Mary Queen of Scots - Jacob Abbott

The Fall of Bothwell

The course which Mary pursued after her liberation from Dunbar in yielding to Bothwell's wishes, pardoning his violence, receiving him again into favor, and becoming his wife, is one of the most extraordinary instances of the infatuation produced by love that has ever occurred. If the story had been fiction instead of truth, it would have been pronounced extravagant and impossible. As it was, the whole country was astonished and confounded at such a rapid succession of desperate and unaccountable crimes. Mary herself seems to have been hurried through these terrible scenes in a sort of delirium of excitement, produced by the strange circumstances of the case, and the wild and uncontrollable agitations to which they gave rise.

Such was, however, at the time, and such continues to be still, the feeling of interest in Mary's character and misfortunes, that but few open and direct censures of her conduct were then, or have been since, expressed. People execrated Bothwell, but they were silent with respect to Mary. It was soon plain, however, that she had greatly sunk in their regard, and that the more they reflected upon the circumstances of the case, the deeper she was sinking. When the excitement, too, began to pass away from her own mind, it left behind it a gnawing inquietude and sense of guilt, which grew gradually more and more intense, until, at length, she sunk under the stings of remorse and despair.

Her sufferings were increased by the evidences which were continually coming to her mind of the strong degree of disapprobation with which her conduct began soon every where to be regarded. Wherever Scotchmen traveled, they found themselves reproached with the deeds of violence and crime of which their country had been the scene. Mary's relatives and friends in France wrote to her, expressing their surprise and grief at such proceedings. The King of France had sent, a short time before, a special embassador for the purpose of doing something, if possible, to discover and punish the murderers of Darnley. His name was Le Croc. He was an aged and venerable man of great prudence and discretion, well qualified to discover and pursue the way of escape from the difficulties in which Mary had involved herself, if any such way could be found. He arrived before the day of Mary's marriage, but he refused to take any part, or even to be present, at the ceremony.

In the mean time, Bothwell continued in Edinburgh Castle for a while, under the protection of a strong guard. People considered this guard as intended to prevent Mary's escape, and many thought that she was detained, after all, against her will, and that her admissions that she was free were only made at the instigation of Bothwell, and from fear of his terrible power. The other nobles and the people of Scotland began to grow more and more uneasy. The fear of Bothwell began to be changed into hatred, and the more powerful nobles commenced forming plans for combining together, and rescuing, as they said, Mary out of his power.

Bothwell made no attempts to conciliate them. He assumed an air and tone of defiance. He increased his forces. He conceived the plan of going to Stirling Castle to seize the young prince, who was residing there, under the charge of persons to whom his education had been intrusted. He said to his followers that James should never do any thing to avenge his father's death, if he could once get him into his hands. The other nobles formed a league to counteract these designs. They began to assemble their forces, and every thing threatened an outbreak of civil war.

The marriage took place about the middle of May, and within a fortnight from that time the lines began to be pretty definitely drawn between the two great parties, the queen and Bothwell on one side, and the insurgent nobles on the other, each party claiming to be friends of the queen. Whatever was done on Bothwell's side was, of course, in the queen's name, though it is very doubtful how far she was responsible for what was done, or how far, on the other hand, she merely aided, under the influence of a species of compulsion, in carrying into execution Bothwell's measures. We must say, in narrating the history, that the queen did this and that, and must leave the reader to judge whether it was herself, or Bothwell acting through her, who was the real agent in the transactions described.

Stirling Castle, where the young prince was residing, is northwest of Edinburgh. The confederate lords were assembling in that vicinity. The border country between England and Scotland is of course south. In the midst of this border country is the ancient town of Melrose, where there was, in former days, a very rich and magnificent abbey, the ruins of which, to this day, form one of the most attractive objects of interest in the whole island of Great Britain. The region is now the abode of peace, and quietness, and plenty, though in Mary's day it was the scene of continual turmoil and war. It is now the favorite retreat of poets and philosophers, who seek their residences there on account of its stillness and peace. Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford is a few miles from Melrose.

