Bothwell's Seizure Of The Queen's Person And Subsequent Marriage To Her

Every thing appeared now to be going smoothly with Bothwell, and he had

only to take one step more to reach the very height of his ambition.

Mary's hand and Scotland's crown were the objects he had all along kept

steadily in view. The latter was to be obtained only through the medium of

the former, and hence his reason for removing Darnley, and willingly

submitting to a trial, from which he saw he would come off triumphantly.

The question he now anxiously asked himself was, whether it was likely

that Mary could be persuaded to accept him as a husband. He was aware,

that in the unsettled state of the country, she must feel that, unless

married to a person of strength and resolution, she would hardly be able

to keep her turbulent subjects in order; and he was of opinion, that it

was not improbable she would now cast her eyes upon one of her own

nobility, as she could no where else find a king who would be so agreeable

to the national prejudices. Yet he had a lurking consciousness, that he

himself would not be the object of her choice. She had of late, it was

true, given him a considerable share in the administration; but he felt

that she had done so, more as a matter of state policy, and to preserve a

balance of power between himself and her other ministers, than from any

personal regard. The most assiduous attentions which it was in his power

to pay her, had failed to kindle in her bosom any warmer sentiment; for

though she esteemed him for his fidelity as an officer of state, his

manners and habits as a man, were too coarse and dissolute to please one

of so much refinement, sensibility and gentleness, as Mary Stuart.

Bothwell therefore became secretly convinced that it would be necessary

for him to have recourse to fraud, and perhaps to force. Had Mary loved

him, their marriage would have been a matter of mutual agreement, and

would have taken place whenever circumstances seemed to make it mutually

advisable; but as it was, artifice and audacity were to be his weapons;

nor were they wielded by an unskilful hand.

The Parliament which met on the 14th of April 1567, continued to sit only

till the 19th of the same month; and on the evening of the following day,

Bothwell invited nearly all the Lords who were then in Edinburgh to a

great supper, in a tavern kept by a person of the name of Ainsly, from

which circumstance, the entertainment was afterwards known by the name of

"Ainsly's Supper." After plying his guests with wine, he produced a

document, which he had himself previously drawn up, and which he requested

them all to sign. It was in the form of a bond; and in the preamble,

after expressing their conviction that James Earl of Bothwell, Lord Hales,

Crichton, and Liddisdale, Great Admiral of Scotland, and Lieutenant to the

Queen over all the Marches, had been grossly slandered in being suspected

of having a share in the murder of Darnley, and that his innocence had

been fully and satisfactorily proved at his late trial, they bound

themselves, as they should answer to God, that whatever person or persons

should afterwards renew such calumniation, should be proceeded against by

them with all diligence and perseverance. After this introduction,

evidently meant to aid in removing any lingering suspicion which the Queen

might still entertain of Bothwell's guilt, the bond went on to state,

that, "Moreover, weighing and considering the present time, and how our

Sovereign, the Queen's Majesty, is destitute of a husband, in which

solitary state the common weal of this realm may not permit her Highness

to continue and endure, but at some time her Highness, in appearance, may

be inclined to yield unto a marriage,--therefore, in case the former

affectionate and hearty services of the said Earl (Bothwell), done to her

Majesty from time to time, and his other good qualities and behaviour, may

move her Majesty so far to humble herself as, preferring one of her own

native born subjects unto all foreign princes, to take to husband the said

Earl, we, and every one of us under subscribing, upon our honours and

fidelity, oblige ourselves, and promise, not only to further, advance, and

set forward the marriage to be solemnized and completed betwixt her

Highness and the said noble Lord, with our votes, counsel, fortification

and assistance, in word and deed, at such time as it shall please her

Majesty to think it convenient, and as soon as the laws shall permit it to

be done; but, in case any should presume, directly or indirectly, openly,

or under whatsoever colour or pretence, to hinder, hold back, or disturb

the same marriage, we shall, in that behalf, hold and repute the

hinderers, adversaries, or disturbers thereof, as our common enemies and

evil-willers; and notwithstanding the same, take part with, and fortify

the said Earl to the said marriage, so far as it may please our said

Sovereign Lady to allow; and therein shall spend and bestow our lives and

goods against all that live or die, as we shall answer to God, and upon

our own fidelities and conscience; and in case we do the contrary, never

to have reputation or credit in no time hereafter, but to be accounted

unworthy and faithless traitors."

