Friday, June 7, 2013

Unveiling Marie Stuart: The Poetry of the Queen of Scots

by Linda Root

Mary Queen of Scots, Clouet {{US1923}}


It is small wonder that one of Scotland’s two contributions to the list of technically accomplished royal poets of the Sixteenth Century wrote her verse in French.

It is more puzzling to explain how easily the creative aspect of her character is trivialized. The poet of whom I speak is Marie Stuart, a woman we know as the French queen consort and anointed Queen of Scots, but often forget that she was a student and life-long confidante of Pierre Ronsard, the leader of the Pléiade, frequently called The Prince of Poets, and that both Ronsard and the scholar-historian Brantome acknowledged her expertise. Nevertheless, at least one competent Marian historian opines that if Marie Stuart lived today she would be a runway model jet setter, and that is the image that sticks.

While many members of the historical fiction writer’s audience consider England and Scotland as united by more than politics and geography but also by a common heritage, during much of what is called the Renaissance, Scotland was linked not to England, but to France. The relationship has a name, "the auld alliance", and it is generally considered to have come into being before the end of the 13th century. 

There were periods in the 15th and 16 centuries when dual citizenship was afforded to citizens of the respective kingdoms, and villages existed in Northern France where there were as many Scots as French. When the French monarchy needed a rescue during the 15th century, its own aristocracy turned away, leaving Stuarts, Melvilles, Douglases and Carmichaels fighting with Joan d‘Arc at the Siege of Orleans. 

There was another player in the dynamic of "the auld alliance" and that was the auld enemy England. Dating to the days of Edward Longshanks, the pattern was established--the English invaded and the French defended. The thought that Marie de Guise somehow ceded all that was Scottish to the House of Valois when she sent her toddler daughter to France in 1548 is a misconception. The Dowager of Scotland sent her daughter away to escape Hertford’s army which sought to establish its suzerainty over Scotland by kidnapping its five year old queen as a future bride for Henry VIII’s son Edward VI. 

Again, the auld enemy was in assault mode, and the auld ally came to the rescue and spirited her to France. As a result, the adolescent widow who entered Leith harbor in 1561 to assume personal rule of Scotland was a French girl.

The French Child:

Marie Stuart was not without her flaws. Nevertheless, she was skilled in the areas where a French queen consort was expected to excel–poetry, music, dance, and needlework. When she was a child at Saint Germain, her Scottish friends were expelled to a nearby convent to insulate Marie from their Scottish speech and mannerisms. In the ordinary course of life, never again should she have set foot on Scottish soil.

Her training was not meant to create a regnant queen. The Salic law precluded a female from assuming the French throne. But while the objective of Marie Stuart’s education was not meant to create a sovereign, it was hardly lightweight. While still a child, she delivered a scholarly recitation to the court of King Henri II – not in French, but in Latin. While the words were probably scripted by her uncle Charles de Guise, Archbishop of Rheims and Cardinal of Lorraine, her presentation was flawless.

While her poetry is not as sophisticated as her English rival Elizabeth's, her works are far more introspective. It is not the work of the shallow-minded sycophant she is often portrayed as being. It is full of wordplay and puns, and like her embroidery, it is replete with symbolism.

Unfortunately, as demonstrated below, those features are hard to appreciate when translated from their original French into modern English. Perhaps we tend to make light of her achievements not because of what Marie Stuart was, but because of what she definitely was not—for she was not an astute politician. And while her poetry is technically competent, she was not always circumspect in determining what themes to express and which thoughts to keep to herself.

In the end, it was what she put to paper that sent her to the scaffold. I offer some samples of her work to perhaps give a glimpse of the woman who was Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots, a woman who is in some respects as enigmatic her cousin Elisabeth.

While students at the royal nursery at Saint Germain en Laye were expected to do daily exercises in penmanship and verbal expression, usually in the form of letters which were rarely sent, we see early works of both Marie Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor written in prayer books, Psalters and the like.

