Mary Queen of Scots - Jacob Abbott


The Earl of Bothwell was a man of great energy of character, fearless and decided in all that he undertook, and sometimes perfectly reckless and uncontrollable. He was in Scotland at the time of Mary's return from France, but he was so turbulent and unmanageable that he was at one time sent into banishment. He was, however, afterward recalled, and again intrusted with power. He entered ardently into Mary's service in her contest with the murderers of Rizzio. He assisted her in raising an army after her flight, and in conquering Morton, Ruthven, and the rest, and driving them out of the country. Mary soon began to look upon him as, notwithstanding his roughness, her best and most efficient friend. As a reward for these services, she granted him a castle, situated in a romantic position on the eastern coast of Scotland. It was called the Castle of Dunbar. It was on a stormy promontory, overlooking the German Ocean: a very appropriate retreat and fastness for such a man of iron as he.

In those days, the border country between England and Scotland was the resort of robbers, freebooters, and outlaws from both lands. If pursued by one government, they could retreat across the line and be safe. Incursions, too, were continually made across this frontier by the people of either side, to plunder or to destroy whatever property was within reach. Thus the country became a region of violence and bloodshed which all men of peace and quietness were glad to shun. They left it to the possession of men who could find pleasure in such scenes of violence and blood. When Queen Mary had got quietly settled in her government, after the overthrow of the murderers of Rizzio, as she thus no longer needed Bothwell's immediate aid, she sent him to this border country to see if he could enforce some sort of order among its lawless population.

The birth of Mary's son was an event of the greatest importance, not only to her personally, but in respect to the political prospects of the two great kingdoms, for in this infant were combined the claims of succession to both the Scotch and English crowns. The whole world knew that if Elizabeth should die without leaving a direct heir, this child would become the monarch both of England and Scotland, and, as such, one of the greatest personages in Europe. His birth, therefore, was a great event, and it was celebrated in Scotland with universal rejoicings. The tidings of it spread, as news of great public interest, all over Europe. Even Elizabeth pretended to be pleased, and sent messages of congratulation to Mary. But every one thought that they could see in her air and manner, when she received the intelligence, obvious traces of mortification and chagrin.

Mary's heart was filled, at first, with maternal pride and joy; but her happiness was soon sadly alloyed by Darnley's continued unkindness. She traveled about during the autumn, from castle to castle, anxious and ill at ease. Sometimes Darnley followed her, and sometimes he amused himself with hunting, and with various vicious indulgences, at different towns and castles at a distance from her. He wanted her to dismiss her ministry and put him into power, ands he took every possible means to importune or tease her into compliance with this plan. At one time he said he had resolved to leave Scotland, and go and reside in France; and he pretended to make his preparations, and to be about to take his leave. He seems to have thought that Mary, though he knew that she no longer loved him, would be distressed at the idea of being abandoned by one who was, after all, her husband. Mary was, in fact, distressed at this proposal, and urged him not to go. He seemed determined, and took his leave. Instead of going to France, however, he only went to Stirling Castle.

Darnley, finding that he could not accomplish his aims by such methods as these, wrote, it is said, to the Catholic governments of Europe, proposing that, if they would co-operate in putting him into power in Scotland, he would adopt efficient measures for changing the religion of the country from the Protestant to the Catholic faith. He made, too, every effort to organize a party in his favor in Scotland, and tried to defeat and counteract the influence of Mary's government by every means in his power. These things, and other trials and difficulties connected with them, weighed very heavily upon Mary's mind. She sunk gradually into a state of great dejection and despondency. She spent many hours in sighing and in tears, and often wished that she was in her grave.

So deeply, in fact, was Mary plunged into distress and trouble by the state of things existing between herself and Darnley, that some of her officers of government began to conceive of a plan of having her divorced from him. After looking at this subject in all its bearings, and consulting about it with each other, they ventured at last to propose it to Mary. She would not listen to any such plan. She did not think a divorce could be legally accomplished. And then if it were to be done, it would, she feared, in some way or other, affect the position and rights of the darling son who was now to her more than all the world besides. She would rather endure to the end of her days the tyranny and torment she experienced from her brutal husband, than hazard in the least degree the future greatness and glory of the infant who was lying in his cradle before her, equally unconscious of the grandeur which awaited him in future years, and of the strength of the maternal love which was smiling upon him from amid such sorrow and tears, and extending over him such gentle, but determined and effectual protection.

