Thursday, April 23, 2015

April 24 1558 - April 24 1567: The Nine Year Descent of the Queen of Scots

by Linda Root


April 24, 1558 – Notre Dame d’ Paris

Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame
(Cathedral depicted as circa 1600)
Wikimedia Public Domain
There was no butter or chocolate available for purchase anywhere near Paris. The city had long been sold out of silks, brocades, and Belgium lace. Aristocratic women who had failed to plan ahead were savaging their draperies because there was no other velvet to be had. No French king or heir apparent had been married at Notre Dame d' Paris  in living memory. The parents of the groom,  Henri II and his consort Catherine d' Medici,  had been married in Marseilles, and his father Francis I, at Saint Germain en Laye. None of Louis XII’s three wedding masses had been celebrated in the City of Light.  Although the betrothal had not become official until the week before, the prenuptial agreement had been solemnized at Stirling in Scotland when the bride-to- be was not yet five and the absentee bridegroom, barely four. The forthcoming wedding gave Parisians a long-awaited cause to celebrate.

1558 was a grand year for a French royal wedding. The bride’s uncle Francois, Duke of Guise had expelled the English from the Pas de Calais. Francois had abrogated the embarrassment of Agincourt.  On the other side of the coin, the English waged a successful siege of  St. Quentin, trapping  Francois' rival Duke Anne de Montmorency inside the city. Montmorency's detention cleared the way for the Duke of Guise  to act as Master of Ceremonies at his niece's wedding.

The mistress of the ceremony was indeed the bride. Sixteen-year-old Marie Stuart had been the anointed Queen of Scots since six days old and was comfortable in the limelight. She had lived in France since she was five and was already a  celebrated beauty and a crowd pleaser. In every respect other than being born of a Scottish King, she was a French girl. If you have read this in my other posts, I cannot emphasize it too much.  Portrayals of the Queen of Scots glossing over her French childhood (i.e., Reign) do a disservice to their audience.

It is regrettable there are no paintings of the wedding at Notre Dame. We are left to contemporary reports of bystanders and our imaginations. In all accounts, it was a public spectacle of unprecedented grandeur. The ceremony was orchestrated to allow ordinary citizens of Paris  a view of the procession and much of the ceremony. Duke Francois was a perfect host, tossing large sums of money to the assembled crowd amid cries of ‘Largesse, Largesse.’

The bride entered the cathedral on the arm of the King. She wore her hair down, and her gown was white--both departures from tradition.  Queen consort Catherine de Medici had vehemently disapproved of the choice of white for the bridal gown, and the issue was taken to Henri II  to arbitrate.  He sided with his future daughter-in-law. The dress was so heavily encrusted with pearls and other precious jewels that its train was difficult for Marie’s attendants to manage. Celebrations went on for days. After-parties arranged to entertain  visiting Scottish dignitaries and foreign ambassadors continued for the better part of a year.

Duke of Guise, Clouet
The Paris  Aprils  1559—April 1560:  

Although the focus of European royalty was still on Paris in April of 1559, developments on the world stage occurred  which impacted Marie Stuart’s life. The most significant was the death of England’s Catholic Queen Mary Tudor; a sad childless woman married to Philip of Spain who had  the audacity to claim she  smelled bad. According to the Will of Henry VIII and the Act of Succession, the English crown passed to Elizabeth Tudor, the strong-willed Protestant daughter of Anne Boleyn. At this point, the Queen of Scots seriously miss-stepped: No doubt at the provocation of her Guise uncles, the Dauphiness began quartering the arms of England alongside those of Scotland and France. The Queen of Scots had unwittingly taken her first steps toward the block at Fotheringhay by questioning her cousin’s right to rule at a time when Elizabeth I was vulnerable. Her act displayed a foreboding political naiveté and a tendency to follow an agenda written by others.

Elizabeth Coronation portrait 1559
By her third wedding anniversary, the Queen of Scots was Queen consort of France due to a jousting accident claiming the life of her father-in-law.With frail, insipid Francois II as its King, France was in the control of the Duke of Guise and his  brother Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine. Two events occurred to mar the carefree lifestyle of the young King and Queen.  An ill-conceived Huguenot plot to free France of its ultra-Catholic  overlords culminated at Amboise in the Spring of 1560. Although it failed miserably, it exposed the religious divisions plaguing France. In summer, amidst political unrest terminating her regency, Marie’s mother Marie d Guise died at Stirling.

