February 10, 2015

February 10, 1567: Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Found Murdered

Portrait of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, by Adrian Vanson
Lest you've been grieving too deeply over the unfortunate end of Mary, Queen of Scots (February 8, above), I'd like to remind you that her hands were not exactly free of blood. In particular, she may have been involved in the murder of her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.

Darnley was Mary's first cousin on the paternal side, being descended from Margaret Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII. He was also related on his father's side, and was, in fact, a sort of claimant to both the throne England and that of Scotland.

He had some interaction with Mary in the French court, but it wasn't until he joined her court at Fife that things really got going. Mary thought he was the "lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen." Mary gave him some titles and a small entourage, and pretty soon the wedding banns were announced.

Mary and Henry were both Catholics, and were married in a Catholic ceremony. But Henry's faith was of the wavering kind, and he left after the wedding, letting Mary go to the wedding mass alone. It wasn't exactly a good start for a marriage.

Pretty soon after the wedding, Darnley's true character started manifesting itself. He had planned on the Crown Matrimonial, a device that would make him co-ruler of Scotland and given him the right to succeed Mary, should anything happen to her before she provided an heir. Mary didn't think that was such a good idea.

But Darnley wouldn't let go of the idea, and pretty soon he got on everybody's nerves. Not only was he constantly whining about his royal status, but he had a streak of violence in him, that got worse when he drank -- which was often.

Despite their marital problems, Mary soon found herself pregnant with Darnley's child. Or was it? Mary had been pretty cozy with her private secretary, a man named David Rizzio, and there were whispers that he was the father.

One night, Mary was having a cozy supper with her secretary when a group of armed men burst in, tore Rizzio away from the Queen (he was trying to hide behind her skirts), and stabbed him 56 times. He was then stripped of his jewels and finery and thrown down the stairs. Two hours later he was in the ground.

Rumor had it that Darnley was behind the murder. Mary was 7 months pregnant at the time, and it is thought that he believed that the shock of her lover's violent death might have resulted in a miscarriage, and impaired Mary's health -- perhaps fatally. A long, slow death for the Queen would have played right into Darnley's plans.

Whatever Darnley's involvement in the murder, Mary seemed to bear him a grudge. She started looking into ways to disolve the marriage, and Darnley didn't spend a lot of time in court.
In February of 1567, Darnley was at his family home, recuperating from a bout of smallpox (or possibly syphilis) and Mary invited him to her estate at Kirk o' Field, with the intention of getting him back into the life of the court again.

On the morning of February 10, while Mary was away at a wedding, there was a violent explosion at Kirk o' Field, caused by two barrels of gunpowder, which had been conveniently stored beneath Darnley's sleeping quarters. Darnley's body -- and that of his valet -- were found outside. Darnley was dressed in his nightshirt.

Neither body had been damaged by the explosion, but it appeared that both had been strangled. suspicion fell on the Earl of Bothwell and on Queen Mary herself, especially since they immediately fled to Dunbar Castle. Some say Bothwell kidnapped the Queen and raped her; some say that she went willingly. In any case, they married soon after. Mary miscarried Bothwell's twins.

Both Bothwell and Mary were charged with Darnley's murder, and were given separate trials in England. Bothwell was acquitted. Mary's trial was inconclusive, but she was still being held in prison when she was charged in the plot against Elizabeth. And that was the end of Mary.

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