The Murder of Lord Darnley: Who Killed Henry Stuart?

by AlexandriaIngham

Henry Stuart was murdered on February 10, 1567. It is one of Scotland's greatest mysteries. Did Mary, Queen of Scots have something to do with it or was it one of the men accused?

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, died on February 10, 1567. He was the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the father of Prince James Stuart, the future King James VI of Scotland and I of England. He was staying at Kirk o’ Field, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, when there was an explosion. However, Lord Darnley didn’t die of the explosion. His body was found away from it.

Foul play was involved and Mary was considered one of the suspects. But who really did kill Lord Darnley and why would anybody want to?

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was just 21 at the time of his death
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was just 21 at the time of his death

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Found Away from the Residence

Was Henry murdered or could he have died from natural causes? That's the first consideration to make.

Henry Stuart was found beyond the walls of the Old Provost’s Lodging garden. He was underneath a tree, wearing just a nightshirt. It wasn’t until the morning that he was found because everyone was trying to find him in the rubble of the lodgings. The problem was that there were no signs of violence. No bruising had formed, there were no knife wounds present and there was no evidence that he had been strangled. It was very strange and made it difficult to put forward the idea that he had been murdered.

Could it have been natural causes? It is possible that he heard something in the residence and made an escape as quickly as possible. He left his clothing in the property and just ran to save his life.

However, historians—just like the people of the time—agree that it was not likely natural. He was murdered. In fact, in the night a woman heard him scream “Oh my kinsmen, have mercy upon me.” Someone was with him, and the wording suggests they were members of his family. Eleven men were also seen running away from the direction of where the royal consort’s body was found.

Strangulation was the eventual cause of death. Now they had to determine who the murderer was—more likely who the murderers were.

Mary, Queen of Scots Murdered Her Own Husband

Would Mary kill her own husband--the King of Scotland?

Mary, Queen of Scots was suggested as a conspirator in the murder of Lord DarnleyAt one point it was considered that Mary had murdered her own husband.  Mary was supposed to have been at Kirk o’ Field with her husband but was at her Holyroodhouse Palace bed instead.  She was half asleep when the explosion went off and her ladies were there as alibis for her whereabouts. In fact, she asked her ladies what was going on, believing a cannon had fired.

Despite having an alibi, rumors spread that she had something to do with her husband’s murder. It was not a happy marriage and Darnley had murdered Mary’s private secretary almost a year before. There were also rumors that she was having an affair with one of her courtiers James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, and he was implicated in the plot. She married him just 40 days later, but claimed that he had raped her and forced her into marriage.

When Bothwell told her of her husband’s death, Mary was visibly shaken and started to fear for her own life. It was the sign of a woman who had nothing to do with the plot to remove her husband from power. She started to believe that she was the intended victim as she had spent a couple of nights beforehand with her husband at Kirk o’ Field. She would have been there that night but she had been reminded of a previous engagement at Court. The Queen feared the conspirators really wanted her dead, so they could take her son and rule for him.

Whether or not she had anything to do with her husband’s murder, the court eventually turned against her and it was just a few months later that she abdicated her throne and her son, James, became King of Scotland.

Wizzley Articles About Mary, Queen of Scots

James V of Scotland died on December 14, 1542. It led to a six week old Mary, Queen of Scots.
On July 10, 1559, Mary, Queen of Scots, became the Queen Consort of France. Her reign lasted around 18 months before she returned to Scotland.
Mary, Queen of Scots sought refuge in England after being imprisoned in Scotland. Instead of help, Elizabeth I imprisoned her. To understand why, her past needs to be explained.
On July 29, 1565, Mary, Queen of Scots, married Lord Darnley. He was her cousin through Margaret Tudor and their marriage became important for James VI of Scotland.

The Earl of Bothwell Murdered Lord Darnley

Mary's third husband may have had something to do with the death of her second husband.