When she was 17 and Queen of France, Marie wrote the following quatrain in her aunt’s prayer book. In translation is does not show the artful play on words prominent in the original idiomatic French or her use of the words ordonne and l’ordonnance in a manner that reveals how she perceived herself. Robin Bell translates it thus:

If I am ordered to write in this space
Because you desire a souvenir,
II ask you to always save my place
And ne’er withdraw the order I have here.


Another translation of the same work appears in the excellent book, Royal Poetrie, Monarchic Verse and the Political Imaginary of Earl Modern England by Peter Herman, discussed below, and while the translations are similar, there is a shift of emphasis that exposes the difficulty in translating poetry, especially that written in a language as idiomatic as French.

Herman says, ‘Furthermore, the use of "ordonne/ ordonnance" not only anticipates the use of word play in her later works, notably one of the Bothwell sonnets, but ‘gives the poem a distinctly legislative air’.Whether or not he is correct is a matter of conjecture.


Compare Marie’s quatrain to the verse young Elizabeth Tudor wrote in a French Psalter at some point before she ascended the throne at age 25, after she had spent years subjected to scorn, distrust and imprisonment.

No crooked leg, no bleared eye,
No part deformed out of kind,
No yet so ugly half can be
As is the inward suspicious mind.

While Elizabeth’s work is usually described as having been written in her French Psalter, an item on display Royal Library, Windsor Castle and published in Paris ca. 1520, Elizabeth did not keep the book. She wrote her inscription when she presented it to a servant or lady-in-waiting as a memento.

Elizabeth signs her little quatrain as "Your loving Mistress, Elizabeth" making the inscription very personal. By comparison, Marie writes her quatrain in a Mass Book belonging to her aunt, Anne of Lorraine, Duchess of Aerschot and signs it ’Reine de France Marie.’ This coincides with Peter J. Herman's observation that Marie’s simple verse reveals the importance she placed on status. Note that she identified herself first by her position as queen (Reine) and only then by name.

In Herman's interpretation, the Queen of Scots asserts the power of her position by phrasing her inscription as an order and signing it as queen while Elizabeth is comfortable relying on the thought expressed in her revealing anecdote. Her sentiment, not her signature, is the message she wishes to leave in the book. Perhaps this is a clue that Elizabeth Tudor was self-reliant but Marie Stuart was not. It is also indicative of someone who had been queen since six days old as opposed to a girl who had been a princess only to become the bastardized Lady Elizabeth at age three.

The Queen of Scots wrote two of her most widely read poems in 1560-1561 when she was Dowager Queen of France, mourning the death of her adolescent husband Francois II. They tend to be long and doleful. Here is an excerpt from one of two odes written on his death.


I shall cease my song now
My sad lament shall end
Whose burden aye shall show
True love can not pretend
And, though we are apart
Grows no less in my heart.

Marie and Francois had been informally betrothed when she was five and he was four. He was an object of ridicule and pity. He had a sallow complexion, distorted posture and a constantly runny nose. He was small for his age and dominated by his mother, the redoubtable Catherine de’Medici. 

Marie, on the other hand was very tall and, by the time of their wedding, was nearly six feet in height. Her ivory complexion and striking coloring were legendary. She was a notable beauty long before she was a bride. They were a physical mismatch, but in spite of it, they were soul mates. 

Because of her position as an anointed queen, Marie took precedence over the Valois princesses Elisabeth and Claud and later, Margot, and on state occasions, she sometimes took precedence over Francois, since she was an anointed regnant queen and he remained the heir apparent until his father was mortally wounded in a tournament in 1559.

Comparing the poetry written by Marie upon the death of Francois with the poetry written by an albeit much more mature Elizabeth lamenting the departure of her last serious suitor, the Duke of Alençon, whom she called Monsieur, (c.1582) highlights the difference in the personalities of the rival queens.

Elizabeth coaches her lament of Alençon’s departure in terms of what it means for her future. At the time she was fully aware it was the last card to be played in the marriage game. Note that Elizabeth uses the personal pronoun "I" eight times in six lines of verse compared to Marie’s once.



