Episode 8 tackles the second half of Queen Mary Stuart’s life:
- Plot against Rizzio
- Darnley’s grizzly end
- Marriage to Bothwell
- Mary’s imprisonment and end
Listen on: iTunes | Spotify | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn | RadioPublic | iHeartRadio | Android
Assassination of Rizzio by Lords & Co.
On Saturday, March 9, 1566 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Mary and some of her friends were dining and enjoying themselves, including David Rizzio. Darnley and several lords entered the dining room and accused Rizzio and Mary of adultery.
Mary was pushed out of the way and into Darnley’s arms while Rizzio was attacked and stabbed several times. Mary was then locked in her bedroom, and the gates to Holyrood were closed.
Mary turned to Darnley, determined to sway him to her side. Mary convinced Darnley the Lords would turn on him once Mary signed their pardons, which would absolve them of their actions concerning her ill
Darnley joined Mary’s side and helped her find a way to escape Holyrood to Dunbar, which was the closest fortifiable castle. Darnley told the Lords that Mary agreed to sign whatever documents they wished so long as she was let go afterwards. Mary would sign the papers in the morning as she was “feeling under the weather” and the Lords were thrilled, excusing the guards from their posts outside Mary’s room.
While the men went to sleep, Mary, Darnley, and her most trusted servants escaped to Dunbar that night. When they were safely inside the castle, Mary called her troops to arms to chase down the main conspirators in the Rizzio plot. The Lords eventually fled to England.
Mary had Darnley sign a document claiming his innocence of the entire Rizzio affair, but this wasn’t to save Darnley. It was to ensure that the legitimacy of her soon to be born baby wouldn’t be in question. If Darnley were put to death for his treasonous actions, her baby’s claim to the throne would be in jeopardy, so she was forced to “stick by him” even though his guilt was evident and she hated him more than she thought possible.
One Big Unhappy Family
Mary went into her confinement in Edinburgh Castle and gave birth to James VI two weeks later on June 19, 1566. The baby boy was absolutely perfect and Mary had done what she set out to do — provide a male heir and successor to her throne.
The birth of a son wasn’t able to bring Mary and Darnley back to together. Things between them go much worse; they spent little time together and lived separate lives. After giving birth, Mary went “on holiday” to recuperate, but she returned to James since she had a bad feeling Darnley would kidnap their son in a bid to take control of the country. James was moved to Stirling.
As Mary was once again closing the rift between her lords, Darnley announced he was going to leave Scotland and live elsewhere. He had no legitimate reason to leave, so he stayed.
Mary became really sick afterwards. Everything — dealing with Darnley, the Rizzio plot, giving birth, politics, etc. — had taken its toll on her and throughout all of it she’d been so strong. Now, her health was suffering due to all the stress and pressure. Enough was enough. The Lords gathered together and decided life would be much better without Darnley, especially since Mary had already given birth to a son.
Plotting, Plotting, and More Plotting
Believing Mary would feel completely indebted to them, the Lords’ first approach to removing Darnley was divorce. While Mary wasn’t necessarily opposed to divorce, as a Catholic, annulment was the better option; she didn’t want to jeopardize her son’s claim to the throne.
Mary was more focused on the offer from Elizabeth. When she was still sick, thinking death was upon her, Mary wrote to Elizabeth and named her James’s protector in the case of her death, which meant James would inherit the throne as an infant.
Elizabeth was willing to redraft the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh and recognize Mary as her heir so long as Elizabeth remained childless — if Elizabeth were to have a child, Mary’s claim to the English throne would be null. Both parties would recognize each other as legitimate rulers and treat each other with respect while doing no harm.
After James’s baptism, the lords, including Bothwell, came together and decided that divorce was no longer an option and the only way to deal with Darnley was to kill him.
Darnley wasn’t with Mary at the time, he was in Glasgow with syphilis. Mary wanted him near her, so she went after him and brought him back to Edinburgh where he opted to stay at the Old Provost’s Lodging a few miles away from Holyrood while he finished his medical treatments and recovered completely.
