THE FOUR MARYS
Four young ladies were chosen by Mary of Guise from families who had close connections both with the royal house of Stewart and with France to be companions to her daughter, Mary, who would become Queen of Scotland. They were Mary Beaton, Mary Seton, Mary Fleming and Mary Livngstone. For clarity's sake, I will call them by their full names. To distinguish them from one another, they were given nicknames. Only Mary Stuart was always Mary. This will give you a brief glimpse of their families and personalities.
As a child, she was very tall and stately and was always called by the others by her surname of Seton. "The Setons were among the most illustrious of the great houses of Scotland," says the book The Great Historic Families of Scotland (an 18th century compendium), "who were conspicuous throughout their whole history for their loyalty and firm attachment t other Stewart dynasty." The founder of the family, Secker de Seye, which later became Seton, was granted land in East Lothian. Sir Christopher Seton married the sister of Robert the Bruce. He was captured by the English, a person of heroic deeds, and executed at Dumfries. One of his brothers was killed with him but one survived and was a signatory to the Declaration of Arbroath. The family continued to gain lands and to marry into other noble families. Mary Seton's grandfather inherited diminished property and estate because of the extravagance of his father who was a Renaissance man who dabbled in medicine, science, music, theology and astronomy. He was an extravagant man, building large buildings, churches and even a great ship. Mary Seton's grandfather did not have long to enjoy what estates were left to him as he died at Flodden. Mary Livingstone's grandfather and both of Mary Fleming's grandfathers also died at Flodden. Mary Seton's father was married twice. His second wife was Marie Pieris, a lady-in-waiting to Mary of Guise. Mary Seton's brother, George, played a large part in the Queen's affairs. When Mary Stuart returned to Scotland as queen, Seton was appointed grand master of her household. Seton residences played a significant part in many crucial moments of Mary's reign. Mary Stewart spent her honeymoon with Darnley at Seton's. Darnley was a cousin of Seton by the way. Ironically, the last night of her marriage to Bothwell was spent at the Seton house. The Queen fled to Seton when Rizzio was murdered and again when Darnley was killed. It was again to Seton she fled after her escape from Lochleven. Seton was taken prisoner and his estates forfeit. He remained a prisoner until 1569, managing to stay in contact with the Queen and pursuing and delivering petitions on her behalf to Elizabeth. He was forced to flee to France where he was so destitute he was forced to drive a wagon for his livelihood. When James VI came to power, he was reinstated as ambassador to France. Mary Seton was the only one of the Maries not to marry. She remained in service to the queen and shared her captivity in England for 15 years. With failing health, she retired to a convent in France. She remained there until she died in her seventies. The abbess of the convent was a Guise, Mary Stuart's aunt, Renee de Guise.
Mary Fleming (nicknamed La Flamina)
This Mary's ancestry was not only noble but royal as well. James IV was her grandfather, as well as Mary Stuart's grandfather. There is confusion about her grandmother who was a mistress of James IV. Some say it was Jane Kennedy and some say Lady Agnes Stewart who became the Countess of Bothwell. Lady Janet Fleming, the mother of Mary Fleming, had six children by her husband and a son by the King of France while she was governess to the young Queen Mary. The story goes that because of this indiscretion she was sent home to Scotland - not so much because of the child that she bore, but because she flaunted her condition in public. La Flamina was the only one of the four who would take Mary's dares and could outdo her in mischief. And she was the only one of the four who was pure Scots. The other three Marys had Scottish fathers, but French mothers. Mary Fleming married a nimble-witted man, Maitland of Lethington, the queen's secretary and a very subtle politician. After the queen's marriage to Bothwell, Maitland deserted her cause and joined the rebelling lords. However, he returned to the queen's side and was one who held Edinburgh Castle for her until it fell to the English. Upon his capture, he chose suicide instead of the executioner's axe. Mary Fleming was purported to have inherited the Stewart beauty and charisma. She was described as the flower of the flock. The Englishman Randolph called her a Venus for beauty, a Minerva for wit, and a Juno in wealth. When Maitland courted this lovely woman, there was much joking at the court. He was in his 40's and a widower. She remained loyal to Maitland even after his death and raised her children in somewhat impoverished conditions.
She was plump and pretty and inclined to daydreaming. She was called Beaton because it rhymed with Seton. The Beatons of Fife were one of the most powerful clans in Scotland in the 16th century. There were may branches of the Beaton family. It seems to have been a prolific one. The difference branches sometimes spelled their names differently such as Beaton, Betoun or Bethune. Mary's branch of the Beatons were those of Creich. They were not of noble blood but held high offices, one a Lord High Treasurer to Jams IV, her father and grandfather both keepers of Falkland Palance and masters of the royal household. Her mother was another of Mary of Guise's ladies-in-waiting. Mary Beaton's father had many sisters and several were prominent among the women of their time. Elizabeth was a mistress of James V who bore him a child (Jean, Countess of Argyll). The eldest sister, Janet, was thought to be a lover of the Earl of Bothwell and gossip implicated her with him in the murder of Darnley. Mary Beaton, like Fleming, attracted the attentions of an older man, Thomas Randolph, Queen Elizabeth's ambassador. He wanted Mary Beaton to spy on her mistress for him. She turned him down and eventually married Alexander Ogilvie a young Scotsman.
Mary Livingstone (nicknamed Lusty)
She was very robust and athletic and the others called her Lust. Her father was one of Mary Stuart's guardians and sailed with her to France. Like the fathers of Mary Beaton and Mary Seton, he also had a French wife. Mary Livingstone's brother inherited when her father died and his loyalty to the queen never wavered. He was one of the few nobles who attended the queen's marriage to Bothwell and he went with her into exile in England. Mary Livingston was the first of the four girls to marry. Her husband was John Sempill, a member of another loyal family to the queen.
A reader has sent this information regarding the Marys that I have his permission to include here.
I always refer to your website when refreshing my memory about the dates of Scottish kings. Congratulations on it.
However, I hope you don't mind if I take issue with you about the "Four Marys", as history tells us there were more than four. Beaton (who was a relation of Cardinal Beaton), Seton (who was half French) Fleming and Livingstone were certainly there, but there was also Mary Carmichael, Mary Hamilton and Mary MacLeod. Some sources even give an eighth one - Mary Mill. This, however, may be a corruption of "Mary mild". In the song, the "Four Mary's", the "me" ("there was Mary Beaton, and Mary Seton, and Mary Carmichael and me...") is Mary Hamilton, who was supposedly executed for having an affair with Lord Darnley. However, there is no historical evidence for her execution. The likeliest explanation for there being more than four Marys is that the word "marie" was the word used in France to describe a high-born servant, or lady-in-waiting. So there is a chance are that some of the "maries" might not have been called Mary at all, and that "the four Marys" might just mean "the four ladies in waiting". And the likeliest explanation of there being so many maries is that when one left the employ of the Queen, another one joined.
I hope you don't mind me emailing you. Keep up the good work.
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