Mary Queen of Scots - Jacob Abbott

Her Education in France

The departure of Mary from Scotland, little as she was, was a great event both for Scotland and for France. In those days kings and queens were even of greater relative importance than they are now, and all Scotland was interested in the young queen's going away from them, and all France in expecting her arrival. She sailed down the Clyde, and then passed along the seas and channels which lie between England and Ireland. These seas, though they look small upon the map, are really spacious and wide, and are often greatly agitated by winds and storms. This was the case at the time Mary made her voyage. The days and nights were tempestuous and wild, and the ships had difficulty in keeping in each other's company. There was danger of being blown upon the coasts, or upon the rocks or islands which lie in the way. Mary was too young to give much heed to these dangers, but the lords and commissioners, and the great ladies who went to attend her, were heartily glad when the voyage was over. It ended safely at last, after several days of tossing upon the stormy billows, by their arrival upon the northern coast of France. They landed at a town called Brest.

The King of France had made great preparations for receiving the young queen immediately upon her landing. Carriages and horses had been provided to convey herself and the company of her attendants, by easy journeys, to Paris. They received her with great pomp and ceremony at every town which she passed through. One mark of respect which they showed her was very singular. The king ordered that every prison which she passed in her route should be thrown open, and the prisoners set free. This fact is a striking illustration of the different ideas which prevailed in those days, compared with those which are entertained now, in respect to crime and punishment. Crime is now considered as an offense against the community, and it would be considered no favor to the community, but the reverse, to let imprisoned criminals go free. In those days, on the other hand, crimes were considered rather as injuries committed by  the community, and against the king; so that, if the monarch wished to show the community a favor, he would do it by releasing such of them as had been imprisoned by his officers for their crimes. It was just so in the time of our Savior, when the Jews had a custom of having some criminal released to them once a year, at the Passover, by the Roman government, as an act of favor. That is, the government was accustomed to furnish, by way of contributing its share towards the general festivities of the occasion, the setting of a robber and a murderer at liberty!

The King of France has several palaces in the neighborhood of Paris. Mary was taken to one of them, named St. German. This palace, which still stands, is about twelve miles from Paris, toward the northwest. It is a very magnificent residence, and has been for many centuries a favorite resort of the French kings. Many of them were born in it. There are extensive parks and gardens connected with it, and a great artificial forest, in which the trees were all planted and cultivated like the trees of an orchard. Mary was received at this palace with great pomp and parade; and many spectacles and festivities were arranged to amuse her and the four Marys who accompanied her, and to impress her strongly with an idea of the wealth, and power, and splendor of the great country to which she had come.

She remained here but a short time, and then it was arranged for her to go to a convent  to be educated. Convents were in those days, as in fact they are now, quite famous as places of education. They were situated sometimes in large towns, and sometimes in secluded places in the country; but, whether in town or country, the inmates of them were shut up very strictly from all intercourse with the world. They were under the care of nuns who had devoted themselves for life to the service. These nuns were some of them unhappy persons, who were weary of the sorrows and sufferings of the world, and who were glad to retire from it to such a retreat as they fancied the convent would be. Others became nuns from conscientious principles of duty, thinking that they should commend themselves to the favor of God by devoting their lives to works of benevolence and to the exercises of religion. Of course there were all varieties of character among the nuns; some of them were selfish and disagreeable, others were benevolent and kind.

At the convent where Mary was sent there were some nuns of very excellent and amiable character, and they took a great interest in Mary, both because she was a queen, and because she was beautiful, and of a kind and affectionate disposition. Mary became very strongly attached to these nuns, and began to entertain the idea of becoming a nun herself, and spending her life with them in the convent. It seemed pleasant to her to live there in such a peaceful seclusion, in company with those who loved her, and whom she herself loved, but the King of France, and the Scottish nobles who had come with her from Scotland, would, of course, be opposed to any such plan. They intended her to be married to the young prince, and to become one of the great ladies of the court, and to lead a life of magnificence and splendor. They became alarmed, therefore, when they found that she was imbibing a taste for the life of seclusion and solitude which is led by a nun. They decided to take her immediately away.

