Mary's Birth And Subsequent Residence At The French Court

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was the third child of James V. and his wife,

Mary of Guise. That lady had born him previously two sons, both of whom

died in infancy. Mary came into the world on the 7th of December 1542, in

the Palace of Linlithgow. She was only seven days old when she lost

her father, who at the time of her birth lay sick in the Palace of

Falkland. James died, as he had lived, with a kingly and gallant spirit.
br /> In the language of Pitscottie, he turned him upon his back, and looked and

beheld all his nobles and lords about him, and, giving a little smile of

laughter, kissed his hand, and offered it to them. When they had pressed

it to their lips for the last time, he tossed up his arms, and yielded his

spirit to God. James was considered one of the most handsome men of his

day. He was above the middle stature; his hair flowed luxuriantly over his

shoulders in natural ringlets, and was of a dark yellow or auburn colour;

his eyes were gray, and very penetrating; his voice was sweet toned; and

the general expression of his countenance uncommonly prepossessing. He

inherited a vigorous constitution, and kept it sound and healthy by

constant exercise, and by refraining from all excesses in eating or

drinking. He was buried in the Royal Vault in the Chapel of Holyrood

House, where his embalmed body, in a state of entire preservation, was

still to be seen in the time of the historian Keith.

The young Queen was crowned by Cardinal Beaton at Stirling, on the 9th of

September 1543. Her mother, who watched over her with the most careful

anxiety, had been told a report prevailed that the infant was sickly, and

not likely to live. To disprove this calumny, she desired Janet Sinclair,

Mary's nurse, to unswaddle her in the presence of the English Ambassador,

who wrote to his own court that she was as goodly a child as he had seen

of her age.

Soon after her birth, the Parliament nominated Commissioners, to whom they

intrusted the charge of the Queen's person, leaving all her other

interests to the care of her mother. The two first years of her life, Mary

spent at Linlithgow, where it appears she had the small-pox, a point of

some importance, as one of her historians remarks, in the biography of a

beauty and a queen. The disease must have been of a particularly

gentle kind, having left behind no visible traces. During the greater

part of the years 1545, 46 and 47, she resided at Stirling Castle, in the

keeping of Lords Erskine and Livingstone. Here she received the first

rudiments of education from two ecclesiastics, who were appointed her

preceptors, more, however, as matter of form, than from any use they could

be of to her at so early an age. When the internal disturbances of the

country rendered even Stirling Castle a somewhat dangerous residence, Mary

was removed to Inchmahome, a sequestered island in the Lake of Monteith.

That she might not be too lonely, and that a spirit of generous emulation

might present her with an additional motive for the prosecution of her

studies, the Queen Dowager selected four young ladies of rank as her

companions and playmates. They were each about her daughter's age, and

either from chance, or because the conceit seemed natural, they all bore

the same surname. The four Maries were, Mary Beaton, a niece of Cardinal

Beaton, Mary Fleming, daughter of Lord Fleming, Mary Livingstone, whose

father was one of the young Queen's guardians, and Mary Seaton, daughter

of Lord Seaton.

Mary having remained upwards of two years in this island, those who had,

at the time, the disposal of her future destiny, thought it expedient, for

reasons which have been already explained, that she should be removed to

France. She was accordingly, in the fifth year of her age, taken to

Dumbarton, where she was delivered to the French Admiral, whose vessels

were waiting to receive her, and attended by the Lords Erskine and

Livingstone, her three natural brothers, and her four Maries, she left


The thirteen happiest years of Mary's life were spent in France. Towards

the end of July 1548, she sailed from Dumbarton, and, after a tempestuous

voyage, landed at Brest on the 14th of August. She was there received, by

Henry II.'s orders, with all the honours due to her rank and royal

destiny. She travelled, with her retinue, by easy stages, to the palace at

St Germain En Laye; and to mark the respect that was paid to her, the

prison-gates of every town she came to were thrown open, and the prisoners

set free. Shortly after her arrival, she was sent, along with the King's

own daughters, to one of the first convents in France, where young ladies

of distinction were instructed in the elementary branches of education.