 The  worst was yet to come.  Within days of Marie Stuart’s eighteenth birthday, her childhood confidant and adoring husband Francois II died, apparently of a brain abscess.  The new widow spent her birthday in mourning interrupted when her mother-in-law sent  agents to recover the crown jewels. Her family’s efforts to arrange another European royal marriage were stifled by Catherine de Medici, who ruled France as regent for her young son Charles. If Marie were to be a queen, it would be as Queen of Scotland, an alternative she considered a last resort.

The Scottish years: By April 24, 1561, her third wedding anniversary, Marie Stuart had run out of options. Four months later she sailed into Leith Harbor to begin her personal rule as Queen of Scots.  Although gently bullied by her half-brother James Stewart and maligned by a Protestant clergy led by the irascible John Knox, the Queen of Scots was determined to make the best of it. She spent the first year of her personal rule negotiating a face to face meeting with Elizabeth. Her foreign minister William Maitland did his best to arrange a meeting in York, but  factions on each side of the border sabotaged it. Marie Stuart’s objective was to be named Elizabeth’s heir apparent, which created issues with English Protestants. Meanwhile, Marie continued to search for a suitable husband amongst European Catholic royalty, which did not sit well with either Elizabeth or the Scottish Kirk.

Marie Stuart as a widow, Clouet
There were high points in Marie Stuart’s early reign, notably when she followed the advice of her brother James,  whom she made Earl of Moray, and her foreign secretary  Maitland. With Moray as a comrade in arms, she waged a successful armed expedition against the powerful Catholic Earl of Huntly, which pleased her English cousin. Nevertheless at the end of 1563 she still had failed to come to  terms with her cousin to the south. A successful foreign policy and the establishment of a seaworthy Navy made Elizabeth Tudor a new power on the European stage. European royals were in no hurry to offend her by catering to her charming but less politically astute cousin's marital agenda.  By April 24th, 1563, Marie was acutely aware of the need to secure her throne by producing an heir. Serious problems began when she ignored the advice of her brother and refused to give Elizabeth a right to nay say her choice of husbands, a prerequisite to being named her heir.

The situation developing was much more complicated than a rivalry of Queens. The same problem that was met head on in 2014 was a factor in 1563—the issue of Union. Many astute 16th century Scots including Maitland, Morton, Moray and Kirkcaldy realized a prosperous and Protestant Scotland required peace along the Borders. A permanent end to the Border Wars was best obtained through a Union of the Crowns. Such a premise was utterly alien to the Queen, whose  world view and loyalties were with the French. To Marie Stuart and other Francophiles, the Auld Alliance was very real. However, to most Scots, the Border Wars were devastating to Scotland and often instigated by its Auld Ally when a diversionary bush war in Scotland was in the French interest.
The Scottish view of the monarchy was a second factor sealing Marie Stuart's doom. Early Stuart Royals were Divine Right Monarchs, but the Scottish aristocracy had a different view of what constituted a right to rule. There was a nascent Republicanism in Scottish thought long before Marie Stuart came on the scene. Scots, not God had the final word as to who should be a Scottish sovereign. None of this was part of Marie Stuart’s mindset. She believed the rhetoric calling Elizabeth a heretic and a bastard and that she, not Elizabeth, was England’s rightful Queen. Consequently, when her brother and other advisors told her to acquiesce to Elizabeth's nominee for a second husband, she balked.

Premier Marian historian John Guy states the Queen sealed her fate when she married her English cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Guy's arguments are sound, but the seed of doom was planted earlier when she quartered the arms of England along with her own. Elizabeth was so successful at recreating herself as Gloriana that it is easy to overlook how fragile her grasp on the English throne was when she ascended in 1558. Marie’s competing claim was more than an insult instigated by French Catholics. It was a genuine threat. Elizabeth’s bullying of Marie over her choice of husbands  was at the  least a subtle pay-back.

