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Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley

Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley

4.5 8
by Alison Weir

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Handsome, accomplished, and charming, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, staked his claim to the English throne by marrying Mary Stuart, who herself claimed to be the Queen of England. It was not long before Mary discovered that her new husband was interested only in securing sovereign power for himself. Then, on February 10, 1567, an explosion at his lodgings left Darnley


Handsome, accomplished, and charming, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, staked his claim to the English throne by marrying Mary Stuart, who herself claimed to be the Queen of England. It was not long before Mary discovered that her new husband was interested only in securing sovereign power for himself. Then, on February 10, 1567, an explosion at his lodgings left Darnley dead; the intrigue thickened after it was discovered that he had apparently been suffocated before the blast. After an exhaustive reevaluation of the source material, Alison Weir has come up with a solution to this enduring mystery. Employing her gift for vivid characterization and gripping storytelling, Weir has written one of her most engaging excursions yet into Britain's bloodstained, power-obsessed past.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), has for centuries fascinated historians and the general public, her life the stuff of Hollywood myth, involving murder, rape, adultery, abdication, imprisonment and execution. In bestselling historian Weir's (Henry VIII, etc.) able hands, we see the young Catholic queen ruling over Protestant Scotland and a group of unruly nobles. Mary's second husband, Lord Darnley, participated in the 1566 murder of Mary's favorite adviser, David Rizzio, after which Mary and Lord Darnley became estranged. Darnley himself was murdered the next year, and some historians have claimed that Mary plotted his death so she could marry her lover, Bothwell. But Weir argues convincingly that the evidence against Mary is fraudulent, part of a coverup initiated by rebellious lords. Weir tells how and why Darnley was killed, and, shockingly, reveals that Bothwell, whom Mary did marry, was one of the murderers. Mary's lords took up arms against her, and she was forced to abdicate, fleeing to England, where she expected her cousin Queen Elizabeth to help her regain her throne. Instead, Mary was held captive for 16 years and finally beheaded for plotting Elizabeth's assassination. Mary could not hope for a better advocate than Weir, who exhaustively evaluates the evidence against her and finds it lacking. Mary's ultimate sin, according to Weir, was not murder but consistently "poor judgment," especially in choosing men. This is entertaining popular history that will satisfy fans of Weir's previous bestsellers. 16 pages of color illus. (Apr.) Forecast: Antonia Fraser's bio of Mary, Queen of Scots, was reissued in paperback in 2001 and still sells. But major review attention, Weir's proposed resolution of a longstanding mystery and a 9-copy floor display with special riser should help this achieve satisfying sales. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Weir (Eleanor of Aquitaine) sets out to prove that contrary to supposition Mary, Queen of Scots, was innocent of the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley. As a Catholic, Mary was already unpopular with her mainly Protestant countrymen. After her strategic yet imprudent marriage to Lord Darnley, she learned that his intention was to assume control of the throne; subsequently, an explosion at his lodgings left him dead. Admitting that the circumstantial evidence against Mary is strong, Weir reexamines incriminating items such as Mary's "casket letters," which she contends were doctored by her enemies. She further argues that Mary's lords bitterly resented Darnley and had already proven themselves capable of murder after killing her valued counselor, Rizzio. Weir skillfully analyzes the politics and religious tensions of the time. But while she adeptly makes her case, her detailed and sometimes dense book will intrigue mainly monarchy buffs. Recommended for large public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/02.]-Isabel Coates, CCRA-Toronto West Tax Office, Mississauga, Ont. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Entertaining royal historian Weir (Henry VIII: The King and His Court, 2002, etc.) falters with a dull attempt to discover who ordered the death of Mary Stuart’s husband in 1567. At the time, it was widely assumed that Mary was complicit in the killing, which rid her of a detested, politically maladroit spouse and cleared the way for marriage to her lover, the Earl of Bothwell. Not so, declares Weir, naming as the prime instigators Mary’s Secretary of State, William Maitland, and her half-brother the Earl of Moray, bastard son of Scotland’s James V. Aided by much of Scotland’s Protestant nobility, they lured Bothwell into the murder plot, she asserts, planning to make him the scapegoat, to discredit Mary and force her to abdicate so they could become the powers behind the throne of her infant son James. This is plausible, but Weir’s primary goal is to clear Mary of any involvement. Examining the documentary evidence in stupefying detail, she dismisses the notorious Casket Letters, which seemed to prove Mary’s guilt, as combinations of forgery and alterations to existing letters; this argument is considerably more convincing than her denial that Mary and Bothwell were lovers before Darnley’s death. Weir’s own narrative shows Mary well aware that some threat to her husband was afoot and doing little to forestall it. We observe throughout that the Queen of Scots was a lousy politician with remarkably poor judgment, in striking contrast to England’s Queen Elizabeth, who played the messy Scottish scandal to her advantage. (Mary wound up imprisoned in England and was executed in 1587 for conspiring against Elizabeth.) Weir assesses the possibility that Elizabeth’s secretary of state had a handin Darnley’s murder, or at least knew who the perpetrators were, at a level of detail that would have made the whole study more readable had it been applied to the Scottish portions as well. She entirely fails to make the case that Mary was "one of the most wronged women in history." Strictly for those who like their murder mysteries ancient and peopled by aristocrats.
From the Publisher
“Conspiracy, treason, perjury, and forgery, along with . . . political assassination, and several deadly sins . . . While Ms. Weir does not stint on the sensational details, she is above all a historian and dogged researcher. She sifts through sources, which were often compromised, and thinks like a forensics expert.”
—The Wall Street Journal