The natural quickness of her capacity, and the early acuteness of her

mind, now began to manifest themselves. She made rapid progress in

acquiring that species of knowledge suited to her years, and her lively

imagination went even the length of attaching a more than ordinary

interest to the calm and secluded life of a nunnery. It was whispered,

that she had already expressed a wish to separate herself forever from the

world; and it is not improbable, that had this wish been allowed to foster

itself silently in her bosom, Mary might ultimately have taken the veil,

in which case her life would have been a blank in history. But these views

were not consistent with the more ambitious projects entertained by Henry

and her uncles of Lorraine. As soon as they were informed of the bent

which her mind appeared to be taking, she was again removed from the

convent to the palace. To reconcile her to parting with the vestal

sisters, Henry, whose conduct towards her was always marked by affection

and delicacy, selected, from all the noble Scotch families then residing

in France, a certain number to constitute her future household. The tears

which Mary shed, however, upon leaving the nunnery, proved the warmth of

her young heart; and that her feelings were not of merely momentary

duration, is evinced by the frequent visits she subsequently paid this

asylum of her childhood,--and by the altar-piece she embroidered with her

own hands for the chapel of the convent.

In no country of Europe was education better understood than it then was

in France. Francis I., who remodelled, upon a magnificent scale, the

University of Paris, only followed the example which had already been set

him by Louis XII. The youth of all countries flocked to the French

schools. The liberal principles which induced the government to maintain,

at its own expense, professors, who lectured to as many students as chose

to hear them, was amply repaid by the beneficial consequences arising from

the great influx of strangers. A competent knowledge of Latin, Greek,

Hebrew, Mathematics, Moral Philosophy and Medicine, could be acquired in

France for literally nothing. Nor was it necessary, that he who sought for

the blessings of education, should profess any particular system of

religious faith. The German Protestant, and the Spanish Catholic, were

allowed, in these noble institutions, to take their seat side by side.

Henry supported the church as an engine of state, whilst he detested the

arrogant pretensions and empty insolence of many of the clergy, and was

determined that they should not interfere with the more enlightened views

which he himself entertained. In this, he only followed the opinions of

his illustrious father, Francis, who used to remark, that monks were

better at teaching linnets to whistle, playing at dice, tippling, and

gormandizing, than in doing good either to religion or morality.

The host of authors, and men of genius, who flourished in France about

this period, was another cause of its literary eminence. "Learning," says

Miss Benger, "far from being the badge of singularity, had become the

attribute of a superior station." "There was," observes the ingenious

Pasquier, "a glorious crusade against ignorance." Many of the names then

celebrated have since, it is true, passed into oblivion, but the multitude

who cultivated letters, show the spirit of the times. Beza, Seve,

Pelletier and others, led the van in the severer departments of intellect;

whilst Bellay, Ronsard and Jodelle, showed the way, to a host of

followers, in the cultivation of poetry, and the softer arts of


Nor must the great statesmen and warriors, whose presence lent a lustre to

the court, be forgotten in this view of the existing pre-eminence of

France. The two Houses of Bourbon and Guise, had each given birth to many

names destined for immortality. The present chiefs of Bourbon were

Anthony, Duke of Navarre, and Louis, known in the history of the world as

the first Prince of Conde. There were six brothers of the Guises, of whom

the two most illustrious were Francis Duke of Guise, and Charles Cardinal

of Lorraine. But they all held the very highest offices in the church or

state; one was a Cardinal, and another a Grand Prior; a third, the Duke

d'Aumale, commanded the army then in Italy; and the fourth, the Marquis

d'Elbeuf, was intrusted with the charge of the French troops in Scotland.

But he who held the balance of power between all these contending

interests, was the great Montmorency, Constable of France. He had, by this

time, become a veteran in the service of the French monarchs. Louis XII.

had acknowledged his virtues, and Francis I. looked to him for advice and

aid in every emergency. Henry felt almost a filial affection and reverence

for so distinguished a statesman and patriot; and Diana de Poictiers

herself, the fascinating widow of the Duke de Valentinois, frequently

found that she possessed less influence with the monarch than the

venerable and unostentatious Montmorency. The minister was at all times

surrounded by a formidable phalanx of friends and supporters. Of these his

own sons were not the least considerable; and his nephews, the two

Colignys, need only to be mentioned, to awaken recollections of some of

the most remarkable events of French history.

