The Death Of Darnley

It was on Sunday, the 9th of February 1567, that the final preparations

for the murder of Darnley were made. To execute the guilty deed, Bothwell

was obliged to avail himself of the assistance of those ready ministers of

crime, who are always to be found at the beck of a wealthy and depraved

patron. There were eight unfortunate men whom he thus used as tools with

which to work his purpose. Four of these were merely menial

/> servants;--their names were, Dalgleish, Wilson, Powrie, and Nicolas

Haubert, more commonly known by the sobriquet of French Paris. He was a

native of France, and had been a long while in the service of the Earl of

Bothwell; but on his master's recommendation, who foresaw the advantages

he might reap from the change, he was taken into the Queen's service

shortly before her husband's death. Bothwell was thus able to obtain the

keys of some of the doors of the Kirk-of-Field house, of which he caused

counterfeit impressions to be taken. The other four who were at the

"deed-doing," were persons of somewhat more consequence. They were small

landed proprietors or lairds, who had squandered their patrimony in

idleness and dissipation, and were willing to run the chance of retrieving

their ruined fortunes at any risk. They were the Laird of Ormiston, Hob

Ormiston his uncle, "or father's brother," as he is called, John Hepburn

of Bolton, and John Hay of Tallo. Bothwell wished Maitland, Morton, and

one or two others, to send some of their servants also to assist in the

enterprise; but if they ever promised to do so, it does not appear that

they kept their word. Archibald Douglas, however, who had linked himself

to the fortunes of Bothwell, was in the immediate neighbourhood with two

servants, when the crime was perpetrated.

Till within two days of the murder, Bothwell had not made up his mind how

the King was to be killed. He held various secret meetings with his four

principal accomplices, at which the plan first proposed was to attack

Darnley when walking in the gardens adjoining the Kirk-of-Field, which his

returning health enabled him to visit occasionally when the weather was

favourable. But the success of this scheme was uncertain, and there was

every probability that the assassins would be discovered. It was next

suggested that the house might easily be entered at midnight, and the King

stabbed in bed. But a servant commonly lay in the same apartment with him,

and there were always one or two in the adjoining room, who might have

resisted or escaped, and afterwards have been able to identify the

criminals. After much deliberation, it at length occurred that gunpowder

might be used with effect; and that, if the whole premises were blown up,

they were likely to bury in their ruins every thing that could fix the

suspicion on the parties concerned. Powder was therefore secretly brought

into Edinburgh from the Castle of Dunbar, of which Bothwell had the

lordship, and was carried to his own lodgings in the immediate vicinity of

Holyrood Palace. It then became necessary to ascertain on what night

the house could be blown up, without endangering the safety of the Queen,

whom Bothwell had no desire should share the fate of her husband. She

frequently slept at the Kirk-of-Field; and it was difficult to ascertain

precisely when she would pass the night at Holyrood. In his

confession, Hay mentions, that "the purpose should have been put in

execution upon the Saturday night; but the matter failed, because all

things were not in readiness." It is not in the least unlikely that this

delay was owing to Mary's remaining with her husband that evening.

On Sunday, Bothwell learned that the Queen intended honouring with her

presence a masque which was to be given in the Palace, at a late hour, on

the occasion of the marriage of her French servant Sebastian, to Margaret

Carwood, one of her waiting-maids. He knew therefore that she could not

sleep at the Kirk-of-Field that night, and took his measures accordingly.

At dusk he assembled his accomplices, and told them that the time was come

when he should have occasion for their services. He was himself to

sup between seven and eight at a banquet given to the Queen by the Bishop

of Argyle, but he desired them to be in readiness as soon as the company

should break up, when he promised to join them. The Queen dined at

Holyrood, and went from thence to the house of Mr John Balfour, where the

Bishop lodged. She rose from the supper-table about nine o'clock, and,

accompanied by the Earls of Argyle, Huntly, and Cassils, she went to visit

her husband at the Kirk-of-Field. Bothwell, on the contrary, having called

Paris aside, who was in waiting on the Queen, took him with him to the

lodgings of the Laird of Ormiston. There he met Hay and Hepburn, and

they passed down the Blackfriars Wynd together. The wall which surrounded

the gardens of the Dominican monastery ran near the foot of this wynd.

They passed through a gate in the wall, which Bothwell had contrived to

open by stealth, and, crossing the gardens, came to another wall

immediately behind Darnley's house.