Mary bade farewell to the convent and its inmates with much regret and many tears; but, notwithstanding her reluctance, she was obliged to submit. If she had not been a queen, she might, perhaps, have had her own way. As it was, however, she was obliged to leave the convent and the nuns whom she loved, and to go back to the palaces of the king, in which she afterward continued to live, sometimes in one and sometimes in another, for many years. Wherever she went, she was surrounded with scenes of great gayety and splendor. They wished to obliterate from her mind all recollections of the convent, and all love of solitude and seclusion. They did not neglect her studies, but they filled up the intervals of study with all possible schemes of enjoyment and pleasure, to amuse and occupy her mind and the minds of her companions. Her companions were her own four Marys, and the two daughters of the French king.

When Mary was about seven years of age, that is, after she had been two years in France, her mother formed a plan to come from Scotland to see her. Her mother had remained behind when Mary left Scotland, as she had an important part to perform in public affairs, and in the administration of the government of Scotland while Mary was away. She wanted, however, to come and see her. France, too, was her own native land, and all her relations and friends resided there. She wished to see them as well as Mary, and to revisit once more the palaces and cities where her own early life had been spent. In speaking of Mary's mother we shall call her sometimes the queen dowager. The expression queen dowager  is the one usually applied to the widow of a king, as queen consort  is used to denote the wife  of a king.

This visit of the queen dowager of Scotland to her little daughter in France was an event of great consequence, and all the arrangements for carrying it into effect were conducted with great pomp and ceremony. A large company attended her, with many of the Scottish lords and ladies among them. The King of France, too, went from Paris toward the French coast, to meet the party of visitors, taking little Mary and a large company of attendants with him. They went to Rouen, a large city not far from the coast, where they awaited the arrival of Mary's mother, and where they received her with great ceremonies of parade and rejoicing. The queen regent was very much delighted to see her little daughter again. She had grown two years older, and had improved greatly in every respect, and tears of joy came into her mother's eyes as she clasped her in her arms. The two parties journeyed in company to Paris, and entered the city with great rejoicings. The two queens, mother and daughter, were the objects of universal interest and attention. Feasts and celebrations without end were arranged for them, and every possible means of amusement and rejoicing were contrived in the palaces of Paris, of St. Germain's and of Fontainebleau. Mary's mother remained in France about a year. She then bade Mary farewell, leaving her at Fontainebleau. This proved to be a final farewell, for she never saw her again.

After taking leave of her daughter, the queen dowager went, before leaving France, to see her own mother, who was a widow, and who was living at a considerable distance from Paris in seclusion, and in, a state of austere and melancholy grief, on account of the loss of her husband. Instead of forgetting her sorrows, as she ought to have done, and returning calmly and peacefully to the duties and enjoyments of life, she had given herself up to inconsolable grief, and was doing all she could to perpetuate the mournful influence of her sorrows. She lived in an ancient and gloomy mansion, of vast size, and she had hung all the apartments in black, to make it still more desolate and gloomy, and to continue the influence of grief upon her mind. Here the queen dowager found her, spending her time in prayers and austerities of every kind, making herself and all her family perfectly miserable. Many persons, at the present day, act, under such circumstances, on the same principle and with the same spirit, though they do not do it perhaps in precisely the same way.

One would suppose that Mary's mother would have preferred to remain in France with her daughter and her mother and all her family friends, instead of going back to Scotland, where she was, as it were, a foreigner and a stranger. The reason why she desired to go back was, that she wished to be made queen regent, and thus have the government of Scotland in her own hands. She would rather be queen regent in Scotland than a simple queen mothernbsp; in France. While she was in France, she urged the king to use all his influence to have Arran resign his regency into her hands, and finally obtained writings from him and from Queen Mary to this effect. She then left France and went to Scotland, going through England on the way. The young King of England, to whom Mary had been engaged by the government when she was an infant in Janet Sinclair's arms, renewed his proposals to the queen dowager to let her daughter become his wife; but she told him that it was all settled that she was to be married to the French prince, and that it was now too late to change the plan.