About a fortnight after Mary's marriage, she issued a proclamation ordering the military chiefs in her kingdom to assemble at Melrose, with their followers, to accompany her on an expedition through the border country, to suppress some disorders there. The nobles considered this as only a scheme of Bothwell's to draw them away from the neighborhood of Stirling, so that he might go and get possession of the young prince. Rumors of this spread around the country, and the forces, instead of proceeding to Melrose, began to assemble in the neighborhood of Stirling, for the protection of the prince. The lords under whose banners they gathered assumed the name of the prince's  lords, and they called upon the people to take up arms in defense of young James's person and rights. The prince's lords soon began to concentrate their forces about Edinburgh, and Bothwell was alarmed for his safety. He had reason to fear that the governor of Edinburgh Castle was on their side, and that he might suddenly sally forth with a body of his forces down the High Street to Holyrood, and take him prisoner. He accordingly began to think it necessary to retreat.

Now Bothwell had, among his other possessions, a certain castle called Borthwick Castle, a few miles south of Edinburgh. It was situated on a little swell of land in a beautiful valley. It was surrounded with groves of trees, and from the windows and walls of the castle there was an extended view over the beautiful and fertile fields of the valley. This castle was extensive and strong. It consisted of one great square tower, surrounded and protected by walls and bastions, and was approached by a draw-bridge. In the sudden emergency in which Bothwell found himself placed, this fortress seemed to be the most convenient and the surest retreat. On the 6th of June, he accordingly left Edinburgh with as large a force as he had at command, and rode rapidly across the country with the queen, and established himself at Borthwick.

The prince's lords, taking fresh courage from the evidence of Bothwell's weakness and fear, immediately marched from Stirling, passed by Edinburgh, and almost immediately after Bothwell and the queen had got safely, as they imagined, established in the place of their retreat, they found their castle surrounded and hemmed in on all sides by hostile forces, which filled the whole valley. The castle was strong, but not strong enough to withstand a siege from such an army. Bothwell accordingly determined to retreat to his castle of Dunbar, which, being on a rocky promontory, jutting into the sea, and more remote from the heart of the country, was less accessible, and more safe than Borthwick. He contrived, though with great difficulty, to make his escape with the queen, through the ranks of his enemies. It is said that the queen was disguised in male attire. At any rate, they made their escape, they reached Dunbar, and Mary, or Bothwell in her name, immediately issued a proclamation, calling upon all her faithful subjects to assemble in arms, to deliver her from her dangers. At the same time, the prince's lords issued their  proclamation, calling upon all faithful subjects to assemble with them, to aid them in delivering the queen from the tyrant who held her captive.

The faithful subjects were at a loss which proclamation to obey. By far the greater number joined the insurgents. Some thousands, however, went to Dunbar. With this force the queen and Bothwell sallied forth, about the middle of June, to meet the prince's lords, or the insurgents, as they called them, to settle the question at issue by the kind of ballot with which such questions were generally settled in those days.

Mary had, a proclamation read at the head of her army, now that she supposed she was on the eve of battle, in which she explained the causes of the quarrel. The proclamation stated that the marriage was Mary's free act, and that, although it was in some respects an extraordinary one, still the circumstances were such that she could not do otherwise than she had done. For ten days she had been in Bothwell's power in his castle at Dunbar, and not an arm had been raised for her deliverance. Her subjects ought to have interposed then, if they were intending really to rescue her from Bothwell's power. They had done nothing then, but now, when she had been compelled, by the cruel circumstances of her condition, to marry Bothwell—when the act was done, and could no longer be recalled, they had taken up arms against her, and compelled her to take the field in her own defense.

The army of the prince's lords, with Mary's most, determined enemies at their head, advanced to meet the queen's forces. The queen finally took her post on an elevated piece of ground called Carberry Hill. Carberry is an old Scotch name for gooseberry. Carberry Hill is a few miles to the eastward of Edinburgh, near Dalkeith. Here the two armies were drawn up, opposite to each other, in hostile array.

Le Croc, the aged and venerable French ambassador, made a great effort to effect an accommodation and prevent a battle. He first went to the queen and obtained authority from her to offer terms of peace, and then went to the camp of the prince's lords and proposed that they should lay down their arms and submit to the queen's authority, and that she would forgive and forget what they had done. They replied that they had done no wrong, and asked for no pardon; that they were not in arms against the queen's authority, but in favor of it. They sought only to deliver her from the durance in which she was held, and to bring to punishment the murderers of her husband, whoever they might be. Le Croc went back and forth several times, vainly endeavoring to effect an accommodation, and finally, giving up in despair, he returned to Edinburgh, leaving the contending parties to settle the contest in their own way.