“One of the most intriguing murder mysteries in European history . . . No stone is left unturned in Weir’s investigation, and . . . her book is as dramatic as witnessing firsthand the most riveting court case.”
—Booklist (boxed and starred review)

“The finest historian of English monarchical succession writing now is Alison Weir. . . . Her assiduousness and informed judgment are precisely what make her a writer to trust.”
—The Boston Globe

“Alison Weir has perfected the art of bringing history to life.”
—Chicago Tribune

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Random House Publishing Group
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6.43(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.66(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Three Crowns
TO EVERYONE'S DISMAY, THE BABY born to James V of Scotland and his second wife, Marie de Guise, on 8 December 1542 at Linlithgow Palace was a girl. After the deaths of two infant sons in 1541, her father had hoped for another boy to succeed him, because Scotland needed a man's strong hand to rule it. For James V was already mortally ill, and following a crushing defeat by the English at the Battle of Solway Moss on 24 November, he had taken to his bed at Falkland Palace. When news was brought to him of the birth of his daughter, he turned his face to the wall and, recalling that the crown had descended to the Stewart dynasty through Marjorie, daughter of King Robert the Bruce, muttered, "It came from a woman, and it will end in a woman." Soon afterwards he died, "wherefore there was great mourning in Scotland."
At only six days old, the infant Mary became Queen of Scots. Scotland was used to royal minorities, for every one of its monarchs since 1406 had succeeded as a child. As a result, the nobility had grown in strength and autonomy, having become used to long periods without royal interference during which they enjoyed the unfettered exercise of power. These minorities had also bred rivalries and factions, as different families struggled for power.
In March 1543, Parliament appointed Mary's cousin and next heir, James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, as Second Person and Governor of the Realm until the Queen attained her majority at the age of twelve. Arran, then twenty-seven, was a Protestant, and head of the powerful Hamilton clan, whose lands straddled Clydesdale and central Scotland. An English envoy described the Hamiltons as a goodlooking race, but vicious, faithless and inept. Arran's claim to the succession was not undisputed, because there was uncertainty as to whether his parents had been lawfully married; hence his overriding purpose in life was to establish the legality of his claim. Self-interest and the advancement of his House dictated his political policies, but his indolence, instability and lack of decisiveness lost him the support of many nobles.
The King of England at that time was Henry VIII, and he was resolved to marry his five-year-old son and heir, Prince Edward, to the little Queen of Scots, and thereby unite England and Scotland under Tudor rule. Arran, eager to secure the support of the English King for his claims, was willing to co-operate, and on 1 July 1543 a treaty was concluded at Greenwich, which provided for the marriage of Mary and Edward. Mary was to go to England when she was ten, and be married the following year.
But the Catholic party in Scotland, led by Marie de Guise and Cardinal David Beaton, were opposed to the treaty. They removed Mary from Arran's care, took her to Stirling Castle, and had her crowned there, in the Chapel Royal, on 9 September. In December, a Catholic-dominated Parliament repudiated Mary's betrothal and renewed the ancient alliance between Scotland and France, England's enemy.
Henry VIII was incensed, and in 1544 retaliated by sending an army to Scotland. The savage campaign that followed became known as the "rough wooing": in the course of it, scores of towns, villages and abbeys in the south-east were mercilessly sacked and burned, leaving vast swathes of devastation. Even the city of Edinburgh did not escape Henry's fury: he had ordered his commanders to sack, "burn and subvert it, and put every man, woman and child to the sword." Far from bringing the Scots to heel, the barbarity of the English only strengthened them in their resolve.
In 1543, there had returned to Scotland a man who was to play a prominent role in the drama of Mary, Queen of Scots. Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox, whose power base was centred upon Glasgow, had been born in 1516 at Dumbarton, and had succeeded to his earldom at the age of ten, after the murder of his father by Arran's bastard half-brother. This was cause enough for bad blood between Lennox and Arran, but they were also bitter rivals for the succession. Like Arran, Lennox was descended from Mary, daughter of James II, but only in the female line; unlike Arran, he had been born in undisputed wedlock. With such contentious issues dividing them, there could be no friendship between the Lennox Stuarts and the Hamiltons.