Neither must we omit to mention the two ladies who held the highest places

in the French Court. The sister and the wife of Henry II. resembled each

other but faintly, yet both secured the admiration of the country. The

Princess Margaret had established herself by her patronage of every

liberal art, and her universal beneficence, in the hearts of the whole

people. Her religion did not degenerate into bigotry, and her charity,

whilst it was at all times efficient, was without parade. She became

afterwards the Duchess of Savoy; but till past the meridian of life, she

continued constantly at her brother's Court,--a bright example of all that

was virtuous and attractive in female character. To her, France was

indebted for discovering and fostering the talents of its great Chancellor

Michel L'Hopital; and the honourable name by which she was universally

known was that of Minerva. The King's wife, Catherine de Medicis, was more

respected for her talents than loved for her virtues. But as yet, the

ambition of her nature had not betrayed itself, and little occasion had

been afforded for the exercise of those arts of dissimulation, or the

exposure of that proneness to envy and resentment, which at a later period

became so apparent. She was still in the bloom of youth, and maintained a

high character, not without much show of reason.

Such being the general aspect of the country and the Court, it cannot fail

to become evident, that so far from being a just cause of regret, nothing

could have redounded more to Mary's advantage than her education and

residence in France. If bigotry prevailed among the clergy, it was not

countenanced at the Court, for Henry cared little about religion, and his

sister Margaret was suspected of leaning to the Reformed opinions. If

Parisian manners were known to be too deeply tinctured with

licentiousness, the palace of Catherine must be excepted from the charge;

for even the deportment of Diana herself was grave and decorous, and for

his sister's sake, the King dared not have countenanced any of those

grosser immoralities in which Henry VIII. of England so openly indulged.

The Cardinal of Lorraine, who was at the head of the Parisian University,

quickly discovering Mary's capabilities, directed her studies with the

most watchful anxiety. She was still attended by the two preceptors who

had accompanied her from Scotland, and before she was ten years old, had

made good progress in the French, Latin, and Italian languages. French was

all her life as familiar to her as her native tongue; and she wrote it

with a degree of elegance which no one could surpass. Her acquaintance

with Latin was not of that superficial kind but too common in the present

day. This language was then regarded as almost the only one on whose

stability any reliance could be placed. It was consequently deemed

indispensable, that all who aspired at any eminence in literature, should

be able to compose in it fluently. Mary's teacher was the celebrated

George Buchanan, who was then in France, and who, whatever other praise he

may be entitled to, was unquestionably one of the best scholars of his

time. The young Queen's attention was likewise directed to Rhetoric, by

Fauchet, author of a treatise on that subject which he dedicated to his

pupil,--to history by Pasquier,--and to the delightful study of poetry,

for which her genius was best suited, and for which she retained a

predilection all her life, by Ronsard.

Nor must it be imagined that Mary's childhood was exclusively devoted to

these more scholastic pursuits. She and her young companions, the Scotch

Maries and the daughters of Henry, were frequently present at those

magnificent galas and fetes, in which the King himself so much delighted,

and which were so particularly in unison with the taste of the times,

though no where conducted with so much elegance and grace, as at the

French Court. The summer tournaments and fetes champetres, and the winter

festivals and masquerades, were attended by all the beauty and chivalry of

the land. In these amusements, Mary, as she grew up, took a lively and

innocent pleasure. The woods and gardens also of Fontainbleau, afforded a

delightful variation from the artificial splendours of Paris. In summer,

sailing on the lakes, or fishing in the ponds; and in winter, a

construction of fortresses on the ice,--a mimic battle of snow-balls,--or

skating, became royal pastimes. Mary's gait and air, naturally dignified

and noble, acquired an additional charm from the attention she paid to

dancing and riding. The favourite dance at the time was the Spanish

minuet, which Mary frequently performed with her young consort, to the

admiration of the whole court. In the livelier gailliarde, she was

unequalled, as was confessed, even by the beautiful Anne of Este, who, in

a pas des deux, acknowledged that she was eclipsed by Mary.