Bothwell now sent a herald to the camp of his enemies, challenging any one of them to meet him, and settle the question of his guilt or innocence by single combat. This proposition was not quite so absurd in those days as it would be now, for it was not an uncommon thing, in the Middle Ages, to try in this way questions of crime. Many negotiations ensued on Bothwell's proposal. One or two persons expressed themselves ready to accept the challenge. Bothwell objected to them on account of their rank being inferior to his, but said he would fight Morton, if Morton would accept his challenge. Morton had been his accomplice in the murder of Darnley, but had afterward joined the party of Bothwell's foes. It would have been a singular spectacle to see one of these confederates in the commission of a crime contending desperately in single combat to settle the question of the guilt or innocence of the other.

The combat, however, did not take place. After many negotiations on the subject, the plan was abandoned, each party charging the other with declining the contest. The queen and Bothwell, in the mean time, found such evidences of strength on the part of their enemies, and felt probably, in their own hearts, so much of that faintness and misgiving under which human energy almost always sinks when the tide begins to turn against it, after the commission of wrong, that they began to feel disheartened and discouraged. The queen sent to the opposite camp with a request that a certain personage, the Laird of Grange, in whom all parties had great confidence, should come to her, that she might make one more effort at reconciliation. Grange, after consulting with the prince's lords, made a proposition to Mary, which she finally concluded to accept. It was as follows:

They proposed that Mary should come over to their camp, not saying very distinctly whether she was to come as their captive or as their queen. The event showed that it was in the former capacity that they intended to receive her, though they were probably willing that she should understand that it was in the latter. At all events, the proposition itself did not make it very clear what her position would be; and the poor queen, distracted by the difficulties which surrounded her, and overwhelmed with agitation and fear, could not press very strongly for precise stipulations. In respect to Bothwell, they compromised the question by agreeing that, as he was under suspicion in respect to the murder of Darnley, he should not accompany the queen, but should be dismissed upon the field; that is, allowed to depart, without molestation, wherever he should choose to go. This plan was finally adopted. The queen bade Bothwell farewell, and he went away reluctantly and in great apparent displeasure. He had, in fact, with his characteristic ferocity, attempted to shoot Grange pending the negotiation. He mounted his horse, and, with a few attendants, rode off and sought a retreat once more upon his rock at Dunbar.

From all the evidence which has come down to us, it seems impossible to ascertain whether Mary desired to be released from Bothwell's power, and was glad when the release came, or whether she still loved him, and was planning a reunion, so soon as a reunion should be possible. One party at that time maintained, and a large class of writers and readers since have concurred in the opinion, that Mary was in love with Bothwell before Darnley's death; that she connived with him in the plan for Darnley's murder; that she was a consenting party to the abduction, and the spending of the ten days at Dunbar Castle, in his power; that the marriage was the end at which she herself, as well as Bothwell, had been all the time aiming; and then, when at last she surrendered herself to the prince's lords at Carberry Hill, it was only yielding unwillingly to the necessity of a temporary separation from her lawless husband, with a view of reinstating him in favor and power at the earliest opportunity.

Another party, both among her people at the time and among the writers and readers who have since paid attention to her story, think that she never loved Bothwell, and that, though she valued his services as a bold and energetic soldier, she had no collusion with him whatever in respect to Darnley's murder. They think that, though she must have felt in some sense relieved of a burden by Darnley's death, she did not in any degree aid in or justify the crime, and that she had no reason for supposing that Bothwell had any share in the commission of it. They think, also, that her consenting to marry Bothwell is to be accounted for by her natural desire to seek shelter, under some wing or other, from the terrible storms which were raging around her; and being deserted, as she thought, by every body else, and moved by his passionate love and devotion, she imprudently gave herself to him; that she lamented the act as soon as it was done, but that it was then too late to retrieve the step; and that, harassed and in despair, she knew not what to do, but that she hailed the rising of her nobles as affording the only promise of deliverance, and came forth from Dunbar to meet them with the secret purpose of delivering herself into their hands.

