1559-1560: The End of Mary of Guise’s Regency


Mary of Guise

Once the Lords of the Congregation had retreated to Stirling, the Queen Regent marched back into Edinburgh. Her army consisted of three thousand Frenchmen, a number of Scots and even a few English mercenaries. The lords who supported her were Bothwell, Lord Borthwick, Lord Sempill and Lord Seton. She could rely only on these four and the bishops – other nobles who had not openly supported the revolt had remained ‘neutral’, but were not trustworthy.

Bothwell blamed the Earl of Arran for his own personal losses, but characteristically did not turn to intrigue to revenge himself. He proclaimed Arran a traitor by the sounding of a trumpet and a challenge to single combat, as dictated by the rules of chivalry:

“Having respect to my honour, I am compelled to seek remedy and on a convenient day, in a competent place, I am content to defend the said quarrel before French and Scottish, armed as you please, on horse or foot, to the death. When, God willing, I shall offer to prove that you have not done your duty to authority as a nobleman ought, nor yet to me.”

Arran replied from Stirling:

“You have no place to seek the combat of any man of honour, for it is the deed of a thief to beset a gentleman’s road and rob him of his goods……. When you may recover the name of an honest man, I shall answer you as I ought, but not before French, for there is not a Frenchman in this realm with whose judgement I will have to do.”

The argument was dropped after this, the honour of both sides seeming to be satisfied.

Bothwell knew that the Regent was desperately in need of supporters, no matter how dubious. Elizabeth and Cecil were planning to send a fleet and an army to Scotland within six weeks of Bothwell’s audacious ambush, with a plan to set Arran on the throne. Bothwell had no choice but to turn to intrigue, trying to enlist the support of John Cockburn, whose name had been published on a list of traitors, and whose goods had been confiscated. He refused to change sides, but his son-in law had no such qualms. Mary of Guise was convinced that invasion was inevitable and sought reinforcements from France.

On Christmas Eve 1559 a force of eighteen hundred French and Scots marched from Edinburgh to Stirling, led by the Earl of Bothwell. The ensuing battles with the Lords of the Congregation in Fife lasted a month, but Bothwell’s name never appeared in records of them. It is known that Cecil had plans to kidnap him – he had cost Elizabeth £14,000 with his ambush – and it seems likely that he was taken into hiding by the Queen Regent.

Reinforcements from England arrived in time to save the Congregation, and the Queen Regent’s party were once more forced to refuge in Leith. Knowing that war with England was inevitable, Mary of Guise began proceedings against Arran for his rebellion.

Once war was declared, Mary’s health began to falter, and invasion was daily expected. The English army crossed the border on 30th March 1560, to join the forces of Arran and Lord James. Leith was blockaded by sea and land, and fighting began on the eve of Palm Sunday, continuing through Holy Week.

As well as working throughout the siege to break English supply lines from Berwick, on Easter Monday Bothwell led a force of fifty men and five hundred hagbutters to destroy three of the guns bombarding the town. Bothwell personally wounded both the English general, Lord Grey de Wilton, and his son Arthur Grey. Half of Bothwell’s men were killed, but they killed twice as many English.

Having been repulsed by the Regent’s forces, the Rebels decided to starve Leith out. Bothwell was able to get clear of the town, and planned to seek support from overseas. He first went to the Highlands (to throw Cecil off his trail), and then to Denmark, the foremost naval power in Europe.

Bothwell made a good impression on Frederick II,, but just as he appeared to have achieved success, news reached him of the death of Mary of Guise, of ascitic dropsy. Knowing that she was dying, Mary had prepared for her daughter a list of important people in Scotland, with notes on their characters. Mary Stuart unfortunately never paid as much attention to this as she should, or she would have placed far more trust in Bothwell at a far earlier date. As it was, Bothwell would never receive the same backing from the Queen of Scots as he had from her mother.

Within three days of the death of the Regent, France and Scotland were ready to sign a treaty with England. With no need now to continue his efforts to secure a fleet, Bothwell turned his attentions to love, and Anna Throndsen, daughter of a retired Danish admiral……

This entry was posted in Biography, History, Scotland and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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