Occurrences Immediately Preceding Darnley's Death

We are now about to enter upon a part of Mary's history, more important in

its results, and more interesting in its details, than all that has gone

before. A deed had been determined on, which, for audacity and villany,

has but few parallels in either ancient or modern story. The manner of its

perpetration, and the consequences which ensued, not only threw Scotland

into a ferment, but astonished the whole of Europe; and, even to this day,

the amazement and horror it excited, continue to be felt, whenever that

page of our national history is perused which records the event. Ambition

has led to the commission of many crimes; but, fortunately for the great

interests of society, it is only in a few instances, of which the present

is one of the most conspicuous, that it has been able to involve in

misery, the innocent as well as the guilty. But, even where this is the

case, time rescues the virtuous from unmerited disgrace, and, causing the

mantle of mystery to moulder away, enables us to point out, on one hand,

those who have been unjustly accused, and, on the other, those who were

both the passive conspirators and the active murderers. A plain narrative

of facts, told without violence or party-spirit, is that upon which most

reliance will be placed, and which will be most likely to advance the

cause of truth by correcting the mistakes of the careless, and exposing

the falsehoods of the calumnious.

The Earl of Bothwell was now irrevocably resolved to push his fortunes to

the utmost. He acted, for the time, in conjunction with the Earl of

Murray, though independently of him, using his name and authority to

strengthen his own influence, but communicating to the scarcely less

ambitious Murray only as much of his plans as he thought he might disclose

with safety. Bothwell was probably the only Scottish baron of the age over

whom Murray does not appear ever to have had any control. His character,

indeed, was not one which would have brooked control. On Mary's return

home, so soon as he perceived the ascendancy which her brother possessed

over her, he entered into a conspiracy with Huntly and others, to remove

him. The conspiracy failed, and Bothwell left the kingdom. He was not

recalled till Murray had fallen into disgrace; and though the Earl was

subsequently pardoned, he never regained that superiority in Mary's

councils he had once enjoyed. But Bothwell hoped to secure the distinction

for himself; and, that he might not lose it as Murray had done, after it

was once gained, he daringly aimed at becoming not merely a prime

minister, but a king. The historians, therefore, (among whom are to be

included many of Mary's most zealous defenders), who speak of Bothwell as

only a "cat's-paw" in the hands of Murray and his party, evidently

mistake both the character of the men, and the positions they relatively

held. Murray and Bothwell had both considerable influence at Court; but

there was no yielding on the part of either to the higher authority of the

other, and the Queen herself endeavoured, upon all occasions, to act

impartially between them. We have found her frequently granting the

requests of Murray in opposition to the advice of Bothwell; and there is

no reason to suppose, that, when she saw cause, she may not have followed

the advice of her Lord High Admiral, in preference to that of her brother.

A circumstance which occurred only a few days after the baptism of James

VI., strikingly illustrates the justice of these observations. It is the

more deserving of attention, as the spirit of partiality, which has been

unfortunately so busy in giving an erroneous colouring even to Mary's most

trifling transactions, has not forgotten to misrepresent that to which we

now refer.

Darnley's death being resolved, Bothwell began to consider how he was to

act after it had taken place. He probably made arrangements for various

contingencies, and trusted to the chapter of accidents, or his own

ingenuity, to assist him in others. But there was one thing certain, that

he could never become the legal husband of Mary, so long as he continued

united to his own wife, the Lady Jane Gordon. Anticipating, therefore, the

necessity of a divorce, and aware that the emergency of the occasion might

not permit of his waiting for all the ordinary forms of law, he used his

interest with the Queen at a time when his real motives were little

suspected, to revive the ancient jurisdiction of the Catholic

Consistorial Courts, which had been abolished by the Reformed Parliament

of 1560, and the ordinary civil judges of Commissary Courts established in

their place. In accordance with his request, Mary restored the Archbishop

of St Andrews, the Primate of Scotland, to the ancient Consistorial

Jurisdiction, granted him by the Canon laws, and discharged the

Commissaries from the further exercise of their offices. Thus, Bothwell

not only won the friendship of the Archbishop, but secured for himself a

court, where the Catholic plea of consanguinity might be advanced,--the

only plausible pretext he could make use of for annulling his former

marriage. This proceeding, however, in favour of the Archbishop and the

old faith, gave great offence to the Reformed party; and when the Primate

came from St Andrews to Edinburgh, at the beginning of January, for the

purpose of holding his court, his authority was very strenuously resisted.

