Friday, July 12, 2013

The Other Cousins: Wild Frank and his cousin James of Scotland

by Linda Root

Stuart-Tudor  Family Tree{{PD-Art}}


When we think of famous and infamous cousins from the pages of history, few readers and writers of historical novels would overlook Elizabeth Tudor and Marie Stuart. The English queen and Marie Stuart’s father James V of Scotland were first cousins, making the famous queens first cousins once removed.

There was friction between them beginning with Elizabeth's coronation. Shortly thereafter Marie, who at the time was Dauphine of France as well as the anointed Queen of Scots, began quartering the arms of England on her standard and having her heralds announce her as queen of Ireland and England as well as Scotland and the Isles.

The adolescent Queen of Scots was probably not behind the controversial  move, which is usually attributed to her powerful uncles of the House of Guise and her father-in-law Henri II, King of France.  Nevertheless, she did nothing to prohibit it and Elizabeth never forgave her for it. In essence, she thought her claim was justified. Catholic Marie considered Protestant Elizabeth a bastard and thus barred from inheriting the Throne of Saint George. In her mind, England was hers by Divine Right.

The French king Henri II petitioned the Pope to excommunicate  Elizabeth, which would have absolved her subjects  from obedience, and that early in her reign, such a move might have altered history. However, the Pope was not ready to go quite that far. Nevertheless, at the time  Elizabeth was well aware of the tenuous nature of her hold on the English crown and appreciated the French claim as a realistic threat. Thus, from the time when Elizabeth was 25 and Marie was 16, the cousins had reason to be wary of one another.

The hostilities did not lessen with time and culminated when Marie was forty-four years old and had been Elizabeth's prisoner for almost two decades. A frustrated and ailing Queen of Scots was not as cautious as she should have been, and when she dropped her guard, Elizabeth’s henchmen were ready to strike her dead. Whether or not Elizabeth meant to sign the death warrant, she surely had endorsed her cousin’s death.  She merely had her own idea of how it should be orchestrated.

She wanted the queen's jailer to poison his charge, but he refused.  After the deed was done, the English queen gave her cousin a lavish funeral and had her interred at Peterborough Cathedral alongside Catherine of Aragon. Then she tried to recover a portion of the costs from Marie's son King James VI of Scotland.

But the queens were not the only royal cousins on Britannia who came close to resolving their religious differences and rivalry with bloodshed. James VI had a troublesome cousin of his own. However, while the ladies expressed their exasperation and sometime their affections in letters, the gents got up close and personal. Marie's son, James VI, was once accosted by his cousin Francis while seated on the royal privy hole, an invasion every bit as audacious as the acts of his notorious uncle James Hepburn when he kidnapped the Queen of Scots, carried her off to Dunbar and ravished her. If it happened as Melville reported it (and he was there) we would call it rape.

Most historical novelists and history buffs are well aware of the misdeeds of the 4th Earl of Bothwell, many of which had to do with his treatment of  the women in his life, but fewer are acquainted with the bizarre antics of his nephew, Francis Stewart, the 5th Earl, who was every bit as dangerous, and regarded by many as a witch and perhaps the personification of the Devil.

Who was Wild Frank Stewart?

The tensions between James and Francis began when they both were children. Frank’s father was the only child of Marie’s favorite brother, Lord John Stewart, Commendator of Coldingham, and his mother was the queen’s notorious third husband Bothwell’s flamboyant sister Jean Hepburn. Those familiar with the Queen of Scots may recall that not long after she returned to Scotland to assume personal rule of her kingdom, there was a scandal concerning the conduct of her brother John and her uncle Rene de Guise, Marquis of Elbeuf, who had allowed themselves to be drawn into a lurid caper instigated by James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell,  famous for his womanizing and his audacity.

The episode involved the sexual assault of a girl named Alison Craik, a relative of Hepburn’s and the lady friend or mistress of  mad James Hamilton, 3rd. Earl of Arran, whom Hepburn made a sport of harassing. The incident took on a life of its own once the queen was involved, and when it was smoothed over public criticism settled on the queen.

