Marie Stewart, Countess of Mar

Marie Stewart, Countess of Mar (d. 1644), was a Scottish courtier.

Marie was the daughter of Esmé Stewart, 1st Duke of Lennox, a favourite of James VI of Scotland, and Catherine de Balsac.

Marriage and conversion

Marie, her sister Henrietta and her brother Ludovic came to Scotland in 1587. Henrietta married George Gordon, 1st Marquess of Huntly. Marie became a lady-in-waiting in the household of Anne of Denmark, queen consort of James VI, in December 1590 at Henrietta's request.[1] Her third sister Gabrielle was a nun in France at Glatigny, and a scheme for her to marry Hugh Montgomerie, 5th Earl of Eglinton in 1598 came to nothing.[2]

In 1592 Marie married the widower John Erskine, Earl of Mar, and the wedding celebrations were held at Holyrood Palace in December 1592. James and Anne of Denmark gave her a clothes, and there was a masque in costume.[3] The wedding was first planned to be at Dalkeith Palace, on 1 October, but the Earl was ill. He was thirty five, she was "ane tender bairn". She was Catholic, and the earl was urged by the Kirk of Scotland to make her embrace the Protestant religion.[4] In 1609 a marriage was planned between their son John Erskine and Jean Hay, daughter of the Earl of Errol who was thought to be Catholic. The king asked the Earl of Mar for Jean to make her profession of faith before the church, before the marriage. After the marriage she should be instructed and taught "according to that president whiche you haif alreddy kyithed in your owne wyife" - that Jean Hay should be taught the Protestant religion as Marie had been.[5]

Marie was instructed by the minister of Stirling, Patrick Simson (1556-1618).[6] Simson preached to her sister and brother-in-law, the Marquess of Huntly, when they were warded in Stirling Castle in March 1609.[7] Marie was considered an excellent convert. James Caldwell minister of Falkirk dedicated his The Countesse of Marres Arcadia, or Sanctuarie Containing morning, and evening meditations, for the whole weeke (John Wreittoun: Edinburgh, 1625), to her, including a dedicatory letter by P. Anderson mentioning that "The Countesse of Pembroke's Arcadia is for the bodie; but the Countesse of Marre her Arcadia is for the Soule", and "amongst the many Noble Ladies of this Kingdome, your Honour to bee a true Paterne of modest Pietie, a perfect mirror of feminine gravitie, & a liberall supplier of the necessities of the poore, yea, in time of dearth, and scarsetie: And as his Majestie long since, in his Booke of Poesies, called your Noble Father the Phoenix of al the Nobility; so may the world esteeme your Honour to be another elect Lydia of that same Noble qualitie". The reference is to Lydia of Thyatira, an early convert to Christianity.

Faction in Scotland

Marie was involved in factional politics, supporting her husband and also the cause of her sister and the Earl of Huntly.[8] In October 1595 the Earl of Mar's faction hoped that Anne of Denmark would influence the selection of the Chancellor of Scotland in their favour. Marie visited the queen at Linlithgow Palace but was kept waiting outside her chamber door for an hour.[9] Marie argued with her brother, the Duke of Lennox, in May 1602 about accusations her husband may have made and implicated Sir Thomas Erskine. James Sempill of Beltrees reported her conversation to Robert Cecil.[10] The Earl of Northampton reported this back to Mar.[11]

In May 1603 Anne of Denmark came to Stirling hoping to collect her son Prince Henry, who was officially in the keeping of the Earl of Mar and his late mother Annabell Murray, who had recently died. The Earl of Mar himself was temporarily absent accompanying James VI to London to assume the English throne following the death of Elizabeth I. Anne sent a message to Marie that she would have her son delivered to her to travel with her to England. Anne arrived at Stirling Castle, and sat down to dinner with Marie and her stepson, the Master of Mar. She fainted into the arms of Marie and Agnes Douglas, Countess of Argyll, and when Jean Drummond and Margaret Seton, Lady Paisley carried her to bed she had a miscarriage. The lawyer Thomas Haddington gave an eyewitness account of these events.[12] Some biographers of Anne of Denmark assert that the "Lady Mar" of this incident was the dowager countess, Annabell Murray.[13]

Marie Stewart remained a friend of another lady in waiting Elizabeth Schaw, and her husband John Murray, later Earl of Annandale, who were courtiers in London. Schaw took long leave from the queen's household in August 1613 and came to Scotland and stayed with Marie at Alloa and Stirling .[14] On 16 June 1622 Marie wrote to John Murray with news of the death of the Chancellor, Alexander Seton, 1st Earl of Dunfermline, hoping that he could persuade the king to make the Earl of Mar keeper of Dunfermline Palace. In 1603 Seton had written to James excusing her, the earl's, and her stepson's conduct at Stirling in May 1603.[15]