There was a young gentleman, about nineteen or twenty years of age, who came from Scotland also, not far from this time, to wait upon Mary as her page of honor. A page is an attendant above the rank of an ordinary servant whose business it is to wait upon his mistress, to read to her, sometimes to convey her letters and notes, and to carry her commands to the other attendants who are beneath him in rank, and whose business it is actually to perform the services which the lady requires. A page of honor  is a young gentleman who sustains this office in a nominal and temporary manner for a princess or a queen.

The name of Mary's page of honor, who came to her now from Scotland, was Sir James Melville. The only reason for mentioning him thus particularly, rather than the many other officers and attendants by whom Mary was surrounded was, that the service which he thus commenced was continued in various ways through the whole period of Mary's life. We shall often hear of him in the subsequent parts of this narrative. He followed Mary to Scotland when she returned to that country, and became afterward her secretary, and also her embassador on many occasions. He was now quite young, and when he landed at Brest he traveled slowly to Paris in the care of two Scotchmen, to whose charge he had been intrusted. He was a young man of uncommon talents and of great accomplishments, and it was a mark of high distinction for him to be appointed page of honor to the queen, although he was about nineteen years of age and she was but seven.

After the queen regent's return to Scotland, Mary went on improving in every respect more and more. She was diligent, industrious, and tractable. She took a great interest in her studies. She was not only beautiful in person, and amiable and affectionate in heart, but she possessed a very intelligent and active mind, and she entered with a sort of quiet but earnest enthusiasm into all the studies to which her attention was called. She paid a great deal of attention to music, to poetry, and to drawing. She used to invent little devices for seals, with French and Latin mottoes, and, after drawing them again and again with great care, until she was satisfied with the design, she would give them to the gem-engravers to be cut upon stone seals, so that she could seal her letters with them. These mottoes and devices can not well be represented in English, as the force and beauty of them depended generally upon a double meaning in some word of French or Latin, which can not be preserved in the translation. We shall, however, give one of these seals, which she made just before she left France, to return to Scotland, when we come to that period of her history.

The King of France, and the lords and ladies who came with Mary from Scotland, contrived a great many festivals and celebrations in the parks, and forests, and palaces, to amuse the queen and the four Marys who were with her. The daughters of the French king joined, also, in these pleasures. They would have little balls, and parties, and picnics, sometimes in the open air, sometimes in the little summer-houses built upon the grounds attached to the palaces. The scenes of these festivities were in many cases made unusually joyous and gay by bonfires and illuminations. They had water parties on the little lakes, and hunting parties through the parks and forests. Mary was a very graceful and beautiful rider, and full of courage. Sometimes she met with accidents which were attended with some danger. Once, while hunting the stag, and riding at full speed with a great company of ladies and gentlemen behind her and before her, her dress got caught by the bough of a tree, and she was pulled to the ground. The horse went on. Several other riders drove by her without seeing her, as she had too much composure and fortitude to attract their attention by outcries and lamentations. They saw her, however, at last, and came to her assistance. They brought back her horse, and, smoothing down her hair, which had fallen into confusion, she mounted again, and rode on after the stag as before.

Notwithstanding all these means of enjoyment and diversion, Mary was subjected to a great deal of restraint. The rules of etiquette are very precise and very strictly enforced in royal households, and they were still more strict in those days than they are now. The king was very ceremonious in all his arrangements, and was surrounded by a multitude of officers who performed every thing by rule. As Mary grew older, she was subjected to greater and greater restraint. She used to spend a considerable portion of every day in the apartments of Queen Catharine, the wife of the King of France and the mother of the little Francis to whom she was to be married. Mary and Queen Catharine did not, however, like each other very well. Catharine was a woman of strong mind and of an imperious disposition; and it is supposed by some that she was jealous of Mary because she was more beautiful and accomplished and more generally beloved than her own daughters, the princesses of France. At any rate, she treated Mary in rather a stern and haughty manner, and it was thought that she would finally oppose her marriage to Francis her son.

