Queens Regent – Mary of Guelders

mary guelders
(public domain)

A regent is “a person appointed to administer a state because the monarch is a minor, is absent or is incapacitated.”

Mary of Guelders was born around 1434 as the daughter of Arnold, Duke of Guelders, and Catherine of Cleves. Mary grew up at the court of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy and his third wife Isabella of Portugal. Around the age of 12, they planned a marriage to Charles, Count of Maine, but her father could not afford to pay the dowry. Mary was an attendant of Catherine of France, the first wife of Charles the Bold, Isabella and Philip’s son, while Mary herself also had plenty of attendants.

In 1446 a Scottish ambassador visited Arnhem, the capital of Guelders and apparently Mary was visiting her parents at the time. They were probably in early negotiations for a marriage to James II of Scotland when Princess Catherine died suddenly, leaving Charles without a spouse. By 1448 James wrote to Charles VII of France asking him to recommend a Queen for him. Charles responded that he had no suitable relatives at the time but that James should look in the Burgundian court. In February 1449 negotiations seemed to be done, Mary was the chosen bride for James. Luckily Philip was in the position to pay for Mary’s dowry. It’s possible that James’ sister, another Mary, sailed with Mary to Scotland as she was living in the Netherlands at the time.

They set sail on 9 June 1449, and she arrived a week later in the estuary of the Firth of Forth, where she went ashore to pray. She sailed into Leith on 18 June, where she rested in the Convent of St. Anthony until she set off on horseback to Holyrood Abbey. She met her husband in person there for the first time, and he arrived just before midnight. They spent three hours together. They were officially married on 3 July 1449 at Holyrood Abbey. We do not know what she wore to her wedding, but during the following coronation ceremony, she wore violet robes with ermine and wore her hair down. All the nobles who had accompanied her left about a week after the wedding.

Mary quickly fell pregnant, but the child was born three months early and lived for only six hours. At the end of the year 1450, she was pregnant again. On 10 July 1451, she gave birth to the future James III. They would have five more children, of which one more would die in childhood. James died on 3 August 1460 when a cannon exploded, and his femur was shattered by flying metal. On 10 August 1460, the new King was crowned in an impressive ceremony, watched by his mother. Later that year she wished to found a Collegiate Church of the Holy Trinity in perpetual memory to “the last most illustrious prince, James, King of Scots, our most tender husband.” Mary was given official custody of the new King, and she was advised by a regency council. The council was apparently not amused with Mary’s regency, and one chronicler noted, “the Lords said that there were little good worth both spiritual and temporal that gave the keeping of the Kingdom to a woman,” but Mary showed them a sense of duty they had not seen before.

She was caught up in the Wars of the Roses in England and followed her husband’s policy of playing off the Yorkists and Lancastrians to Scotland’s advantage. A marriage between Edward, Prince of Wales and her eldest daughter Mary was considered but with the Yorkist victory of the Battle of Towton that seemed a long way off. Margaret of Anjou, Edward and the Dukes of Exeter and Somerset fled to Scotland and Mary allowed them to stay for a year before writing to Edward IV to consider a truce. Eventually, Margaret of Anjou and her party left Scotland after Mary paid them a substantial sum. It’s possible Mary even considered marrying Edward IV herself. However, she was once again a reluctant participant in Margaret of Anjou’s cause in 1463. The military campaign at Norham Castle was a complete failure, and Margaret of Anjou departed for Burgundy.

Later that same year Mary fell seriously, and she died a few months later on 1 December 1463. Her final resting place is under debate, but she’s probably buried in Holyrood Abbey. Her reputation was somewhat blackened in the years following her death, and she was accused of having had affairs with the Duke of Somerset and one Adam Hepburn, but those accusations are most likely untrue. Her son was still only 14 years when she died, and he continued to be under a regency until 1469. 1


  1.  Marshall, Rosalind Kay (2003), Scottish Queens, 1034–1714

About Moniek Bloks 2663 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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