The Fall Of Bothwell


Mary's infatuation.--Excuses for her.--Mary's deep

depression.--Interposition of the King of France.--Bothwell at Edinburgh

Castle.--He is hated by the people.--The opposing parties.--How far

Mary was responsible.--Melrose.--Ruins of the abbey.--Mary's

proclamation.--The prince's lords.--Bothwell alarmed.--Borthwick

Castle.--Bothwell's retreat.--He is besieged.--Makes his

l at Dunbar.--Proclamation.--Approaching

contest.--Mary's appeal.--Approach of the prince's lords.--Carberry

Hill.--Efforts of Le Croc to effect an accommodation.--Bothwell's

challenge.--Morton.--Mary sends for Grange.--Proposition of

Grange.--Dismissal of Bothwell.--Question of Mary's guilt.--The

supposition against her.--The supposition in her

favor.--Uncertainty.--The box of love letters.--Their genuineness

suspected.--Disposal of Mary.--Return to Edinburgh.--The

banner.--Rudeness of the populace.--Bothwell's retreat.--He is

pursued.--Bothwell's narrow escape.--He turns pirate.--Bothwell

in prison.--His miserable end.

The course which Mary pursued after her liberation from Dunbar in

yielding to Bothwell's wishes, pardoning his violence, receiving him

again into favor, and becoming his wife, is one of the most

extraordinary instances of the infatuation produced by love that has

ever occurred. If the story had been fiction instead of truth, it

would have been pronounced extravagant and impossible. As it was, the

whole country was astonished and confounded at such a rapid

succession of desperate and unaccountable crimes. Mary herself seems

to have been hurried through these terrible scenes in a sort of

delirium of excitement, produced by the strange circumstances of the

case, and the wild and uncontrollable agitations to which they gave


Such was, however, at the time, and such continues to be still, the

feeling of interest in Mary's character and misfortunes, that but few

open and direct censures of her conduct were then, or have been

since, expressed. People execrated Bothwell, but they were silent in

respect to Mary. It was soon plain, however, that she had greatly

sunk in their regard, and that the more they reflected upon the

circumstances of the case, the deeper she was sinking. When the

excitement, too, began to pass away from her own mind, it left behind

it a gnawing inquietude and sense of guilt, which grew gradually more

and more intense, until, at length, she sunk under the stings of

remorse and despair.

Her sufferings were increased by the evidences which were continually

coming to her mind of the strong degree of disapprobation with which

her conduct began soon every where to be regarded. Wherever Scotchmen

traveled, they found themselves reproached with the deeds of violence

and crime of which their country had been the scene. Mary's relatives

and friends in France wrote to her, expressing their surprise and

grief at such proceedings. The King of France had sent, a short time

before, a special embassador for the purpose of doing something, if

possible, to discover and punish the murderers of Darnley. His name

was Le Croc. He was an aged and venerable man, of great prudence and

discretion, well qualified to discover and pursue the way of escape

from the difficulties in which Mary had involved herself, if any such

way could be found. He arrived before the day of Mary's marriage, but

he refused to take any part, or even to be present, at the ceremony.

In the mean time, Bothwell continued in Edinburgh Castle for a while,

under the protection of a strong guard. People considered this guard

as intended to prevent Mary's escape, and many thought that she was

detained, after all, against her will, and that her admissions that

she was free were only made at the instigation of Bothwell, and from

fear of his terrible power. The other nobles and the people of

Scotland began to grow more and more uneasy. The fear of Bothwell

began to be changed into hatred, and the more powerful nobles

commenced forming plans for combining together, and rescuing, as they

said, Mary out of his power.

Bothwell made no attempts to conciliate them. He assumed an air and

tone of defiance. He increased his forces. He conceived the plan of

going to Stirling Castle to seize the young prince, who was residing

there under the charge of persons to whom his education had been

intrusted. He said to his followers that James should never do any

thing to avenge his father's death, if he could once get him into his

hands. The other nobles formed a league to counteract these designs.