This bond having been read and considered, all the nobles present, with

the exception of the Earl of Eglinton, who went away unperceived, put

their signatures to it. "Among the subscribers," says Robertson, "we find

some who were the Queen's chief confidents, others who were strangers to

her councils, and obnoxious to her displeasure; some who faithfully

adhered to her through all the vicissitudes of her fortune, and others who

became the principal authors of her sufferings; some passionately attached

to the Romish superstition, and others zealous advocates for the

Protestant faith. No common interest can be supposed to have united men of

such opposite interests and parties, in recommending to their Sovereign a

step so injurious to her honour, and so fatal to her peace. This strange

coalition was the effect of much artifice, and must be considered as the

boldest and most masterly stroke of Bothwell's address." It is, indeed,

impossible to conceive that such a bond was so numerously subscribed on

the mere impulse of the moment. Before obtaining so solemn a promise of

support from so many, he must have had recourse to numerous machinations,

and have brought into action a thousand interests. He must, in the first

place, have influenced Morton, his brother-in-law Huntly, Argyle, and

others; and having secured these, he would use them as agents to bring

over as many more. The rest, finding that so formidable a majority

approved of the bond, would not have the courage to stand out, for they

would fear the consequences if Bothwell ever became king. Among the names

attached to this bond are those of the Archbishop of St Andrews, the

Bishops of Aberdeen, Dumblane, Brechin, and Ross, the Earls of Huntly,

Argyle, Morton, Cassils, Sutherland, Errol, Crawfurd, Caithness, and

Rothes, and the Lords Boyd, Glamis, Ruthven, Semple, Herries, Ogilvie, and

Fleming. Here was an overwhelming and irresistible force, enlisted by

Bothwell in his support. The sincerity of many of the subscribers he

probably had good reason to doubt; but what he wanted was to be able to

present himself before Mary armed with an argument which she would find it

difficult to evade, and if she yielded to it, his object would be gained.

He was afraid, however, to lay the bond openly and fairly before her; he

dreaded that her aversion to a matrimonial connexion with him might weigh

more powerfully than even the almost unanimous recommendation of her

nobility. But having already gone so far, he was resolved that a woman's

will should not be any serious obstacle to his wishes.

The whole affair of the supper was, for a short time, kept concealed from

Mary; and though Bothwell's intentions and wishes began to be pretty

generally talked of throughout the country, she was the very last to hear

of them. When the Lord Herries ventured on one occasion to come upon the

subject with the Queen, and mentioned the report as one which had gained

considerable credit, "her Majesty marvelled," says Melville, "to hear of

such rumours without meaning, and said that there was no such thing in

her mind." Only a day or two after the bond was signed, she left

Edinburgh to visit the prince her son, who was then in the keeping of the

Earl of Mar at Stirling. Before she went, Bothwell ventured to express his

hopes to her, but she gave him an answer little agreeable to his ambition.

"The bond being once obtained," Mary afterwards wrote to France, "Bothwell

began afar off to discover his intention, and to essay if he might by

humble suit purchase our good will."--"But finding an answer nothing

correspondent to his desire, and casting from before his eyes all doubts

that men use commonly to revolve with themselves in similar

enterprises,--the backwardness of our own mind--the persuasions which our

friends or his enemies might cast out for his hindrance--the change of

their minds whose consent he had already obtained, with many other

incidents which might occur to frustrate him of his expectation,--he

resolved with himself to follow forth his good fortune, and, all respect

laid apart, either to tine all in one hour, or to bring to pass that thing

he had taken in hand." This is a clear and strong statement,

describing exactly the feelings both of Bothwell and Mary at this period.

