Wednesday, May 14, 2014

‘Only Harlots Marry in May’:The Wedding Anniversary No One Celebrates, by Linda Root

As the common people say, 
Only harlots marry in May.
(John Guy, The True life of Mary Queen of Scots, pg.316, from Ovid)

THE BRIDE WORE BLACK: Four hundred forty-seven years ago today the Queen of Scots married the Earl of Bothwell in a protestant ceremony that brought her little joy. Nine years earlier she had been married in white in a Catholic ceremony at the mighty cathedral of Notre Dames de Paris, with the citizens of Paris as her wedding guests.

Think back, if you will, to what you were doing nine years ago. No matter how dramatic the changes in the past nine years, for better or for worse, they no doubt pale by comparison to the differences in the life of Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots from 1558 to 1567, the span between her first marriage and her third. Within a year and two months of her first marriage, she was Queen of France. Within two months of her third, she was Queen of Nothing.


WHEN THE BRIDE WORE WHITE: Marie Stuart’s first wedding occurred on April 24th, 1558 at Notre Dame and was touted as the social event of the century. Although the formal betrothal ceremony occurred only a week before, the fact that a royal wedding was in the offing was the worst kept secret in Europe. Wedding guests had been arriving for weeks and the Valois court was abuzz. It was by all accounts a spectacle unsurpassed in any living person’s recollection.

The obvious reason, of course, was the identity of the bride and groom. The bridegroom was the fourteen year old Dauphin Francois, destined to be the next King of France, and the bride, fifteen year old Marie Stuart, was already the regnant Queen of Scots. It helped that she was a legendary beauty and that her mother’s family was the rising power in mid-century France.

There are no portraits of Marie Stuart in the gown she wore that day, but the official wedding portrait shows two children in their adolescence, unaware of how short their future together would prove to be.

Marie’s uncle, the handsome and politically savvy Francois, Duke of Guise, had just ousted the English from Calais and was very much the man of the hour.


The House of Guise was populated by robust, attractive people the sort from which legends emerge. They had an uncanny ability to play to a crowd, and the youngest member central to the scene that day –the Queen of Scots—was no exception.

The bride defied tradition and the will of her prospective mother-in-law Catherine de Medici by insisting on wearing white, which in Catherine de Medici's culture was a color of mourning. When Catherine balked, the Queen of Scots took the argument to the ultimate arbitrator Henri II, her future father in law and greatest fan. The king sided with Marie.

Unfortunately, there is no extant portrait of the queen on the day of her wedding, but the verbal descriptions confirm that she was wearing a gown of white trimmed with pearls and weighted down with precious jewels, and her auburn hair was flowing down her back in the tradition of a virgin.

Ordinarily the Constable of France Duke Anne de Montmorency would have hosted the event, but he was a prisoner at San Quentin, a circumstance that allowed the handsome and victorious Francois de Guise to assume the honors. He and his brother the Cardinal of Lorraine were careful to orchestrate the processional in such a way to give the common people a clear view of the bride as she arrived on the arm of the King of France. As much of the ceremony as possible took place within the view of the common spectators. In a sense, the entire City of Paris was on the guest list.

Much gold coin was scattered to the huge crowd gathered there as the duke called out 'Largesse, Largess!' The Guises had wanted the wedding to be a crowd-pleaser. The ceremony itself was only one facet of the wedding celebrations, which went on for days. It was said that there was no chocolate or butter to be had within the city, and that many a fine house had been pillaged of its velvet draperies because of the demand for fine fabrics. It was indeed the epitome of a fairy tale royal wedding.

Although the groom was a fragile pathetic boy with a chronic runny nose and a pronounced stutter, the crowd had not gathered to see the Dauphin. They had been assembled for a glimpse of the girl who someday would be Queen consort and who was already the anointed Queen of Scots.