Darnley’s Death Mucks It All Up
On February 9, Mary had spent the earlier part of the day attending a wedding. She did leave early, but she promised she’d be back later for dancing — Mary was fond of her servants and never broke promises to them. Mary and some of the other lords then joined Darnley for a bit to celebrate the end of his illness.
When it got late, Mary mentioned the wedding reception she was meant to return to in order to ward off Darnely’s sexual appetite. She went back to Holyroodhouse to the celebrations but that didn’t last long. Mary was tucked into bed a little after midnight.
At around 2 in the morning, a loud explosion woke people all over Edinburgh. Mary immediately sent men, including Bothwell and the captain of the guard, to check to see what had happened.
There was nothing left of the old provost’s lodging — just some rocks and dust that used to make up the structure. Darnley and his servant were found on the other side of the garden under a tree outside the parameter wall, dead — no marks, soot, nothing to indicate how they died. Near them was also found a rope, a chair, a cloak, and a dagger.
Now, who did it? Bothwell carried the brunt of the accusations. No one liked at him at this point, and the fact that he had quickly become one of Mary’s go-to guys angered a lot of people. But, at least in this, Bothwell was not alone and there were others involved.
While Mary was considered innocent in the beginning, things changed very quickly. How could the Queen of Scots, someone with so much power, not know about the assassination attempt? As a result, people started to believe that she had a hand in it.
All those talks and plans with Elizabeth were void. Elizabeth told Mary that if Bothwell was accused by the Lennoxes, she should have him arrested. And that she would no longer support the new treaty that was discussed. She wanted Mary to sign the old one. Mary, so angry with the letter from Elizabeth, refused to write back.
Mary was a widow twice now and followed the French custom of 40 days of mourning. The day after his assassination, she went to a wedding because it was for her favorite bedchamber lady — and as mentioned before, she doesn’t break her promises. But this looked awful. Partying the day after her husband’s death. She must be guilty.
Third Time’s Not the Charm
Mary believed that Moray was the mastermind behind the plot to kill Darnley and so she shunned him, and Moray eventually left for France to live in exile.
Mary looked to Bothwell as the savior of Scotland. She believed that he would be able to wrangle lords together as he was one of the most powerful men in the country. Seizing his chance, Bothwell started courting Mary. Though he was already married, if Mary was interested he could easily obtain a divorce to marry the queen.
However, before anything could be done involving matrimony, Bothwell had to stand trial on April 12, 1567 for the murder of Darnley. Since Lennox never appeared and no evidence was brought forth linking Bothwell to the murder and the explosion, Bothwell was acquitted.
On April 21, 1567, Mary made her way to Stirling Castle, which was held by the Earl of Mar, to see her son. Initially, Mar refused her entry because he knew that all it would take to shift the power in Scotland was for someone to get a hold of baby James but he did eventually let her in. When Mary said goodbye to her son on April 23, that was the last time she ever saw him.
On her way back to Edinburgh, just a few miles away, Bothwell “kidnapped” Mary and took her to Dunbar where Bothwell had his way with her — it is unknown if it was consensual or rape.
By May 3, Bothwell was a divorced man and by May 7, he had an annulment from the Catholic Church after Mary had asked for it. During this time, Mar, Argyll, Atholl, and a few other lords got together and created the “Confederate Lords.” Their goal was to save Mary from her forced confinement and kill Bothwell in the process.
Mary and Bothwell were back in Edinburgh on May 6 and the people weren’t happy. They had just lost their king 3 months ago, and their queen was ready to marry someone else. They signed the marriage contract on May 16 and used the Ainslie Tavern Bond as justification for the marriage.
Not So Wedded Bliss
While things between Mary and Bothwell were fine before the wedding, it didn’t stay that way afterwards. Bothwell had a temper and there are accounts that state he was physically taking his anger out on Mary. But when in the public eye, Bothwell was incredibly careful about how he treated Mary. He was always kind and gracious — the picture perfect husband.
On June 6, 1567, after hearing that the Confederate Lords were going to attack, Mary and Bothwell left Edinburgh for Borthwick Castle, which was close enough to the city in case they needed to return, but it was well fortified against anyone who would try and attack.
The Confederate Lords did try and raid the castle on June 10, but Bothwell was able to get away on his own. The Confederate Lords were angry and headed back to Edinburgh in the morning. When they got there, the gates were locked to keep them out. Fortunately for the Confederate Lords, they were able to get over the wall and take the city.