The Earl did not long dally on the brink of his fate. Ascertaining that

Mary was to return from Stirling on the 24th, he left Edinburgh with a

force of nearly 1000 men well mounted, under the pretence of proceeding

to quell some riots on the Borders. But he had only gone a few miles

southward, when he turned suddenly to the west, and riding with all speed

to Linlithgow, waited for Mary at a bridge over the Almond about a mile

from that town. The Queen soon made her appearance with a small train,

which was easily overpowered, and which indeed did not venture to offer

any resistance. The Earl of Huntly, Secretary Maitland, and Sir James

Melville, were the only persons of rank who were with the Queen; and they

were carried captive along with her; but the rest of her attendants were

dismissed. Bothwell himself seized the bridle of Mary's horse, and turning

off the road to Edinburgh, conducted her with all speed to his Castle at


The leading features of this forcible abduction, or ravishment, as it is

commonly called by the Scottish historians, have been greatly

misrepresented by Robertson and Laing. Both of these writers mention, as a

matter of surprise, that Mary yielded without struggle or regret, to the

insult thus offered her. That she yielded without struggle,--that is to

say, without any attempt at physical resistance, is exceedingly probable;

for when was a party of a dozen persons, riding without suspicion of

danger, able to offer resistance to a thousand armed troopers? There is

little wonder that they were surrounded and carried off, "without

opposition," as Laing expresses it; for by a thousand soldiers, a dozen

Sir William Wallaces would have been made prisoners "without opposition."

