Regent Moray: Life Story

Chapter 16 : Accusations

Within days rumours were circulating that Bothwell had been behind the murder, aided by Morton and one of Bothwell’s confederates, Sir James Balfour. Very quickly it was suggested that Mary had been party to it. Abroad, it was rumoured that all of the nobles had been involved, including Moray, whom the Ambassador to Savoy named particularly as having quarrelled with Darnley.

Robert Stedall, in his The Survival of the Crown, goes further than most historians in planting the blame for Darnley’s death squarely at Moray’s door, aided by Cecil. Their motive, he alleges, was for Moray to gain control of Scotland as Regent for the baby James, so that any risk of Catholic resurgence under Mary either in Scotland, or, after her probable succession to the English throne, could be elimated. According to Stedall, Bothwell was to be hoodwinked into arranging Darnley’s murder, investigated in a perfunctory fashion and exonerated, and that Mary would then be persuaded to marry Bothwell, which would lead everyone to assume they had colluded and were both guilty of murder. This is, of course, exactly what happened, but given the complexities of the situation, the way events unfolded and the different courses that Mary might have taken throughout, it is rather hard to swallow that Moray could have planned it all in advance – although if anyone could, it was Cecil!

Moray, keen to disassociate himself from the whole affair, either because he was guilty, or because he genuinely thought his sister guilty, left Scotland almost immediately. He wrote on 13th March to Cecil, thanking the latter for ‘the many and large benefits’ he had received from him and requesting an immediate passport to travel through England. The fact that he left his daughter to the guardianship of Mary does not accord with him viewing her as a cold-blooded murderer.

Moray travelled to France where he remained for the next six months. There is no information as to exactly what he did or where he went. In May, Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, requested him to return, but either he never received the request, or decided to stay away. In July, by which time Mary had been, effectively, deposed and was being held in captivity at Lochleven, Moray’s half-brother’s castle, his messenger, carrying letters to Mary, went to Elizabeth, presumably under Moray’s instructions. Moray’s orders had been to give the letters directly into Mary’s hands and not into those of the lords holding her. The messenger was to tell the lords that he ‘misliked’ their holding the Queen in ‘durance’. He was also to assure Mary of his loyalty.

Elizabeth sent further messages to Mary – she was to understand that Moray had never accused her of Darnley’s murder, never planned to abduct Prince James, and that, far from being in league against her, Moray was her most faithful servant. All of these admonitions from Elizabeth suggest that Mary believed quite the opposite.

On 24th July 1567, having miscarried twins and being physically intimidated by Lord Lindsay, Mary was coerced into abdication. Five days later, her son, James, was crowned as James VI, and it was agreed that Moray should be Regent.

In early August, Moray returned and was received very enthusiastically by the people of Edinburgh. He visited Mary at Lochleven, and they quarrelled bitterly. Whilst he did not accuse her of murdering Darnley, he said that her people were dissatisfied with her, and that her marriage to Bothwell had brought her into disrepute. It was not enough that she might be innocent in God’s eyes, she should also have the appearance of innocence. He probably threatened that she would be executed, as she spent the night in a state of fear and anguish.

The next day, he promised her that he would save her life, and told her that with him as Regent she would be safer than with anyone else in that role. He claimed that she capitulated and asked him to undertake the Regency, although she also pointed out to him that, if men would rebel against their lawful sovereign, they would have no problem breaking their faith to him.

Moray was officially proclaimed Regent on 22nd August, although he cried crocodile tears to Cecil in a letter of 30th August, in which he claimed to have had no desire at all for the position, but hoped he might be able to serve Mary and James in that role. He compensated himself for the pain of his position by taking Mary’s jewels. Some he gave to his wife, and others, he later sold to Elizabeth, including a famous string of pearls. This act of appropriation ‘colded’ the stomachs of the Hamiltons, who had been ambivalent about Mary’s deposition.

Whilst Cecil was jubilant, Elizabeth was not. As the Earl of Leicester wrote,

‘The Queen takes the doings of these Lords to heart, as a precedent most perilous for any Prince

Yet, if Moray were going to be Regent anyway, it was better for him to be positively disposed towards her than towards France. The French government had already given Moray a pension of 1,500 crowns as well as a handsome cash present before his return to Scotland and it was clear that if the French could renew their traditional alliance with a Scotland ruled by Moray, they did not care too much about the fate of Mary. Moray was well aware that Elizabeth’s public condemnation was not necessarily indicative of the true state of her feelings. He wrote to Cecil:

‘Although the Queen’s Majesty, your mistress, outwardly seem not altogether to allow the present state here, yet doubt I not that Her Highness in her heart likes it well enough.’