She then placed her brother John on what teens today would call ‘restriction’ until his forthcoming wedding, and confined his step-cousin Rene de Guise to house arrest at Holyrood Palace.  The instigator was detained briefly and then sent to his castle to plan his sister's wedding.  Lord John’s bride was none other than Bothwell’s sister Jean, whose own reputation had been sullied in letters that British ambassador Tom Randolph sent home to Cecil and Elizabeth.

Like many of Randolph's reports, it was full of innuendo and scant on detail. Jean was also rumored to dabble in the occult. There were flaws in the characters of both Lord John Stewart and Bothwell’s sister Jean sufficient to give notice that offspring of the marriage might be hard to handle.

It is unfortunate that only one authentic portrait exists of the 4th earl--the wedding miniature that commemorates his marriage to the heiress Lady Jean Gordon--and none at all are found of the 5th.  Considering the vanity of both, one concludes that there was a dearth of portraitists in Scotland.

During this same period, no portraits were painted of the Queen of Scots, a fact that complicated the recent facial reconstruction currently on display in Edinburgh.  The most trustworthy likenesses of the queen were painted in France. The ones painted while she was a captive in England are suspiciously stylized and differ greatly from one another. During the forty-odd years of Sir Francis Stewart's life, not a single likeness appears, although there is one caricature that resembles Pre-Columbian art more than a 16th century portrait.

The Hepburn earls of Bothwell of the sixteenth century were of medium height, considerable intelligence, and capable of  displaying great charm. A survey of the biographies of Francis Stewart discloses little about his youth.  At some point he came under the guardianship of the Regent James Douglas, Earl of Morton. This may have been prompted by  reports of his mother and her friend Janet Beaton’s interest in the occult.  Jean was likewise prohibited from exerting influence over her nephew, William Hepburn, James Hepburn's son who was regarded as illegitimate under Scottish law.

Francis was given his uncle's forfeited title to the Bothwell earldom by his cousin James VI at Stirling in late November 1577 in the presence of his guardian Morton  four days before his marriage to Margaret Douglas, one of Morton's relatives and the daughter of the Earl of Angus.  She was the older of the two, and they were not permitted to cohabit, ostensibly because of Stewart's youth.  Morton had been deprived of a continental education and remedied it with his ward, who in spite of his marriage was shipped first to the Sorbonne and Rouen, and later, to Italy where he studied art in Florence.

He was summoned back to Scotland by the adolescent king in time to align himself with another cousin of the young James VI, Esme Stuart. Esme was a flamboyant French aristocrat who had been awarded the Lennox title after sharing a controversial intimate correspondence with the adolescent king that some say bordered on the erotic. His expatriate father, John Stuart, was a famous member of the French king's Garde Écossaise and the brother of the Scottish king’s paternal grandfather Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox, who was killed in a raid on Stirling by a band of Marians in 1572.

During the period from Esme’s arrival in Scotland in 1579 until he fell from grace when the Ruthven faction took the king captive and forced Esme’s ouster and exile, Esme Stuart and his cohort Captain James Stuart, who was named the Earl of Arran, ruled Scotland as a team. But in 1582, Esme and James turned their backs just long enough to let the Ruthven Earl of Gowrie and his Ruthven Raiders kidnap the king, providing the following explanation for their acts:

We have suffered now about the space of two years such false accusations, calumnies, oppressions and persecutions, by the means of the Duke of Lennox and him who is called the Earl of Arran, that the like of their insolencies and enormities were never heretofore born with in Scotland.

But in 1582, the Ruthven faction repeated the mistakes of Esme and Arran and permitted James Stuart (Arran) to exercise a degree of power in the government in hopes that he could rein in some of Ruthven’s dissenters. That strategy proved to be a huge mistake. Soon Arran was again in control and the Ruthvens were in England living off Elizabeth’s meager dole. By 1583, the 5th Earl of Bothwell was firmly in the Ruthven camp and out of favor with his cousin James. At some point Francis Stewart joined the exiles in England, but his itinerary was sufficiently flexible for him to sire eight children to Lady Margaret Douglas.

Things seesawed back and forth for Francis Stewart for the next years depending upon who was controlling the king, until 1585 when the faction opposing Arran returned again from English exile, but in a rare show of largesse on Elizabeth's part, this time they came with an army.