The sad and sorrowful feelings which Mary endured were interrupted for a little time by the splendid pageant of the baptism of the child. Embassadors came from all the important courts of the Continent to do honor to the occasion. Elizabeth sent the Earl of Bedford as her ambassador, with a present of a baptismal font of gold, which had cost a sum equal to five thousand dollars. The baptism took place at Stirling, in December, with every possible accompaniment of pomp and parade, and was followed by many days of festivities and rejoicing. The whole country were interested in the event except Darnley, who declared sullenly, while the preparations were making, that he should not remain to witness the ceremony, but should go off a day or two before the appointed time.

The ceremony was performed in the chapel. The child was baptized under the names of "Charles James, James Charles, Prince and Steward of Scotland, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Lord of the Isles, and Baron of Renfrew." His subsequent designation in history was James Sixth of Scotland and First of England. A great many appointments of attendants and officers, to be attached to the service of the young prince, were made immediately, most of them, of course, mere matters of parade. Among the rest, five ladies of distinction were constituted "rockers of his cradle." The form of the young prince's cradle has come down to us in an ancient drawing.

[Illustration] from Mary Queen of Scots by Jacob Abbott

In due time after the coronation, the various ambassadors and delegates returned to their respective courts, carrying back glowing accounts of the ceremonies and festivities attendant upon the christening, and of the grace, and beauty, and loveliness of the queen.

In the mean time, Bothwell and Murray were competitors for the confidence and regard of the queen, and it began to seem probable that Bothwell, would win the day. Mary, in one of her excursions, was traveling in the southern part of the country. When she heard that he had been wounded in an encounter with a party of desperadoes near the border. Moved partly, perhaps, by compassion, and partly by gratitude for his services, Mary made an expedition across the country to pay him a visit. Some say that she was animated by a more powerful motive than either of these. In fact this, as well as almost all the other acts of Mary's life, are presented in very different lights by her friends and her enemies. The former say that this visit to her lieutenant in his confinement from a wound received in her service was perfectly proper, both in the design itself, and in all the circumstances of its execution. The latter represent it as an instance of highly indecorous eagerness on the part of a married lady to express to another man a sympathy and kind regard which she had ceased to feel for her husband.

Bothwell himself was married as well as Mary. He had been married but a few months to a beautiful lady a few years younger than the queen. The question, however, whether Mary did right or wrong in paying this visit to him, is not, after all, a very important one. There is no doubt that she and Bothwell loved each other before they ought to have done so, and it is of comparatively little consequence when the attachment began. The end of it is certain. Bothwell resolved to kill Darnley, to get divorced from his own wife, and to marry the queen. The world has never yet settled the question whether she was herself his accomplice or not in the measures he adopted for effecting these plans, or whether she only submitted to the result when Bothwell, by his own unaided efforts, reached it. Each reader must judge of this question for himself from the facts about to be narrated.

Bothwell first communicated with the nobles about the court, to get their consent and approbation to the destruction of the king. They all appeared to be very willing to have the thing done, but were a little cautious about involving themselves in the responsibility of doing it. Darnley was thoroughly hated, despised, and shunned by them all. Still they were afraid of the consequences of taking his life. One of them, Morton, asked Bothwell what the queen would think of the plan. Bothwell said that the queen approved of it. Morton replied, that if Bothwell would show him an expression of the queen's approval of the plot, in her own handwriting, he would join it, otherwise not. Bothwell failed to furnish this evidence, saying that the queen was really privy to, and in favor of the plan, but that it was not to be expected that she would commit herself to it in writing. Was this all true, or was the pretense only a desperate measure of Bothwell's to induce Morton to in him?

Most of the leading men about the court, however, either joined the plot, or so far gave it their countenance and encouragement as to induce Bothwell to proceed. There were many and strange rumors about Darnley. One was, that he was actually going to leave the country, and that a ship was ready for him in the Clyde. Another was, that he had a plan for seizing the young prince, dethroning Mary, and reigning himself in her stead, in the prince's name. Other strange and desperate schemes were attributed to him. In the midst of them, news came to Mary at Holyrood that he was taken suddenly and dangerously sick at Glasgow, where he was then residing, and she immediately went to see him. Was her motive a desire to make one more attempt to win his confidence and love, and to divert him from the desperate measures which she feared he was contemplating, or was she acting as an accomplice with Bothwell, to draw him into the snare in which he was afterward taken and destroyed?