Darnley, Wiimedia Commonds PD Art
History makes such short shrift of Henry Stuart that it is easy to suspect he was Elizabeth's minister Cecil’s plant. At nineteen, he had a reputation as an arrogant, promiscuous, mollycoddled brat. Even Cecil, who was no fan of sending  Catholic Darnley to become Scottish consort, figured he would not last long. He expected  Moray to see right through Darnley and send him back. When Moray publicly declared Darnley a disaster in the making, his love-starved sister threw Moray out and married  Cousin Henry. Not all Scots disfavored the Darnley marriage. As Henry VII’s great grandchild, his claim to the English throne mirrored Marie’s without suffering the disability of her foreign birth. Anglophiles like Maitland viewed the marriage as a guarantee of Union under a Stuart succession should  Elizabeth die without issue.  But Darnley could not behave himself for long.  By winter, Marie's advisers sided with Moray and so did the unhappy, pregnant Queen. 

A series of bizarre events plagued her pregnancy. First, Maitland convinced Darnley he had been cuckolded. Darnley in turn partnered with the Douglas faction and murdered the Queen's favorite David Rizzio in her presence. Finally, he double-crossed the Douglases and sided with the Queen, assisting in her escape. When the air cleared, Marie saw Darnley  as a danger to her unborn child. In spite of occasional public displays of domestic harmony that fooled no one, she and Darnley were estranged.  After the Prince’s christening in December 1566 which Darnley boycotted, he fled to his father Matthew Stuart’s Lennox earldom near Glasgow. From there he began to plot against his wife. He guessed the Douglases, Maitland, and the Queen's friend James Hepburn were planning to kill him. As modern political philosopher Henry Kissinger observed, even paranoid schizophrenics have enemies.
Darnley was suffering from what is believed to have been tertiary syphilis and fell ill shortly after arriving in Glasgow. The queen traveled there to bring him back. One of history’s great mysteries centers on her motive. Was she delivering him into the lion’s den knowing he was marked for murder, or was she caging him in a velvet prison lest he kill her first?  It may have been a bit of both. On February 10, 1567, his lodgings at Kirk o' Field exploded, and he was found strangled in a nearby garden.

Wikimedea Commons, Drury Sketch of crime scene at Kirk o' Fields

April 24th, 1567:

By the Spring of 1566-67, the widow had chosen a new shoulder on which to lean. James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell,  was a border firebrand whose most redeeming characteristic was his unwavering loyalty to both Marie de Guise during her regency and later, to the Queen. What part he played in Darnley's death is a topic for a tome, and I shall not explore it here.  He did not appear suddenly on the scene as Darnley had done two years earlier. The Earls of Bothwell were traditional powers in Scottish politics. Both Hepburn and his father were opposed to an alliance with England, although they were avid Protestants. Lord James was among a handful of men Marie trusted to reside in Edinburgh Castle during her lying-in prior to the birth of the Prince. He had never catered to Darnley and had been a secondary target in the Rizzio murder. Although he was a notorious womanizer, there is no credible evidence linking him and the queen sexually until Darnley's father Lennox  fueled the rumors.

When, then, did Bothwell become the Queen’s lover and more specifically, what happened between them on the 24th of April, 1567? The issue is unresolved, but the clues are out there. Unfortunately, most of them address the Queen's behavior rather than exploring what was going on with Bothwell, although  he is the prime mover in the following events.  To that end, I offer a caveat: none of the actions of the parties can be judged by 21st Century standards. With that in mind, the following facts suggest a different answer than expected. Mayhap the rape was genuine.
James Hepburn was a sexually attractive man, as attested by the ease of his many conquests. From the sophisticated Norwegian heiress Anna Trondsen and the icy Lady Jean Gordon to the siren Janet Beaton, who raised his illegitimate son, the women who knew him took the risks that went along with a relationship.

The Wizard Lady of Buccleugh-Braxtome, Janet Beaton
Wikimeia Public Domain

Hepburn’s womanizing was well known.  Nevertheless, the new widow frequently conferred with Bothwell in the privacy of her chambers during her period of mourning after Darnley’s death.