Not even Catherine's friend Nostradamus had predicted how soon the newlyweds would be King and Queen of France or how quickly Marie Stuart's life would change. Within a little more than a year, Henri II had died following a freak jousting accident, and the Queen of Scots was Queen consort of France. In shortly more than another year, she was a widow, frantically surveying the list of crowned heads of Europe in hopes of finding a second husband not noticeably inferior in standing to the first.

She had settled on the Spanish king’s son Don Carlos. However,not only was he mentally unstable, but his father the Spanish king had just married Catherine de Medici’s daughter Elisabeth Valois. Catherine opposed any marriage that might interfere with the standing of her future grandchildren in the Spanish succession.

Politics aside, Catherine had no affection for the Queen of Scots who had acquired a habit of flaunting her birthright in Catherine's face. Now Catherine was the power ruling France in the name of her prepubescent son Charlies IX, and Philip II of Spain had no desire to offend her. Thus, the unhappy and disillusioned eighteen year old queen who had left Scotland when she was six years old prepared to return to personally rule her country.

While her Guise relatives were combing the aristocracy for a suitable consort for the Queen of Scots--someone who could be depended upon to do their bidding while serving as Scotland’s actual ruler--the Scottish aristocracy had a different idea. Their neighboring country to the South had not fared well when Queen Mary Tudor was married to the Spanish king Philip II. The Reformation was in full swing in Scotland, and in the summer of the year of the queen’s repatriation the Scottish Parliament had officially made Scotland into a protestant nation. The Queen of Scots was devoutly Catholic like all of the Guises, and the Scottish lairds had no intention of allowing the queen to select an ultra Catholic consort unless there were safeguards in place. And to complicate matters, the English queen Elizabeth Tudor made it clear that she would exercise a military veto if the Queen of Scots chose to import a militantly catholic prince to rule in her name.

After a few years as a widow, the Queen of Scots was tired of having her French uncles, her Scottish lairds and her cousin to the south each thinking they had the right to nay-say her choice of suitors. In 1565, she made the worst possible choice-–another grandchild of Margaret Tudor, Henri Stuart, known as Lord Darnley, the English-born son of Princess Margaret Douglas and the Scotsman Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox. On the positive side of the slate, he was taller than the five foot eleven inch queen, he could dance a wicked galliard, and he had claims to both the English and the Scottish crowns.

His Catholic religion was a boon to Marie and an inconvenience to the lairds, who quickly saw that Darnley’s fidelity could be bought. However but there was no altering his arrogance, debauchery or self-indulgence. Within a year of his arrival he had offended nearly everyone of importance in Scotland, but Marie married him anyway, sending her most astute advisers running to the nearest Border crossing. The wedding itself was nothing like the affair at Notre Dame seven years earlier.

THE BRIDE WORE BLACK: In the 16th century, marrying the wrong partner could lead to rebellion, and that is what followed Marie Stuart’s wedding to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, briefly king consort of Scotland.

When Darnley first arrived in Scotland there were several relatives waiting to meet him, although not without trepidation. There were concerns among the Lairds of the Congregation concerning his religion, but he dispelled them by asking his distant cousin the Queen’s half-brother and closest adviser Lord James Stewart (later Earl of Moray) to take him to Saint Giles to hear Knox's sermon. But that was his first week in Scotland.

By the time the queen had settled on him for a second husband, the keener lairds had begun to view him with a jaundiced eye. Since his family of Lennox Stuarts were enemies of the powerful Hamiltons, it was expected that the Hamilton clan would shun him because of his father, but the rest of lairds grew to dislike him on his own ticket.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley((PD))
By the time Marie made clear her intenton to marry him, her brother Moray was already at the end of his tether when it came to his future brother-in-law, and he boycotted his sister's court. When the queen proceeded with the nuptials, Murray, Kirkcaldy, Argyll, and the Hamiltons and many of Marie’s other staunch supporters celebrated the wedding with an armed revolt.

