4th Earl of Bothwell, Archibald Douglas, Henry Stuart, James Hepburn, John Knox, King Frederik II of Denmark and Norway and Duke of Schleswig, Kirk O’Field, Lord Darnley, Mary I of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I of England, William Taylor
Darnley was murdered eight months after James’ birth. On the night of 9–10 February 1567, his body and that of his valet were discovered in the orchard of Kirk o’ Field, in Edinburgh, where they had been staying.
During the weeks leading up to his death, Darnley was recovering from a bout of smallpox (or, it has been speculated, syphilis). He was described as having deformed pocks upon his face and body. He stayed with his family in Glasgow, until Mary brought him to recuperate at Old Provost’s lodging at Kirk o’ Field, a two-story house within the church quadrangle, a short walk from Holyrood, with the intention of incorporating him into the court again. Darnley stayed at Kirk o’ Field while Mary attended the wedding of Bastian Pagez, one of her closest servants, at Holyrood.
Around 2 A.M. on the night of February 9-10, 1567, while Mary was away, two explosions rocked the foundation of Kirk o’ Field. These explosions were later attributed to two barrels of gunpowder that had been placed in the small room under Darnley’s sleeping quarters. Darnley’s body and the body of his valet William Taylor were found outside, surrounded by a cloak, a dagger, a chair, and a coat. Darnley was dressed only in his nightshirt, suggesting he had fled in some haste from his bedchamber.
Darnley was apparently smothered. There were no visible marks of strangulation or violence on the body. A post-mortem revealed internal injuries, thought to have been caused by the explosion. John Knox claimed the surgeons who examined the body were lying, and that Darnley had been strangled, but all the sources agree there were no marks on the body and there was no reason for the surgeons to lie as Darnley was murdered either way.
Suspicion quickly fell on the James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell and his supporters, notably Archibald Douglas, Parson of Douglas, whose shoes were found at the scene, and on Mary herself. Bothwell had long been suspected of having designs on the throne, and his close relationship with the queen gave rise to rumours they were sexually intimate. This was viewed as a motive for Bothwell to have Darnley murdered, with help from some of the nobility and seemingly with royal approval. Mary had been looking at options for removing Darnley, though her ideas were for divorce, and none were suitable.
Soon after Darnley’s death, Bothwell and Mary left Edinburgh together. There are two points of view about the circumstances: in the first, Bothwell kidnapped the queen, took her to Dunbar Castle, and raped her. In the second, Mary was a willing participant in the kidnapping, and the story of rape was a fabrication, so her honour and reputation were not ruined by her marriage to a man widely suspected of murder. Mary later miscarried twins by Bothwell.
Suspicions that Mary colluded with conspirators in her husband’s death or that she took no action to prevent his death were key factors in the downward spiral that led to her loss of the Scottish crown. The Casket letters, alleged to have been written by Mary, seemed to indicate her support for the killing. The letters were purportedly found by James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, in Edinburgh in a silver box engraved with an F (supposedly for Francis II), along with a number of other documents, including the Mary-Bothwell marriage certificate. Before Morton’s execution in 1581, he admitted having knowledge of the murder plot, and that Bothwell and Archibald Douglas were “chief actors” in Darnley’s murder.
A soldier under the pay of Bothwell, William Blackadder of the Clan Blackadder, was allegedly the first non-participant to happen upon the scene, and for that reason was treated as a suspect. Although initially cleared of any involvement in the murder, he was offered up by the conspirators and convicted at a show trial, after which he was executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered before each of his limbs was nailed to the gates of a different Scottish town.
Bothwell was put on trial in Edinburgh and found not guilty. The Earl was sent to Copenhagen, where the Danish monarch, King Frederik II, deliberated on his fate. The Earl was sent across Øresund to the fortress and prison Malmøhus Castle. But as news from both England and Scotland arrived, the King eventually understood that Mary never again would become Queen of the Scots. And without Mary, the King considered him insignificant. Bothwell was imprisoned at Dragsholm Castle, 75 kilometres west of Copenhagen. He was held in what were said to be appalling conditions. He died in April 1578. He was buried in a vault at Fårevejle church near the castle.
In 1568 Mary’s involvement in the murder was discussed in England in conferences at York and Westminster which ended with no definitive findings. Mary was kept in captivity until she was implicated in the Babington plot against Elizabeth, after which she was convicted of treason and executed.