On June 11, Mary was able to escape from Borthwick with no one the wiser. She did so by dressing up as a man. Bothwell met up with her a little ways before that, finishing the journey with her.
It was on June 15 that both sides met at Carbarry Hill. After hours of getting nowhere, as neither side was willing to make the first move, Du Croc — the French ambassador — offered to speak to both sides to see if he could mediate a peace.
The Lords offered two options to Mary: leave Bothwell or Bothwell fights in single combat. Mary, on the other hand, had her conditions: surrender and she’d show them mercy. There would be no truce, so once again they were at an impasse. However, while Mary’s position atop Carberry Hill was strategically advantageous, it also meant that her men were exposed to the sun and the heat with no place to take shelter and cool off. Slowly, men started disappearing as their morale ran low.
Kirkcaldy of Grange came to Mary under a white flag and spoke with her. He assured her that if she left Bothwell, the lords would stop the fighting and resume serving their queen. At this, Bothwell stepped forward and accepted the challenge of single combat.
It was decided that Bothwell would fight a man named Lindsay. Mary stopped the fight before it started. She knew that if Bothwell was killed, she would well and truly be alone with no one to protect her. She agreed to go back to Edinburgh if they let Bothwell leave so long as she was treated with kindness as befitting her rank.
Bothwell left with a small group of men and as soon as he was gone, people turned on her, calling her a “Whore” and “Murderess” and called for her to be burned. Her Lords said nothing. Outraged, Mary made her intentions perfectly clear. All the way back to Edinburgh, she sentenced them to death.
The lords made a show of telling the people Mary would be returned to Holyroodhouse where she would be free to live and do as she liked. The lords had no intention of keeping her there. During the night, she was moved to Lochleven where she would be imprisoned under the watchful eye of Laird William Douglas — the half-brother of Moray by way of his mother.
While Mary was safely locked away at Lochleven, the lords took the opportunity to start building a case against her — they spread word that she was guilty of killing Darnley.
On July 24, 1567, the lords made a trip to
Mary took stock of her situation to plan her escape. Her first attempt failed. She dressed up as a laundress and was halfway free when the boatman realized who she was. He brought her back to Lochleven and promised not to tell Douglas.
Her second attempt occurred on May 2, 1568 with the help of Willie and Geroge Douglas. Mary Seton dressed up as Mary to throw off the guards so that Mary could get away while Laird Douglas was eating with his family. Willie stole the front gate key, locked it behind them, and sabotaged the other boats so the Douglas’s men couldn’t follow. Willie then rowed Mary across the water to meet up with George.
When Moray heard of Mary’s escape, he and the other lords gathered their forces and marched out to meet her. Despite all the negative attention Mary had received, six thousand men followed her into what would be another battle, which included men who left Moray’s side to rejoin their queen. Though her army outnumbered Moray’s, she lost and fled to Dumfries.
She continued on to England where she crossed the border without waiting for permission from Elizabeth. Mary wished to speak with Elizabeth about aid to win back her throne. Instead, Cecil locked her in Carlisle castle, afraid the Catholics in England would flock to Mary and support her.
Cecil wanted to make sure that the allegations involving adultery and her involvement in the plot to kill Darnley were fully investigated. If she was found innocent, she would be forced to sign the original Treaty of Edinburgh. If she was guilty, Moray might let her live the rest of her days in exile so long as he remained in power on behalf of Prince James. If she was incredibly guilty, she’d be imprisoned in England for the rest of her life.
The Casket Letters
It really all came down to whether or not Mary was complicit in the plot to kill Darnley. Honestly, it’s unknown. According to the lords, the “Casket Letters” were found right before Carberry Hill, which proved Mary had an affair with Bothwell while they were both married, and conspired to kill Darnley. These letters, the lords claimed, were the reason that the lords decided to meet their queen with an army at Carberry Hill.
There were eight letters in total. Two letters, in particular, were used to condemn Mary, and they were known as the “Glasgow Letters.” The other six letters were love notes that spoke of killing Darnley and the fake abduction that led to Mary and Bothwell marrying.