Because she was still wearing mourning for Francois I, the bride wore a black gown and a white veil called a widow’s duelle. Following a brief Catholic ceremony, there was a high-spirited ritual in which certain of the queen’s male favorites, including the brothers of her famous Four Maries, unpinned the veil and the event became more celebratory. However, many of Scotland's highest ranking peers were noted by their absence. The festivities were cut short by the Chase-About-Raid, an almost comical series of excursions in which the Queen and Kings’ forces chased the rebel lairds about the countryside, and eventually into England.

By autumn, Darnley’s debauchery and bald ambition became apparent to everyone including the queen, who refused to grant him the crown matrimonial which would have allowed him to rule Scotland in his own right if she died childless. In the ensuing winter the queen announced that she was pregnant, which put a damper on Darnley’s dynastic ambitions but not his infidelity or conniving.

At that time, the Queen, suffering from the absence of her most competent advisers, was becoming more and more reliant upon Scotland’s notorious bad boy, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. In spite of Bothwell's reputation as a roue, especially with women, one thing stood in Bothwell’s favor and that was his unwavering loyalty to both Marie Stuart and her mother, Marie of Guise.

Although many of the queen’s enemies were later possessed with excellent hindsight and quick to expand Bothwell’s role into something less platonic than an adviser and champion, there is no evidence of a sexual relationship between the two of them at this time. After the Queen’s fall a year later, much history was rewritten concocting meetings between the queen and Hepburn, some of which were represented as trysts managed by Hepburn's female relatives who were suspected witches.

But during the winter of 1566, the other man suspected to be occupying Marie Stuart’s bed was not Hepburn but her diminutive Italian secretary and confidante, David Rizzio. Darnley paired with his distant kinsman the very ambitious James Douglas, Earl of Morton and other of the Douglases and Ruthvens and orchestrated Rizzio’s murder at a time and place where the shock and horror of it was most likely to cause the queen to miscarry and terminate the inconvenient pregnancy. Morton had apparently promised Darnley the crown matrimonial if the queen were to miscarry and die. The attack occurred at Holyrood.

The Earls of Bothwell and Huntley were also designated victims, but they escaped. After a day and a half of tension that, among other things, involved the return of the Chase-About Exiles including Moray, the queen convinced Darnley, who was not all that bright, that he was the next on the Morton-Douglas list of victims, and together they fled Holyrood. With Bothwell's help they recovered control of the government soon thereafter, but for all practical purposes, the royal marriage was at an end. But was there already a third husband apparently waiting in the wings? Actually,not quite.

Whatever else was going on within Marie Stuart’s troubled mind, she was determined to protect the legitimacy of her unborn child, and that required assuming the persona of a loving wife when a charade was required. Whatever their relationship at the time, she avoided any hint of impropriety with her friend and champion Bothwell. After the birth of the prince, Darnley did appear and acknowledged the child as his and ‘no one else’s son.It was not a tender moment and occurred in the presence of the English ambassador.

By the time of the Christening in December 1566, the King and Queen were obviously estranged. After the ceremony which he did not attend, Darnley left the capital for his father’s estates near Glasgow. In his absence,Bothwell was taking more and more control of the government and the queen. Darnley, safely ensconced in his father’s mansion, fell seriously ill with what was advertised as pox but which was almost certainly second stage tertiary syphilis.

Then, for a reason that has never been satisfactorily explained, the queen ordered up a horse litter and with a contingent of Hamilton’s rode north to fetch her wayward ailing husband home. What follows was the Scottish version of the next century’s Gunpowder Treason. The house in Edinburgh where Darnley chose to recuperate blew up, and while the explosion did not kill him, he was discovered murdered in an adjoining garden. Marie Stuart, age 24, was again a widow.

When outsiders began to speculate on the identity  of the chief assassin and the name of the queen's next husband, the popular nominee in each situation was one and the same – James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. Placards appeared in the capitol, no doubt produced by Darnley’s father Lennox, showing caricatures of a mermaid and a hare. Mermaids were often used on the signs of taverns where whores were a part of the bill of fare. The hare was a familiar Hepburn icon.