The Earl of Arran recognized the inevitable and retired with his head intact, and although the king was growing concerned with Cousin Frank’s wild ways, like his famous uncle, Francis managed to charm his way back into the royal favor. But that only lasted until the execution of the king’s mother Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots.

Francis Stewart adopts a Cause:

 After a brief bit of saber rattling, the king adopted a conciliatory stance concerning what Bothwell and his followers considered an outrage.  King James wanted an apology but Wild Frank Stewart wanted war.  When the court at Holyrood was told to don mourning attire in honor of the woman referred to as "The King's Mother", Bothwell came to court in full armor, and told the king to his face that his ameliorating attitude ought to get him hanged. If James VI had been anything like his great grand-uncle Henry VIII,  Cousin Francis would not have lived to repeat such insolence.

Francis Stewart's defiance was consistent with his heritage. His grandfather the 3rd Earl of Bothwell, Patrick Hepburn,had remained loyal to Marie Stuart's mother, Marie of Guise, from the time she first arrived in Scotland to the period when she was regent for her daughter who was living in France. Later Frank's uncle James Hepburn, the notorious 4th  Earl of Bothwell, stood among Marie of Guise’s champions when she was warring with the Lords of the Congregation. That loyalty transferred to the Queen of Scots when she assumed personal rule of Scotland.  James Hepburn may not have been faithful to his wives and lovers but he was faithful to his queen.

Likewise, his nephew Francis was outraged that there was such a weak response to Marie Stuart's execution. He tried to raise a military force of his own when the king refused to do so, but his efforts failed.  Like his uncle before him, he had the power and charisma needed to muster a band of Border Reivers, but he lacked the wherewithal to raise an army. There was little left for him to do but lay low. King James shared his mother’s tendency to forgive the transgressions of errant relatives, and on July 8, 1587, Lord Francis Stewart was sworn as a full member of the Privy Council, and King James assumed that Cousin Frank would behave himself. James should have known better.

The Audacity of the 5th Earl of Bothwell: 

The man dubbed 'Wild Frank Stewart' was not of a complacent nature. There were brawls and duels here and there, and a growing interest in the Black Arts, probably inspired and tutored by his mother Jean. And thus it is in the role of a witch and as the devil’s disciple that Francis Stewart leaves a historical record approaching that of his famous uncle. Whether the next acts resulted from Bothwell's instability or a belief that he was next in line to the throne should James die childless, he focused his energies on thwarting the king's marriage to Princess Anna of Denmark. The following is an excerpt from my novel, The Other Daughter:

Francis Stewart had been attracted to the occult since he was wee. Ever since his father died in the year of Frank’s birth, his mother was free to pursue the style of life that pleased her, not her stiff-lipped sister in law the Queen of Scots.

Like other famous Scottish aristocrats such as Margaret Flemyng, Countess of Atholl, Jean Hepburn’s interest in Dyanism was casual. While other highborn Scottish women amused themselves with needlepoint or gardening, Jean and her friends enjoyed dabbling in the dark arts.  She and her friend Janet Beaton had never taken witchcraft all that seriously. They could hardly be regarded as a coven like the witches of Blair Atholl. But when Frank was growing up, he often spied on his mother and her friends when they dressed themselves from head to toe in red or black, depending on the occasion, and performed strange rites in candlelight in the basement of the Castle.  He also noticed that the women in the villages near Haddington crossed the street when they saw his mother coming and it was not scorn that sent them scurrying.  It was fear.

