Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (December 7, 1545 – February 10, 1567) was the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. From his marriage in 1565, he was king consort of Scotland. He was created Duke of Albany shortly before his marriage. Less than a year after the birth of his and Mary’s only child, King James VI of Scotland and I of England, Darnley was murdered at Kirk o’ Field in 1567. Many contemporary narratives describing his life and death refer to him as Lord Darnley, his title as heir apparent to the Earldom of Lennox, and it is by this appellation that he is known in history.
He was the second but eldest surviving son of Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, by his wife Lady Margaret Douglas. Darnley’s maternal grandparents were Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, and Lady Margaret Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII of England and widow of King James IV of Scotland. This makes Lord Darnley a great-grandson of King Henry VII of England.
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was born at Temple Newsam, Leeds, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, in 1545. However, this date is uncertain as his parents were not together in early 1545 and a letter of March 1566, from Mary Queen of Scots, indicates Darnley was then nineteen years old. Therefore, the date 1546 would seem probable. A descendant of both James II of Scotland and Henry VII of England, Darnley had potential claims to both the Scottish and English thrones.
In 1545, his father, Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, was found guilty of treason in Scotland for siding with the English in the War of the Rough Wooing, in opposing Mary of Guise and Regent Arran. The family’s Scottish estates were forfeited and his father went into exile in England for 22 years, returning to Scotland in 1564. The Countess of Lennox Margaret Douglas, his mother, had left Scotland in 1528.
The young Henry was conscious of his status and inheritance. Well-versed in Latin and familiar with Gaelic, English and French, he received an education befitting his royal lineage, and he excelled in singing, lute playing, and dancing. Henry was said to be strong, athletic, skilled in horsemanship and weaponry, and passionate about hunting and hawking. His youthful character is captured somewhat in a letter of March 1554 to Mary I of England from Temple Newsam, where he writes about making a map, the Utopia Nova, and his wish that “every haire in my heade for to be a wourthy souldiour”
On February 3, 1565, Darnley left London and by February 12, he was in Edinburgh. On February 17, he presented himself to Mary at Wemyss Castle in Fife. James Melville of Halhill reported that “Her Majesty took well with him, and said that he was the lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen.” After a brief visit to his father at Dunkeld, Darnley returned with Mary and the court to Holyrood on February 24. The next day, he heard John Knox preach, and he danced a galliard with Mary at night. From then on, he was constantly in Mary’s company.
Darnley was his wife’s half-first cousin through two different marriages of their grandmother, Margaret Tudor, putting both Mary and Darnley high in the line of succession for the English throne. Darnley was also a descendant of a daughter of James II of Scotland, and so also in line for the throne of Scotland.
As a preliminary to the marriage, Darnley was made Lord of Ardmanoch and Earl of Ross at Stirling Castle on May 15, 1565. An entourage of 15 men were made knights, including one of Mary’s half brothers, Robert Stewart of Strathdon, Robert Drummond of Carnock, James Stewart of Doune Castle, and William Murray of Tullibardine. In England, a concerned Privy council debated the perils of the intended marriage on June 4, 1565.
One of their resolutions was to relax the displeasure shown to Lady Catherine Grey, another rival to Mary Stuart for the English throne. Mary sent John Hay, Commendator of Balmerino, to speak to Elizabeth; Elizabeth demanded Darnley’s return, and gave John Hay plainly to understand her small satisfaction.
On July 22, Darnley was made Duke of Albany in Holyrood Abbey, and the banns of marriage were called in the parish of Canongate. A proclamation was made at the Cross of Edinburgh on 28 July that government would be in the joint names of the king and queen of Scots, thus giving Darnley equality with, and precedence over, Mary. This was confirmed in the circulation of a silver ryal in the names of Henry and Mary.
On July 29, 1565, the marriage took place by Roman Catholic rites in Mary’s private chapel at Holyrood, but Darnley (whose religious beliefs were unfixed – he was raised as a Catholic, but was later influenced by Protestantism) refused to accompany Mary to the nuptial Mass after the wedding itself.