The result of Mary's visit to her husband, after some time spent with him in Glasgow, was a proposal that he should return with her to Edinburgh, where she could watch over him during his convalescence with greater care. This plan was adopted. He was conveyed on a sort of litter, by very slow and easy stages, toward Edinburgh. He was on such terms with the nobles and lords in attendance upon Mary that he was not willing to go to Holyrood House. Besides, his disorder was contagious: it is supposed to have been the smallpox; and though he was nearly recovered, there was still some possibility that the royal babe might take the infection if the patient came within the same walls with him. So Mary sent forward to Edinburgh to have a house provided for him.



The situation of this house is seen near the city wall on the left, in teh accompanying view of Edinburgh. Holyrood House is the large square edifice in the fore-ground, and the castle crowns the hill in the distance. There is now, as there was in the days of Mary, a famous street extending from Holyrood House to the castle, called the Cannon Gate at the lower end, and the High Street above. This street, with the castle at one extremity and Holyrood House at the other, were the scenes of many of the most remarkable events described in this narrative.

The residence selected was a house of four rooms, close upon the city wall. The place was called the Kirk of Field, from a kirk, or church, which formerly stood near there, in the fields.

This house had two rooms upon the lower floor, with a passage-way between them. One of these rooms was a kitchen; the other was appropriated to Mary's use, whenever she was able to be at the place in attendance upon her husband. Over the kitchen was a room used as a wardrobe and for servants; and over Mary's room was the apartment for Darnley. There was an opening through the city wall in the rear of this dwelling, by which there was access to the kitchen. These premises were fitted up for Darnley in the most thorough manner. A bath was arranged for him in his apartment, and every thing was done which could conduce to his comfort, according to the ideas which then prevailed. Darnley was brought to Edinburgh, conveyed to this house, and quietly established there.

The following is a plan of the house in which Darnley was lodged:

[Illustration] from Mary Queen of Scots by Jacob Abbott


The accommodations in this house do not seem to have been very sumptuous, after all, for a royal guest; but royal dwellings in Scotland, in those days, were not what they are now in Westminster and at St. Cloud.

The day for the execution of the plan, which was, to blow up the house where the sick Darnley was lying with gunpowder, approached. Bothwell selected a number of desperate characters to aid him in the actual work to be done. One of these was a Frenchman, who had been for a long time in his service, and who went commonly by the name of French Paris. Bothwell contrived to get French Paris taken into Mary's service a few days before the murder of Darnley, and, through him, he got possession of some of the keys of the house which Darnley was occupying, and this had duplicates of them made, so that he had access to every part of the house. The gunpowder was brought from Bothwell's castle at Dunbar, and all was ready.

Mary spent much of her time at Darnley's house, and often slept in the room beneath his, which had been allotted to her as her apartment. One Sunday there was to be a wedding at Holyrood. The bride and bridegroom were favorite servants of Mary's, and she was intending to be present at the celebration of the nuptials. She was to leave Darnley's early in the evening for this purpose. Her enemies say that this was all a concerted arrangement between her and Bothwell to give him the opportunity to execute his plan. Her friends, on the other hand, insist that she knew nothing about it, and that Bothwell had to watch and wait for such an opportunity of blowing up the house without injuring Mary. Be this as it may, the Sunday of this wedding was fixed upon for the consummation of the deed.

The gunpowder had been secreted in Bothwell's rooms at the palace. On Sunday evening, as soon as it was dark, Bothwell got the men at work to transport the gunpowder. They brought it out in bags from the palace, and then employed a horse to transport it to the wall of some gardens which were in the rear of Darnley's house. They had to go twice with the horse in order to convey all the gunpowder that they had provided. While this was going on, Bothwell, who kept out of sight, was walking to and fro in an adjoining street, to receive intelligence, from time to time, of the progress of the affair, and to issue orders. The gunpowder was conveyed across the gardens to the rear of the house, taken in at a back door, and deposited in the room which belonged to Mary. Mary was all this time directly over head, in Darnley's chamber.

The plan of the conspirators was to put the bags of gunpowder into a cask which they had provided for the occasion, to keep the mass together, and increase the force of the explosion. The cask had been provided, and placed in the gardens behind the house; but, on attempting to take it into the house, they found it too big to pass through the back door. This caused considerable delay; and Bothwell, growing impatient, came, with his characteristic impetuosity, to ascertain the cause. By his presence and his energy, he soon remedied the difficulty in some way or other, and completed the arrangements. The gun-powder was all deposited; the men were dismissed, except two who were left to watch, and who were locked up with the gunpowder in Mary's room; and then, all things being ready for the explosion as soon as Mary should be gone, Bothwell walked up to Darnley's room above, and joined the party who were supping there. the cool effrontery of this proceeding has scarcely a parallel in the annals of crime.