The privy council and other leading Scots knew something was brewing between the Queen and Bothwell by early April. Bothwell hosted a dinner party either at Ainslee’s tavern or in his apartments at court, and his guests put their names to a bond presenting him to Marie as their nominee to become her third husband.

In contrast, the Queen was sexually inexperienced. Her marriage to Francois was likely unconsummated.  His testicles had not descended at the time of his death at age seventeen. Although she was schooled in the practices of courtly love and had flirted with the  poet Chatelard and entertained her secretary Rizzio in her chambers at all hours, there is no evidence she regarded her behavior as compromising. Obviously her relation with Darnley was sexually charged but of relatively brief duration. Weeks after the wedding he was back to the brothels and the Queen was at the gaming tables playing cards with Rizzio.

On the day after Bothwell’s dinner party, Hepburn and Maitland rode to Seton House to present the bond proposing a Hepburn marriage to the Queen. She rejected it on the grounds it might cast doubts upon her honor. Maitland had been recruited to accompany Hepburn to give the proposal credibility.  The two men were not friends. Bothwell never considered Marie might turn him down, or he would not have let a man he despised witness his humiliation.

A final point worthy of consideration concerns the prevalent mores. In 16th Century Scotland, carrying a reluctant female off and raping her was not an uncommon means to force marriage on a reluctant bride, even among aristocrats. Others had contemplated it with the Queen including John Gordon, and possibly his father Huntly, as well as James Hamilton 2nd Earl of Arran.

To innocent observers, Marie and Bothwell were  conducting business as usual the day after she rejected his proposal.  Bothwell had pressing business on the Borders. Marie traveled to Stirling Castle where she intended to relieve the Earl of Mar of the custody of her son. She planned to transfer his guardianship to Bothwell when she returned to Edinburgh.
But that is not what happened.

On April 24th,  after having been refused the custody of her son by Mar, Marie headed back to Edinburgh with Maitland, Sir James Melville, two ladies and thirty retainers. Bothwell and an army of his Borderers waylaid the Queen's entourage at Foulmouth near a bridge over the Almond River. Marie ordered her escort to stand down. Bothwell and his men took control of the Queen, Maitland, and Melville and hauled them off to Dunbar. When they arrived, Bothwell allegedly raped the Queen and boasted to Maitland he had solved her honor problem.

When Melville was released to deliver a message from the Queen to her people excusing Hepburn’s conduct, the citizens of Edinburgh had armed themselves with broom handles, picks, and pitchforks.  When a contingent reached Dunbar, it was clear the Queen did not desire a rescue. A few days later she went to Hepburn’s family's estate at Hailes and  taught him the game of golf. When they returned to Edinburgh, the Queen was in Bothwell’s physical control and clearly in his thrall. The Queen of Scots had lost her credibility with her people.

In May, Marie Stuart married Bothwell in a Protestant ceremony that had her in tears. The ceremony was followed by a wedding breakfast to which the public was invited, but few came. On the 15th of June, the pregnant Queen of Scots surrendered to the Protestant lairds at Carberry Hill on the condition Bothwell would go free. Within days, she was imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle in the custody of her brother Moray’s mother.  On July 24th, 1567, she was forced to abdicate in favor of her son James whom she never saw again.

The battlefield at Carberry-Pd Wikimedia Commons

There are three versions of what occurred at Dunbar. One presumes Hepburn raped the Queen. Another suspects she surrendered her virtue willingly. A third claims the kidnapping was a well-planned farce. The  choice is ours to make.


Linda Root is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots and The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots in the Queen of Scots Suite ( and The Legacy of the Queen of Scots series including The Midwife’s Secret: The Mystery of the Hidden Princess; The Other Daughter: Midwife’s Secret II; 1603: The Queen’s Revenge, and In the Shadow of the Gallows(coming soon).(
As J.D. Root, she has also published the first in her Daemons Ghosts & Guardian series, The Green Woman: A Scottish Fantasy. She lives in Yucca Valley, California with husband Chris, two Alaskan Malamutes, 20 hens and a chicken named Henry 8.

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