I seem to be passing through a phase of whodunits and primary sources with lots of wriggle room. The chap this post revolves around is Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley – he was born at Temple Newsam near Leeds. His mother was Lady Margaret Douglas daughter of Margaret Tudor and Mathew Stewart 4th earl of Lennox. Margaret was the half-sister of James V meaning that Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots were cousins. His father being a Stewart was also in line for the Scottish throne.
On the surface Darnley was tall, good-looking and urbane. He’d changed the spelling of his name following his education in France. He danced well and he was charming. He must have been a breath of fresh air to Mary when he arrived in Scotland at the beginning of 1565 after her diet of plain speaking Scottish males telling her what to do and what to believe.
By July the banns were being called and Elizabeth I was writing stern notes from England to both Darnley and Mary as not only did Elizabeth take a lively interest in what was happening in Scotland but both the bride and the groom were in line for the English throne by virtue of their descent from Margaret Tudor, the eldest surviving daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York . The pair married on the 29 July 1565 before the papal dispensation for their marriage arrived. Darnley didn’t accompany Mary to the marriage mass which followed the actual wedding.
Unfortunately for Mary she’d been deceived by her new husband’s good looks and soft words. It turned out he was vain, arrogant, drank more than was good for him and irritated most of her nobility including her illegitimate half-brother James Stewart who wasn’t terribly keen on Mary marrying anyone on account of the fact he wanted to be her key adviser. Darnley sulked heavily when Mary refused to give him the crown matrimonial which would have meant that had she died before him that he would have ruled Scotland but less than a month later rumours abounded that Mary was pregnant.
Obviously the best way to win friends and influence people, if you are called Darnley, is to kill your pregnant wife’s Italian secretary. Rizzio – and this does sound like a game of Cleudo- was stabbed in Mary’s private dining room at Holyrood Palace more than fifty times on 9th March 1566 by Darnley and a cluster of protestant nobles. Whilst my words strongly suggest that he was there and wielding a knife with deadly effect he was swift to issue a statement that he knew nothing about the matter – we’re back to the basis of proof again. For the sake of clarity I should probably also mention that there were rumours at the time that the baby that Mary carried actually belonged to Rizzio rather than Darnley – which isn’t credible but serves to demonstrate how unpopular the queen had become.
Not too surprisingly Mary did not trust her spouse one jot after that although they did appear to become closer once Mary’s son baptised Charles James was born on 19th June 1566. She’d been persuaded to forgive her husband and also some of the lords who’d conspired with him to commit the murder.
Darnley fell ill in Glasgow – it is said with small pox although that prevalent Tudor catch all of syphilis is often bandied around. At the beginning of February 1567 he moved to Edinburgh where he stayed at a house in Kirk o’ Fields. Mary sometimes spent the night there, in the chamber below the one that Darnley inhabited. She was due to stay the night on the evening of the 9th of February – but didn’t.
In the wee small hours of 10th February 1567 a huge explosion tore through the house killing two of Darnley’s servants. It would have been unfortunate had Darnley been found dead in his bed. The house had been selected by his wife Mary, Queen of Scots. There small matter of a store of gunpowder allegedly stored in the queen’s bed chamber might have raised more than one eyebrow but it could probably have been neatly tidied away. No, the problem was that Darnley was not discovered in his bed dead as a result of the explosion. He was discovered dead in a nearby orchard, unmarked by the explosion, strangled with his own shirt. Nearby lay his servant – William Taylor,wearing a cap, his night-shirt and one slipper- also dead. There was also a chair, a dagger and possibly a quilt. Hard to blame that on an explosion of any kind!
Mary and powerful border baron James Hepburn, earl of Bothwell, were suspected of the deed – it was suggested that Darnley was on the wrong end of a love triangle. The problem was that whilst Bothwell remains the chief suspect not least because he married Mary very shortly afterwards there were an awful lot of people who weren’t terribly keen on Darnley – or put another way if Agatha Christie had written a historical novel on the subject – everyone would have done it! The case which is short on facts and long on speculation covers the following:
- Bothwell, who was undoubtedly high in Mary’s favour, sought to rid the Scottish queen of her spouse so that he could assume the royal role – let’s just set aside the small matter of his own wife – Lady Jean Gordon.