The Earl of Murray took up the subject, and represented to Mary the injury

she had done to the true religion. Bothwell, of course, used every effort

to counteract the force of such a representation; but he was unsuccessful.

By a letter which the Earl of Bedford wrote to Cecil from Berwick, on the

9th of January 1567, we learn that the Archbishop was not allowed to

proceed to the hearing of cases, and that "because it was found to be

contrary to the religion, and therefore not liked of by the townsmen; at

the suit of my Lord of Murray, the Queen was pleased to revoke that which

she had before granted to the said bishop." Probably the grant of

jurisdiction was not "revoked," but only suspended, as Bothwell

subsequently availed himself of it; but even its suspension sufficiently

testifies, that Mary, at this period, listened implicitly and exclusively

neither to one nor other of her counsellors.

In the meantime, Darnley, who, as we have seen, left Stirling for Glasgow

on the 24th of December, had been taken dangerously ill. Historians differ

a good deal concerning the nature of his illness, which is by some

confidently asserted to have been occasioned by poison, administered to

him either before he left Stirling, or on the road, by servants, who had

been bribed by Bothwell; and by others is as confidently affirmed to have

been the small-pox, a complaint then prevalent in Glasgow. On the whole,

the latter opinion seems to be the best supported, as it is confirmed by

the authority both of the English ambassador, and of the cotemporary

historians, Lesley and Blackwood. Knox, Buchanan, Melville, Crawford,

Birrell and others, mention, on the other hand, that the belief was

prevalent, that the King's sickness was the effect of poison. But as the

only evidence offered in support of this popular rumour is, that "blisters

broke out of a bluish colour over every part of his body," and as this may

have been the symptoms of small-pox as well as of poison, the story does

not seem well authenticated. Besides, in the letter which Mary is alleged

to have written a week or two afterwards to Bothwell from Glasgow, she is

made to say that Darnley told her he was ill of the small-pox. Whether the

letter be a forgery or not, this paragraph would not have been introduced,

unless it had contained what was then known to be the fact.

Be this matter as it may, it is of more importance to correct a mistake

into which Robertson has not unwillingly fallen, regarding the neglect and

indifference with which he maintains Mary treated her husband, during the

earlier part of his sickness. We learn, in the first place, by Bedford's

letter to Cecil, already mentioned, that as soon as Mary heard of

Darnley's illness, she sent her own physician to attend him. And, in

the second place, it appears, that it was some time before Darnley's

complaint assumed a serious complexion; but that, whenever Mary understood

he was considered in danger, she immediately set out to visit him. "The

Queen," says Crawford, "was no sooner informed of his danger, than she

hasted after him."--"As soon as the rumour of his sickness gained

strength," says Turner (or Barnestaple), "the Queen flew to him, thinking

more of the person to whom she flew, than of the danger which she herself

incurred."--"Being advertised," observes Lesley, "that Darnley was

repentant and sorrowful, she without delay, thereby to renew, quicken, and

refresh his spirits, and to comfort his heart to the amendment and

repairing of his health, lately by sickness sore impaired, hasted with

such speed as she conveniently might, to see and visit him at Glasgow."

Thus, Robertson's insinuation falls innocuous to the ground.

