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There's something about Marys; 500 YEARS ON ARTIST SALUTES THE FORMIDABLE MOTHER OF ANOTHER QUEEN OF SCOTS Paintings pay tribute to a woman who led a nation while protecting the throne for her daughter.

Byline: Heather Greenaway

Standing more than six feet tall, she was the smart and fearless monarch who rode to the frontline to address her army.

Marie de Guise was one of the most powerful women Scotland has ever seen - but her reign was overshadowed by that of her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots.

On the 500th anniversary of her birth, celebrated artist Iona Leishman has painted a series of colourful portraits and landscapes honouring the formidable regent queen.

Iona - who was Historic Scotland's first artist in residence at Stirling Castle - fell in love with Mary of Guise during her year-long tenure in 2011.

She said: "Mary of Guise was a shrewd politician, an inspiring leader and a loving mother. She is one of the most interesting women in Scottish history but is often forgotten or overlooked.

"During my time at Stirling Castle, I started to read a lot about this incredible and mysterious lady. The more I read, the deeper she got under my skin. She awakened my emotions.

"She was a French woman battling to survive in a man's world and preserve the throne for her daughter. What a heroine. Mary of Guise inspired me to paint more than 20 pictures, which are on show now as a celebration of what would have been her 500th birthday."

As a little girl growing up in France, Mary - who was born on November 22, 1515 - would never have imagined what life held in store for her.

A young widow following the death of her first husband, the Duke of Longueville, Mary arrived in Scotland in 1538 to meet her new husband James V. Mary soon had two sons but the infant princes, James and Robert, died within hours of each other in 1541, followed by the king in December 1542.

Mary of Guise was left mourning at Linlithgow Palace - a widow for the second time in five years and this time in a foreign land - with her six-day-old daughter Mary, Queen of Scots.

She one the Iona, 52, of Dunblane, Perthshire, said: "Mary was just 27 when she lost her second husband. She was left with a babe in arms who would be queen.

"How she managed to cope with so much personal loss and tragedy, I will never know. She lost two husbands but each time she picked herself up and kept going."

Rather than being pushed aside by the Scottish noblemen - such as her daughter's first regent the Earl of Arran, who scrambled to fill the power vacuum after James V died - Mary made a stand.

Using Stirling Castle as her main base, she sent her daughter back to France while she outwitted her rivals. And in 1554, she became regent of Scotland.

Mary of Guise used her political skill - backed by French money and troops - to repel invading English forces and was the last great champion of the Auld Alliance, which had existed between Scotland and France since 1295.

She even rode out on to the battlefield and was lucky to escape with her life at the siege of Haddington, when others around her were killed.

is Iona said: "Mary was a wily leader and a clever networker.

of most interesting "She saw herself as the mother of the Commonwealth and Scotland as an infant nation, which would have to be brought carefully into the modern world. She in displayed real physical strength in riding long distances on appalling roads around Scotland to administer justice across the land.

"The easy way out would have been for her to have followed her daughter back to France but she stayed to protect the throne and Catholicism.

"Mary wasn't afraid of getting her hands dirty and would ride on to battlefields to rally troops.

"When she died, she was lamented by both her friends and enemies. Her foes respected her and were sorry to lose such a formidable opponent."

Mary died from dropsy at Edinburgh Castle in June 1560. Only then did an Anglo-Scottish army overcome the French, making way for the Protestant Reformation to triumph.

All that Mary of Guise had worked for seemed to have crumbled. But the following year, her Catholic daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, returned from France to begin her personal rule of Protestant Scotland.

In 1566 a grandson was born, who later became James VI and I, uniting the Scottish and English thrones.

Iona said: "Mary of Guise left an incredible legacy in the form of her daughter and grandson.

"She also made a lasting impression on me, encouraging me to immortalise her on canvas.

"I feel privileged to be honouring such an important character in Scottish history.

"The exhibition, And Yet It Stands, is named after her emblem. It is a crown set above a rock beaten by winds and waves, and very apt considering her turbulent personal and public lives.

"My paintings follow Mary through her life.

"Some show her with her young daughter, some depict her travelling through the country on horseback administering justice while others are landscapes she would have held dear."

Historian Rosalind K Marshall, who wrote the book Mary of Guise, loves Iona's contemporary interpretation of the Queen Regent.

She said: "Seized with the notion of painting a series of pictures about Mary's life, Iona was inspired to portray the passionate inner emotions of those involved.

"The result is a vivid and moving evocation of the life of a stoical and determined Queen, whose bravery and self-sacrifice earned her the admiration of friends and enemies.

"Mary earned her place in history as a great Scot. At 6ft tall, she cut a commanding figure and had the personality to match. It's only right that she is remembered and commemorated 500 years on."

And Yet it Stands runs at Stirling Castle until the end of August. The Other Mary exhibition is on until September 27.

"She is one of the most interesting women in Scottish history


SCREEN QUEEN French actress Camille Rutherford as Mary Queen of Scots in 2013 movie

BRAVE ART Artist-in-residence Iona Leishman with one of her paintings at Stirling Castle

on display Clockwise from far left, Mary of Guise, by 16th century Dutch painter Corneille de Lyon; Iona's painting Royal Progress; and a portrait of Mary Stuart by Henri Auguste Calixte Cesar Serrur
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 2, 2015
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