I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
I seem stark mute but inwardly to prate.
I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned.
Since from myself another self I turned.


Even in the mournful poems following the death of Francois, Peter Herman points out Marie’s recognition of her change in stature. In the first stanza of the above poem, his translation, again differing slightly from that of Robin Bell, Herman has Marie recognizing that her best years (i.e., as Queen of France) are behind her.

This is the vision I endeavored to portray in my sketch from The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, below illustrating the scene in which Marie Stuart is said to have looked wistfully back at the coast of France, calling out, "Adieu, Dear France, Adieu. I fear that I shall never look upon you again." And of course, she never did.

Robin Bell’s translation

In my sad quiet song,
a melancholy air
I shall look deep and long
At loss beyond compare,
And with bitter tears
I’ll pass my best years.


Peter J. Herman's Translation:

By way of contrast, Herman's version is different in tone, especially in the tense used on the last line --In Herman's version, the best years are fading with the last views of the French coastline and the loss is suffered in the present. It is a subtle but poignant difference.

In my sweet and sad song
of most lamenting tone
I look deeply at my incomparable loss
and in bitter sighs
I pass my best years.

Linda Root~The First Marie and the Queen of Scots

The Poet as the Regnant Queen of Scots:

Unfortunately one of Marie Stuart's early pieces written shortly after her decision to assume personal rule of Scotland. has been lost. It survives in the form of two differing translations. 

The poem is addressed to Elizabeth. It is what we would call a gift enclosure card, and the gift, like the subject of the poem, is a diamond ring. In it, the diamond is speaking. Its giver of the gift is not subservient to the recipient, although obviously courting favor. It is commonly entitled, The Diamond Speaks

Bell admits that his translation is largely interpretative and based on divergent French translations of the missing original, tempered by his own analysis of Marie Stuart’s poetic style. Here is an interesting excerpt from The Diamond Speaks. Note how artfully Marie places sentiments that might be presumptuous if attributed to her as coming from the diamond!

‘May it please, from these omens I shall gather strength
And thus from Queen to equal Queen I’ll pass at length
Or would I could join them with an iron band alone
(Though all prefer gold) and unite their hearts as one
That neither envy, greed nor gossip’s evil play
Nor mistrust nor ravaging time could wear away
Then they’d say that among treasures I was most renowned
For I’d have two great jewels in one setting bound.’…

The poem, according to Bell, was forwarded along with a heart-shaped diamond that symbolized Marie’s desire to live as a ‘good sister’ to Elizabeth. ‘I know of nothing that can resemble my good will to my sister better than that,’ she told her friend the English ambassador Nicholas Throckmorton. 

The good will, if there ever was any, did not last long. Elizabeth, in spite of her indictment of the ‘suspicious mind’ as penned in her lady’s Psalter, had grown one of her own, and not without cause. She had distrusted her cousin ever since Marie Stuart’s father-in-law, Henri II, induced her to quarter the English coat of arms along with those of France and Scotland and style herself as Queen of England after the death of Mary Tudor in 1558. 

Not all English Catholics honored Elizabeth’s claim because they did not recognize Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth did not take Marie’s action lightly and never forgot it, but during the early years of her reign and later during the Northern Rebellion of 1569, the threat was genuine.

Most of the communications between the queens after Marie Stuart arrived in Scotland as a widow were couched in diplomatic prose or in messages passed from the lips of envoys who often came bearing gifts. Both queens toyed with the image of an enduring sisterhood, but eventually Elizabeth struck back.

After Marie fled to England in 1568, what had been a nagging annoyance became a materialized threat. In 1569, Elizabeth’s Catholic subjects in the northern counties rebelled. Marie became the reluctant champion of their cause and never fully rehabilitated herself in Elizabeth's eyes. Elizabeth responds in her poem, On Future Foes, (written between 1568 and 1571) in which she pins Marie Stuart with a tag that sticks by calling her ‘the daughter of debate.’ The last eight lines are indicative of Elizabeth’s sentiments toward her cousin, but the entire piece is worthy of inclusion.

