Lord Darnley was dead.
The Scottish lords should have been pleased. They never liked him and for them, Lord Darnley’s death benefitted them greatly.
His death was the beginning of the end of their Catholic queen. According to Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley, “Parliament held in December 1567, when Mary had reached twenty-five and, had she not by then been deposed, would have legally been able to revoke grants made during her minority.”
What did that mean to the Scottish Lords?
Mary granted the Earldoms of Moray, Morton and Angus during her minority to men of Protestant faith, including the Earldom of Moray to her bastard brother, Lord James Stewart, and she could revoke them.
What does this have to do with historical couples? Now once again, Mary’s hand and very reign was in danger in a way that had not been since the Rough Wooing of her childhood.
Now every action, word or look Mary made was judged and used against her. And she made some bad choices. There are two reasons for her actions: First, grief (not the best time to be thinking clearly) and second, she believed Darnley’s death was a plot to kill her. Nevertheless, Mary entered mourning. Black hung in her apartments.
She didn’t remain at Holyrood for long. She took Prince James (who had remained with her since his birth) and went to the safety of Edinburgh Castle to be locked away for the forty days of mourning–the same she had done for her first husband.
Enter husband number three, the Earl of Bothwell. James Hepburn, the fourth Earl of Bothwell was described as “glorious (vainglorious), rash, and hazardous young man.” He stood about five feet six inches, which was described as middle stature and well below Mary and Lord Darnley’s height. Another member at court described him as “an ape” and “of greatly bodily strength and beauty, although vicious and isolate in his habits.” He had a swarthy complexion and a nose that appears to have been broken.
His power base resided in East Lothian and the Borders. He didn’t like the English and given his region along the borders, such a feeling was understandable. He was not just an Earl, he was the Lord High Admiral of Scotland, a heredity position. As much as many Scottish lords and English hated the man, they knew he was not stupid.
During this time, he was married to Jean Gordon, the daughter of the dead fourth Earl of Huntly, and sister to the new fifth Earl of Huntly.
Lord Bothwell took control of the government.
On the 12 February 1566, Darnley’s embalmed body was laid in state and three days later, he was buried. The next day, the council concerned for Mary’s health persuade her to give up her mourning since it affected her health adversely. Since October 1566, Mary had been ill. The queen agreed never knowing that this was another mark that would be used against her later in life. So, she traveled to Seton Castle.
On the 16th of February, the placards began to appeared on the Tollbooth’s door in Edinburgh. The first accused Bothwell of Darnley’s murder. Two nights later, another appeared, this one accusing Mary’s foreign servants.
Mary briefly returned to Edinburgh only to leave again, this time Bothwell was included in her train. During this time, Queen Elizabeth and mother-in-law Catherine de Medici, dowager Queen of France, advised her in letters to seize the murders. Both understood the danger especially Elizabeth as she had faced fierce talk about Lord Dudley’s wife’s death and her invovlement.
Mary placed the investigation in the hands of her Councillors (though most didn’t want the murder to be solved) as well as issuing a proclamation offering a worthy reward to anyone who identified the murderers and she summoned Parliament to debate the next steps in inquiry.
Lord Lennox (Darnley’s father and a Scottish Lord) placed her in a difficult position by asking her to arrest members of her council and her servants on evidence that was more hearsay than fact, which was illegal. Yet, she couldn’t refused.
The next day, another placard was nailed to Tollbooth. This one was “where was these letters written in Roman hand, very great, M.R., with a sword in her hand near the same letters; then an L.B. (for Lord Bothwell?) with a mallet near them.” This started linking the queen to the accused murderers of her husband and started shifting the well-favored opinion of their queen. More placards appeared and continued but the most infamous one was that truly damned her reputation was the mermaid one.
According to Weir, “It depicted a bare-breasted and crowned mermaid–a mermaid then being a symbol for a siren or prostitute–holding a whip above a hare surrounded by swords; the mermaid was undoubtedly meant to be the Queen, while the hare was Bothwell’s heraldic device. The mermaid was protecting the hare with a whip, but none dared approach it anyway because of the threatening swords.”
Still Mary didn’t turn from Bothwell not even banishing him from her side at the very least. She talked of living in France. She was becoming more stressed. It appears that her fears of her coming death and mixed with her grief, she was spiraling and her mental health was very disturbed. She decided that the Prince would be safer at Stirling.
Factions were splitting. Meanwhile, the Countess of Bothwell recovered from her illness. In a letter, Lady Bothwell wrote that she had been poisoned and many believed it to be so. She sought out a divorce and with her brother’s support, she issued the first procuratory– a document authorizing legal action. She filed on the grounds of adultery.
Not all was against Mary, accusations flowed in Scotland, France, and even England against the Earl of Moray. Still, Mary’s health was failing and soon came Bothwell’s trial.
On April 12, 1567, Bothwell’s trial began. In the dawn hours of that day, Queen Elizabeth’s messenger arrived with a letter for Mary, telling her to postpone Bothwell’s trial. The messenger was told that Mary was not to be disturbed at that early an hour. But when he returned Bothwell’s men promised to give it to her. It seems she never received it.
At noon, the trial began and seven hours later, Bothwell was free. Two days later, Parliament met and by April 19, it closed. That night Bothwell hosted a supper for the lords at a tavern most historians agree was named Ainslie’s Tavern in Edinburgh.
Once food had been consumed along with wine, Bothwell whipped out a bond and asked for them to sign it. The bond was for their agreement that the Earl of Bothwell become husband number three.
Present at this supper were both Catholic and Protestant lords. The original no longer survives but there were suppose to be 28 or 29 signatures but some lords were not known to have signed but their names are rumored to be included.
After this night, Mary’s ruin had began and as history shows would not be halted.