Jean Hepburn was among those who profited from her brother’s fall.  Her nephew William Hepburn, her brother’s only child, inherited their mother Agnes’s personal property, but not the estates at Morham and Caithness or his father’s title. The latter passed to Frank.  But Jean’s rebellious nature upset the regent, and to protect the heir to the Bothwell title from her negative influence, Morton had himself appointed Frank’s guardian. Next he bestowed on his ward the one thing that had eluded him –a European education.
After two years at the Sorbonne, Frank had grown tired of its academic regimen and followed a crowd of liberated young aristocrats to Italy, where learning was less rigid and more romantic. In Florence he acquired the same reverence for black magic that had captured the imagination of its most illustrious expatriate, the Florentine shopkeeper’s daughter Caterina Maria Romola di Lorenzo de’ Medici, who added pentagrams to the interior at Chenonceau when she repossessed it from her dead husband’s mistress. It was in Italy that Francis saw how astute power mongers could manipulate the masses with incantations and other forms of hocus-pocus.  While the king sought to secure the future of his dynasty by actually marrying a princess and producing heirs, Bothwell took advantage of the king’s preoccupation by retiring to Morham to hone his skills as a practitioner of the Black Arts.
While in Italy he had witnessed a powerful witch costume himself as a demon by wearing a goat skin hardened by a resin brought from the orient by the Portuguese, a substance produced by an insect called a lac bug. By the time the king had settled his fancies on the Danish princess Anna, Bothwell had worked with a woman named Barbara Napier in fashioning a shellacked goats head mask complete with horns, and garments constructed of sewn-together hides.  Speaking through a tube set inside the mask he could alter his voice so that he could have fooled the Devil Himself...

Later in the novel, Sir James Melville of Hallhil relates the events that occurred on Halloween  in a kirk yard in North Berwick to the Devil's campaign against the King of Scots and the Danish marriage:
North Berwick kirkyard {{PD-Art  1923}}

...When Queen Anna departed for Scotland to meet her bridegroom, a string of unusually early storms of unprecedented ferocity  battered the Danish fleet and sent the royal bride and her party to port in Oslo to await calmer seas. A single Scottish frigate sailed across the sea to Leith to inform James that his bride would not be coming until spring. While the exact reason why the king decided to go fetch her was unknown even to James, on the 22nd day of October, the king and Thirlestane embarked  for Norway to rescue his bride from the captivity imposed by the angry seas. It was a rash act and entirely out of character for the King of Scots. Because of the obvious threat to the dynasty, those of the council who were not already in Denmark or Norway waiting for the winter storms to pass either blamed the king’s decision on the legendary Stuart impetuousness that had plagued his mother, or took the more common tack and blamed it all on Thirlestane who was anxious to demonstrate his new warmth concerning the Danish marriage.  However, the superstitious Danes preferred to place the blamed on witches.

As evidence to support his proposition, King Christian cited the fact that the Scottish ship had made it across the North Sea to Leith in three days, when the Danes had been unsuccessful in nearly three months of efforts. Obviously the devil’s minions had been involved. The fact that the Scots had better sailors and hired better Flemish shipbuilders had nothing to do with it.  Melville jested that the Danes no doubt had the better witches.

 At first the allegations of witchcraft that consumed the Danes was given little credibility by James VI who had finally arrived in Oslo. Then news arrived from Scotland concerning a meeting of the covens on All Hallows Even. Apparently the efforts of the Scottish covens had been as ineffectual as its Danish counterparts, but had been every bit as enthusiastic when it came to targeting the Scottish king. According to the tale that reached James and his new brother in-law Christian IV, the Devil had made a personal appearance in the old kirkyard at North Berwick and identified King James as his ‘most bitter enemy’. James was rather proud of that part of the Devil’s discourse, but when he learned that the chief of all demons had appeared in person and called for his demise, he began to take the matter seriously.  James preferred his demons to be more ethereal.

and the novel continues....

Daisy recalled the animation on Uncle Melville’s face when he reached the part of the story when at the Devil’s bidding, the witches dug up the bones in the grave yard and mashed them into a bloody potion that they smeared on the coats of half strangled cats before flinging them into the sea.  The intent was to conjure up some storms while chanting a curse directed at seaborne James. The cats were not cooperative and swam to shore. In the second attempt they made certain the cats were dead.

According to Melville’s informants, the spectacle at the old kirk was presided over by the Devil himself, who was described as being huge and horned and entirely black.  Some of the women who were later tortured described him as wearing  a mask that was beaked and horrible to behold.  Conveniently, the Devil spoke lowland Scots with a slight hint of the Border vernacular, but his voice was low-pitched and inhuman. Some of the witnesses claimed to have touched him and found the flesh on his clawed hand to be hard and unyielding.  Most in attendance reported that the Devil arrived and subsequently disappeared in a cloud of dark smoke that smelled of sulfur.