The dread of future foes exiles my present joy,
And wit me warns to shun such snares as threaten mine annoy.
For falsehood now doth flow, and subject’s faith doth ebb;
Which would not be if Reason ruled, or Wisdom weaved the Web.
But clouds of toys untried do cloak aspiring minds,
Which turn to rain of late repent by course of changed winds.
The top of hope supposed the root of ruth will be,
And fruitless all their graffed guiles, as shortly ye shall see.
Those dazzled eyes with pride, which great ambition blinds,
Shall be unsealed by worthy wights whose foresight falsehood finds.
The Daughter of Debate, that eke discord doth sow,
Shall reap no gain where former rule hath taught still peace to grow.
No foreign banished wight shall anchor in this port;
Our realm it brooks no stranger’s force, let them elsewhere resort.
Our rusty sword with rest shall first his edge employ,
To poll their tops that seeks such change and gape for joy.


The poem has been criticized by some as the work of a novice because of its contradicting imagery--some of it agricultural and some of it, maritime--until a deeper analysis shows how appropriately they are interwoven. Most critics now believe that it was deliberate. The meter is iambic throughout which is the emergent favorite form for much English poetry of the period.

Again the work is not particularly introspective. Elizabeth is not whining about her troubles. She is casting the gauntlet at the feet of her adversaries.

Reading it as a companion to her Tutbury speech tells us much of what we need to know about Elizabeth. The Cecils may have orchestrated her policy but they did not dictate her poetry. The Queen of Scots was foolhardy to cast Elizabeth in the role of benevolent sister. Expecting Elizabeth to help her regain her throne and crossing the Solway into England was the last of a parade of disasters that began with her second marriage to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. But before analyzing the dynamic of Marie’s nineteen years of captivity it seems appropriate to take a look at the earlier pieces which help explain exactly how she got there.

The Mystery of the Twelve Sonnets from the Casket:














The next major examples of Marie’s poetry are of controversial provenance. They are the twelve sonnets included in the items which the Earl of Morton produced at the hearings held in York in 1568, the collection that history knows as The Casket Letters. Historians disagree as to their authenticity. They were recovered among letters said to have been written to Bothwell while Marie’s second husband, King Henry Stuart, known to history as Darnley, was still alive--specifically, during the period of her trip to Glasgow to fetch her estranged husband King Henry (Darnley) home.

The entire body of evidence produced from the casket by her enemies is suspect, although more attention has been given to the letters than the poetry. Some of the letters seem to refer to events that had not yet happened and to references that make little sense. They are not dated, and there is a strong inference that if not total forgeries, they are alterations of authentic letters written at a different time--what we would call a 'cut and paste job'.

The sonnets raise different issues. The first concerns their form. Prior to these sonnets having been attributed to her, Marie usually expressed herself in couplets. The discipline of the sonnet form was something new. This does not, however, resolve their authenticity.

The form was becoming popular, as evidence by the works of Philip Sydney (and later, by William Shakespeare). It was obviously within her capabilities, since much of her later poetry was in the sonnet format. Other scholars claim that their authorship is suspect because the poet is very unlike the dignified Queen of Scots. These are written by a venomously jealous woman who sometimes seems close to hysterics, not the young woman whose usual poetic expressions were introspective and at times, almost sublime.

On the other hand, it can be suggested that such critics have never found themselves hopelessly in love with the wrong partner, which seems to have been one of Marie Stuart's consistent states. Her second marriage was such a disaster as to cause a rift and a rebellion of her lairds. Her third marriage was to a man who had been divorced for just a week and who was the prime suspect in the murder of her second husband.

At about this same time, Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange who had known Marie Stuart since they both were at the Valois court of Henri II, told Thomas Randolph (who passed it onto Cecil) that the queen had declared to him that she would gladly follow Bothwell to the edge of the world in nothing but a white petticoat. This is the same Marie Stuart who surrendered at Carberry to her enemies on the condition that they allow her bride groom Bothwell to leave the field unmolested. Might that same woman have said (as in the first sonnet) ‘I would renounce the world were it his whim. I’d gladly die if it should profit him’?