And yet Mary was at first very much pleased with Queen Catharine, and was accustomed to look up to her with great admiration, and to feel for her a very sincere regard. She often went into the queen's apartments, where they sat together and talked, or worked upon their embroidery, which was a famous amusement for ladies of exalted rank in those days. Mary herself at one time worked a large piece, which she sent as a present to the nuns in the convent where she had resided; and afterward, in Scotland, she worked a great many things, some of which still remain, and may be seen in her ancient rooms in the Palace of Holyrood House. She learned this art by working with Queen Catharine in her apartments. When she first became acquainted with Catharine on these occasions, she used to love her society. She admired her talents and her conversational powers, and she liked very much to be in her room. She listened to all she said, watched her movements, and endeavored in all things to follow her example.

Catharine, however, thought that this was all a pretense, and that Mary did not really like her, but only wished to make her believe that she did so in order to get favor, or to accomplish some other selfish end. One day she asked her why she seemed to prefer her society to that of her youthful and more suitable companions. Mary replied, in substance, "The reason was, that though with them she might enjoy much, she could learn nothing; while she always learned from Queen Catharine's conversation something which would be of use to her as a guide in future life." One would have thought that this answer would have pleased the queen, but it did not. She did not believe that it was sincere.

On one occasion Mary seriously offended the queen by a remark which she made, and which was, at least, incautious. Kings and queens, and, in fact, all great people in Europe, pride themselves very much upon the antiquity of the line from which they have descended. Now the family of Queen Catharine had risen to rank and distinction within a moderate period; and though she was, as Queen of France, on the very pinnacle of human greatness, she would naturally be vexed at any remark which would remind her of the recentness of her elevation. Now Mary at one time said, in conversation in the presence of Queen Catharine, that she herself was the descendant of a hundred kings. This was perhaps true, but it brought her into direct comparison with Catharine in a point in which the latter was greatly her inferior, and it vexed and mortified Catharine very much to have such a thing said to her by such a child.

Mary associated thus during all this time, not only with the queen and the princesses, but also with the little prince whom she was destined to marry. His name was Francis, but he was commonly called the dauphin, which was the name by which the oldest son of the King of France was then, and has been since designated. The origin of this custom was this. About a hundred years before the time of which we are speaking, a certain nobleman of high rank, who possessed estates in an ancient province of France called Dauphiny, lost his son and heir. He was overwhelmed with affliction at the loss, and finally bequeathed all his estates to the king and his successors, on condition that the oldest son should bear the title of Dauphin. The grant was accepted, and the oldest son was accordingly so styled from that time forward, from generation to generation.

The dauphin, Francis, was a weak and feeble child, but he was amiable and gentle in his manners, and Mary liked him. She met him often in their walks and rides, and she danced with him at the balls and parties given for her amusement. She knew that he was to be her husband as soon as she was old enough to be married, and he knew that she was to be his wife. It was all decided, and nothing which either of them could say or do would have any influence on the result. Neither of them, however, seem to have had any desire to change the result. Mary pitied Francis on account of his feeble health, and liked his amiable and gentle disposition; and Francis could not help loving Mary, both on account of the traits of her character and her personal charms.

As Mary advanced in years, she grew very beautiful. In some of the great processions and ceremonies, the ladies were accustomed to walk, magnificently dressed and carrying torches in their hands. In one of these processions Mary was moving along with the rest, through a crowd of spectators, and the light from her torch fell upon her features and upon her hair in such a manner as to make her appear more beautiful than usual. A woman, standing there, pressed ,up nearer to her to view her more closely, and, seeing how beautiful she was, asked her if she was not an angel. In those days, however, people believed in what is miraculous and supernatural more easily than now, so that it was not very surprising that one should think, in such a case, that an angel from Heaven had come down to join the procession.

Mary grew up a Catholic, of course: all were Catholics around her. The king and all the royal family were devoted to Catholic observances. The convent; the ceremonies, the daily religious observances enjoined upon her, the splendid churches which she frequented, all tended in their influence to lead her mind away from the Protestant religion which prevailed in her native land, and to make her a Catholic: she remained so throughout her life. There is no doubt that she was conscientious in her attachment to the forms and to the spirit of the Roman Church. At any rate, she was faithful to the ties which her early education imposed upon her, and this fidelity became afterward the source of some of her heaviest calamities and woes.