The trial began on October 4, 1568. Mary appointed her own
By the end of the year, Mary still hadn’t been found guilty, but that didn’t mean she’d been found innocent either. She was in limbo. Elizabeth made sure that the lords who presided over the tribunal never spoke a word about the casket letters — the public was never to know they existed.
Bred In Captivity — ‘Look, ma! A Genuine Queen!’
For 19 years, Mary was held in England. She wasn’t treated horribly, but rather well actually. She was treated as befitted her station and eventually, she was able to expand her household from a dozen or so people to over a hundred, including George and Willie Douglas, the men who helped her escape from Lochleven.
Mary was sent to Tutbury Castle, the home of the Protestant Earl of Shrewsbury (George Talbot) in January of 1569, which was deep in the middle of England. This way it would be difficult for the Catholics to go and mount a rescue mission. Mary came to deeply respect Shrewsbury over the years.
Shrewsbury asked Elizabeth if Mary could be moved to a different castle, one where she would be more comfortable. Eventually, Elizabeth agreed, and Mary was moved to Sheffield Castle. Shrewsbury was in charge of her care for 15 years.
Mary put on a lot of weight. Thankfully, she was allowed to have two doctors near her at all times. Once a woman who loved to ride and breathe fresh air, now she was kept inside and started growing old way too soon. Her imprisonment took a drastic toll on her body.
In all her years, she wasn’t allowed to write to her son, whom she loved and wished to hear news about. No one wrote her updates about him, so she was left on her own to wonder what he was like. The first time she got a letter from him was when James was 18. He had been raised Protestant by people who hated Mary and no doubt filled his mind with awful ideas about his own mother. In his letters, he didn’t address her informally or familiarly, but as “Mary Queen of Scots” and signed with his name rather than “your son” or something familial.
While Elizabeth was sympathetic to Mary for a time, it didn’t last. Eventually, she limited Mary’s activity. She was no longer allowed to go outside for her walks or go horseriding. Mary’s body, once again, took a ginormous hit. Her feet swelled up, it was painful to walk. Not just long walks, but short ones also. She became even more sedentary than she was before, with nothing to occupy her other than her animals and embroidery.
In August of 1584, Shrewsbury was relieved of his custodial duty and Mary was transferred into the care of Ralph Sadler who was a staunch supporter of Cecil. Mary once again returned to the dreary and uninviting Tutbury Castle in January 1585. Sadler treated Mary decently and so of course, he was replaced with Amyas Paulet, who wouldn’t hesitate to enter Mary’s rooms and destroy her things, specifically her cloth of state.
The way she was being treated reached the French and they became more vocal about how disgusted they were with her treatment. She was a queen, something her jailors continued to forget. She may not be their queen, but she was still a queen, outranking all but Elizabeth.
In 1585, on Christmas Eve, Mary was once again moved, but for the better this time. She was moved from the hell of Tutbury Castle to Chartley, a house that was surrounded by a moat. At least it was larger, more spacious, and less suffocating that Tutbury.
Mary the Defiant
Back in 1569, there was an idea floating around that Mary could marry the Duke of Norfolk, a Protestant whose family was friendly with the Catholic faith. In the eyes of the other Scottish nobles, a marriage between them would remove Mary from the political equation. For Mary it was the chance at freedom.
At first, Moray was okay with the match. But then he had some time to think — marrying Norfolk would cause problems for him. Mary would be able to challenge for her throne and through Norfolk, one of the most powerful people in England, she would be able to challenge for the English throne as well. To put an immediate stop to this, Moray sent a letter to Elizabeth to explain the plot. Everyone, save for Mary as she was locked up, was summoned and this led to the Northern Rising. It was over in six weeks and Norfolk was sent to the tower as a result.
There was another plot that included the capture and execution of Elizabeth that would leave the route for Mary and Norfolk open. They would then be able to marry and ascend the throne. And this became known as the Ridolfi Plot. Cecil was able to discover how and where the conspirators would capture Elizabeth, and while Norfolk could be tied to the plan, there wasn’t even a tiny thread linking Mary to this plan or her approval of it. Norfolk was executed June 2, 1582.
