Tag Archives: Lord Darnley

The murder of Lord Darnley

kirk o fields.jpgI 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.

Mary_Stuart_James_DarnleyBy 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.

 

 

 

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Sir Nicholas Throckmorton – ambassador

thoclkmortonInevitably whilst looking at Raleigh my attention has drifted to Bess Throckmorton; Raleigh’s wife and the love of his life. From there my mind has wondered to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Bess’s father. A man who seems to have been as outspoken as Raleigh himself and regarded by the Spanish as ‘dangerously clever’ – though that doesn’t seem to have stopped him from getting into some unpleasant scrapes which ultimately ended with his disgrace.

 

Sir Nicholas served four Tudor monarchs as well as the Duke of Richmond, Henry Fizroy. Nicholas was related to Sir William Parr and at the time he was Fitzroy’s chamberlain which explains Throckmorton’s entry into such a prestigious household. Throckmorton’s mother was Catherine Vaux of Harrowden and it was through her that the relationship to the Parr family came – meaning that Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife was Throckmorton’s cousin. Throckmorton was a younger son so he needed every family connection he could find if he was to make his way in the world.

 

Sir Nicholas’s fortunes remained linked to those of the Parr family. He turned up on the Scottish Borders in the service of the Parr family just in time for the so-called Rough Wooing. He turned up in Scotland again in 1547. It was Nicholas Throckmorton who was sent south with the news that Protector Somerset had won the Battle of Pinkie.

 

Despite having gained his foothold in the rungs of the Tudor social and political ladder through his links to the Parrs and to Somerset he seems to have been unaffected by Admiral Seymour’s goings on or indeed the fall of Somerset. In short Throckmorton was one of Edward VI’s men and a good protestant to boot.

 

His name appears on the device naming Lady Jane Grey queen but equally it is supposed to have been Throckmorton who sent word of Edward VI’s death to Mary – perhaps a case of having his cake and eating it. It was only when Throckmorton began agitating about the restoration of Catholicism that he got himself into trouble with Mary suggesting that she didn’t hold his affirmation of Lady Jane Grey against him. The trouble was he wasn’t that keen on Mary’s chosen husband, Philip of Spain and became involved with the Wyatt Plot.

 

In April 1555 he was charged with treason for his part in the plot. However, when he came to trial the jury acquitted him despite the judges hostility: a fact which didn’t go down well with Mary who promptly had the jury incarcerated for nine months and heavily fined when they were eventually released.

 

Throckmorton took himself off to France rather than face the possibility of any more of Mary’s hospitality. He left his wife at home (she refused to live in France) but ultimately was allowed to return and take up government post. But by this point he was in correspondence with William Cecil and Princess Elizabeth, no doubt lining himself up to serve his fourth Tudor.  When Elizabeth came to the throne Throckmorton wrote suggesting who would be her best advisors and in 1560 when Cecil and Elizabeth were out of sorts with one another Cecil said he would depart from his role as Elizabeth’s minister if Throckmorton replaced him.

 

Nicholas returned to France as ambassador from 1559-1562. It was his job to try and dissuade Mary, Queen of Scots, from displaying the arms of England. Throckmorton was also in France when the scandal of Elizabeth I’s love for her Master of Horse Robert Dudley became laden with overtones of murder. Amy Robsart’s death at Cumnor near Abingdon caused tongues to wag (Throckmorton wrote of “her neck” being broken “with other appurtenances” and Throckmorton didn’t hesitate to describe what people were saying. He also announced that “Every hair of my head stareth!” His letters to Cecil at this time are so distinctly undiplomatic that his friends warned him to write no further on the subject. Ironically it was the same Robert Dudley now Earl of Leicester who offered a final home to Throckmorton when he was disgraced for his part in trying to marry Mary Queen of Scots to the Duke of Norfolk but more of that shortly.

 

Throckmorton was ultimately undone by his regard for Mary Queen of Scots who he’d known since she was a child in France. He was sent to Scotland to prevent Mary from marrying Lord Darnley – not one of his greatest successes, though at least Elizabeth didn’t have to send anyone to rescue him as had been the case when he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Catherine de Medici. He was also sent to negotiate for Mary’s release when she was deposed but the Scottish nobles knew he was sympathetic to Mary so weren’t terribly pleased to see him. Once Mary was imprisoned in England he plotted for her to marry the Duke of Norfolk. It appears that Throckmorton thought that if she was married and ‘respectable’ then she could be released from captivity. He regarded a marriage to Norfolk as a safe marriage. He also thought that the Duke of Norfolk’s proposal was in line with what the queen wished.

 

Unsurprisingly Throckmorton soon found himself incarcerated; this time in Windsor Castle. His actions were deemed foolish but not treasonous. He was released possibly because in the years since he’d objected to Elizabeth’s marriage to Robert Dudley he’d become one of Dudley’s political advisors. However, he’d also managed to remain on reasonably good terms with William Cecil because he wrote to Cecil begging for him to intercede with the queen.  It should be added that it is quite possible that Cecil who was fiercely anti-Mary may well have shown Elizabeth the inflammatory letters which Throckmorton wrote when he was the English Ambassador in France.

 

Throckmorton’s end was recorded by Robert Dudley;

We have lost on Monday our good friend Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, who died in my house, being there taken suddenly in great extremity on Tuesday before; his lungs were perished, but a sudden cold he had taken was the cause of his sudden death. God hath his soul, and we his friends great loss of his body.

He died in London on 12 Feb 1571 and was buried in the church of St. Catherine Cree, Aldgate. His daughter Elizabeth known as Bess was one of Elizabeth’s maids of honour and ultimately Bess would be banished from court having done her own stint in the Tower for daring to fall in love, something which her father had castigated the queen about many years earlier.

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