The activity of her body indeed, kept, upon all occasions, full pace with

that of her mind. She was particularly fond of hunting; and she and her

maids of honour were frequently seen following the stag through the

ancestral forests of France. Her attachment to this amusement, which

continued all her life, exposed her, on several occasions, to some danger.

So early as the year 1559, when hunting in France, some part of her dress

was caught by the bough of a tree, and she was cast off her horse when

galloping at full speed. Many of the ladies and gentlemen in her train

passed by without observing her, and some so near as actually to tread on

her riding-dress. As soon as the accident was discovered, she was raised

from the ground; but, though the shock had been considerable, she had too

manly a spirit to complain, and, readjusting her hair, which had fallen

into confusion, she again mounted her horse, and rode home smiling at the


Another, but more sedentary amusement with Mary, was the composition of

devices. To excel in these, required some wit and judgment. A device was

the skilful coupling of a few expressive words with any engraved figure or

picture. It was an art intimately connected with the science of heraldry,

and seems to have suggested the modern seal and motto. The composition of

these devices was, as it is somewhere called, only "an elegant species of

trifling;" but it had something intellectual in it, which the best

informed ladies of the French court liked. An old author, who writes upon

this subject, elevates it to a degree of importance rather amusing. "It

delights the eye," he says, "it captivates the imagination, it is also

profitable and useful; and therefore surpasseth all other arts, and also

painting, since this only represents the body and exquisite features of

the face, whereas a device exposes the rare ideas and gallant sentiments

of its author; it also excels poetry, in as much as it joineth profit with

pleasure, since none merit the title of devices unless they at once please

by their grace, and yield profit by their doctrine."

Mary's partialities were commonly lasting, and when in very different

circumstances, she frequently loved to return to this amusement of her

childhood. Some of the emblems she invented, betray much elegance and

sensibility of mind. On the death of her husband Francis, she took for her

device a little branch of the liquorice-tree, whose root only is sweet,

all the rest of the plant being bitter, and the motto was, Dulce meum

terra tegit. On her cloth of state was embroidered the sentence, En ma

fin est mon commencement; "a riddle," says Haynes, "I understand not;"

but which evidently meant to inculcate a lesson of humility, and to remind

her that life, with all its grandeur, was the mere prologue to eternity.

The French historian, Mezeray, mentions also that Mary had a medal struck,

on which was represented a vessel in a storm, with its masts broken and

falling, illustrated by the motto, Nunquam nisi rectam; indicating a

determination rather to perish than deviate from the path of

integrity. When she was in England, she embroidered for the Duke of

Norfolk a hand with a sword in it, cutting vines, with the motto Virescit

vulnere virtus. In these and similar fancies, she embodied strong and

often original thoughts with much delicacy.

In the midst of these occupations and amusements, Mary was not allowed to

forget her native country. Frequent visits were paid her from Scotland, by

those personally attached to herself or her family. In 1550, her mother,

Mary of Guise, came over to see her, accompanied by several of the

nobility. The Queen-dowager, a woman of strong affections, was so

delighted with the improvement she discovered in her daughter's mind and

person, that she burst into tears of joy; and her Scottish attendants were

hardly less affected by the sight of their future Sovereign. Henry, with

his young charge, was at Rouen, when the Queen-dowager arrived. To testify

his respect for her, he ordered a triumph to be prepared, which consisted

of one of those grotesque allegorical exhibitions then so much in vogue;

and, shortly afterwards, the two Queens made a public entry into Paris.

Mary of Guise had there an opportunity likewise of seeing her son by her

first husband, the Duke de Longueville, Mary's half-brother, but who seems

to have spent his life in retirement, as history scarcely notices him. It

may well be conceived, that the widow of James V. returned even to the

regency of Scotland with reluctance, since she purchased the gratification

of her ambition by a final separation from her children.

