The Murder of Lord Darnley

Posted By claire on February 10, 2010

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

On this day in history, the 10th February 1567, Lord Darnley was murdered at Kirk o’ Field, Edinburgh, in the Royal Mile, just a few hundred yards from Holyrood House where his wife, Mary Queen of Scots, and baby son, the future James VI/I, were staying.

Henry, Lord Darnley, had been lodging at Kirk o’ Field while convalescing after contracting either syphilis or smallpox. What he didn’t know was that while he had been recovering his enemies had been filling the cellars of the house with gunpowder.

At 2 o’clock in the morning of the 10th February 1567, Kirk o’ Field was blown to pieces by a huge explosion which was said to have been heard throughout Edinburgh. The house was reduced to rubble and Darnley’s body was found in a neighbouring garden, by a pear tree, beside that of his groom, with a dagger lying on the ground between them.

Historian Magnus Magnusson wrote of how his night-gown clad body showed signs of strangulation and concluded that Darnley had been strangled to death before the explosion. Perhaps something had awoken Darnley and he had attempted to flee the house, with his groom, using the chair and rope, which were also found in the garden, to escape from a first floor window. It appears that both men were intercepted and murdered. Perhaps the explosion was an attempt to cover up their murders but the men had got out of the house before meeting their murderer.

Mary Queen of Scots observed 40 days of mourning for her husband, but there were rumours that she was insincere and rumours of murder. It was not long before the Earl of Bothwell’s name (James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell) was linked to Darnley’s murder as the shoes of Archibald Douglas (Parson of Douglas), a supporter of Bothwell, were found at the scene of the crime and it was alleged that Bothwell had supplied the gunpowder.

Earl of Bothwell

Earl of Bothwell

On the 24th April 1567, Bothwell and 800 men met Mary on the road between Linlithgow Palace and Edinburgh, and Bothwell warned Mary that there was danger waiting for her in Edinburgh. He then insisted that she go with him to Dunbar, to his castle, so that he could protect her. On arrival at Dunbar at midnight, Bothwell took Mary hostage and allegedly subjected her to a violent rape so that she would marry him. On the 12th May, Mary made Bothwell Duke of Orkney and then married him on the 15th May at Holyrood, just over a week after his divorce from Jean Gordon, Countess of Bothwell, came through. On reporting the events to London, Sir William Drury noted that although it looked as if Mary had been forced into the marriage by Bothwell, things were not as they appeared. There was evidence that Mary had shown an interest in Bothwell in October 1566 when she travelled four hours by horseback to visit him at Hermitage Castle when he was ill. It was all very suspicious.

It is thought that Lord Darnley’s murder and Mary’s links with Bothwell were factors in her eventual trial and execution. The famous Casket Letters, which were produced at the York Conference in 1568, were said to implicate Mary in Darnley’s murder, but many historians now believe that these letters were forgeries. It looks like we will never know whether Mary Queen of Scots played a part in the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, father of James I of England.

Contemporary plan of Kirk o' Field.

Contemporary plan of Kirk o’ Field.


11 Responses to “The Murder of Lord Darnley”

  1. Jenny says:

    Heny Darnley was son of Margeret Lennox (nee Douglas) who was the daughter of Margaeret Tudor by her second marriage to Archibald Douglas. After certain affairs, she was persuaded by H8 to marry Lord Lennox, a renegade from Scotland with whom she had two surviving sons. It is said that when Mary Queen of Scots returned to her homeland, Elizbath offered robert Dudley as a husband but whether that was just a joke, we ill never know. Elizbath must have know the character of Hnery Darnley who seemed to be physically attractive, had some learning, but completly an utterly wayward. So was this “gem” allowed to escape to Scotland to meet Mary whose head was filled with “love” as Elizabeth would have known the relationship would have been a disaster. Heaviily pregnant with the future James VI of Scotland, Mary was forced to witness the brutal murder of her personal servant (and thought friend)David Ricco and Darnley was present. Mary must have been terridied witsnessing all this and with Riccio clinging to her gown – Love and hate go side by side but it also seems that Mary could be easily persuaded by other people who were charning to her. Question is did Bothwell rape her or was thta a plan they made up?’

    I think it was Edward I (Hammer of the Scots) who had it in one (can be corrected on this one is that the Scots could never agree between themselves in any case which made them ideal to attack.

    Bothwell has had some business with one of theScandinavian countries (I thin Denmark) and also got incolved in some sort of shannigings there so when he fled to that country he was imprisoned and manacked for life! Lady Antonia Fraser does a very good biography of Mary Queen of Scots I hve to say

  2. Eliz 1 was anti-Catholic, this and this alone guarantees praise and adulation from the world of historiography.

  3. Claire says:

    I have to disagree there. I don’t think she was anti-catholic. She started her reign saying that she didn’t want to open windows into men’s souls and only acted against the Catholics when she was forced to for her own safety, the safety of her people and her throne. She was forced into making a stance and I don’t think she wanted to.

  4. poppy says:

    hey i love mary queen of scots i am learning about it in history how cool!!!

  5. David says:

    Dear Poppy:

    You are misguided if you think you love Mary’s life. Unlike England, Scotland at this time was ruled by tribal-like ruhtless men who found her easily manipulated physically and mentally. Unlike Elizabeth, Mary was hardly competent to rule-she was no match for these men. Her biggest mistake was remaining a French Catholic in a Protestant world, an affront to England and to her father. Her people disliked her; she had opportunities to make an exit but chose to stay and suffered the consequences. So there is nothing to admire, only pity.

  6. Valerie says:

    Whether someone admires Mary Queen of Scots or not, there is no denying that she led a very interesting life. I personally love reading about her life and the various aspects of it, and finding out more about her. I think even though people are long dead they do have stories to tell and they are utterly compelling at times. I think it’s great when someone learns about a part of history at school and is interested enough to go and look up a website like this and maybe find out a bit more and open their mind a bit more than they maybe would have otherwise.

  7. les willcox says:

    what a wonderful life she led , although in the end it turned out tragec , i still believe that she and bothwell were in the murder of darney together, and i think that the rape was just an excuse to marry him , knowing that her name would be tarnished in europe.

  8. Roy says:

    I have a play-reading tonite. Vivat Vivat Regina. I am to read the part of Lord Darnley. I can’t find any videos online to give me a clue… HELP!

  9. Claire says:

    Hi Roy,
    I’m not sure how to help you – sorry! There are various videos on YouTube about Mary Queen of Scots, just search for her, but I’m not sure how much help they’d be to you.

  10. coolkid says:

    ive finished the story!
    the enimys of darnley filled the basement with gun powder out of spite, dunley and his groom tried to escape with a rope and chair but did not suseed they were found in a garden near by they were not murdered by the explosion they had been strangled by mary queen of scots who dropped her dagger on the way of escaping but didnt return as she heard people coming she found 2 horses waiting near by and galloped off on one, she saw a servant with a dirty face passing by, hed tried to save darnley

  11. Kerry says:

    Well he was such a nasty, narcistic murderer himself that any number of people would gladly see him dead.

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