There wasn’t any proof that Mary had been a supporter of this secondary plot, so while Cecil was calling for her head, he wasn’t able to get what he wanted. He was, however, able to easily make others think she was guilty.
In 1585, Parliament passed a new law. The Act for the Queen’s Safety, which was drafted with Mary in mind to keep her far away from the throne. And make her one head shorter. Two important aspects to the law. If a possible successor is somehow involved in plotting, and rebelling, and an invasion, oh my!, a council of jurors would be able to determine the guilt of said person and then kill them.
The second aspect stated that is Elizabeth was killed, there would be an investigation, which of course was only a formality, and then Mary and her fellow conspirators would be executed. Elizabeth did add in the stipulation that unless James was involved with or had prior knowledge of the plot, he wouldn’t be killed.
The Babington Plot
Mary, as intelligent as she was, allowed desperation to take hold. Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster, wanted to catch her in the act, so in January of 1586, he swapped out her old messenger with someone he believed she would trust, Gilbert Gifford, who defected from the Catholics, which Mary wasn’t aware of.
Whenever she wrote letters, Gifford would take those letters to Walsingham to be deciphered before sending them to their intended destination. At one point, Mary even supplied a new cipher key with one of her letters, which Walsingham only needed to copy. From there on out, he was able to read and understand every letter Mary sent with no effort at all.
It was through this method that
The conspirators of the Babington Plot met in London on June 4, 1586. Unless Mary condoned the plot, the conspirators couldn’t act. So on July 6, a month after the conspirators met in London, Anthony Babington wrote to Mary for her approval and support.
This was the moment Walsingham had been waiting for. If Mary answered this letter incorrectly, then he finally had her. So she took a week to answer. She didn’t know what to do. In her mind, she didn’t have any other options, and so, she decided to answer yes.
Mary eventually returned to Tixall where she was kept for two weeks while her rooms at Chartley were searched and her letters and other papers sent to London for investigation. On August 25, Mary returned to Chartley and on September 5, Paulet kept her isolated as much as possible under Elizabeth’s orders. Waslingham wasn’t thrilled by this. In fact, he was concerned. Mary’s health wasn’t the best, so if she died after this kind of treatment, she would become a martyr and that wouldn’t work in their favor.
While Elizabeth knew that Mary would have to go on trial at some point, she would have rather had Mary die due to illness, which is why she gave the order to separate Mary from everyone she loved. She hoped Mary’s health would suffer for it and Elizabeth would therefore avoid the prospect of a trial. And any verdict that came of it.
After much deliberation and a lot of back and forth with Elizabeth, it was eventually decided that Mary would be moved to Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, which was used as a prison ever since Henry VIII died.
Mary was 43 years old when the trial commenced on October 12, 1586. Mary refused to stand trial in front of the commissioners at first, but eventually changed her mind, claiming she wanted to clear her name and would do so in any way they asked. Like in her previous trial, she wasn’t allowed to do anything. She couldn’t look at the documents used against her, couldn’t have a lawyer, couldn’t call people to speak on her behalf. Her hands were tied and so all she could do was say, “No, I’m innocent.”
The trial was suspended for ten days, and then
The guilty verdict was announced on December 4,
Paulet, however, was not up to the task and instead hurried to make the execution preparations. Knowing what Elizabeth’s intentions were, the lords opted not to tell her about the execution until it was over. But even with this, with Paulet and Co. acting behind Elizabeth’s back, she could claim that it was a conspiracy and it was all done without her knowledge.
It was Wednesday, February 8, 1587, 8 o’clock in the morning. Mary was praying with her servants when Thomas Andrews, the sheriff of Northamptonshire, knocked on the door to inform Mary that the time had come. She had been told the night before that she was to be executed. She accepted the news with such grace, thanking the men for telling her. There was finally an end in sight to her suffering.
Sleeping barely a wink, Mary had stayed up all night to prepare, making sure she was ready. And she was. At the age of 44, almost 6 feet tall, Mary Stuart was ready to finally put an end to her pain.
She made her way down the hallway and through the castle, her servants were waiting for her. She said her last goodbyes. Her steward, Andrew Melville, wept at her feet. As has been the case for several years at this point, Mary had trouble walking and had to rely on the soldiers walking with her to stay upright.