The question which of these two suppositions is the correct one has been discussed a great deal, without the possibility of arriving at any satisfactory conclusion. A parcel of letters were produced by Mary's enemies, some time after this, which they said were Mary's letters to Bothwell before her husband Darnley's death. They say they, took the letters from a man named Dalgleish, one of Bothwell's servants, who was carrying them from Holyrood to Dunbar Castle, just after Mary and Bothwell fled to Borthwick. They were contained in a small gilded box or coffer, with the letter F upon it, under a crown; which mark naturally suggests to our minds Mary's first husband, Francis, the king of France. Dalgleish said that Bothwell sent him for this box, charging him to convey it with all care to Dunbar Castle. The letters purport to be from Mary to Bothwell, and to have been written before Darnley's death. They evince a strong affection for the person to whom they are addressed, and seem conclusively to prove the unlawful attachment between the parties, provided that their genuineness is acknowledged. But this genuineness is denied. Mary's friends maintain that they are forgeries, prepared by her enemies to justify their own wrong. Many volumes have been written on the question of the genuineness of these love letters, as they are called, and there is perhaps now no probability that the question will ever be settled.

Whatever doubt there may be about these things, there is none about the events which followed. After Mary had surrendered herself to her nobles they took her to the camp, she herself riding on horseback, and Grange walking by her side. As she advanced to meet the nobles who had combined against her, she said to them that she had concluded to come over to them, not from fear, or from doubt what the issue would have been if she had fought the battle, but only because she wanted to spare the effusion of Christian blood, especially the blood of her own subjects. She had therefore decided to submit herself to their counsels, trusting that they would treat her as their rightful queen. The nobles made little reply to this address, but prepared to return to Edinburgh with their prize.

The people of Edinburgh, who had heard what turn the affair had taken, flocked out upon the roads to see the queen return. They lined the waysides to gaze upon the great cavalcade as it passed. The nobles who conducted Mary thus back toward her capital had a banner prepared, or allowed one to be prepared, on which was a painting representing the dead body of Darnley, and the young prince James kneeling near him, and calling on God to avenge his cause. Mary came on, in the procession after this symbol. They might perhaps say that it was not intended to wound her feelings, and was not of a nature to do it, unless she considered herself as taking sides with the murderers of her husband. She, however, knew very well that she was so regarded by great numbers of the populace assembled, and that the effect of such an effigy carried before her was to hold her up to public obloquy. The populace did in fact, taunt and reproach her as she proceeded, and she rode into Edinburgh, evincing all the way extreme mental suffering by her agitation and her tears.

She expected that they were at least to take her to Holyrood; but no, they turned at the gate to enter the city. Mary protested earnestly against this, and called, half frantic, on all who heard her to come to her rescue. But no one interfered. They took her to the provost's house, and lodged her there for the night, and the crowd which had assembled to observe these proceedings gradually dispersed. There seemed, however, in a day or two, to be some symptoms of a reaction in favor of the fallen queen; and, to guard against the possibility of a rescue, the lords took Mary to Holyrood again, and began immediately to make arrangements for some more safe place of confinement still.

In the mean time, Bothwell went from Carberry Hill to his castle at Dunbar, revolving moodily in his mind his altered fortunes. After some time he found himself not safe in this place of refuge, and so he retreated to the north, to some estates he had there, in the remote Highlands. A detachment of forces was sent in pursuit of him. Now there are, north of Scotland, some groups of dismal islands, the summits of submerged mountains and rocks, rising in dark and sublime, but gloomy grandeur, from the midst of cold. and tempestuous seas. Bothwell, finding himself pursued, undertook to escape by ship to these islands. His pursuers, headed by Grange, who had negotiated at Carberry for the surrender of the queen, embarked in other vessels, and pressed on after him. At one time they almost overtook him, and would have captured him and all his company were it not that they got entangled among some shoals. Grange's sailors said they must not proceed. Grange, eager to seize his prey, insisted on their making sail and pressing forward. The consequence was, they ran the vessels aground, and Bothwell escaped in a small boat. As it was, however, they seized some of his accomplices, and brought them back to Edinburgh. These men were afterward tried, and some of them were executed; and it was at their trial, and through the confessions they made, that the facts were brought to light which have been related in this narrative.

Bothwell, now a fugitive and an exile, but still retaining his desperate and lawless character, became a pirate, and attempted to live by robbing the commerce of the German Ocean. Rumor is the only historian, in ordinary cases, to record the events in the life of a pirate; and she, in this case, sent word, from time to time, to Scotland, of the robberies and murders that the desperado committed; of an expedition fitted out against him by the King of Denmark, of his being taken and carried into a Danish port; of his being held in imprisonment for a long period there, in a gloomy dungeon; of his restless spirit chafing itself in useless struggles against his fate, and sinking gradually, at last under the burdens of remorse for past crimes, and despair of any earthly deliverance; of his insanity, and finally, of his miserable end.