In 1531, Lennox had gone to France, where he joined the royal guard, became a naturalised subject of the French King and changed the spelling of his surname from Stewart to Stuart. Twelve years later, to Arran's consternation, he returned to Scotland and began paying court to Marie de Guise. Like most women, she found him handsome, charming and gallant: he was "a strong man of personage, well-proportioned with lusty and manly visage, and carried himself erect and stately, wherefore he was very pleasant in the sight of gentlewomen." A well-educated man, he spoke fluent French and was skilled at playing the lute. The Queen Dowager and Cardinal Beaton believed Lennox to be an ardent Francophile who would support them against the ambitions of Arran. But Lennox was unreliable, treacherous and driven by self-interest, and when Marie refused to marry him, he defected to the English in search of better prospects. In return for his support against the Scots, Henry VIII bestowed on him the hand of his niece, Lady Margaret Douglas.
The wedding took place in July 1544 at St. James's Palace in London. Born in 1515, Margaret was the daughter of Henry VIII's elder sister, Margaret Tudor (widow of James IV and grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots) by her second husband, Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus; Margaret was therefore near in blood to the English throne, and a marriage between her and Lennox could only reinforce the dynastic claims of both parties. Yet although their union was politically advantageous, it was also a love match on both sides: he was said to be "far in love," and in his letters, he addressed his wife as "mine own sweet Madge" or "my Meg," told her she was his "chiefest comfort," and signed himself "Your own Matthieu and most loving husband." Margaret was a devout Catholic, so Lennox, who had been reared in the old faith but recently converted to Protestantism, now tempered his spiritual views to please his wife and King Henry; religion was ever a matter of expediency with him.
Margaret Douglas was a formidable woman. Beautiful, intelligent, domineering and relentlessly ambitious, she had an alarming talent for dangerous intrigue. She had spent much of her youth at the English court and become a great favourite of her uncle the King, but incurred his anger when she twice, in 1536 and 1541, became involved with unsuitable men; on each occasion Henry sent her for a spell in the Tower, a place with which she was to be become all too familiar during the course of her turbulent life. There can be no doubt that Margaret Douglas became the driving force in the Lennoxes' marriage.
In 1545, Lennox led an English army into Scotland in the hope of taking Dumbarton Castle for Henry VIII. It was during this campaign that he ordered the slaughter of eleven child hostages whose Scottish fathers had been forced into his ranks and then defected; this earned him undying notoriety and a perpetually haunted conscience. His offensive ended in failure, and on 1 October the Scottish Parliament attainted him for treason and confiscated all his estates and titles, some of which were given to Arran. Lennox was now the most hated man in Scotland. For the next nineteen years, he remained an exile in England, living on the bounty of Henry VIII. The Lennoxes' chief seat was Temple Newsham in Yorkshire, and they owned another house nearby at Settrington. When in London, they resided at the former royal manor of Hackney. Lennox never abandoned hope of regaining his lost lands and asserting his dynastic claims, his ambitions having been sharpened by his grand marriage and the birth of eight children, who inherited the royal blood of both Scotland and England.
During the 1540s, the impact of the Protestant Reformation began to be felt in Scotland. For decades now, the Catholic Church in Scotland had been morally lax and corrupt, and there had been calls for its reform. Now, religious affiliations became identified with political issues, and two noble factions emerged: the Catholics, who favoured the "auld alliance" with France, and a growing number of Protestants, who wanted closer relations with England, whose King, although a Catholic, had severed links with the Church of Rome and declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England.
Trouble began when a Protestant heretic, George Wishart, was burned on the orders of Cardinal Beaton in 1546. In reprisal, Wishart's followers brutally murdered Cardinal Beaton, then held out for a year in St. Andrews Castle before the arrival of a French fleet forced them to surrender. Among those taken prisoner was the reformist preacher John Knox, who would one day become one of the prime movers in the Protestant Reformation. He was sentenced to two years as a galley slave.
In 1547, when Henry VIII died and was succeeded by the nine-year-old Edward VI, England became a Protestant state. The Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, was determined to carry on the war against Scotland, and ordered another invasion. On 10 September 1547, the Scots under Arran suffered a devastating defeat at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, which enabled the English to occupy south-eastern Scotland. On the day after the battle, the Scots hastily moved their little Queen to Inchmahome Priory for safety, and appealed to the French for aid.