At eleven o'clock Mary rose to go, saying she must return to the palace to take part, as she had promised to do, in the celebration of her servants' wedding. Mary took leave of her husband in a very affectionate manner, and went away in company with Bothwell and the other nobles. Her enemies maintain that she was privy to all the arrangements which had been made, and that she did not go into her own apartment below, knowing very well what was there. But even if we imagine that Mary was aware of the general plan of destroying her husband, and was secretly pleased with it, as almost any royal personage that ever lived, under such circumstances, would be, we need not admit that she was acquainted with the details of the mode by which the plan was to be put in execution. The most that we can suppose such a man as Bothwell would have communicated to her, would be some dark and obscure intimations of his design, made in order to satisfy himself that she would not really oppose it. To ask her, woman as she was, to take any part in such a deed, or to communicate to her beforehand any of the details of the arrangement, would have been an act of littleness and meanness which such magnanimous monsters as Bothwell are seldom guilty of.

Besides, Mary remarked that evening, in Darnley's room, in the course of conversation, that it was just about a year since Rizzio's death. On entering her palace, too, at Holyrood, that night, she met one of Bothwell's servants who had been carrying the bags, and, perceiving the smell of gunpowder, she asked him what it meant. Now Mary was not the brazen-faced sort of woman to speak of such things at such a time if she was really in the councils of the conspirators. The only question seems to be, therefore, not whether she was a party to the actual deed of murder, but only whether she was aware of, and consenting to, the general design.

In the mean time, Mary and Bothwell went together into the hall where the servants were rejoicing and making merry at the wedding. French Paris was there, but his heart began to fail him in respect to the deed in which he had been engaged. He stood apart, with a countenance expressive of anxiety and distress. Bothwell went to him, and told him that if he carried such a melancholy face as that any longer in the presence of the queen, he would make him suffer for it. The poor conscience-stricken man begged Bothwell to release him from any further part in the transaction. He was sick, really sick, he said, and he wanted to go home to his bed. Bothwell made no reply but to order him to follow him. Bothwell went to his own rooms, changed the silken court dress in which he had appeared in company for one suitable to the night and to the deed, directed his men to follow him, and passed from the palace toward the gates of the city. The gates were shut, for it was midnight. The sentinels challenged them. The party said they were friends to my Lord Bothwell, and were allowed to pass on.

They advanced to the convent gardens. Here they left a part of their number, while Bothwell and French Paris passed over the wall and crept softly into the house. They unlocked the room where they had left the two watchmen with the gunpowder, and found all safe. Men locked up under such circumstances, and on the eve of the perpetration of such a deed, were not likely to sleep at their posts. All things being now ready, they made a slow match of lint, long enough to burn for some little time, and inserting one end of it into the gunpowder, they lighted the other end, and crept stealthily out of the apartment. They passed over the wall into the convent gardens, where they rejoined their companions and awaited the result.

Men choose midnight often for the perpetration of crime, from the facilities afforded by its silence and solitude. This advantage is, however, sometimes well-nigh balanced by the stimulus which its mysterious solemnity brings to the stings of remorse and terror. Bothwell himself felt anxious and agitated. They waited and waited, but it seemed as if their dreadful suspense would never end. Bothwell became desperate. He wanted to get over the wall again and look in at the window, to see if the slow match had not gone out. The rest restrained him. At length the explosion came like a clap of thunder. The flash brightened for an instant over the whole sky, and the report roused the sleeping inhabitants of Edinburgh from their slumbers, throwing the whole city into sudden consternation.

The perpetrators of the deed, finding that their work was done, fled immediately. They tried various plans to avoid the sentinels at the gates of the city, as well as the persons who were beginning to come toward the scene of the explosion. When they reached the Palace of Holyrood, they were challenged by the sentinel on duty there. They said that they were friends of Earl Bothwell, bringing dispatches to him from the country. The sentinel asked them if they knew what was the cause of that loud explosion. They said they did not, and passed on.

Bothwell went to his room, called for a drink, undressed himself, and went to bed. Half an hour afterward, messengers came to awaken him, and inform him that the king's house had been blown up with gunpowder, and the king himself killed by the explosion. He rose with an appearance of great astonishment and indignation, and, after conferring with some of the other nobles, concluded to go and communicate the event to the queen. The queen was overwhelmed with astonishment and indignation too.