Dalgleish and Wilson had, in the meantime, been employed in bringing up,

from Bothwell's residence in the Abbey, the gunpowder he had lodged there.

It had been divided into bags, and the bags were put into trunks, which

they carried upon horses. Not being able to take it all at once, they were

obliged to go twice between the Kirk-of-Field and the Palace. They were

not allowed to come nearer than the Convent-gate at the foot of

Blackfriars Wynd, where the powder was taken from them by Ormiston,

Hepburn, and Hay, who carried it up to the house. When they had conveyed

the whole, they were ordered to return home; and as they passed up the

Blackfriars' Wynd, Powrie, as if suddenly conscience-struck, said to

Wilson, "Jesu! whatna a gait is this we are ganging? I trow it be not

good." Neither of these menials had seen Bothwell, for he kept at a

distance, walking up and down the Cowgate, until the others received and

deposited the powder. A large empty barrel had been concealed, by his

orders, in the Convent gardens, and into it they intended to have put all

the bags; and the barrel was then to have been carried in at the lower

back door of Darnley's house, and placed in the Queen's bedroom, which, it

will be remembered, was immediately under that of the King. Paris, as the

Queen's valet-de-chambre, kept the keys of the lower flat, and was now in

Mary's apartment ready to receive the powder. But some delay occurred in

consequence of the barrel turning out to be so large that it could not be

taken in by the back door; and it became necessary therefore to carry the

bags one by one into the bedroom, where they emptied them in a heap on the

floor. Bothwell, who was walking anxiously to and fro, was alarmed at this

delay, and came to inquire if all was ready. He was afraid that the

company up stairs, among whom was the Queen, with several of her nobility

and ladies in waiting, might come suddenly out upon them, and discover

their proceedings. "He bade them haste," says Hepburn, "before the

Queen came forth of the King's house; for if she came forth before they

were ready, they would not find such commodity." At length, every

thing being put into the state they wished, they all left the under part

of the house, with the exception of Hepburn and Hay, who were locked into

the room with the gunpowder, and left to keep watch there till the others

should return.

Bothwell, having dismissed the others, went up stairs and joined the Queen

and her friends in Darnley's apartment, as if he had that moment come to

the Kirk-of-Field. Shortly afterwards, Paris also entered; and the Queen,

being either reminded of, or recollecting her promise, to grace with her

presence Sebastian's entertainment, rose, about eleven at night, to take

leave of her husband. It has been asserted, upon the alleged authority of

Buchanan, that, before going away, she kissed him, and put upon his finger

a ring, in pledge of her affection. It seems doubtful, however, whether

this is Buchanan's meaning. He certainly mentions, in his own insidious

manner, that Mary endeavoured to divert all suspicions from herself, by

paying frequent visits to her husband, by staying with him many hours at a

time, by talking lovingly with him, by paying every attention to his

health, by kissing him, and making him a present of a ring; but he does

not expressly say that a kiss and ring were given upon the occasion of her

parting with Darnley for the last time. It is not at all unlikely,

that the fact may have been as Buchanan is supposed to state; but as it is

not a circumstance of much importance, it is unnecessary to insist upon

its being either believed or discredited so long as it is involved in any

uncertainty. Buchanan mentions another little particular, which may easily

be conceived to be true,--that, in the course of her conversation with her

husband this evening, Mary made the remark, that "just about that time

last year David Rizzio was killed." Bothwell, at such a moment, could not

have made the observation; but it may have come naturally enough from

Mary, or Darnley himself.