It was on the 13th of January 1567 that Mary returned from Stirling to

Edinburgh, having spent the intermediate time, from the 27th of December,

in paying visits to Sir William Murray, the Comptroller of her household,

at Tullibardin, and to Lord Drummond at Drummond Castle. As is somewhere

remarked, "every moment now begins to be critical, and every minuteness

and specific caution becomes necessary for ascertaining the truth, and

guarding against slander." The probability is, that Bothwell was not with

Mary either at Tullibardin or Drummond Castle. Meetings of her Privy

Council were held by her on the 2d and 10th of January; and it appears by

the Register, that Bothwell was not present at any of them. Chalmers is of

opinion, that, during the early part of January he must have been at

Dunbar, making his preparations, and arranging a meeting with Morton. When

the Queen arrived at Edinburgh on the 13th, she lodged her son, whom she

brought with her, in Holyroodhouse. A few days afterwards, she set out

for Glasgow to see her husband. Her calumniators, on the supposition that

she had previously quarrelled with Darnley, affect to discover something

very forced and unnatural in this visit. But Mary had never quarrelled

with Darnley. He had quarrelled with her ministers, and had been enraged

at the failure of his own schemes of boyish ambition, but against his wife

he had himself frequently declared he had no cause of complaint. Mary, on

her part, had always shown herself more grieved by Darnley's waywardness

than angry at it. Only a day or two before going to Glasgow, she said

solemnly, in a letter she wrote to her ambassador at Paris,--"As for the

King, our husband, God knows always our part towards him."--"God willing,

our doings shall be always such as none shall have occasion to be offended

with them, or to report of us any way but honourably." So far,

therefore, from there being any thing uncommon or forced in her journey to

Glasgow, nothing could be more natural, or more likely to have taken

place. "Darnley's danger," observes Dr Gilbert Stuart, with the simple

eloquence of truth, "awakened all the gentleness of her nature, and she

forgot the wrongs she had endured. Time had abated the vivacity of her

resentment, and after its paroxysm was past, she was more disposed to weep

over her afflictions, than to indulge herself in revenge. The softness of

grief prepared her for a returning tenderness. His distresses effected it.

Her memory shut itself to his errors and imperfections, and was only open

to his better qualities and accomplishments. He himself, affected with

the near prospect of death, thought, with sorrow, of the injuries he had

committed against her. The news of his repentance was sent to her. She

recollected the ardour of that affection he had lighted up in her bosom,

and the happiness with which she had surrendered herself to him in the

bloom and ripeness of her beauty. Her infant son, the pledge of their

love, being continually in her sight, inspirited her sensibilities. The

plan of lenity which she had previously adopted with regard to him; her

design to excite even the approbation of her enemies by the propriety of

her conduct; the advices of Elizabeth by the Earl of Bedford to entertain

him with respect; the apprehension lest the royal dignity might suffer any

diminution by the universal distaste with which he was beheld by her

subjects, and her certainty and knowledge of the angry passions which her

chief counsellors had fostered against him--all concurred to divest her

heart of every sentiment of bitterness, and to melt it down in sympathy

and sorrow. Yielding to tender and anxious emotions, she left her capital

and her palace, in the severest season of the year, to wait upon him. Her

assiduities and kindnesses communicated to him the most flattering

solacement; and while she lingered about his person with a fond

solicitude, and a delicate attention, he felt that the sickness of his

mind and the virulence of his disease were diminished."

On arriving at Glasgow, Mary found her husband convalescent, though weak

and much reduced. She lodged in the same house with him; but his disease

being considered infectious, they had separate apartments. Finding that

his recent approach to the very brink of the grave had exercised a

salutary influence over his mind and dispositions, and hoping to regain

his entire confidence, by carefully and affectionately nursing him during

his recovery, she gladly acceded to the proposal made by Darnley, that she

should take him back with her to Edinburgh or its vicinity. She suggested

that he should reside at Craigmillar Castle, as the situation was open and

salubrious; but for some reason or other, which does not appear, he

objected to Craigmillar, and the Queen therefore wrote to Secretary

Maitland to procure convenient accommodation for her husband, in the town

of Edinburgh. Darnley disliked the Lords of the Privy Council too much

to think of living at Holyrood; and besides, it was the opinion of the

physicians, that the young Prince, even though he should not be brought

into his father's presence, might catch the infection from the servants

who would be about the persons of both. But when Mary wrote to Maitland,

she little knew that she was addressing an accomplice of her husband's

future murderer. The Secretary showed her letter to Bothwell, and they

mutually determined on recommending to Darnley the house of the

Kirk-of-Field, which stood on an airy and healthy situation to the south

of the town, and which, therefore, appeared well suited for an invalid,

although they preferred it because it stood by itself, in a

comparatively solitary part of the town. On Monday, January 27th, Mary

and Darnley left Glasgow. They appear to have travelled in a wheeled

carriage, and came by slow and easy stages to Edinburgh. They slept on

Monday night at Callander. They came on Tuesday to Linlithgow, where they

remained over Wednesday, and arrived in Edinburgh on Thursday.