The destruction of Darnley in such a manner as this, of course produced a vast sensation all over Scotland. Every body was on the alert to discover the authors of the crime. Rewards were offered; proclamations were made. Rumors began to circulate that Bothwell was the criminal. He was accused by anonymous placards put up at night in Edinburgh. Lennox, Darnley's father, demanded his trial; and a trial was ordered. The circumstances of the trial were such, however, and Bothwell's power and desperate recklessness were so great, that Lennox, when the time came, did not appear. He said he had not force enough  at his command to come safely into court. There being no testimony offered, Bothwell was acquitted; and he immediately afterward issued his proclamation, offering to fight any man who should intimate, in any way, that he was concerned in the murder of the king. Thus Bothwell established his innocence; at least, no man dared to gainsay it.

Darnley was murdered in February. Bothwell was tried and acquitted in April. Immediately afterward, he took measures for privately making known to the leading nobles that it was his design to marry the queen, and for securing their concurrence in the plan. They concurred; or at least, perhaps for fear of displeasing such a desperado, said what he understood to mean that they concurred. The queen heard the reports of such a design, and said, as ladies often do in similar cases, that she did not know what people meant by such reports; there was no foundation for them whatever.

Toward the end of April, Mary was about returning from the castle of Stirling to Edinburgh with a small escort of troops and attendants. Melville was in her train. Bothwell set out at the head of a force of more than five hundred men to intercept her. Mary lodged one night, on her way, at Linlithgow, the palace where she was born, and the next morning was quietly pursuing her journey, when Bothwell came up at the head of his troops. Resistance was vain. Bothwell advanced to Mary's horse, and, taking the bridle, led her away. A few of her principal followers were taken prisoners too, and the rest were dismissed. Bothwell took his captive across the country by a rapid flight to his castle of Dunbar. The attendants who were taken with her were released, and she remained in the castle of Dunbar for ten days, entirely in Bothwell's power.

According to the account which Mary herself gives of what took place during this captivity, she at first reproached Bothwell bitterly for the ungrateful and cruel return he was making for all her kindness to him, by such a deed of violence and wrong, and begged and entreated him to let her go. Bothwell replied that he knew it was wrong for him to treat his sovereign so rudely, but that he was impelled to it by the circumstances of the case, and by love which he felt for her, which was too strong for him to control. He then entreated her to become his wife; he complained of the bitter hostility which he had always been subject to from his enemies, and that he could have no safeguard from this hostility in time to come, but in her favor; and he could not depend upon any assurance of her favor less than her making him her husband. He protested that, if she would do so, he would never ask to share her power, but would be content to be her faithful and devoted servant, as he had always been. It was love, not ambition, he said, that animated him, and he could not and would not be refused. Mary says that she was distressed and agitated beyond measure by the appeals and threats with which Bothwell accompanied his urgent entreaties. She tried every way to plan some mode of escape. Nobody came to her rescue. She was entirely alone, and in Bothwell's power. Bothwell assured her that the leading nobles of her court were in favor of the marriage, and showed her a written agreement signed by them to this effect. At length, wearied and exhausted, she was finally overcome by his urgency, and yielding partly to his persuasions, and partly, as she says, to force, gave herself up to his power.

Dunbar Castle


Mary remained at Dunbar about ten days, during which time Bothwell sued out and obtained a divorce from his wife. His wife, feeling, perhaps, resentment more than grief, sued, at the same time, for a divorce from him. Bothwell then sallied forth from his fastness at Dunbar, and, taking Mary with him, went to Edinburgh, and took up his abode in the castle there, as that fortress was then under his power. Mary soon after appeared in public and stated that she was now entirely free, and that, although Bothwell had done wrong in carrying her away by violence, still he had treated her since in so respectful a manner, that she had pardoned him, and had received him into favor again. A short time after this they were married. The ceremony was performed in a very private and unostentatious manner, and took place in May, about three months after the murder of Darnley.

By some persons Mary's account of the transactions at Dunbar is believed. Others think that the whole affair was all a preconcerted plan, and that the appearance of resistance on her part was only for show, to justify, in some degree, in the eyes of the world, so imprudent and inexcusable a marriage. A great many volumes have been written on the question without making any progress toward a settlement of it. It is one of those cases where, the evidence being complicated, conflicting, and incomplete, the mind is swayed by the feelings, and the readers of the story decide more or less favorably for the unhappy queen, according to the warmth of the interest awakened in their hearts by beauty and misfortune.