute. And the “Chevalière d’Éon” stuff is still there available and all the proceeds from that, I’m going to keep donating to Point of Pride, and… yeah.  

So, the fundraiser. So, during the month of April, that’s my birthday month and whatever, I was doing Tits Out for Trans Rights fundraiser and I’m so… the tits out brigade, this is where I say you’re a brigade, you’re like a force for good in this world and also a force for tits out energy in this world and also chaos and I appreciate it. So, during the fundraiser, the total we raised was $1,646 USD. So, that money is going toward the Trevor Project as well as to Point of Pride as well as to some other local organizations that were singled out by some of you. And amazing. $1,646 donated to trans-affirming charities, you love to see it. 

I want to shout out all the people who donated, not all of whom left their names but, those who left their names, I’m going to say them now. So, we have Vanessa, Shannon, Holland, Katie, Hal, Catherine, Renata, Lily, Abigail, Britt, Caryn, Katrina, Irene, Rebecca, Courtney, Laura-Lee on behalf of Rowan, Laura-Lee, Beth, Jamie, Nicktoria, Alistair, Ana, Erina, Miguel, Sarah, Autumn, and Kathy. And I really appreciate it and I really love being able to find a way that this podcast can do actively good things for people, and I hope and plan to have other fundraising things happen again in the future. 

Anyway, we’ve got another episode coming on Friday that’s going to be a Super Special Author Interview and then next week we’re going to continue the saga of Mary, Queen of Scots, what happens when she goes back to Scotland. Next week we’re going to talk about that and then in future weeks, we’ll talk about what happens next. It’s going to be a lot of episodes. I did five episodes about Hortense Mancini, it’s going to be at least that many about Mary, Queen of Scots. 

Anyway, you can keep up with me and the show on Instagram we’re @VulgarHistoryPod on TikTok @VulgarHistory. If you want to support the show through Patreon, the funds of which go to do things like finding someone to pay to do transcripts and hiring artists to do beautiful merch, and paying Cristina, the amazing editor. Anyway, so the funds raised from Patreon are so helpful and you can help me out on Patreon if you go to So, you can pledge something like a dollar a month and if you do that then you get early ad-free access to all the episodes of Vulgar History. If you pledge $2 or more a month, you get access to polls as well as the episodes. And honestly, I was asking a poll recently when I was preparing this, I was like, “There are too many people called James,” and so I asked the patrons what are some nicknames I could give for some of these James’ and some of those will be coming up in future episodes. 

If you pledge at least $5 or more a month, then you get early ad-free access, access to the polls, and then also, you get the Patreon-exclusive spin-off podcasts, Vulgarpiece Theatre, where I’m joined by Allison Epstein and Lana Wood Johnson to talk about costume dramas. Most recently we talked about The Woman King starring Viola Davis. We also talked about the Empress Sisi movie, Corsage. We’re planning to talk about Chevalier, the movie about the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Anyway, it’s a good time, those episodes are like, three and a half hours long so if you’re just like, “I need more Ann vocal fry in my life,” that’s where you go. 

And then I also do episodes on there called So This Asshole where I talk about gross men from history. Someone has requested a John Knox episode and I don’t know if my delicate constitution can handle that, but I will consider it. I don’t know. I open up his Wikipedia page and close it right away, he just makes me so mad. When I’m reading biographies, I’m like, “Ooh, John Knox,” I’m, like, shaking my head. And… yeah, I told you about the merch stores, so you can go to, or you can go to and get our cute, new, amazing merch and honestly, that’s it. 

I’ve got to get back to researching because there’s a lot of talk about in these upcoming episodes for Mary, Queen of Scots so thank you all for listening and keep your pants on and your tits out.


Vulgar History is hosted, written, and researched by Ann Foster and edited by Cristina Lumague.

Transcribed by Aveline Malek at


Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary Queen of Scots by Jennifer Morag Henderson

Embroidering Her Truth: Mary Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter

Mary Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy

Mary Was Here: where Mary Queen of Scots Went and what she did There by Historic Scotland

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