The Kirk-of-Field, in which, says Melville, "the King was lodged, as a

place of good air, where he might best recover his health," belonged to

Robert Balfour, the Provost or head prebendary of the collegiate church of

St Mary-in-the-Field, so called because it was beyond the city wall when

first built. When the wall was afterwards extended, it enclosed the

Kirk-of-Field, as well as the house of the Provost and Prebendaries. The

Kirk-of-Field with the grounds pertaining to it, occupied the site of the

present College, and of those buildings which stand between Infirmary and

Drummond Street. In the extended line of wall, what was afterwards called

the Potter-row Port, was at first denominated the Kirk-of-Field Port, from

its vicinity to the church of that name. The wall ran east from this port

along the south side of the present College, and the north side of

Drummond Street, where a part of it is still to be seen in its original

state. The house stood at some distance from the Kirk, and the latter,

from the period of the Reformation, had fallen into decay. The city had

not yet stretched in this direction much farther than the Cowgate. Between

that street and the town wall, were the Dominican Convent of the

Blackfriars, with its alms-houses for the poor, and gardens, covering the

site of the present High School and Royal Infirmary,--and the

Kirk-of-Field and its Provost's residence. The house nearest to it of any

note was Hamilton House, which belonged to the Duke of Chatelherault, and

some part of which is still standing in College Wynd. It was at first

supposed, that Darnley would have taken up his abode there; but the

families of Lennox and Hamilton were never on such terms as would have

elicited this mark of friendship from the King. The Kirk-of-Field House

stood very nearly on the site of the present north-west corner of Drummond

Street. It fronted the west, having its southern gavel so close upon the

town-wall, that a little postern door entered immediately through the wall

into the kitchen. It contained only four apartments; but these were

commodious, and were fitted up with great care. Below, a small passage

went through from the front door to the back of the house; upon the right

hand of which was the kitchen, and upon the left, a room furnished as a

bedroom, for the Queen, when she chose to remain all night. Passing out at

the back-door, there was a turnpike stair behind, which, after the old

fashion of Scottish houses, led up to the second story. Above, there were

two rooms corresponding with those below. Darnley's chamber was

immediately over Mary's; and on the other side of the lobby, above the

kitchen, a "garde-robe" or "little-gallery," which was used as a servant's

room, and which had a window in the gavel, looking through the town-wall,

and corresponding with the postern door below. Immediately beyond this

wall, was a lane shut in by another wall, to the south of which were

extensive gardens.

During the ten days which Darnley spent in his new residence, Mary was a

great deal with him, and slept several nights in the room we have

described below her husband's, this being more agreeable to her, than

returning at a late hour to Holyrood Palace. Darnley was still much of an

invalid, and his constitution had received so severe a shock, that every

attention was necessary during his convalescence. A bath was put up for

him, in his own room, and he appears to have used it frequently. He had

been long extremely unpopular, as has been seen, among the nobles; but

following the example which Mary set them, some were disposed to forget

their former disagreements, and used to call upon him occasionally, and

among others, Hamilton, the Archbishop of St Andrews, who came to

Edinburgh about this time, and lodged hard by in Hamilton house. Mary

herself, after sitting for hours in her husband's sick-chamber, used

sometimes to breathe the air in the neighbouring gardens of the Dominican

convent; and she sometimes brought up from Holyrood her band of musicians,

who played and sung to her and Darnley. Thus, every thing went on so

smoothly, that neither the victim nor his friends could in the least

suspect that they were all treading the brink of a precipice.