AGAIN, THE BRIDE WORE BLACK: After Darnley’s death, the queen’s behavior was bizarre. She immediately had her chambers draped for a traditional mourning, but in a few days left Holyrood for Seton House, allegedly on the orders of her physician. She gave Darnley’s gold plated armor to Bothwell. She offended many by giving him altar clothes recovered from Northern monasteries to be fashioned into a canopy.

She was receiving less than sympathetic letters from the crowned heads of Europe and Elizabeth. She responded to the widening criticism of her behavior by asking for a dagger so she could kill herself. Then came the week in April that sealed her doom. On April 21, 1567, when she went to Stirling to recover the physical custody of her infant son, her lifelong loyal supporter the Earl of Mar refused to let her have him.

On the way home, her entourage was waylaid by Bothwell and a large contingent of his Reivers, and she, her friends Maitland and Melville and Bothwell's friend  Huntly were hauled off to Dunbar Castle where she either was, or was not, raped, depending on whose propaganda appears the most convincing. Bothwell, however, seemed quite confidant that he had solved the queen’s honor problem.

The kidnap and ravishment occurred on the ninth anniversary of the Queen’s wedding to Francois II at Nortre Dame. Whatever the circumstancs of her sexual encounter with the Earl of Bothwell, a few days later the queen was at Hailes teaching him to play golf, and when he finally escorted her back to Edinburgh, she was very obviously in his thrall and under his control.

Her more forgiving critics speculated that she had been bewitched. Others among her detractors would also later claim that her kirtle was getting tight around her waist. By then it was too late to save her virtue. The citizens who had been enchanted by their pretty young and vigorous auburn haired Boadacea had had enough. They did not outwardly rebel, but the discontent was smoldering.

Bothwell got what we now would call a ‘quickie divorce’ from his Countess, Lady Jean Gordon, on trumped up grounds of consanguinity for which he and Jean had already received a dispensation. There were additional grounds of adultery, not with the queen which was old news by then, but with one of Lady Jean’s household staff named Bessie Crawford.

While the members of the Lairds of the Congregation had withdrawn from the capital and were mustering an army, the queen was planning her third and final wedding. Nothing about it resembled either the second or the elegant first. At first, the leader of the Protestant kirk refused to post the banns until he was ordered to do so, for political reasons. And in spite of a river of hurt and angry tears, Hepburn was not about to be married in a Catholic service. He had not yielded to Lady Jean and his friends, the Gordons, and he had no intention of yielding to the queen.

On May 12, the queen dubbed Bothwell Duke of Orkney making him the highest ranking peer in Scotland. The usual cheering throng was silent.

They were married early in the morning of May 15th in a protestant ceremony witnessed by a small group including the Queen’s Four Maries, a few other stalwart supporters of the queen, and Bothwell's notorious Hepburns, the tag attached to his principal retainers.

Marie wore a black mourning gown to which she and her ladies had attached gold braid to make it a bit less austere. There was a wedding breakfast to which notable citizens of the area had been invited and which few attended. The queen changed into a flowing yellow gown, but there were few who saw her wear it. There were no banquets and there was no ball.

There is a great deal of controversy still raging as to whether the third marriage was legal, since the only feasible grounds for Bothwell’s divorce was the claim of consanguinity for which there had been a dispensation obtained from the pope by the same priest who performed Bothwell’s marriage to Marie. The dispensation was not produced at Bothwell’s divorce trial, although it was among the papers of Lady Jean Gordon, who for a variety of possible reasons did not produce it. Her family had lost much over the years when it stood in defiance of the queen. Some writers suggest that perhaps she simply wanted out of the marriage as much as Hepburn did. However, on that topic, there is contrary evidence that Hepburn continued to visit her at Crichton after he married the queen.