They began to assemble their forces, and every thing threatened an

outbreak of civil war.

The marriage took place about the middle of May, and within a

fortnight from that time the lines began to be pretty definitely

drawn between the two great parties, the queen and Bothwell on one

side, and the insurgent nobles on the other, each party claiming to

be friends of the queen. Whatever was done on Bothwell's side was, of

course, in the queen's name, though it is very doubtful how far she

was responsible for what was done, or how far, on the other hand, she

merely aided, under the influence of a species of compulsion, in

carrying into execution Bothwell's measures. We must say, in

narrating the history, that the queen did this and that, and must

leave the reader to judge whether it was herself, or Bothwell acting

through her, who was the real agent in the transactions described.

Stirling Castle, where the young prince was residing, is northwest of

Edinburgh. The confederate lords were assembling in that vicinity.

The border country between England and Scotland is of course south.

In the midst of this border country is the ancient town of Melrose,

where there was, in former days, a very rich and magnificent abbey,

the ruins of which, to this day, form one of the most attractive

objects of interest in the whole island of Great Britain. The region

is now the abode of peace, and quietness, and plenty, though in

Mary's day it was the scene of continual turmoil and war. It is now

the favorite retreat of poets and philosophers, who seek their

residences there on account of its stillness and peace. Sir Walter

Scott's Abbotsford is a few miles from Melrose.

About a fortnight after Mary's marriage, she issued a proclamation

ordering the military chiefs in her kingdom to assemble at Melrose,

with their followers, to accompany her on an expedition through the

border country, to suppress some disorders there. The nobles

considered this as only a scheme of Bothwell's to draw them away from

the neighborhood of Stirling, so that he might go and get possession

of the young prince. Rumors of this spread around the country, and

the forces, instead of proceeding to Melrose, began to assemble in

the neighborhood of Stirling, for the protection of the prince. The

lords under whose banners they gathered assumed the name of the

prince's lords, and they called upon the people to take up arms in

defense of young James's person and rights. The prince's lords soon

began to concentrate their forces about Edinburgh, and Bothwell was

alarmed for his safety. He had reason to fear that the governor of

Edinburgh Castle was on their side, and that he might suddenly sally

forth with a body of his forces down the High Street to Holyrood, and

take him prisoner. He accordingly began to think it necessary to


Now Bothwell had, among his other possessions, a certain castle

called Borthwick Castle, a few miles south of Edinburgh. It was

situated on a little swell of land in a beautiful valley. It was

surrounded with groves of trees, and from the windows and walls of

the castle there was an extended view over the beautiful and fertile

fields of the valley. This castle was extensive and strong. It

consisted of one great square tower, surrounded and protected by

walls and bastions, and was approached by a draw-bridge. In the

sudden emergency in which Bothwell found himself placed, this

fortress seemed to be the most convenient and the surest retreat. On

the 6th of June, he accordingly left Edinburgh with as large a force

as he had at command, and rode rapidly across the country with the

queen, and established himself at Borthwick.

The prince's lords, taking fresh courage from the evidence of

Bothwell's weakness and fear, immediately marched from Stirling,

passed by Edinburgh, and almost immediately after Bothwell and the

queen had got safely, as they imagined, established in the place of

their retreat, they found their castle surrounded and hemmed in on

all sides by hostile forces, which filled the whole valley. The

castle was strong, but not strong enough to withstand a siege from

such an army. Bothwell accordingly determined to retreat to his

castle of Dunbar, which, being on a rocky promontory, jutting into

the sea, and more remote from the heart of the country, was less

accessible, and more safe than Borthwick. He contrived, though with

great difficulty, to make his escape with the queen, through the

ranks of his enemies. It is said that the queen was disguised in male

attire. At any rate, they made their escape, they reached Dunbar,

and Mary, or Bothwell in her name, immediately issued a proclamation,

calling upon all her faithful subjects to assemble in arms, to

deliver her from her dangers. At the same time, the prince's lords

issued their proclamation, calling upon all faithful subjects to

assemble with them, to aid them in delivering the queen from the

tyrant who held her captive.