It was about the same time that Mary first saw Sir James Melville, who was

then only a few years older than herself, and who was sent over in the

train of the Bishop of Monluc, when he returned after signing the Treaty

of Edinburgh, to be one of Mary's pages of honour. Sir James was

afterwards frequently employed by the Queen as her foreign ambassador, and

his name will appear more than once in the sequel. We have spoken of him

here for the purpose of introducing an amusing anecdote, which he gives us

in his own Memoirs, and which illustrates the state of manners at that

period. Upon landing at Brest, the Bishop proceeded direct to Paris. But

Sir James, who was young, and could hardly have endured the fatigue of

this mode of travelling, was intrusted to the care of two Scotch

gentlemen, who had come over in the same ship. Their first step was to

purchase three little "naigies," on which they proposed riding to Paris,

any thing in the shape of a diligence being out of the question. To

ensure greater safety on the journey, three others joined the party,--two

Frenchmen, and a young Spaniard, who was on his way to the College at

Paris. On the evening of the first day, they arrived at the town of

Landerneau, where all the six were lodged in one room, containing three

beds. The two Frenchmen slept together in one, the two Scotsmen in

another, and Melville and the Spaniard in the third. The company on the

whole does not appear to have been of the most respectable kind; for, as

Melville lay awake, he heard "the twa Scotchmen devising how they were

directed to let him want naething; therefore, said they, we will pay for

his ordinair all the way, and shall count up twice as meikle to his master

when we come to Paris, and sae shall win our ain expenses." The two

Frenchmen, on their part, thinking that nobody in the room understood

French, said to each other, "These strangers are all young, and know not

the fashion of the hostelries; therefore we shall deal and reckon with the

hosts at every repast, and shall cause the strangers pay more than the

custom is, and that way shall we save our expenses." At all this Melville,

as he tells us, could not refrain from "laughing in his mind," and

determined to be upon his guard. "Yet the twa Scotch young men," he adds

in his antique phraseology, "would not consent that I should pay for

myself, hoping still to beguile the Bishop, but the Spaniart and I writ up

every day's compt." The Frenchmen being foiled in their swindling

intentions, had recourse to a still bolder manoeuvre. One day, as the

party were riding through a wood, two other Frenchmen, who had joined them

a short time before, suddenly leapt off their horses, and, drawing their

swords, demanded that the others should deliver up their purses. Melville

and his Scotch friends, however, were not to be thus intimidated. They

also drew their swords, and prepared for resistance; on seeing which, the

Frenchmen affected to make a joke of the whole affair, saying that they

merely wanted to try the courage of the Scotchmen, in case they should

have been attacked by robbers. "But the twa last loons," says Melville,

"left us at the next lodging; and the twa Scotch scholairs never obtenit

payment frae the Bishop for their pretendit fraud." Sir James arrived in

safety at Paris, having taken thirteen days to ride from Brest to the


Thus diversified by intercourse with her friends and with her books, by

study and recreation, Mary's early life passed rapidly away. It has been

already seen, that whatever could have tended to corrupt the mind or

manners was carefully removed from the young Queen. As soon as Mary

entered upon her teens, she and her companions, the two young princesses,

Henry's daughters, spent several hours every day in the private apartment

of Catherine de Medicis, whose conversation, as well as that of the

foreign ambassadors and other persons of distinction who paid their

respects to her, they had thus an opportunity of hearing. Conaeus mentions,

that Mary was soon observed to avail herself, with great earnestness, of

these opportunities of acquiring knowledge; and it has been hinted, that

the superior intelligence she evinced, in comparison with Catherine's own

daughters, was the first cause of exciting that Queen's jealousy. It was

perhaps at some of these conferences that Mary imperceptibly imbibed, from

her future mother-in-law, and her not unfrequent visitor, Nostradamus, a

slight portion of that tendency to superstitious belief then so prevalent.

One of the most remarkable characters about Henry's court, was Nicolas

Cretin, or Nostradamus, as he was more commonly called, who combined in

his own person the three somewhat incongruous professions of physician,

astrologer, and philosopher. He asserted, that he was not only perfectly

acquainted with the laws of planetary influence, but that, by the

inspiration of divine power, he could predict the events of futurity. The

style of his prophecies was in general sufficiently obscure; yet such was

the reverence paid to learning in those days (and Nostradamus was a very

library of learning), that he was courted and consulted even by the first

statesmen in France. Mary had far too lively a fancy to escape the

infection; and the force of this early bias continued to be felt by her

more or less all her life.