In the second sonnet, the writer gets ‘down and dirty’ when it comes to the matter of her rival, her lover's lawful wife, presumably Bothwell’s wife, Lady Jean Gordon. In the second piece, the rival woman is described as having made her husband's acquaintance through her kin. This fits. Jean Gordon’s brother George, Earl of Huntly, was one of Bothwell’s closest friends and had brokered the marriage between his sister and the flamboyant earl.

 In the next sonnet, the writer speaks of her rival as having through marriage restored her honor and estate, and thus gained more than her kin could hope for.The reference again points directly at Jean Gordon, Bothwell’s reluctant countess. Jean’s father, the previous Earl of Huntly had died in his saddle at the Battle of Corrichie Burn, and on Marie’s orders his body was salted and thereafter tried, convicted, drawn and quartered.

Jean's favorite brother John was similarly dispatched without having the good fortune to have died beforehand. The Earl of Huntly had been the most powerful Catholic in Scotland, called the Cock o’ the North and he had sent agents to France the year before to pledge the loyalty of the Catholics in the North to the new widow and to encourage her to make her landing in Glasgow from whence they would purge Scotland of its protestants. There is a good argument that Marie launched her campaign against him to prove to Elizabeth Tudor that she did not intend to restore Catholicism to Scotland.

After Marie’s army defeated Huntly at Corrichie, the honor and estates of the mighty Gordons had been forfeited. Thus, the words of the sonnet themselves point to Lady Jean, whose marriage to Hepburn was brokered by her family in hopes of regaining the queen's favor. And it did confer the honor of a title of countess upon the bride.

Without belaboring the point, there is a little bit of back-story well worth retelling. Before Jean Gordon married Bothwell, she had been deeply in love with Alexander Ogilvy of Boyne. But conspiring with Jean's brother , the queen snagged Ogilvy away from Jean to marry one of her Four Maries, Marie Beaton, who was suffering a tarnished reputation due to indiscretions with the English envoy, Tom Randolph.

At the time, Boyne was considered a rather lackluster catch for one of the queen’s famous Four Maries. Apparently Jean was entirely blind-sided. Then the queen and Jean’s brother stage-managed her marriage to Bothwell, who needed Jean’s huge reinstated dowry to pay his debts. Is it a guilty conscience that in sonnet three causes the author to describe her rival as having come out well in her marriage to the jealous author’s lover at small cost to herself ?

Said the poet, 'She had to give up nothing, save the embrace of a tiresome dolt she once loved dear’.
The dolt sounds suspiciously like the easily manipulated Alexander Ogilvy. But the jealous poet is not finished with Lady Jean. Next she takes a swipe at her rival’s clothes taste in what is perhaps the pettiest of the barbs in the sonnets.

…In her dress she showed without a doubt
She never feared taste might blot her out
From the affection of your loyal heart.…

At Jean’s wedding to Bothwell and during their brief marriage, the Countess of Bothwell's taste in clothes was very much at issue. In spite of the fact that the queen gave the bride eleven ells of expensive fabrics for a wedding gown, Lady Jean took to wearing mourning for her lost love.She was widely criticized for her unorthodox wardrobe choice and Bothwell expressed his disapproval of it. 

But the poet's criticism of her rival did not stop with her clothes. In the same sonnet (#8), the author also paints her rival as a frigid bed partner.

'While you made love, she lay with cold disdain.
If you were suffering the heat of passion
That comes from loving with too much emotion
Her hand would make her heart’s revulsion plain'.

Finally, the poet accuses her rival, who had apparently been writing conciliatory letters to her husband, of having to employ a ghost-writer, since she did not have the intelligence to write them herself:

'with writings tricked out in a learned tone
that could not be the product of her brain'.