To the enlightened  narrator Sir James Melville, it was obviously a staged event in which the principal was not an apparition but a talented performer  wearing a well-crafted costume.  The orchestration of the performance was superb. Not all of the attendees were in on the secret, and a few well placed recruits stirred the emotions of their companions to a frenzied mass that was susceptible to suggestion.  A good supply of fortified mead helped.  By the time the Devil emerged, his audience was already hovering on the brink. According to Melville’s investigation, the identity of the actor was unknown and even under the most gruesome tortures had not been disclosed. Most of those who had been present confessed their own participation once the spiked device that pierced cheeks, tongue and the roof of the mouth was forced between what was left of their teeth, but they genuinely believed the devil made them do it, and had actually been present to assert his will.  Those who knew better endured the torture without implicating others.  While some in the group of suspects mentioned Francis Stewart, the Earl of Bothwell as the champion of the Devil’s cause, no one placed him at the meeting.
....  After James returned to Scotland with his queen, he took an obsessive interest in the event at North Berwick, an attitude that was promoted by the Danes in the queen’s household. James personally led the investigations and within a month was convinced that Francis Stewart was a minion of the devil -- Satan’s nominee to assume the throne of Scotland as soon as James had been eliminated. Thirlestane was equally convinced that Stewart was only absent from the crowd that knelt before the Devil’s cloven feet because he was inside of the costume manipulating the devil’s extremities with the aid of pulleys and ropes.

 Melville concluded his story with an account that brought Daisy and the others in the Cockie House up to date on the Earl of Bothwell’s latest antics.

 Then, shortly after the queen’s coronation, Bothwell and a group of his retainers burst into the royal bedchamber late at night, just to show how easily it could be done.  He assured the king that it was not a threat, but merely a demonstration of the king’s vulnerability. The king acknowledged the distinction, but the queen did not. A threat delivered with a smile and a clever explanation apparently does not fool a Dane.

Later  in the novel, Frances makes one of his first assaults upon Holyrood Palace in his attempts to terrorize the king into seeing things his way:

So far the assault on Holyrood had exceeded Bothwell’s wildest expectations. He and his henchman John Colville had marched into the king’s apartment and caught James as he was rising from the privy hole. A sovereign naked below the waist is highly vulnerable.

“Nice to see you looking well, Cousin,” Bothwell quipped while the king made an obvious release of air from one orifice or another. The privy was foul enough on its own without anyone struggling to determine the odor’s origin. Colville was embarrassed to hand the king his dressing gown and the king was sufficiently humbled to accept it with thanks. It was all so gentile and courtly that Bothwell nearly gagged. The trespassers helped James dress and assume the Chair of State before they knelt before him. It was a nice preamble to the long list of demands they required in order to let him continue to sit on it. James initially responded with a hearty nay-say, but as the morning worn on, his denials of their demands became less emphatic.

Shortly after noon the king and queen appeared on the same balcony where the wayward husband of the Queen of Scots King Henri Stuart had placated the mob of his wife’s would-be rescuers on the night of David Rizzio’s murder.  After King James delivered a pretty speech that Bothwell had drafted and Anna smiled and waved, the crowd disbursed just as it had in 1566.
True, this is all fiction, but to call them mere figments of an author's imagination is inaccurate. The accounts are is based on credible reports of Bothwell's raids on Holyrood.  He had also planned one at Stirling that did not materialize. When the king went on the offensive, he almost caught his culprit cousin, but his horse lost its footing and sent the king coruscating into the mud.  For the remainder of Frank's life he was obsessed with capturing the king and either bending him to his will or killing him. After the prince was born, he included capturing the heir apparent in the game plan.

According to some accounts of the raids on Holyrood, the target had been the Chancellor and not Bothwell’s royal cousin. But the raids continued long after Chancellor Thirlestane fell from grace. While there were but two penetrations of the king’s chambers at Holyrood, there were many other incidents, and the king was becoming less eager to forgive him. Even the earl’s wife was becoming weary of his antics and was imploring him to make peace with his cousin King James.