The faithful subjects were at a loss which proclamation to obey. By

far the greater number joined the insurgents. Some thousands,

however, went to Dunbar. With this force the queen and Bothwell

sallied forth, about the middle of June, to meet the prince's lords,

or the insurgents, as they called them, to settle the question at

issue by the kind of ballot with which such questions were generally

settled in those days.

Mary had a proclamation read at the head of her army, now that she

supposed she was on the eve of battle, in which she explained the

causes of the quarrel. The proclamation stated that the marriage was

Mary's free act, and that, although it was in some respects an

extraordinary one, still the circumstances were such that she could

not do otherwise than she had done. For ten days she had been in

Bothwell's power in his castle at Dunbar, and not an arm had been

raised for her deliverance. Her subjects ought to have interposed

then, if they were intending really to rescue her from Bothwell's

power. They had done nothing then, but now, when she had been

compelled, by the cruel circumstances of her condition, to marry

Bothwell--when the act was done, and could no longer be recalled,

they had taken up arms against her, and compelled her to take the

field in her own defense.

The army of the prince's lords, with Mary's most determined enemies

at their head, advanced to meet the queen's forces. The queen finally

took her post on an elevated piece of ground called Carberry Hill.

Carberry is an old Scotch name for gooseberry. Carberry Hill is a few

miles to the eastward of Edinburgh, near Dalkeith. Here the two

armies were drawn up, opposite to each other, in hostile array.

Le Croc, the aged and venerable French embassador, made a great

effort to effect an accommodation and prevent a battle. He first went

to the queen and obtained authority from her to offer terms of peace,

and then went to the camp of the prince's lords and proposed that

they should lay down their arms and submit to the queen's authority,

and that she would forgive and forget what they had done. They

replied that they had done no wrong, and asked for no pardon; that

they were not in arms against the queen's authority, but in favor of

it. They sought only to deliver her from the durance in which she was

held, and to bring to punishment the murderers of her husband,

whoever they might be. Le Croc went back and forth several times,

vainly endeavoring to effect an accommodation, and finally, giving up

in despair, he returned to Edinburgh, leaving the contending parties

to settle the contest in their own way.

Bothwell now sent a herald to the camp of his enemies, challenging

any one of them to meet him, and settle the question of his guilt or

innocence by single combat. This proposition was not quite so absurd

in those days as it would be now, for it was not an uncommon thing,

in the Middle Ages, to try in this way questions of crime. Many

negotiations ensued on Bothwell's proposal. One or two persons

expressed themselves ready to accept the challenge. Bothwell objected

to them on account of their rank being inferior to his, but said he

would fight Morton, if Morton would accept his challenge. Morton had

been his accomplice in the murder of Darnley, but had afterward

joined the party of Bothwell's foes. It would have been a singular

spectacle to see one of these confederates in the commission of a

crime contending desperately in single combat to settle the question

of the guilt or innocence of the other.

The combat, however, did not take place. After many negotiations on

the subject, the plan was abandoned, each party charging the other

with declining the contest. The queen and Bothwell, in the mean time,

found such evidences of strength on the part of their enemies, and

felt probably, in their own hearts, so much of that faintness and

misgiving under which human energy almost always sinks when the tide

begins to turn against it, after the commission of wrong, that they

began to feel disheartened and discouraged. The queen sent to the

opposite camp with a request that a certain personage, the Laird of

Grange, in whom all parties had great confidence, should come to her,

that she might make one more effort at reconciliation. Grange, after

consulting with the prince's lords, made a proposition to Mary, which

she finally concluded to accept. It was as follows:

They proposed that Mary should come over to their camp, not saying

very distinctly whether she was to come as their captive or as their

queen. The event showed that it was in the former capacity that they

intended to receive her, though they were probably willing that she

should understand that it was in the latter. At all events, the

proposition itself did not make it very clear what her position would

be; and the poor queen, distracted by the difficulties which

surrounded her, and overwhelmed with agitation and fear, could not

press very strongly for precise stipulations. In respect to Bothwell,

they compromised the question by agreeing that, as he was under

suspicion in respect to the murder of Darnley, he should not

accompany the queen, but should be dismissed upon the field; that is,

allowed to depart, without molestation, wherever he should choose to

go. This plan was finally adopted. The queen bade Bothwell farewell,

and he went away reluctantly and in great apparent displeasure. He

had, in fact, with his characteristic ferocity, attempted to shoot

Grange pending the negotiation. He mounted his horse, and, with a few

attendants, rode off and sought a retreat once more upon his rock at


From all the evidence which has come down to us, it seems impossible

to ascertain whether Mary desired to be released from Bothwell's

power, and was glad when the release came, or whether she still loved

him, and was planning a reunion, so soon as a reunion should be

possible. One party at that time maintained, and a large class of

writers and readers since have concurred in the opinion, that Mary

was in love with Bothwell before Darnley's death; that she connived

with him in the plan for Darnley's murder; that she was a consenting

party to the abduction, and the spending of the ten days at Dunbar

Castle, in his power; that the marriage was the end at which she

herself, as well as Bothwell, had been all the time aiming; and then,

when at last she surrendered herself to the prince's lords at

Carberry Hill, it was only yielding unwillingly to the necessity of a

temporary separation from her lawless husband, with a view of

reinstating him in favor and power at the earliest opportunity.

Another party, both among her people at the time and among the

writers and readers who have since paid attention to her story, think

that she never loved Bothwell, and that, though she valued his

services as a bold and energetic soldier, she had no collusion with

him whatever in respect to Darnley's murder. They think that, though

she must have felt in some sense relieved of a burden by Darnley's

death, she did not in any degree aid in or justify the crime, and

that she had no reason for supposing that Bothwell had any share in

the commission of it. They think, also, that her consenting to marry

Bothwell is to be accounted for by her natural desire to seek

shelter, under some wing or other, from the terrible storms which

were raging around her; and being deserted, as she thought, by every

body else, and moved by his passionate love and devotion, she

imprudently gave herself to him; that she lamented the act as soon as

it was done, but that it was then too late to retrieve the step; and

that, harassed and in despair, she knew not what to do, but that she

hailed the rising of her nobles as affording the only promise of

deliverance, and came forth from Dunbar to meet them with the secret

purpose of delivering herself into their hands.

The question which of these two suppositions is the correct one has

been discussed a great deal, without the possibility of arriving at

any satisfactory conclusion. A parcel of letters were produced by

Mary's enemies, some time after this, which they said were Mary's

letters to Bothwell before her husband Darnley's death. They say they

took the letters from a man named Dalgleish, one of Bothwell's

servants, who was carrying them from Holyrood to Dunbar Castle, just

after Mary and Bothwell fled to Borthwick. They were contained in a

small gilded box or coffer, with the letter F upon it, under a crown;

which mark naturally suggests to our minds Mary's first husband,

Francis, the king of France. Dalgleish said that Bothwell sent him

for this box, charging him to convey it with all care to Dunbar

Castle. The letters purport to be from Mary to Bothwell, and to have

been written before Darnley's death. They evince a strong affection

for the person to whom they are addressed, and seem conclusively to

prove the unlawful attachment between the parties, provided that

their genuineness is acknowledged. But this genuineness is denied.

Mary's friends maintain that they are forgeries, prepared by her

enemies to justify their own wrong. Many volumes have been written on

the question of the genuineness of these love letters, as they are

called, and there is perhaps now no probability that the question

will ever be settled.