Bothwell had taken advantage of Mary's visit to Glasgow, to proceed to

Whittingham, in the neighbourhood of Dunbar, where he met the Earl of

Morton, and obtained his consent to Darnley's murder. To conceal his real

purpose, Bothwell gave out at Edinburgh, that he was going on a journey to

Liddesdale; but, accompanied by Secretary Maitland, whom he had by this

time won over to his designs, and the notorious Archibald Douglas, a

creature of his own, and a relation of Morton, he went direct to

Whittingham. There, the trio met Morton, who had only recently returned

from England, and opened to him their plot. Morton heard of the intended

murder without any desire to prevent its perpetration; but before he would

agree to take an active share in it, he insisted upon being satisfied that

the Queen, as Bothwell had the audacity to assert, was willing that

Darnley should be removed. "I desired the Earl Bothwell," says Morton in

his subsequent confession, "to bring me the Queen's hand write of this

matter for a warrant, and then I should give him an answer; otherwise, I

would not mell (intermeddle) therewith;--which warrant he never purchased

(procured) unto me." But though Morton, refused to risk an active, he

had no objections to take a passive part in this conspiracy. Bothwell,

Maitland, and Douglas, returned to Edinburgh, and he proceeded to St

Andrews, with the understanding, that Bothwell was to communicate with

him, and inform him of the progress of the plot. Accordingly, a day or two

before the murder was committed, Douglas was sent to St Andrews, to let

Morton know that the affair was near its conclusion. Bothwell, however,

was well aware that what he had told the Earl regarding the wishes of the

Queen, was equally false and calumnious. Of all persons in existence, it

was from her that he most wished to conceal his design; and as for a

written approval of it, he knew that he might just as well have applied to

Darnley himself. Douglas was, therefore, commanded to say to Morton,

evasively, "that the Queen would bear no speech of the matter appointed to

him." Morton, in consequence, remained quietly in the neighbourhood of St

Andrews till the deed was done.

The Earl of Murray was another powerful nobleman, who, when the last act

of this tragedy was about to be performed, withdrew to a careful distance

from the scene. It is impossible to say whether Murray was all along

acquainted with Bothwell's intention; there is certainly no direct

evidence that he was; but there are very considerable probabilities. When

a divorce was proposed to Mary at Craigmillar, she was told that Murray

would look through his fingers at it; and this design being frustrated, by

the Queen's refusal to agree to it, there is every likelihood that

Bothwell would not conceal from the cabal he had then formed, his

subsequent determination. That he disclosed it to Morton and Maitland, is

beyond a doubt; and that Murray again consented "to look through his

fingers," is all but proved. It is true he was far too cautious and wily a

politician, to plunge recklessly, like Bothwell, into such a sea of

dangers and difficulties; but he was no friend to Darnley,--having lost

through him much of his former power; and however the matter now ended, if

he remained quiet, he could not suffer any injury, and might gain much

benefit. If Bothwell prospered, they would unite their interests,--if he

failed, then Murray would rise upon his ruin. Only three days before the

murder, the Lord Robert Stuart, Murray's brother, having heard, as

Buchanan affirms of the designs entertained against Darnley's life,

mentioned them to the King. Darnley immediately informed Mary, who sent

for Lord Robert, and in the presence of her husband and the Earl of

Murray, questioned him on the subject. Lord Robert, afraid of involving

himself in danger, retracted what he had formerly said, and denied that he

had ever repeated to Darnley any such report. High words ensued in

consequence; and even supposing that Murray had before been ignorant of

Bothwell's schemes, his suspicions must now have been roused. Perceiving

that the matter was about to be brought to a crisis, he left town abruptly

upon Sunday, the very last day of Darnley's life, alleging his wife's

illness at St Andrews, as the cause of his departure. The fact mentioned

by Lesley, in his "Defence of Queen Mary's Honour," that on the evening

of this day, Murray said, when riding through Fife, to one of his most

trusty servants,--"This night, ere morning, the Lord Darnley shall lose

his life," is a strong corroboration of the supposition that he was well

informed upon the subject.

There were others, as has been said, whom Bothwell either won over to

assist him, or persuaded to remain quiet. One of his inferior accomplices

afterwards declared, that the Earl showed him a bond, to which were

affixed the signatures of Huntly, Argyle, Maitland, and Sir James Balfour,

and that the words of the bond were to this effect:--"That for as much as

it was thought expedient and most profitable for the commonwealth, by the

whole nobility and Lords undersubscribed, that such a young fool and proud

tyrant should not reign, nor bear rule over them, for diverse causes,

therefore, these all had concluded, that he should be put off by one way

or other, and who-soever should take the deed in hand, or do it, they

should defend and fortify it as themselves, for it should be every one of

their own, reckoned and holden done by themselves." To another of his

accomplices, Bothwell declared that Argyle, Huntly, Morton, Maitland,

Ruthven, and Lindsay, had promised to support him; and when he was asked

what part the Earl of Murray would take, his answer was,--"He does not

wish to intermeddle with it; he does not mean either to aid or hinder


But whoever his assistants were, it was Bothwell's own lawless ambition

that suggested the whole plan of proceeding, and whose daring hand was to

strike the final and decisive blow. Everything was now arranged. His

retainers were collected round him;--four or five of the most powerful

ministers of the crown knew of his design, and did not disapprove of

it;--the nobles then at court were disposed to befriend him, from motives

either of political interest or personal apprehension;--Darnley and the

Queen were unsuspicious and unprotected. A kingly crown glittered almost

within his grasp; he had only to venture across the Rubicon of guilt, to

place it on his brow.

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