By January 1548, Arran, who had hoped to marry his own son to Mary, was negotiating with King Henry II of France for her marriage to Henry's eldest son, the Dauphin Francis. Mary's maternal uncles, Francis, Duke of Guise and Charles de Guise, Cardinal of Lorraine, were rising men at the French court, and they, foreseeing great advantages to themselves through the marriage of their niece to the heir to the French throne, added their persuasions to Arran's. Henry was more than amenable, as he realised that the match was of far greater benefit to France than Scotland, for it would ultimately bring Scotland under French control, since a wife, even a crowned queen, was always subject to her husband. Given the situation they were in, the Scots had little choice in the matter: whether they married Mary to a French or an English prince, they would be under threat of interference by a foreign power. In the circumstances, it seemed safer to ally with an old friendly ally than a hostile enemy, and in February 1548, the Scottish Parliament gave its consent to the marriage. In return, the French promised to send troops to help expel the English garrisons from Scotland. At the end of the month, Mary was moved to the greater safety of Dumbarton Castle.
In June, having cut a swathe through the occupying forces, a French army recaptured the strategic town of Haddington in East Lothian, and there, on 7 July, a treaty was signed formally providing for the marriage of Mary to the Dauphin, with provisions for safeguarding Scotland's future political autonomy.
Arran was now a spent force, although he was to remain Regent for six more years. Real power in Scotland now lay in the hands of the Queen Dowager, who was determined to protect her daughter's interests and preserve her Catholic kingdom intact. In order to ensure Arran's support, she persuaded the French King to grant him the dukedom of Chatelherault, and promoted his bastard half-brother, John Hamilton, Abbot of Paisley to the office of Archbishop of St. Andrews and Primate of Scotland.
The new Archbishop, who was one day to be accused of involvement in Darnley's murder, was the most able and opportunist politician of all the Hamiltons, and a liberal conservative in religion. Wily and self-seeking, like all his family, "he spent the least part of his time in spiritual contemplations" and led "a life somewhat dissolute" with a "harlot" called Grizzel Sempill, who bore him at least three children, and was the widow of the Provost of Edinburgh. For his sins, Hamilton contracted syphilis, and in 1566 underwent an expensive course of mercury treatment. Marie de Guise ignored the scandals of the Archbishop's private life; she hoped he would be the saviour of the Catholic Church in Scotland.
On 7 August 1548, the five-year-old Mary said goodbye to her mother and her kingdom, and sailed to France. Amongst her attendants were four well-born girls of similar age to her own, all called Mary, who were to be her special companions, and to whom she became especially close: vivacious Mary Livingston, beautiful Mary Beaton, devout Mary Seton and enchanting Mary Fleming.
When Henry II first saw Mary, he declared she was "the most perfect child that I have ever seen." From the first, he treated her as his own daughter, and placed her in the household of his children by his Florentine Queen, Catherine de' Medici. Mary was to grow up in luxurious royal chateaux such as Blois, Chambord and Fontainebleau, surrounded by the art and culture of the Renaissance and the sophisticated, glittering life of the court, where she was petted and pampered by all who came into contact with her, and particularly by her magnificent Guise uncles, who hoped for great things from her in the future, and who guided her in all matters.
Yet the French court was also a moral cesspit, and Mary was exposed from an early age to its promiscuity and corruption. Her own governess bore the King a bastard child. "Here, it is not the men who solicit the women, but the women the men," observed the Queen of Navarre disapprovingly. The court was ruled by the King's mistress, the elegant and cultivated Diane de Poitiers, who was nineteen years his senior yet still beautiful. An affronted Queen Catherine was relegated to the sidelines while Diane was given responsibility for arranging the education of the royal children. From Diane, Mary learned to regard Catherine with contempt, and consequently the Queen "had a great misliking" of her daughter-in-law.
The moral laxity of the court is reflected in two paintings that apparently show a teenaged Mary, the future Queen of France, in the nude. Two figures in the erotic allegorical work The Bath of Diana, attributed to Francis Clouet (now in the Musee des Beaux Arts, Rouen) are thought to be portraits of Mary, and she is almost certainly the bare-breasted sitter wearing a ruff and headdress in the portrait of A Lady at her Toilet by an artist of the School of Fontainebleau (now in the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts). It is not known whether Mary herself posed naked for these pictures, or whether her portrait was superimposed on the body of a nude model, but the portrayal of her in such poses belies the later image she fostered of a prim and virtuous princess.