But the very number which Bothwell brought with him, and which even Mary's

worst enemies allow was not less than six hundred, proves that there was

no collusion between him and the Queen. Had it been only a pretended

violence, to afford a decent excuse for Mary's subsequent conduct, fifty

horsemen would have done as well as a thousand; but Bothwell knew the

Queen's spirit, and the danger of the attempt, and came prepared

accordingly. But it is urged, that, if displeased, she must have expressed

her resentment to those who were near her. And there is certainly no

reason to suppose that she was silent, though neither Huntly nor

Lethington would be much influenced by her complaints, for they had both

secretly attached themselves to Bothwell. Sir James Melville, who was more

faithful to the Queen, was dismissed from Dunbar the day after her

capture, lest she should have employed him to solicit aid for her relief,

as she had formerly done on the occasion of the murder of Rizzio. Mary

herself, in the letter already quoted, sets the matter beyond dispute, for

she there gives a long and interesting detail, both of her own

indignation, and of the arts used by Bothwell to appease it. Nothing,

indeed, can be more contrary to reason, than to suppose this abduction a

mere device, mutually arranged to deceive the country. If Mary had really

loved Bothwell and was anxious to marry him, it would have been the very

last thing she would have wished to be believed, whether she thought him

guilty of Darnley's murder or not, that she gave him her hand, after he

had been publicly acquitted, and all her principal nobility had declared

in his favour, only in consequence of a treasonable act, committed by him

against her person. If she hoped to live in peace and happiness with him,

why should she have allowed it to be supposed, that she acted from

necessity, rather than from choice, or that she yielded to a seducer, what

she would not give to a faithful subject? This pre-arranged ravishment,

would evidently defeat its own purpose, and would serve as a pretence

suggested by Mary herself, for every malcontent in Scotland to take up

arms against her and Bothwell. It was a contrivance directly opposed to

all sound policy, and certainly very unlike the open and straight-forward

manner in which she usually went about the accomplishment of a favourite

purpose. "But one object of the seizure," says Laing, "was the vindication

of her precipitate marriage." Where was the necessity for a precipitate

marriage at all? Was Mary so eager to become the wife of Bothwell, with

whom, according to the veracious Buchanan, she had long been indulging an

illicit intercourse, that she could not wait the time required by common

decency to wear her widow's garb for Darnley? Was he barbarously murdered

by her consent on the 9th of February, on the express condition that she

was to have Bothwell in her arms as her husband on the 15th of May? Was

she, indeed, so entirely lost to every sense of female delicacy and

public shame,--so utterly dead to her own interests and reputation,--or so

very scrupulous about continuing a little longer her unlicensed amours,

that, rather than suffer the delay of a few months, she would thus run the

risk of involving herself in eternal infamy? Even supposing that she was

perfectly assured the artifice would remain undiscovered,--was her

conscience so hardened, her feelings so abandoned, and her reason so

perverted, as to enable her to anticipate gratification from a marriage

thus hastily concluded, with so little queenly dignity, or female modesty,

and with a man who was not yet divorced from his own wife? There is but

one answer which can be given to these questions, and that answer comes

instinctively to the lips, from every generous heart, and well-regulated


For ten days Bothwell kept Mary in Dunbar "sequestrated," in her own

words, "from the company of all her servants, and others of whom she might

have asked counsel, and seeing those upon whose counsel and fidelity she

had before depended, already yielded to his appetite, and so left alone,

as it were, a prey to him." Closely shut up as she was, she long

hoped that some of her more loyal nobles would exert themselves to procure

her deliverance. But not one of them stirred in her behalf, for Bothwell

was at this time dreaded or courted by all of them, and finding the person

of the Queen thus left at his disposal, he did not hesitate to declare to

her, that he would make her his wife, "who would, or who would not,--yea,

whether she would herself or not." Mary, in reply, charged him with

the foulest ingratitude; and his conduct, she told him, grieved her the

more, because he was one "of whom she doubted less than of any subject she

had." But he was not now to be driven from his purpose. He spent his

whole time with Mary; and his whole conversation was directed to the one

great object he had in view. He called to his aid every variety of

passion; sometimes flinging himself at her feet, and imploring her to

pardon a deed which the violence of his love had made imperative; and, at

other times, giving vent to a storm of rage, and threatening dishonour,

imprisonment, and death, if she hesitated longer to comply with his

demands. Mary herself is the best chronicler of these distracting scenes,

although it must be observed, that she did not write of them till Bothwell

had achieved his purpose; and consequently, making a virtue of necessity,

she was anxious to place them in as favourable a point of view as

possible. "Being at Dunbar," she says, "we reproached him the honour he

had to be so esteemed of us, the favour we had always shewn him, his

ingratitude, with all other remonstrances which might serve to rid us out

of his hands. Albeit we found his doing rude, yet were his answer and

words but gentle, that he would honour and serve us, and would noways

offend us, asking pardon of the boldness he had taken to convoy us to one

of our own houses, whereunto he was driven by force, as well as

constrained by love, the vehemency whereof had made him to set apart the

reverence, which naturally, as our subject, he bore to us, as also for

safety of his own life. And then began to make us a discourse of his whole

life, how unfortunate he had been to find men his unfriends whom he had

never offended; how their malice never ceased to assault him on all

occasions, albeit unjustly; what calumnies they had spread of him,

touching the odious violence perpetrated in the person of the King our

late husband; how unable he was to save himself from the conspiracies of

his enemies, whom he could not know by reason that every man professed

himself outwardly to be his friend; and yet he found such hidden malice

that he could not find himself in surety, unless he were insured of our

favour to endure without alteration; and on no other assurance of our

favour could he rely, unless it would please us to do him that honour to

take him to husband, protesting always that he would seek no other

sovereignty but as formerly, to serve and obey us all the days of our

life; joining thereunto all the honest language that could be used in such

a case." But these arguments were of no avail, and he was obliged to

go a step farther. "When he saw us like to reject all his suit and

offers," says Mary, "in the end he shewed us how far he had proceeded with

our whole nobility and principals of our estates, and what they had

promised him under their handwriting. If we had cause then to be

astonished, we leave to the judgment of the King and Queen, (of France),

our uncle, and our other friends." "Many things we resolved with ourself,

but never could find an outgait (deliverance); and yet he gave us little

space to meditate with ourself, ever pressing us with continual and

importunate suit." "As by a bravade in the beginning, he had won the first

point, so ceased he never till, by persuasions and importunate suit,

accompanied not the less with force, he has finally driven us to end the

work begun, at such time, and in such form, as he thought might best serve

his turn; wherein we cannot dissemble that he has used us otherwise than

we would have wished, or yet have deserved at his hand; having more

respect to content them, by whose consent granted to him beforehand, he

thinks he has obtained his purpose, than regarding our contentation, or

weighing what was convenient for us."

