La Belle Ecossaise

 lady_janet_stewart_mediumLady Janet Fleming was Mary Queen of Scots governess – and her half-aunt.  She began life as Janet or Jenny Stewart, an illegitimate daughter of King James IV.  When she was about fifteen she was married to Malcolm, the third Lord Fleming who was ten years older than her.  They had eight children before he died at the Battle of Pinkie.

Lady Janet now found herself employed as the infant Mary’s governess and went with her to France.  The journey was difficult and when they arrived the French court took one look Mary’s Scottish entourage and decided that they were barbaric and unwashed with the exception of ‘the beautiful Scot.” – Janet Fleming.  Her daughter Mary Fleming, to be known in history as one of Mary Queen of Scots’ four Marys was packed off to a convent for education and polish while Janet remained with her royal charge.  It may be that she had already caught King Henri II’s attention.  Certainly, she’d made an impression on the Venetian ambassador who described her as “a very pretty little woman.” (The Venetian Ambassador was clearly a contender for patronising ambassador or the year).

Janet spoke only in scots, she didn’t know any french when she arrived in France.  However, clearly there was some effective communication with Henri II because she became pregnant and bore a son Henri de Valois-Angouleme.  She is recorded as believing that her role as mother of the king’s child had secured her position.  She hadn’t bargained with Catherine de Medici or Diane of Poitiers who as wife and mistress respectively clearly felt that they didn’t need the competition.  Janet was despatched back to Scotland in disgrace- the reason being that Mary had just acquired her own household and it was important that the future queen of France should have no scandal attached to her name (a pity that Mary didn’t recall that later in her life).

Little Henri remained in France and was later legitimised.  Janet found herself trapped in Scotland.  She died in 1562.

5 thoughts on “La Belle Ecossaise

  1. Hallo Julia H, what a fascinating blog! I came across your article here in the course of a discussion about the portrait you show at the top of the page. Can you tell me where you found it and where it’s from?


    • Hello Kate, Thankyou for your feedback. I think I found it on the National Portrait Gallery website – their site is absolutely brilliant. If it wasn’t there I’m guessing it was the Scottish equivalent. Usually I would be able to tell you but unfortunately my computer had a bit of a melt down between me posting the blog and you asking. Hope that helps.

      • I’m intrigued now, I can’t find anything like it on either of the portrait galleries (National and Scottish), and not in the main galleries either. I’m curious because it’s nothing like the other portrait of her by George Jamesone (for which I can’t find any location either – it was featured in an auction catalogue), and the dress she’s wearing looks a little early, more 15th than 16thC. If you ever find out, I’d be very interested to know! Thanks for your reply, anyway. All best, Kate

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