Elizabeth of Bohemia suggested that one of Marie's sons should marry one of her ladies in waiting, Mistress Margaret or Margery Croft (d. 1637), a daughter of the Catholic Sir Herbert Croft of Croft Castle and Mary Bourne heiress of Sir Anthony Bourne of Holt Castle.[16] The marriage, which did not take place, and Margaret's identity and correspondence with Constantijn Huygens were examined by Lisa Jardine.[17]

In August 1639 she quarrelled bitterly with her stepson, the Earl of Mar, over their seat in the Church of the Holy Rude at Stirling.[18] She was a supporter of the Solemn League and Covenant, and three of her sons, Alexander, Arthur and John, joined Alexander Leslie at Duns Law in the First Bishop's war in 1639.[19]

Marie died at the house of Sir Thomas Hope in Cowgate, Edinburgh, on 11 May 1644, after suffering for two weeks from an illness described as a "deadlie brasch".[20]

Legacy and letters

A number of letters written by Marie Stewart survive in the National Library of Scotland, she wrote to her son Charles in November 1639, "Now within thri or four days I look for yow, the does of the park ar longing for yow, and so am I".[21] Her correspondents included the Minister Alexander Henderson and the poet David Murray of Gorthy.[22] Alexander Hume, minister of Logie, linked Marie with the poet "elder Lady Elizabeth Melville, Lady Comrie", in his will in December 1609, wishing them both "love, Christian affection, and blessing".[23]

In a dedication to her brother, the Earl of Lennox, Patrick Simson wrote that she had commanded and directed his work on The Historie of the Church since the Dayes of our Saviour Iesus Christ, untill this present age (London, 1624). Referring again to her conversion, Patrick's brother, the minister Archibald Simson dedicated his "True Record of Life and Death of Master Patrick Simsone" to Marie and her daughter-in-law, writing in March 1619 that Patrick Simson had been the "happy instrument of God to begett your Ladyships as a spiritual father in Jesus Christ".[24]

She was a patron of the calligrapher and illustrator Esther Inglis.[25] A drawing by Inglis dated January 1622 illustrates the "wise woman who builds her house" from Proverbs 14:1, with a Latin dedication to the Earl and to the "remarkable piety" of Maria Stewart, Countess of Mar. The image of a woman building a wall used by Esther Inglis follows an engraving designed by Georgette de Montenay which identified the wise woman as Jeanne d'Albret mother of the Protestant Henri of Navarre.[26]

She is also known for her household account book, published as Extracts from the Household Book of Lady Marie Stewart, Daughter of Esme, Duke of Lenox, and Countess of Mar (Edinburgh, 1812). Her accounts record Highland singers, pipers, drummers, and harpers. A pair of virginals thought to have belonged to Marie are now in the National Museum of Scotland.[27]

Her descendant, the nineteenth-century antiquarian Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, examined some of her papers at Alva and believed that David Erskine, Earl of Buchan had taken some away. Sharpe was not impressed by Marie Stewart's support for the Covenant.[28] Buchan wrote a biographical note of Marie, with some quotations from her letters, and an account of her reluctance to marry the older earl before the king's intervention, and published an estimate of her expenses in 1636.[29]

Marie's homes in Scotland included Stirling Castle, Mar's Wark, Alloa Tower, Cardross House, Braemar Castle and Brechin Castle where she entertained John Taylor the Water Poet and King James on his return to Scotland in 1617.[30] She had inventories of the contents and furnishings of Brechin Castle made in 1611 and 1622.[31] She also had lodgings within Holyrood Palace, mentioned in the Brechin inventory, and she wrote from Holyrood to Sir Robert Kerr of Ancram on 21 January 1624.[32]


She had ten children;

The weddings of Anna Erskine and James Erskine were held in the same week in 1616.[34] Henry Erskine and Alexander Erskine went to France with a tutor in December 1616. They went to Bourges to meet their grandmother, Catherine de Balsac widow of Esmé Stewart. They saw their aunt Gabrielle Stewart at the convent at Glatigny.[35]