She walked ahead of the few servants allowed to come with her to the scaffold, which had been built over the past few days. She climbed the steps and sat on a bench as her two executioners stood to her side, the ax just sitting there in the open
Robert Beale read her crimes allowed, which included practicing Catholicism. Had it been an option, Mary would have put her fingers in her ears and said, “La la la la la, I can’t hear you.” As he was speaking, she told him that she wasn’t listening or participating in Protestant prayers.
While Fletcher was leading everyone in prayer, Mary prayed in Latin, loud and clear over him and even when he was done, she kept going in English. She prayed for her son, Elizabeth, and the church.
After granting the executioner her forgiveness, he helped Mary’s lad
The assistant executioner held her down while the other one swung the ax. But he fucked up. The first swing landed in her head where the blindfold was tied.
When the executioner raised Mary’s head to show the crowd and yelled out “God save the queen!”, it not only appeared as though her lips were still moving since she was still praying when the ax came down, but her head fell back down to the scaffold as she had been wearing a wig. She was nearly bald and her hair was grey. A once vivacious young woman had aged quickly well before her time.
Everything Mary owned that was covered in blood, such as her clothing, a rosary, and even the block used to execute her, were ordered to be burned in case some Catholics wanted a relic of the executed Catholic Queen. Thomas Andrew, the sheriff, had to bury Mary’s heart and inner organs in the castle foundation and then he, like everyone else, went home. His job was done.
Mary wasn’t buried until 6 months after she was executed, with her body kept and put to rest in a lead coffin. While she was granted a state funeral, there was a limit to how many people could be there. She was buried in Peterborough Cathedral and placed close to the tomb of Catherine of Aragon, first wife to Henry VIII.
Elizabeth I died unmarried and without issue on March 24, 1603. She was 70 years old.
When James became King, one of the first things he did was commission two huge tombs to be built, one for Mary and one for Elizabeth, with their effigies made for them. In October 1612, James had Mary exhumed and relocated to Westminster. James also moved Elizabeth and placed with her sister Mary Tudor. The nice tomb he built for Elizabeth makes it seem like she’s the only one buried there. There was only a little statement in Latin that alerted visitors to Mary Tudor’s resting place with that of her sister.
The one James had built for Mary Stuart on the other hand, was the larger and more elaborate tomb. She was his mother after all. The Queen of Scots. Cousin to Elizabeth. And the reason he was King. Also, it looked really nice that the king who united the isle remembered his mother and treated her with the respect owed her as an anointed queen.
When they reopened Mary’s tomb during the Victorian era. They were looking for James since no one knew where he was buried. He was with Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York. In Mary’s tomb, there were many different lead coffins, some of them belonging to children. This included: Henry, Prince of Wales — her grandson — her granddaughter Elizabeth of Bohemia — known as the Winter Queen, and others who could trace their lineage back to Mary.
And the most heartbreaking of all. The children who never became toddlers. This included 10 of James II’s kids, as well as Queen Anne, her stillborn children, and the Duke of Gloucester, the only child Anne had that lived. He was 11 years old when he died. Two of James’s daughters also died as children, and while they’re buried in Henry VII’s chapel, they’re not with Mary.
While James was living it up, many of the people who stood against his mother met a rather disastrous end. Moray was killed in 1570 — he was regent of Scotland for 18 months. Maitland died three years later, possibly from suicide. Morton was stabbed by one of Mary’s supporters in 1571 and bled to death. John Knox had a stroke and died two years later in 1572. Walsingham never received any rewards or recognition for his work. Cecil, on the other hand, was made Lord Burghley in 1571
In the end, Mary and Elizabeth never met. And one has to wonder, what would have happened if they had? How much of this story would be different? Mary was known to be a charming and charismatic person. Would Elizabeth, like many before her, been captivated by the Scottish Queen? We will never know.
- Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser
- Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy
- Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir
- Mary, Queen of Scots: The History and Legacy of Mary Stuart of Scotland by Charles River Editors
*Music: Initial classical piece that’s a part of the intro is Concerto for 2 Oboes in F Major Op9 no3, 3 Allegro by Advent Chamber Orchestra under the Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.*