Accompanied by Bothwell, Argyle, Huntly, Cassils, and others, Mary now

proceeded to the palace, going first up the Blackfriars' Wynd, and then

down the Canongate. Just as she was about to enter Holyrood House, she met

one of the Earl of Bothwell's servants (either Dalgleish or Powrie), whom

she asked where he had been, that he smelt so strongly of gunpowder? The

fellow made some excuse, and no further notice was taken of the

circumstance. The Queen proceeded immediately to the rooms where

Sebastian's friends were assembled; and Bothwell, who was very anxious to

avoid any suspicion, and, above all, to prevent Mary from suspecting him,

continued to attend her assiduously. Paris, who carried in his pocket the

key of Mary's bed-room at the Kirk-of-Field, in which he had locked Hay

and Hepburn, followed in the Earl's train. Upon entering the apartment

where the dancing and masquing was going on, this Frenchman, who had

neither the courage nor the cunning necessary to carry him through such a

deed of villany, retired in a melancholy mood to a corner, and stood by

himself wrapt in a profound reverie. Bothwell, observing him, and fearing

that his conduct might excite observation, went up to him, and angrily

demanded why he looked so sad, telling him in a whisper, that if he

retained that lugubrious countenance before the Queen, he should be made

to suffer for it. Paris answered despondingly, that he did not care what

became of himself, if he could only get permission to go home to bed, for

he was ill. "No," said Bothwell, "you must remain with me; would you leave

those two gentlemen, Hay and Hepburn, locked up where they now

are?"--"Alas!" answered Paris, "what more must I do this night? I have no

heart for this business." Bothwell put an end to the conversation, by

ordering Paris to follow him immediately. It is uncertain whether the

Queen had retired to her own chamber before Bothwell quitted the Palace,

or whether he left her at the masque. Buchanan, always ready to fabricate

calumny, says, that the Queen and Bothwell were "in long talk together, in

her own chamber after midnight." But the falsehood of this assertion is

clearly established; for Buchanan himself allows, that it was past eleven

before Mary left the Kirk-of-Field, and Dalgleish and Powrie both state,

that Bothwell came to his own lodgings from the Palace about twelve. If,

therefore, he was at the masque, as we have seen, he had no time to talk

with the Queen in private; and, if he had talked with the Queen, he could

not have been at the masque. It is most likely that Mary continued for

some time after Bothwell's departure at Sebastian's wedding, for Sebastian

was "in great favour with the Queen, for his skill in music and his merry


As soon as Bothwell came to his "own lodging in the Abbey," he exchanged

his rich court dress for a more common one. Instead of a black satin

doublet, bordered with silver, he put on a white canvass doublet, and

wrapt himself up in his riding-cloak. Taking Paris, Powrie, Wilson and

Dalgleish with him, he then went down the lane which ran along the wall of

the Queen's south gardens, and which still exists, joining the foot of the

Canongate, where the gate of the outer court of the Palace formerly stood.

Passing by the door of the Queen's garden, where sentinels were always

stationed, the party was challenged by one of the soldiers, who demanded,

"Who goes there?" They answered, "Friends." "What friends?" "Friends to my

Lord Bothwell." They proceeded up the Canongate till they came to the

Netherbow Port, or lower gate of the city, which was shut. They called to

the porter, John Galloway, and desired him to open to friends of my Lord

Bothwell. Galloway was not well pleased to be raised at so late an hour,

and he kept them waiting for some time. As they entered, he asked, "What

they did out of their beds at that time of night?" but they gave him no

answer. As soon as they got into the town, they called at Ormiston's

lodgings, who lived in a house, called Bassyntine's house, a short way up

the High Street, on the south side; but they were told that he was not at

home. They went without him, down a close below the Blackfriars Wynd, till

they came to the gate of the Convent Gardens already mentioned. They

entered, and, crossing the gardens, they stopped at the back wall, a short

way behind Darnley's residence. Here, Dalgleish, Wilson, and Powrie, were

ordered to remain; and Bothwell and Paris passed in, over the wall. Having

gone into the lower part of the house, they unlocked the door of the room

in which they had left Hay and Hepburn, and the four together held a

consultation regarding the best mode of setting fire to the gunpowder,

which was lying in a great heap upon the floor. They took a piece of lint,

three or four inches long, and kindling one end of it, they laid the other

on the powder, knowing that it would burn slowly enough to give them time

to retire to a safe distance. They then returned to the Convent gardens;

and having rejoined the servants whom they had left there, the whole group

stood together, anxiously waiting for the explosion.

Darnley, meantime, little aware of his impending fate, had gone to bed

within an hour after the Queen had left him. His servant, William Taylor,

lay, as was his wont, in the same room. Thomas Nelson, Edward Simmons, and

a boy, lay in the gallery, or servant's apartment, on the same floor, and

nearer the town-wall. Bothwell must have been quite aware, that from the

mode of death he had chosen for Darnley, there was every probability that

his attendants would also perish. But when lawless ambition once

commences its work of blood, whether there be only one, or a hundred

victims, seems to be a matter of indifference.