  1. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 10 (Edinburgh, 1936), p. 429.
  2. Scots Peerage vol. 5 (1908), p. 356: William Fraser, Memorials of the Montgomeries Earls of Eglinton, vol 2 (Edinburgh, 1859), no. 201, now NRS GD3/2/15/10.
  3. Michael Pearce, 'Anna of Denmark: Fashioning a Danish Court in Scotland', The Court Historian, 24:2 (2019) pp. 146, 148-9.
  4. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 10 (Edinburgh, 1936), p. 773, 778, 780: for the banns see Stirling old parish register, 17 September 1592: for costume see NRS E35/14.
  5. HMC Mar & Kellie vol. 1 (1904), p. 65.
  6. Archibald Simson, A godly and fruitful exposition on the twenty five psalme (London, 1622).
  7. James Maidment, Letters and Papers of James the Sixth (Edinburgh, 1838), p. 164.
  8. Ruth Grant, 'Friendship, Politics and Religion', in Miles Kerr-Peterson & Steven Reid,James VI and Noble Power (Abingdon, 2017), pp. 69-70.
  9. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 12 (Edinburgh, 1952), pp. 51-2.
  10. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 13 part 2 (Edinburgh, 1969), pp. 993-4.
  11. [David Dalrymple], The Secret Correspondence of Sir Robert Cecil with James VI King of Scotland (London, 1766), pp. 136-8.
  12. William Fraser, Memorials of the Earls of Haddington, vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1889), p. 209-11: James Maidment, Letters and State Papers during the Reign of James the Sixth (Edinburgh, 1838), pp. 54-5.
  13. Ethel Williams, Anne of Denmark (London, 1970), p. 70.
  14. Melros Papers, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1837), pp. 126-8; Original Letters Relating to Ecclesiastical Affairs, vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1851), p. 354, 459, 466; See also NLS Adv. MS 31.1.1 vol. 5 no. 110.
  15. James Maidment, Letters and State Papers during the Reign of James the Sixth (Edinburgh, 1838), pp. 53-4, 344-5.
  16. Nadine Akkerman, The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia vol 1 (Oxford, 2015), pp. 568-70: Joseph Lemuel Chester, Westminster Abbey Registers: Harleian Society, vol. 10 (London, 1869), pp. 64, 132.
  17. HMC 4th Report (Erskine-Murray of Alva) (London, 1874), p. 527: Lisa Jardine, Temptation in the Archives, (UCL: London, 2015), pp. 1-17.
  18. Diary of the Correspondence of Sir Thomas Hope (Edinburgh, 1843), p. 102; James Ronald, The Earl of Mar's Lodging Stirling (Stirling, 1905), p.20; and see letters in the National Library of Scotland.
  19. Robert Paul, 'Letters of Sir Thomas Hope', Miscellany of the Scottish History Society (Edinburgh, 1893), pp. 79-80.
  20. Diary of the Correspondence of Sir Thomas Hope (Edinburgh, 1843), p. 205
  21. James Ronald, The Earl of Mar's Lodging, Stirling (Stirling, 1905), p.40: NLS MS 5070 no. 49.
  22. See HMC 4th Report (Erskine-Murray at Alva) (London, 1874), pp. 526-8.
  23. HMC 14th Report part 3: Hugh Hume Campbell of Marchmont (London, 1894), p. 92.
  24. William Tweedie, Select Biographies, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1845), pp. 69.70, 74.
  25. Thomas Lange, 'A Rediscovered Esther Inglis Calligraphic Manuscript in the Huntington Library', Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America, 89 (1995), pp. 339–42
  26. Michael Bath, Emblems in Scotland: Motifs and Meanings (Brill: Leiden, 2018), pp. 37-43.
  27. Dolly MacKinnon, 'Transmission of Musical Culture' in Elizabeth Ewan & Janay Nugent, Finding the Family in Medieval and Early Modern Scotland (Ashgate: Aldershot, 2008), p. 44.
  28. Alexander Allardyce, Letters from and to Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1888), pp. 405-6.
  29. David Erskine, Annals and Antiquities of Dryburgh and Other Places on the Tweed (Kelso, 1836), pp. 131-140; 'Life of John, Earl of Mar, son of the Regent', The Bee vol. 7 (Edinburgh, 1792), p. 99; 'Yearly Spending of the Countess of Mar', Edinburgh Magazine (July 1798), p. 331.
  30. Marie Stewart obtained a charter for Mar's Wark from her husband on 6 January 1610, see NRS RH1/2/709.
  31. Michael Pearce, 'Approaches to Household Inventories and Household Furnishing, 1500–1650', Architectural Heritage XXVI (2015), p. 75: National Library of Scotland MS 5114.
  32. Correspondence of Sir Robert Kerr, first Earl of Ancram, vol. 1 (Roxburghe Club: Edinburgh, 1875), p. 32.
  33. David Matthew, Scotland under Charles I (London, 1955), p. 74.
  34. James Maidment, Letters and Papers of James the Sixth, p. 290.
  35. HMC supplementary Report Mar & Kellie (London, 1930).
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