The more troublesome question involves the complicity of the queen in contracting a marriage that was bigamous. Since she was very much involved in the Bothwell-Gordon wedding, could the queen possibly not have known that a dispensation had been granted? Books are still being written on both sides of the issue.

The salient question is, would the devoutly Catholic Queen of Scots have sponsored a wedding such as that of Hepburn’s to Lady Jean in which a dispensation was required without assurances that the grant existed? The more tenable answer to that question is, no. But the Marie Stuart who bought Jean Gordon the cloth of silver and gold for her wedding dress and bore part of the expense of the nuptial celebrations that followed was a different Marie Stuart than the pregnant widow who married the Earl of Bothwell on May 15, 1567 in a Protestant Rite at Holyrood.

On Mary and Bothwell's wedding night, a new placard was nailed to the gates of Holyrood. Quoting Ovid, it declared: "As the common people say, Only harlots marry in May."(John Guy, The True life of Mary Queen of Scots, pg.316).  According to Guy, "Mary was stung by the insult, although a moment's thought would have reassured her that, like the drawing of the mermaid and the hare, it could only have been the work of someone versed in Latin poetry, making it less hurtful than if it had come from the common people" (Ibid). However, notwithstanding Guy’s observation, the common people made their feeling known a month later when they marched under the white banner of the prince, "Hear and Avenge my prayer, O Lord."

Did Marie Stuart’s acquiescence to a coerced marriage that might not even be legal make her a harlot? No. It made her an unraveling pregnant woman without options, and in her case, being a queen only made matters worse.

One month later on an unseasonably hot 15th of June, Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots, who with Bothwell had been unable to raise the large armed force they had anticipated, surrendered to the knight Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange on the condition that she be escorted safely to Holyrood and that her husband James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, be permitted to leave the field unmolested.

The queen and Bothwell argued briefly but the queen was adamant. They kissed passionately in view of the soldiers on both sides of the conflict before Bothwell reluctantly rode away. The Knight of Grange knelt before the queen and kissed her hand before he helped her to her palfrey and led her down the hill. She and James Hepburn never saw one another again.


She entered the city later that evening to shouts of angry citizens calling out, ”Burn the Witch. Kill the Whore.” Forty-five days later at her island prison at Loch Leven, she was forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son who was crowed King James VI of Scotland three days later at Stirling. She never saw him after leaving Stirling without him on April 23, 1567. Her interlude as the bride of the Earl of Bothwell lasted from May 15 to June 15, 1567, a mere month, although the debate surrounding it has lasted nearly four hundred fifty years.

Linda Root, 2012
photo by Chelsy Tucker

Author’s Note: The debate as to the legality of the Gordon-Bothwell divorce and therefore, the validity of the third marriage of the Queen of Scots figures prominently in my work-in-progress The Reluctant Countess and the Queen of Scots. Lady Jean Gordon also had three marriages and apparently one great love. My novel may have a startling answer as to who that may have been.

 Root is the author of the two “big” historical novels in the Queen of Scots Suite, The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, the story of Marie Flemyng, Lady Lethington; and The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, the adventures of the knight Kirkcaldy of Grange. The Reluctant Countess will be the third. A second series, (originally called the Midwife's Secret stories) The Legacy of the Queen of Scots, tales which begin with the queen’s imprisonment at Loch Leven and continuing into the reign of James VI and I, includes to date: The Midwife’s Secret: The Mystery  of the Hidden Princess; The Other Daughter;  and 1603, The Queen’s Revenge, published last week on Kindle,  coming soon as a trade paperback. In the Shadow of the Gallows is her work in progress in the Legacy series. She lives in the Morongo Basin area of the Southern Mohave with her husband Chris and her two canine children Maxx and Maya, giant Alaskan  Malamutes. She is a member of the Marie Stuart Society, the MarieStuartDiscussionGroup onYahoo,  the State Bar of California, the English Historical Fiction Authors and she writes for The Review.

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