Copyright© 2003 by Alison Weir

Meet the Author

Alison Weir is the author of four other books on English history, including Eleanor of Aquitaine. She lives outside London with her husband and two children.

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Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Weir does it again! After having read her biography of Elizabeth I (another great read) and having an interest in Mary Stuart anyway, I enthusiastically delved into this work. Weir painstakingly explores primary sources and incorporates ample background material. She doesn't try to indoctrinate her readers with a certain view, although she makes it clear how she feels. On the contrary, she presents a fair picture of the nobles involved and the political and relgious climates. She isn't in any way unfair to Mary Stuart herself, nor is she unfair to the 'bad guys', either. Rather, she carefully discerns from primary sources the characters and motives of the various players in the story. She takes you through everything (and I do mean everything) as if settting up a geometric proof. Nothing is assumed, no step is skipped. A must for anyone with an interest in Mary, Elizabeth, or the study of history in general.
AndromedaIL More than 1 year ago
I have become a fan of Alison Weir's historical writings and have enjoyed reading many of her books. I studied King James I of England, VI of Scotland quite extensively for my Master's thesis and was intrigued by his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots. This book is an excellent in depth look at Mary's life and it's an enjoyable read as well.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I had expected some wonderful revelation in reference to Mary and Darnley's marriage and his death. There wasn't one! To me, the book was a re-hash of everything I've ever read, both biographical and fictional. I had difficulty with Ms. Weir's interpretations of The Casket Letters. She would translate the supposed meaning of the letter in a format that made me wonder where she ever came up with her conclusions. As for the conclusions, I couldn't see where she could possibly have come up with her deductions. In all fairness, it may be the way in which The Casket Letters were written, in the Old English style. What was appreciated, though, was that I finally had a sense of who all the main characters were and how they were placed in the story...from Moray, Maitland, and Huntly, to Lennox, Morton, and Bothwell. I do agree with Ms. Weir's ultimate hypothesis, though....that Mary was innocent of the crime, albeit she probably knew something was afoot due to a conference with some leading nobles, and that The Casket Letters were most probably either all forgeries or actual letters tampered with. Thing is....other books which I have read have said this already! As previously mentioned...there was nothing new in this book.