The conspirators waited for upwards of a quarter of an hour without

hearing any noise. Bothwell became impatient; and unless the others had

interfered, and pointed out to him the danger, he would have returned and

looked in at the back window of the bedroom, to see if the light was

burning. It must have been a moment of intense anxiety and terror to all

of them. At length, every doubt was terminated. With an explosion so

tremendous, that it shook nearly the whole town, and startled the

inhabitants from their sleep, the house of the Kirk-of-Field blew up into

a thousand fragments, leaving scarcely a vestige standing of its former

walls. Paris, who describes the noise as that of a storm of thunder

condensed into one clap, fell almost senseless, through fear, with his

face upon the earth. Bothwell himself, though "a bold, bad man," confessed

a momentary panic. "I have been at many important enterprises," said he,

"but I never felt before as I do now." Without waiting to ascertain the

full extent of the catastrophe, he and his accomplices left the scene of

their guilt with all expedition. They went out at the Convent-gate, and,

having passed down to the Cowgate, they there separated, and went up by

different roads to the Netherbow-Port. They were very desirous to avoid

disturbing the porter again, lest they should excite his suspicion. They

therefore went down a close, which still exists, on the north side of the

High Street, immediately above the city gate, expecting that they would be

able to drop from the wall into Leith Wynd; but Bothwell found it too

high, especially as a wound he had received at Hermitage Castle, still

left one of his hands weak. They were forced, therefore, to apply once

more to John Galloway, who, on being told that they were friends of the

Earl Bothwell, does not seem to have asked any questions. On getting into

the Canongate, some people were observed coming up the street; to avoid

them, Bothwell passed down St Mary's Wynd, and went to his lodgings by the

back road. The sentinels, at the door of the Queen's garden again

challenged them, and they made the usual answer, that they were friends of

the Earl Bothwell, carrying despatches to him from the country. The

sentinels asked,--"If they knew what noise that was they had heard a short

time before?" They told them they did not.

When Bothwell came home, he called for a drink; and, taking off his

clothes, went to bed immediately. He had not lain there above half an hour

when the news was brought him that the House of the Kirk-of-Field had been

blown up, and the King slain. Exclaiming that there must be treason

abroad, and affecting the utmost alarm and indignation, he rose and put on

the same clothes he had worn when he was last with the Queen. The Earl of

Huntly and others soon joined him, and, after hearing from them as much as

was then known of the matter, it was thought advisable to repair to the

Palace, to inform Mary of what had happened. They found her already

alarmed, and anxious to see them, some vague rumours of the accident

having reached her. They disclosed the whole melancholy truth as gradually

and gently as possible, attributing Darnley's death either to the

accidental explosion of some gunpowder in the neighbourhood, or to the

effects of lightning. Mary's distress knew no bounds; and seeing that it

was hopeless to reason with her in the first anguish of her feelings,

Bothwell and the other Lords left her just as day began to break, and

proceeded to the Kirk-of-Field. There they found every thing in a

state of confusion;--the edifice in ruins, and the town's-people gathered

round it in dismay. Of the five persons who were in the house at the time

of the explosion, one only was saved. Darnley, and his servant William

Taylor, who slept in the room immediately above the gunpowder, had been

most exposed to its effects, and they were accordingly carried through the

air over the town wall, and across the lane on the other side, and were

found lying at a short distance from each other in a garden to the south

of this lane,--both in their night-dress, and with little external injury.

Simmons, Nelson, and the boy, being nearer the town-wall, were only

collaterally affected by the explosion. They were, however, all buried in

the ruins, out of which Nelson alone had the good fortune to be taken

alive. The bodies were, by Bothwell's command, removed to an adjoining

house, and a guard from the Palace set over them.