Bothwell had kept Mary at Dunbar for nearly a week, when, in order to

make it be believed that her residence there was voluntary, he ventured to

call together a few of the Lords of the Privy Council on whom he could

depend, and on the 29th of April there was one unimportant act of Council

passed, concerning provisions for the Royal Household. From the influence

he at that time possessed over the Scottish nobles, Bothwell might have

held a Privy Council every day at Dunbar, and whether he allowed the

Queen, pro forma, to be present or not, nobody would have objected to

any thing he proposed. In the meantime, mutual actions of divorce were

raised by Bothwell and his wife, the Lady Jane Gordon, and being hurried

through the courts, only a few days elapsed before they were obtained.

This is another circumstance which tends to prove, that Bothwell's seizure

of Mary was not collusive; for had it been so, she would certainly never

have allowed it to take place till these actions had been decided.

The die was now cast; Mary was in Bothwell's fangs, and her ruin was

completed. On the 3d of May 1567, he thought it expedient to conduct her,

closely guarded, from Dunbar to the Castle of Edinburgh. When they came

near the town, he desired his followers to conceal their arms, lest it

should be supposed that he was still keeping the Queen an unwilling

prisoner. But the truth broke out in spite of his precautions; for at the

foot of the Canongate, Mary was about to turn her horse towards Holyrood,

upon which Bothwell himself seized the bridle, and conducted her up the

High Street to the Castle, which was then in the keeping of Sir James

Balfour, who was entirely subservient to Bothwell. He was now resolved

that his marriage should be consummated with as little delay as possible,

having wrung a consent to it from the unfortunate Queen, by means of

which, it is impossible to think without shuddering. In the state to which

she was reduced, she had no alternative; she chose the least of two evils,

in becoming, with an aching heart, the wife of her ravisher. Yet it would

appear, that she did not herself take a single step to advance the matter.

Three days after she arrived at the Castle, a person of the name of Thomas

Hepburn, (probably a relation of the Hepburn who was engaged with Bothwell

in Darnley's murder), was sent to Craig, Knox's colleague in the church of

St Giles, to desire that he would proclaim the banns of matrimony betwixt

the Queen and Bothwell. But the clergyman refused, because Hepburn brought

no authority from the Queen. Neither Mary nor Bothwell were so

ignorant as to suppose that any minister would publish banns without

receiving a written or personal order; and Hepburn would hardly have been

sent on so idle an errand, had not the Queen been still reluctant to

surrender herself to one whose person and manners she had never liked, and

who was now so odious to her. But not a voice was raised,--not a sword was

drawn to protect her,--and what resource was left? In a day or two, the

Lord Justice Clerk conveyed a written mandate to Craig; but the preacher,

had still some scruples: not thinking such a marriage agreeable to the

laws either of God or man, he insisted upon seeing the Queen and Bothwell,

before he gave intimation of it. He was admitted to a meeting of the Privy

Council, where Bothwell presided, but at which Mary does not seem to have

been present. "In the Council," says Craig, "I laid to his charge the law

of adultery, the ordinance of the kirk, the law of ravishing, the

suspicion of collusion betwixt him and his wife, the sudden divorcement

and proclaiming within the space of four days, and lastly, the suspicion

of the King's death, which his marriage would confirm; but he answered

nothing to my satisfaction."--"Therefore, upon Sunday, after I had

declared what they had done, and how they would proceed, whether we would

or not, I took heaven and earth to witness, that I abhorred and detested

that marriage, because it was odious and scandalous to the world; and

seeing the best part of the realm did approve it, either by flattery or

by their silence, I desired the faithful to pray earnestly, that God

would turn it to the comfort of this realm."