Having twice deprived Lady Jean Gordon of a husband does not enhance the portrait of a Marie Stuart who was kind and charitable to her ladies-in-waiting, which is how she is depicted even by biographers who are otherwise critical. Perhaps it is that perception of the queen that prompts critics to question the authenticity of the twelve pieces by offering the alternative explanation that they were written by another of Bothwell’s jealous lovers, of which there had been several. 

The usual suspects include an unknown French courtesan and the wealthy Norwegian woman Anna Throndsen who was the mother of Bothwell's only child. Anna and Bothwell had hand-fasted before Bothwell fleeced and jilted her in favor of the anonymous French lady. 

However, there is no known poetry attributed to either. 

Anna, who was considered the earl’s wife under the laws of Denmark where the marriage was contracted and consummated, definitely bore a grudge. However, the pen was not her weapon of choice. Anna was more litigious than literary. She followed Bothwell to Scotland and filed a lawsuit; but by then he had spent her money and was judgment-proof and Anna returned to Denmark. She did get more than mere poetic justice the year after Carberry when Bothwell fell into the clutches of the Danes. 

She was a well-connected heiress who put enough pressure on the Danes to keep Bothwell locked away in Dragholm castle where he eventually went insane and died chained to a post.

Some claim that the love sonnets are too far beneath the level of Marie Stuart's expertise to possibly be hers. But that is fodder for the counter-argument that from the time of her second husband Darnley’s assassination and her surrender at Carberry, the sometimes suicidal queen was far too distraught to worry much about her cursive or the form and meter of her verse.

The final piece in the set of twelve is incomplete, perhaps the work of a lover with a desperate need to express herself but who had given up the will to vent.

Marie Stuart had good reason to be discombobulated. If Robin Bell’s dates of authorship are correct, the Queen of Scots was pregnant and her future was uncertain. Bothwell was still a married man who kept visiting Jean Gordon on the side. That habit continued even after the queen and Bothwell’s marriage late in May 1567 one week after his divorce from Jean.

The love sonnets recovered from the silver casket bear similarities to the queen’s earlier works in their use of meter, cadence and occasional play on words. But they also show a less regal and seriously flawed Marie Stuart if she is indeed their author. The writer of the sonnets displays a growing lack of confidence in the depth of her lover's commitment, the classic lament of the other woman in a triangle. Yet the factual references in the sonnets suggests that Robin Bell is correct and that Marie Stuart was the desperately jealous poetess.
 Kirk o' Fields crimescene adopted as the rebel banner
Shortly after Robin Bell dates the sonnets, the pregnant queen and Bothwell led their army to Carberry Hill near Musselburgh. It was unusually hot and the loyalist troops were facing into the sun and drinking wine. The ragtag rebel force had the sun at its back and was drinking water, and the citizens of the villages along the way were sporting the makeshift white banner of the little prince. 

"Judge and Avenge my cause, O Lord," said the cartoon character of the boy knelling by his father’s corpse (adapted by the rebels from William Drury's crime scene sketch sent to Cecil.) By the end of the day, much of the queen’s force had deserted. On a promise of safe conduct for her husband and a show of respect for herself, the queen surrendered to Kirkcaldy of Grange, whilst Bothwell rode off to oblivion. 

Although Marie Stuart did not know it yet, her marriage to the Earl of Bothwell was over, and so was the love affair between the common Scots and their auburn-haired Boadicea. The promises made to the queen assuring her safety were broken by the time she was escorted to Edinburgh. After midnight on the second day of her captivity she was taken to Loch Leven Castle.
Linda Root, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots

The Captive of Scots:.

In early spring of the following year, the queen escaped her prison on Loch Leven island and mustered a sizable army, but she remained free for less than two weeks. She fled to England following an indecisive battle at the village of Langside near Glasgow.

Just as at Carberry Hill the year before, she refused to wait for reinforcements which might have altered the outcome, and she crossed into England against the advice of every member of her support group. She remained there in various levels of detention until 1587, a period of nineteen years. During her captivity, the queen honed the skills she learned as a child at Saint Germain en Laye. Unfortunately she did not limit her endeavors to her verse and her embroidery. Finally Elizabeth’s minister Cecil and her spymaster Walsingham had garnered the goods to kill her and Elizabeth had run out of reasons to save her.

