The Rough Wooing
Death of a King
Scotland, December 7, 1542
Kneeling on stones in the chapel at Linlithgow,
Marie de Guise heard the creak of an opening door,
and, chilled by a sudden wind, a bitter gust,
ceased praying—even as the flicker of flambeaux
intensified, casting shadows on the floor,
snakes slithering over tombs, writhing in the dust.
Rising, she met the messenger eye-to-eye,
aware his ashen face, deeply creased in agony,
foretold of disaster, of death's untimely sting.
"I bring you sad news," he said, voice amplified,
echoing, intensifying catastrophe,
"This morning your husband died. Your lord. Our king."
Light-headed with shock, she swayed as she fought for breath;
for she was vulnerable, now widow and mother,
just delivered of a daughter, Scotland's only heir.
Reeling, she replied, "God protects, the Scriptures saith,"
for she knew Scotland was ripe for massacre,
torn by civil strife, with foreign foes everywhere.
Eyes on the cross, the image of Christ crucified,
she drew a deep breath, praying slowly, silently:
Blessed Mother, as your son was resurrected,
so I know Scotland will be reborn, will survive.
To this end I pledge my life, put my trust in thee,
she vowed, as she crossed herself and genuflected.
The Path to War
Scotland, Winter, 1542
As winter's cowl settled over Edinburgh—
a foggy darkness enshrouding one and all—
Scotland's nobles assembled for rites of burial,
formal obsequies befitting a time of woe.
Yet Marie de Guise remained behind Linlithgow's walls—
for she doubted these lairds, deeming most disloyal.
Determined to gain control, the upper hand,
she waited patiently, her daughter at her side,
forcing these treacherous lairds to come to her,
to brave the snow-covered roads of this northern land.
Driven by curiosity, they complied,
bright-eyed, cruelly calculating inquisitors.
Beards frosted white, feet wrapped in ice-encrusted furs,
they circled the cradle, one after another,
like hungry wolves surrounding a potential prey.
For a newborn, nursing infant was their ruler,
her only protection a young, French-born mother—
and they were a feckless lot, ready to betray.
Still she won them over. As these lairds sipped rare wines,
warmed bone-chilled hands and feet in front of blazing fires,
they fell under the spell of Marie de Guise—
while she, tireless, pursued her ultimate design:
the crowning of her child—a gesture to inspire
a struggling Scotland, so close to catastrophe.
For, hidden behind the walls of Hampton Court,
England's King Henry, that aging Tudor tyrant,
now a loathsome mass of bloated, quivering flesh,
was greedily glancing north, certain none could thwart
his plan to swallow Scotland whole, to supplant
a weakened Stuart monarchy with a Tudor crest.
The Rough Wooing
Edinburgh, Winter, 1544
Two winters—a lifetime later—she stood amidst
the smoldering ruins of Holyrood Abbey—
a skeleton whose blackened ribs cried sacrilege,
pled for revenge on the ruthless egotist
who had defiled the tomb where her husband lay,
flanked by their two sons, stones aligned, edge to edge.
A tomb. Sacred soil defiled for a royal bride.
For, spurred on by his insatiable ambition,
King Henry was bent on marriage, pursuing
a union of his only son, his joy and pride,
with her young daughter—a political vision
that had erupted into war—this "rough wooing".
Now, as Marie de Guise surveyed the debris,
she prayed for Scots butchered, skewered on English blades,
their bodies left as carrion along the roadways,
fly-infested, rotting corpses at last retrieved
by shaken survivors of these horrific raids,
souls wounded and lost, scarred by misery and dismay.
As she mourned, sunbeams broke through the cold, granite sky,
highlighting a metal shard in the mangled earth.
Hands trembling, she reached for the consecrated cross,
pulled from the ashes a symbol identified
with a risen Christ, resurrection and rebirth—
a sign the Scots would win, whatever be the cost.
In the Wake of Pinkie Clough
Scotland, Spring, 1548
Gratefully, Marie de Guise awoke to chanting,
soothing notes that lingered, quivered in the air
as the disembodied voices of the brothers
of Ichmahome Priory matched the rising
of the sun, sought the divine in morning prayer—
such blessed music for a troubled mother.
Now, as shafts of sunlight appeared, golden gleams
defining her child's sleeping form, the queen arose,
donned her cloak, and slipped out into a corridor
of filigreed arches framing a square of green.
What can we do? she pondered. We cannot oppose
the English; our army is tired, unfit for war.
For early last September, on "Black Saturday",
Scotland had lost at Pinkie Clough, a rude defeat
that destroyed her fighting forces and, as onerous,
left the unguarded Lowlands under English sway—
a loss that forced Marie de Guise north in retreat
to the Highland wilderness, stark and mountainous.
Now, as she viewed the monks' garden, a place apart,
Marie de Guise took note of opposites:
mint and lady's mantle, aggressive specimens
ruthlessly edging out their fragile counterparts—
delicate flowers so obviously unfit,
so pressed for space in this monastery garden.
Without protection, these flowers will not survive,
she mused, her thoughts turning to her still sleeping child—
then to the message she must answer by eventide.
For the French had offered aid, would her hopes revive—
but only if her child left the British isles
to become La Reinette, Le Dauphin's future bride.
Can I give up my daughter? the queen debated,
Entrust her to the French, let her be raised elsewhere?
The rich perfume of incense wafted through the air,
sharpening her senses as she deliberated—
without doubt, she must answer the French messenger,
for, with the English close, she had no time to spare.
Pondering, the queen gazed on moors studded with stone,
watched the sun burn through the morning mist, rendering
glen and gulf golden, colored by a molten dawn—
but she knew no joy. Her thoughts on the Scottish throne,
heavy-hearted, she trod the path to its ending—
only to find her chamber empty, her child gone!
Heart hammering against her ribs, the frantic queen
ran through the priory's labyrinthian paths
praying for a glimpse of her daughter's dressing gown,
for telltale movement in a copse of evergreen.
She paused, her breath coming in painful, ragged gasps—
and heard her daughter's laughter—a most blessed sound.
Sitting in a cluster of white-flowering roses,
her hair burnished gold by the dawn's early rays,
Scotland's little queen seemed a delicate fairy—
an elfin child, caught in a moment of repose.
Weak with relief, her mother hugged her runaway—
and made her decision. France was sanctuary.
The Tide Turns
Scotland, Summer, 1548
Spared by the English, perched on a rocky hillside,
Stirling Castle was treasured by Marie de Guise—
here was a pleasure palace, a world of opulence,
of lush, terraced gardens, of chambers beautified
by friezes, fretwork, silver-threaded tapestries:
luxuries most fit for a royal residence.
But today such elegance left the queen unmoved.
Deep in thought, she sat alone in Stirling's Great Hall,
holding the cross retrieved from Holyrood Abbey—
a twisted bit of metal, soot-encrusted, bruised,
but able to withstand whatever might befall—
this cross inspired her with its resiliency.
Fingering the icon, she prayed for a miracle:
her daughter's safe landing in far-off Brittany.
For storms had vexed the northern waters, creating
crosscurrents punishing, pulsating, powerful—
threatening a child now marked by destiny
to rescue all—by Scotland and France uniting.
Footsteps. A shadow darkening the sunlit floor.
Then booming, joy-filled words from Scotland's Governor—
"Your daughter is safe. Even now, she rests at Roscoff."
"Praise God," Marie de Guise replied. "Forevermore,"
she added—as sun brushed the cross, a meteor
picking out silvered streaks beneath the blackened dross.