It was not till after the banns had been twice proclaimed, that Bothwell

allowed the Queen, on the 12th of May, to come forth from the Castle for

the first time. He conducted her himself to the Court of Session, where he

persuaded her to affix her signature to two deeds of great importance to

him. The bond he had obtained from the nobles, recommending him as a

husband to the Queen, has been already fully described; but when the Lords

put their names to it, they were not aware that Bothwell would, in

consequence, conceive himself entitled to have recourse to violence; and

they now became alarmed lest the Queen should imagine that they were

themselves implicated in an act which many of them, though they did not

yet venture to express their sentiments, viewed with disgust. By way of

precaution, therefore, they required Bothwell to obtain, from her Majesty,

a written promise, that she would not at any time hereafter impute to them

as a crime the consent they had given to the bond. Here is another

argument against the idea of collusion between Mary and Bothwell; for in

that case, so far from having any thing to fear, Bothwell's friends would

have known that nothing could have recommended them more to Mary, than the

countenance they gave his marriage; and if, for the sake of appearances,

she wished it to be believed that she was forced into it, she would

certainly have carefully avoided recording her approval of the previous

encouragement given to Bothwell by her nobility. Mary's calumniators are

thus placed between the horns of a dilemma. If she did not consent to the

abduction, then the marriage was not one of her choice; if she did, then

why defeat the only object she had in view, which was to deceive her

subjects, by publicly declaring that the Lords who signed the bond had

done nothing to displease her? and why, moreover, should such a

declaration have been thought necessary, either by Bothwell or his

friends? The deed which Mary signed in the Court of Session, and which,

taking this view of it, is worthy of every attention, was subjoined to a

copy of the bond, and expressed in these words: "The Queen's Majesty

having seen and considered the bond above written, promises, on the word

of a Princess, that she, nor her successors, shall never impute as crime

or offence, to any of the persons subscribers thereof, their consent and

subscription to the matter above written therein contained; nor that they

nor their heirs shall never be called nor accused therefor; nor yet shall

the said consent or subscribing be any derogation or spot to their honour,

or they esteemed undutiful subjects for doing thereof, notwithstanding

whatever thing can tend or be alleged in the contrary. In witness whereof,

her Majesty has subscribed the same with her own hand."

On the same day, Mary granted a formal pardon to Bothwell, before all the

Lords of Session and others, for his late conduct, in taking her to, and

holding her in Dunbar, "contrary to her Majesty's will and mind," which is

also very much against the supposition of collusion. It states,--"That

albeit her Highness was commoved for the present time of her taking at the

said Earl Bothwell; yet for his good behaviour, and thankful service in

time past, and for more thankful service in time coming, her Highness

stands content with the said Earl, and has forgiven and forgives him, and

all others his accomplices, being with him in company at the time, all

hatred conceived by her Majesty, for the taking and imprisoning of her, at

the time foresaid."

All these preparations having been made, Mary at length became the wife of

Bothwell, after he had been previously created Duke of Orkney. Even in the

celebration of the marriage ceremony, the despotic power which Bothwell

now exercised over the unhappy and passive Queen, is but too evident. She,

who had never before failed in a single instance, to observe the rites of

her own faith, however tolerant she was to those who professed a different

persuasion, was now obliged, in opposition to all the prejudices of

education, and all the principles of her religion, to submit to be married

according to the form of the Protestant church. Adam Bothwell, Bishop of

Orkney, who, though holding an Episcopal order, had lately renounced that

heresy, and joined the Reformers, presided on the occasion. The marriage

took place, not at mass in the Queen's chapel, but in the Council Chamber,

where, after a sermon had been delivered, the company separated, with

little demonstrations of mirth. Melville, who came to Court the same

evening, mentions some particulars, which show how the dissolute Bothwell

chose to spend his time:--"When I came to the Court," he says, "I found my

Lord Duke of Orkney, sitting at his supper. He said I had been a great

stranger, desiring me to sit down and sup with him. The Earl of Huntly,

the Justice-Clerk, and diverse others, were sitting at the table with him.

I said that I had already supped. Then he called for a cup of wine, and

drank to me, that I might pledge him like a Dutchman. He made me drink it

out to grow fatter, 'for,' said he, 'the zeal of the commonweal has eaten

ye up, and made ye lean.' I answered, that every little member should

serve to some use; but that the care of the commonweal appertained most to

him, and the rest of the nobility, who should be as fathers to it. Then he

said, I well knew he would find a pin for every bore. Then he discoursed

of gentlewomen, speaking such filthy language, that I left him, and passed

up to the Queen, who was very glad at my coming."

Such was the man who was now inseparably joined to Mary, and who, by fraud

and villany, had made himself, for the time, so absolute in Scotland, that

her possession of the throne of her ancestors, nay, her very life, seems

to have depended upon his will and pleasure.