Mary Queen of Scots is perhaps one of the most controversial and divisive monarchs in regal history. Her story reads like a particularly spicy novel, with murder, kidnap, adultery, assassination and execution. To some she is one of the most wronged women in history, a pawn used and abused by her family in the great monarchical marriage game; to others, a murderous adulteress who committed regicide to marry her lover and then spent years in captivity for the crime, endlessly plotting the demise of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England.
This new edition covers the entire breath-taking scope of her amazing life and examines the immense cultural legacy she left behind, from the Schiller play of the 1800s to the CW teen drama Reign. Temptress, terrorist, or tragic queen, this book will give you the lowdown on one of history’s most misunderstood monarchs.
The Murder of Henry, Lord Darnley
The second husband of Mary Queen of Scots, Henry, Lord Darnley, was murdered in Edinburgh 450 years ago. It was a spectacular demise for the 21-year old king, with the house he was staying in blown to bits by several barrels of gunpowder. His naked body was found strangled in a nearby orchard, along with that of his valet; they’d been caught in attempting to escape the house and quickly silenced.
|Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots circa 1565|
The list of suspects read like a who’s who of the Scots nobility of the time, with Mary and her trusted councillor Bothwell at the top. Several months later they would be married and that would mark the end of Mary’s brief and turbulent reign. Mary had more reason to despise Darnley than anyone; the good-looking, buff blond boy who’d first sashayed into sight at Weymss Castle turned out in the end to be a spiteful bisexual syphilitic with a penchant for calling her out when he’d had a few too many ales.
Add in the fact that he’d developed a pathological jealousy for her Italian secretary Rizzio and then helped in the plot to slay the poor little papist in Mary’s presence only added to the reasons for wanting him gone. When she gave birth to their son James – the future James VI of Scotland and I of England – she was derisory enough of the boy’s father to inform her entire court that it would be much the worse for her son because of who his dad happened to be.
After Mary’s marriage to Bothwell broke down and she fled to England, Darnley’s death was the pretext that Elizabeth I used for holding her in captivity for 19 years until her eventual execution in
1587. But did Mary really have anything to do with her husband’s death or was she merely guilty of sticking her fingers in her ears and averting her eyes at the appropriate moment?
The Case For the Prosecution
1. Darnley had threatened to impugn their son’s legitimacy; in order to save baby James’ title to the throne, he would therefore need to be silenced.
2. He couldn’t be bothered with state affairs, leaving Mary to have a stamp made bearing his signature; lazy wasn’t quite the word.
3. She herself went to Glasgow to bring him back to Edinburgh when he fell ill; to keep an eye on him, or to lure him to his death?
4. On the very night of the explosion she was meant to be staying with him at the house he was convalescing in – Kirk O’Field – but ‘remembered’ at the last minute that she had a wedding to attend.
5. Her first mother-in-law was that mistress of Machiavellian machinations, Catherine de Medici; didn’t she teach her daughter-in-law anything during those long years at the French court?!
6. Mary had also been in attendance at a conference at Craigmillar Castle wherein her lords debated what to do about Darnley and had warned them not to undertake anything that might impugn her honour – that didn’t rule out doing away with him on the quiet, though.
7. Mary pardoned Darnley’s Rizzio co-plotters even though they were baying for his blood after he’d double-crossed them during the culmination of said plot; she even gave them license to return to Scotland in the months leading up to Darnley’s death.
The Case For the Defence
1. Mary may have been suffering from postnatal depression during the plotting that led to Darnley’s death, significantly swaying her judgement if she was aware of the plot.
2. Apart from having her royal reputation to consider, it seems unlikely Mary would have undertaken anything so preposterous when she wanted to keep her cousin Elizabeth Tudor sweet and hopefully be named as her eventual heir.
3. The whole thing might in fact have been in some way engineered by Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief
advisor, in attempt to further destabilise Mary’s rule and get rid of her (he’d known about the assassination plot against Rizzio beforehand, for instance).
4. It’s unclear to what extent Bothwell had a hold over Mary. How much is romance imagined by centuries of swooning female writers, and how much might in fact be the brutality of a real-life abusive relationship, with Mary powerless to stop him clearing a path to the throne as her consort.
And let’s not even get started on the convoluted controversy that is the Casket Letters…
All in all Darnley’s demise was a spectacular point in Scottish history, one of those ‘you couldn’t make it up’ moments, when you factor in the whole Bothwell business and series of calamities that Mary herself was soon to endure. But at the heart was a spoilt, politically naïve 21-year old – pretty much a child still today – but back then a grown man, thrust into the backstabbing heart of sixteenth century Scottish politics. Even if he was a brat, he didn’t deserve to die like that.
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About the Author
Autistic author and lifelong Londoner Mickey Mayhew is currently completing his PhD on the cult surrounding 'tragic queens' Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots. He was co-author on three books relating to Jack the Ripper and his first non-fiction work, The Little Book of Mary Queen of Scots, was published by The History Press in January 2015. I Love the Tudors - also by THP - was released in January 2016. Fiction includes the urban fantasy trilogy 'The Barrow Boys of Barking', beginning with 'Jack and the Lad' and concluding, for now, with 'Jamie's Big Bang'. His next Tudor book is scheduled for release some time in 2017. Find out more at Mickey's website www.mickeymayhew.com and find him on Twitter @Mickey_Mayhew.