Home  -  Tutor Videos / Shows   -  Queen Victoria   -  Queen Elizabeth   -  Queen Mary   -  Queen Adelaide   -  Catherine of Aragon   -  King Henry the VIII   -  Windsor Castle

Most Viewed

Mary's Marriage Personal Appearance And Popularity

Mary The Queen Dauphiness The Queen And The Queen Dowager Of France

A Tangle

An Examination Of The Letters Sonnets And Other Writings Adduced In Evidence Against Mary Queen Of Scots

Occurrences Immediately Preceding Darnley's Death

The Little Waif

Paul's Walk



Mary's Birth And Subsequent Residence At The French Court

Least Viewed

Return To Scotland

My Lady's Remorse

The Bewitched Whistle

Hunting Down The Deer

Mary's Eighteen Years' Captivity

Queen Mary's Presence Chamber

Mary's Reception In England And The Conferences At York And Westminster

The Love Token

Before The Commissioners

The Ebbing Well

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.

Next: The Death Of Darnley

Previous: The Proposal Of A Divorce Between Mary And Darnley And The Christening Of James Vi

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 1998