Whatever doubt there may be about these things, there is none about

the events which followed. After Mary had surrendered herself to her

nobles they took her to the camp, she herself riding on horseback,

and Grange walking by her side. As she advanced to meet the nobles

who had combined against her, she said to them that she had concluded

to come over to them, not from fear, or from doubt what the issue

would have been if she had fought the battle, but only because she

wanted to spare the effusion of Christian blood, especially the blood

of her own subjects. She had therefore decided to submit herself to

their counsels, trusting that they would treat her as their rightful

queen. The nobles made little reply to this address, but prepared to

return to Edinburgh with their prize.

The people of Edinburgh, who had heard what turn the affair had

taken, flocked out upon the roads to see the queen return. They lined

the waysides to gaze upon the great cavalcade as it passed. The

nobles who conducted Mary thus back toward her capital had a banner

prepared, or allowed one to be prepared, on which was a painting

representing the dead body of Darnley, and the young prince James

kneeling near him, and calling on God to avenge his cause. Mary came

on, in the procession, after this symbol. They might perhaps say that

it was not intended to wound her feelings, and was not of a nature to

do it, unless she considered herself as taking sides with the

murderers of her husband. She, however, knew very well that she was

so regarded by great numbers of the populace assembled, and that the

effect of such an effigy carried before her was to hold her up to

public obloquy. The populace did, in fact, taunt and reproach her as

she proceeded, and she rode into Edinburgh, evincing all the way

extreme mental suffering by her agitation and her tears.

She expected that they were at least to take her to Holyrood; but no,

they turned at the gate to enter the city. Mary protested earnestly

against this, and called, half frantic, on all who heard her to come

to her rescue. But no one interfered. They took her to the provost's

house, and lodged her there for the night, and the crowd which had

assembled to observe these proceedings gradually dispersed. There

seemed, however, in a day or two, to be some symptoms of a reaction

in favor of the fallen queen; and, to guard against the possibility

of a rescue, the lords took Mary to Holyrood again, and began

immediately to make arrangements for some more safe place of

confinement still.

In the mean time, Bothwell went from Carberry Hill to his castle at

Dunbar, revolving moodily in his mind his altered fortunes. After

some time he found himself not safe in this place of refuge, and so

he retreated to the north, to some estates he had there, in the

remote Highlands. A detachment of forces was sent in pursuit of him.

Now there are, north of Scotland, some groups of dismal islands, the

summits of submerged mountains and rocks, rising in dark and sublime,

but gloomy grandeur, from the midst of cold and tempestuous seas.

Bothwell, finding himself pursued, undertook to escape by ship to

these islands. His pursuers, headed by Grange, who had negotiated at

Carberry for the surrender of the queen, embarked in other vessels,

and pressed on after him. At one time they almost overtook him, and

would have captured him and all his company were it not that they got

entangled among some shoals. Grange's sailors said they must not

proceed. Grange, eager to seize his prey, insisted on their making

sail and pressing forward. The consequence was, they ran the vessels

aground, and Bothwell escaped in a small boat. As it was, however,

they seized some of his accomplices, and brought them back to

Edinburgh. These men were afterward tried, and some of them were

executed; and it was at their trial, and through the confessions they

made, that the facts were brought to light which have been related in

this narrative.

Bothwell, now a fugitive and an exile, but still retaining his

desperate and lawless character, became a pirate, and attempted to

live by robbing the commerce of the German Ocean. Rumor is the only

historian, in ordinary cases, to record the events in the life of a

pirate; and she, in this case, sent word, from time to time, to

Scotland, of the robberies and murders that the desperado committed;

of an expedition fitted out against him by the King of Denmark, of

his being taken and carried into a Danish port; of his being held in

imprisonment for a long period there, in a gloomy dungeon; of his

restless spirit chafing itself in useless struggles against his

fate, and sinking gradually, at last under the burdens of remorse for

past crimes, and despair of any earthly deliverance; of his insanity,

and, finally, of his miserable end.