Darnley and his servant being found at so great a distance, and so

triflingly injured, it was almost universally supposed at the time, and

for long afterwards, that they had been first strangled or assassinated,

and then carried out to the garden. This supposition is now proved, beyond

a doubt, to have been erroneous. If Darnley had been first murdered, there

would have been no occasion to have blown up the house; and if this was

done, that his death might appear to be the result of accident, his body

would never have been removed to such a distance as might appear to

disconnect it with the previous explosion. Before the expansive force of

gunpowder was sufficiently understood, it was not conceived possible that

it could have acted as in the present instance; and various theories were

invented, none of which were so simple or so true, as that which accords

with the facts now established. It is the depositions already quoted that

set the matter at rest; for, having confessed so much of the truth, there

could have been no reason for concealing any other part of it. Hepburn

declared expressly, that "he knew nothing but that Darnley was blown into

the air, for he was handled with no men's hands that he saw;" and Hay

deponed that Bothwell, some time afterwards, said to him, "What thought ye

when ye saw him blown into the air?" Hay answered,--"Alas! my Lord, why

speak ye of that, for whenever I hear such a thing, the words wound me to

death, as they ought to do you." There is nothing wonderful in the

bodies having been carried so far; for it is mentioned by a cotemporary

author, that "they kindled their train of gunpowder, which inflamed the

whole timber of the house, and troubled the walls thereof in such sort,

that great stones of the length of ten feet, and of the breadth of four

feet, were found blown from the house a far way." Besides, after the

minute account, which a careful collation of the different confessions and

depositions has enabled us to give, of the manner in which Bothwell spent

every minute of his time, from the period of the Queen's leaving Darnley,

till the unfortunate Prince ceased to exist, it would be a work of

supererogation to seek to refute, by any stronger evidence, the notion

that he was strangled.

It is, however, somewhat remarkable, that, even in recent times, authors

of good repute should have allowed themselves to be misled by the exploded

errors of earlier writers. "The house," says Miss Benger, "was invested

with armed men, some of whom watched without, whilst others entered to

achieve their barbarous purpose; these having strangled Darnley and his

servant with silken cords, carried their bodies into the garden, and then

blew up the house with powder." This is almost as foolish as the

report mentioned by Melville, that he was taken out of his bed, and

brought down to a stable, where they suffocated him by stopping a napkin

into his mouth; or, as that still more ridiculous story alluded to by

Sanderson, that the Earl of Dunbar, and Sir Roger Aston, an Englishman,

who chose to hoax his countrymen, by telling them that he lodged in the

King's chamber that night, "having smelt the fire of a match, leapt both

out at a window into the garden; and that the King catching hold of his

sword, and suspecting treason, not only against himself, but the Queen and

the young Prince, who was then at Holyrood House with his mother, desired

him (Sir Roger Aston) to make all the haste he could to acquaint her of

it, and that immediately armed men, rushing into the room, seized him

single and alone, and stabbed him, and then laid him in the garden, and

afterwards blew up the house." Buchanan, Crawford and others, fall

into similar mistakes; but Knox, or his continuator, writes more

correctly, and mentions, besides, that medical men "being convened, at the

Queen's command, to view and consider the manner of Darnley's death," were

almost unanimously of opinion that he was blown into the air, although he

had no mark of fire.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Duke of Albany and King of Scotland, perished

in the twenty-first year of his age, and the eighteenth month of his

reign. The suddenness and severity of his fate excited a degree of

compassion, and attached an interest to his memory, which, had he died in

the ordinary course of nature, would never have been felt. He had been to

Scotland only a cause of civil war,--to his nobility an object of

contempt, of pity, or of hatred,--and to his wife a perpetual source of

sorrow and misfortune. Any praise he may deserve must be given to him

almost solely on the score of his personal endowments; his mind and

dispositions had been allowed to run to waste, and were under no controul

but that of his own wayward feelings and fancies. Keith, in the following

words, draws a judicious contrast between his animal and intellectual

qualities. "He is said to have been one of the tallest and handsomest

young men of the age; that he had a comely face and pleasant countenance;

that he was a most dexterous horseman, and exceedingly well skilled in all

genteel exercises, prompt and ready for all games and sports, much given

to the diversions of hawking and hunting, to horse-racing and music,

especially playing on the lute; he could speak and write well, and was

bountiful and liberal enough. But, then, to balance these good natural

qualifications, he was much addicted to intemperance, to base and unmanly

pleasures; he was haughty and proud, and so very weak in mind, as to be a

prey to all that came about him; he was inconstant, credulous, and facile,

unable to abide by any resolutions, capable to be imposed upon by

designing men, and could conceal no secret, let it tend ever so much to

his own welfare or detriment." With all his faults, there was no one

in Scotland who lamented him more sincerely than Mary. She had loved him

deeply; and whilst her whole life proves that she was incapable of

indulging that violent and unextinguishable hatred which prompts to deeds

of cruelty and revenge, it likewise proves that it was almost impossible

for her to cease to esteem an object for which she had once formed an

attachment. Murray must himself have allowed the truth of the first part

of this statement; and for many days before his death, Darnley had himself

felt the force of the latter. She had, no doubt, too much good sense to

believe that Darnley, in his character of king, was a loss to the country;

but the tears she shed for him, are to be put down to the account, not of

the queen, but of the woman and the wife.