Francis Stewart's Conversion:

But Francis, who had grown into his given moniker “Wild Frank”, was not finished yet. When his fellow ardent protestants among the peers began distancing themselves from Bothwell, he merely changed allegiances and became a Catholic. After all, Henri IV of France had traded Paris for a Mass--why should he not trade Scotland for a similar conversion designed to capture Catholic support? And he did not stop at the altar. He sold his services to the King of Spain.

Up until that abrupt change, many Scots believed that Frank was motivated not by blind ambition but by his Protestant zeal.  His espousal of the Spanish cause changed all that. As his support group dwindled to the few ardent Catholic lairds in the north, Stewart was not dissuaded. He found sanctuary in England until Elizabeth saw the degree to which his politics and religion had shifted, and then she cut him off. He fled to the Spanish Netherlands where he brokered an invasion to Philip II, an attack which he planned in conjunction with Philip's generals in the Netherlands and which was dependent upon a Catholic uprising in Scotland that did not play out. He next became a pensioner of the King of Spain and moved to Madrid.

Finally Philip, who was dying, grew tired of having Stewart on the dole while all he did was laze about the Spanish court. He increased his new minion's stipend and sent him to Flanders to plan an invasion that never happened. Philip had the will but he did not have the money.

The Archduke and the Infanta {{PD-Art}}

When Philip II died, he left Spain fiscally depressed and facing bankruptcy for the fourth time during his reign.  Upon his death, the Hapsburg empire underwent alterations, with Philip III retaining sovereignty over Spain and Portugal and Spain's overseas possessions, while his sister the Infanta and her husband the Archduke Albert of Austria ruled the Spanish Netherlands as an independent state.  That made a coordinated invasion of the island kingdoms of ancient Britannia by means of a landing in either Scotland or England less likely.

Stewart hatched invasion plan after invasion plan, some of which were seriously considered by Philip III, but the great Spanish maritime power had become over-extended from dealing not just with the marauding English, but with the new European menace to Spanish interests presented by the Dutch Republic and its formidable fleet.

By the late 1590’s Elizabeth had her own problematic hot-head to subdue in the Earl of Essex. Chancellor Robert Cecil was as canny as his famous father Burghley had been and had no desire to antagonize the Scots by providing an alternative haven for the Earl of Bothwell, what with Elizabeth’s health declining and the queen reluctant to stare death in the face by naming an heir.  It was as if the re-forming political climate of Europe had left Francis Stewart behind. In spite of his wife’s pleas that he come back to Scotland and make peace with his cousin, Francis Stewart lived his remaining days in Italy where he was said to dabble in the occult.


John De Critz , {{PD-Art}}

When James ascended the English throne in 1603, there were no more madcap schemes coming from Wild Frank. It was too late for military intervention, and Bothwell had run out of charm. He died in Naples in November of 1612, some say of grief over the death of his young kinsman Henry, Prince of Wales, who had died earlier that month.  Bothwell had expected the boy to intercede with his father the king on his behalf when he petitioned for reinstatement of his property and titles. 

But it was far too late for that. The new English King James I had left Scotland behind and Bothwell with it.

It was reported that Frances Stewart  supplemented what stipend he was able to eke out of the Hapsburgs by telling fortunes other than his own. Yet, no matter how bizarre his antics, he came incredibly close to putting an end to the Stuart dynasty.

Note:  All  art depicted is in the public domain.
For additional information on the topic, the author recommends Bothwell and the Witches by Geoffrey Watson (1975). For an excellent blog that focuses on Francis Stewart and the occult, see Francis Stewart, Fifth Earl of Bothwell: A Devil in Disguise? at blog site Strange Company - a walk on the weird side of history,


  1. Thanks for the great post--and the link. :)

  2. Hmmmmm.... Not sure about the meaning of first cousins but Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was actually the daughter of Elizabeth I's cousin, James V. His mother and Henry VIII were brother and sister. Does that count as first cousins?
    Apart from the nitpicking - very interesting!!

  3. I was wondering about the cousin relationship also. If the previous comment is correct, then Elizabeth and James V were first cousins, so Elizabeth and Mary Stuart would be first cousins once removed.

  4. I am correct. Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's sister, was Mary Stuart's paternal grandmother. I've noticed that it's fairly common to call Elizabeth and Mary cousins. The fact is that E and M did call each other both "sister" and "cousin" in their correspondence.


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