James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, was accused of murdering Lord Darnley and seen at the site.James Hepburn was thought to be having a relationship with the Queen. In fact, just months after Lord Darnley’s death, the two married but it was not a happy marriage. Some historians now suggest that Mary was forced into a relationship with Bothwell and married him more out of fear than anything else.

Bothwell was Lord Admiral of Scotland and a very brave man. He was also a staunch Protestant, so had a number of people at court on his side; both Mary and Henry Stuart were Catholics. The problem for Bothwell was that he was also power-hungry. Many people at court believed that he had something to do with the plot to kill Mary’s husband.

He was not actually near the scene of the crime when it took place. He was at Holyroodhouse Palace at the time. It was some time after the explosion that he made his way out to the sight to see the full destruction. However, this is where the witness reports come in. One report stated that Bothwell was seen lighting the fuse that blew up the property. He was then seen following the fuse to see if it was close to setting off the gunpowder, when he was pulled away by one of his co-conspirators.

There was a trial with Bothwell being one of the accused. However, he was found not guilty. After Mary fled to England and was imprisoned, Bothwell escaped to Shetland and then to Europe. He didn’t have a very happy life and was imprisoned for much of it. He eventually confessed that he had some part in the plot to kill Darnley and that James Douglas, Earl of Morton, was a part of it. He was driven insane until he finally died of natural causes.

Archibald Douglas’ Shoes Were at the Scene of the Crime

Henry mentioned kinsman and Archibald Douglas was one of those men.

Another name was mentioned at the time of the theories. Archibald Douglas was named after his shoes were found at the scene of the crime. His name was also that of Henry Stuart’s kinsmen—Douglas was his mother’s maiden name. However, he was also accused, along with his brother William Douglas, of murdering Mary’s private secretary.

After getting back into Scotland, thanks to Henry Stuart, he was pulled into the world of James Hepburn and the plot to remove the King of Scots. He became the go-between for the Earl of Bothwell and Earl of Morton, and was at Kirk o’ Field according to the confessions of his servant Binning while on the scaffold. His shoes were found the next morning, but there was never a pursuit against him.

It wasn’t until 1578 that his past came back to haunt him. On December 31, he was denounced as guilty of the murder to the Privy Council of Scotland and orders were issued for his arrest. He fled for England, where Queen Elizabeth I agreed to allow him to stay. He remained there until November 28, 1581, when an Act of Parliament forced him back. The evidence of his servant was used to ensure his trial would take place on May 26 1586. However, he was acquitted at the trial and became the personal Ambassador of the English Queen, appointed by the Scottish King.

James Douglas, Earl of Morton, was Executed for the Murder

James Douglas was another one of those kinsmen, and was eventually executed for his links to the murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

James Douglas was eventually executed for his part in the murder of Lord Darnley. However, it wasn’t until 1581. He was another kinsman of Henry Stuart from his mother’s side and had previously been implicated in the death of Mary’s private secretary, like Archibald Douglas.

Whether he really had a part to play in the death of Lord Darnley isn’t really known. The problem for Morton was that he wanted power and he continued to climb up the ladder to get as much as he could. Everyone who did this made enemies along the way and people wanted him out of the way so they could gain power instead.

On December 31, 1580, James Stuart, Earl of Arran, accused Morton of being involved in the murder of Lord Darnley. James Stuart was kinsman to Darnley through his father’s side. Morton was arrested and placed into custody immediately. If it wasn’t for the Earl of Bothwell, he may have gotten away with it. Bothwell’s confessions made Morton part of the plot and he was executed on June 2, 1581.

The murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, is often considered one of the greatest unsolved cases in Scottish history. Despite there being witnesses, there was no enough evidence to convict people at the time. However, it did start the downfall of Mary, Queen of Scots. She shortly abdicated her throne and fled to England in the hope that she would become the next Queen of England after the death of her cousins Elizabeth I. Instead, she was imprisoned and executed on February 8, 1587.

Updated: 02/10/2014, AlexandriaIngham
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