- Mary was unhappy with Darnley for a number of reasons including the murder of Rizzio, his arrogance and let’s not forget the syphilis. However, she realised that divorce wasn’t an option as it was essential that there were no shadows over the legitimacy of baby James.
- Mary was worried that Darnley would harm James or attempt to rule Scotland through him – it is thought that Rizzio was brutally murdered in front of her in part to bring about a miscarriage. If Mary died without an heir Darnley could have attempted to rule the kingdom, raising the interesting possibility of Darnley accidentally blowing himself up and then getting murdered afterwards.
- The Lords who’d plotted with Darnley to murder Rizzio had to flee to England in the aftermath of the deed. Darnley had sold them down the river, so as to speak, consequentially they may have been motivated to get their own back.
- James Stewart, Mary’s capable but illegitimate half-brother may have been motivated to kill both Darnley and Mary (remember she was supposed to have stayed the night) – an abdication wouldn’t have been displeasing either. In the event of either he could have taken charge of his little nephew and ruled Scotland.
- Witnesses identify a group of eleven men in the vicinity at the time – all of them anonymous.
- Cecil was told that a chap called James Balfour, who owned the house next door to the one where Darnley was murdered, had made a purchase of gunpowder just before the explosion. Just to muddy the waters he was employed in Edinburgh Castle.
- James Hamilton had a house in the neighbourhood – in common with much of the rest of the nobility Hamilton didn’t like Darnley very much.
- James Douglas, earl of Morton was ambitious for power. It was his servants who found the so-called Casket Letters which incriminated Mary. He was Protestant. He had been with the men who murdered Rizzio.
The image at the start of the post, which is in the National Archives, was drawn for Lord Cecil so is deemed to be primary source material- think of it as the very first illustration of a murder scene (albeit in cartoon form) but not necessarily unbiased. It tells a story, everything in the image means something – though whether its telling the truth is another ratter entirely. It wasn’t long before the rumour mill was spreading the word that the gun powder which destroyed the house had been stored in the queen’s bed chamber – pointing the finger at her. Actually it probably wasn’t there but lower down in the building. Also she was supposed to be in the building that night. She’d gone out to a wedding party and had not returned…evidence of her guilt if you think she was after an alibi or evidence that she was an intended victim who narrowly missed being killed.
Could Darnley and Taylor have been blown out of their bedroom along with the peculiar assemblage of items around them? The bodies are in remarkably good condition – the marks on Darnley’s partially clad body are taken to be indicators of unpleasant social diseases rather than blast damage. Both bodies are in tact and apparently unmarked by burns. Equally, although there is a knife at the scene of the crime neither of the men had any stab woulds. It is usually accepted that they were suffocated. There is no evidence as to whether they were alive or dead when they arrived in the orchard – if dead one can’t help wondering what their murderers were trying to achieve. If alive, it suggests that they must have been fleeing considerable danger as both were in a state of undress. It has been suggested that the chair was used to lower Darnley from the first floor window before the building collapsed/before his murderers burst in upon him.
In 1568, a casket of letters would be produced in York at the first trial of Mary Queen of Scots which implicated her in the murder of her second husband. Many- most- historians believe these letters to be forgeries designed to keep Mary incarcerated in England. The Casket Letters disappeared from history so their legitimacy cannot be proved or disproved. What is significant is that they are the only evidence which points the finger of guilt at Mary. John Guy’s book about Mary My Heart is My Own : The Life of Mary Queen at Scots looks in detail at transcriptions of the letters and at the flaws in them.
Clearly there is much more in terms of interpretation but the key is that Dudley’s murder remains unsolved.