Thereafter, the Queen of Scots prepared to assume the role of a martyr. She had been growing into it since the sonnet below was written early in her captivity. The work known as Sonnet written during the Queen’s Imprisonment was published in 1574 as part of the papers of the Bishop of Ross. It is the inspiration and theme of my work in progress: 1603: The Midwife’s Revenge, in which Marie Stuart’s son ascends to the English throne.

In the poem the queen expresses a wish to be free to live out what remains of her life in a chaste, devout and humble body with a mind that dwells in constant prayer. From the content of her sonnet, it is easy to believe reports that she repeatedly asked Elizabeth to let her leave England and retire to Saint Pierre les Dames in Rheims where her aunt, Renee de Guise, is abbess. This poem was written at the time that Edinburgh Castle fell, ending the Marian military presence in Scotland.

Four hundred and twenty six years after her death, her words still inspire and puzzle those who write about the Queen of Scots.

The wrath of God is not appeased by blood
Of goats and oxen on the altar laid;
No incense or any sacrifice made
Brings satisfaction to the Lord our God.
Those who seek to please you must maintain,
O Lord, their faith in immortality
And to mankind bear hope and charity
And do good works, nor take thy laws in vain.
The only offering that pleases you
Is a mind that dwells in constant prayer
In a living, chaste body, devout and humble there
Almighty God, grant that it be my due
To bear these gifts in my heart all my days
And offer them to your eternal praise.

Marie Stuart, 1573


In her last years, despair and physical impairment made writing poetry difficult. Yet she continued to write. One of her last efforts was a poem she intended as a thank you note to the Prince of Poets, Pierre Ronsard, who had recently dedicated a book of his poetry to her. Like many of her last pieces, it was full of strike overs, so she left it unfinished and sent him two thousand pounds and a silver vase instead. This is one of her last couplets, and while she was not sufficiently pleased with it to send it to her mentor, it might well have served her as a model for her own epitaph.

Alas! Tell not of the heights to which he rose.
But that he'd fain be succoured in his woes.
Below is one of her last pieces,written at Fortheringhay shortly before her execution. The last stanza shows the depth of her despair and her reconciliation with her pending death.
Alas what am I? What use has my life?
I am but a body whose heart's torn away,
A vain shadow, an object of misery
Who has nothing left but death-in-life.
O my enemies, set your envy all aside;
I've no more eagerness for high domain;
I've borne too long the burden of my pain
To see your anger swiftly satisfied.
And you, my friends who have loved me so true,
Remember, lacking health and heart and peace,
There is nothing worthwhile that I can do;
Ask only that my misery should cease
And that, being punished in a world like this,
I have my portion of eternal bliss.

Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542- 1587) 

~*~


Sources:

Bell, Robin, Bittersweet within my Heart: The Love Poems of Mary, Queen of Scots, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1992
Fraser, Antonia (1994) [1969]. Mary Queen of Scots. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. p. 299. Guy, John (2004). "My Heart is my Own": The Life of Mary Queen of Scots. London: Fourth Estate. p. 342. ISBN 1-84115-753-8.
Herman, Peter J., Royal Poetrie, Monarchic Verse and the Political Imaginary of Early Modern England, Cornell University Press, 2010 (from the 1958 original)
Wilson, Katharina M.
Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation.Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1987.



1 comment:

  1. Linda I am so moved by this essay, and it it so beautifully written. Although familiar with many of Marie's writings, I could never have had the background to examine them with such expertise. This is truly a wonderful article, worthy of your talent, and grasping mind.Thank you for sharing your research and thoughts on this subject, that was so prominent in Marie's tragic life.I found the information about Lady Jean Gordon's marriage to Bothwell, quite interesting, as it says a lot about him. Her jealousy puts their relationship on shaky grounds, as far as knowing the casualness, and shallow emotions she must have seen through after they were wed.

    ReplyDelete