Regent Moray: Life Story

Chapter 15 : Planning a Murder

On 19th June 1566, Mary bore a son, named James, and Moray wrote letters to Elizabeth and Cecil, requesting that a high-ranking personage be sent to attend the baptism as proxy for Elizabeth who was to be god-mother. He was still hoping to promote a long-term alliance between the two countries.

Following the Prince’s birth, the Queen was in poor health, and her relationship with Darnley was deteriorating further, they quarrelled publicly, and he was often the worse for drink.

Despite the apparent reconciliation between the lords, Bothwell and Moray were still on bad terms – in particular, Moray wanted Maitland to be pardoned for his part in the Riccio affair (he had not signed the bond, and had been banished to Flanders). Bothwell wanted Maitland kept out of the country. Mary agreed that Maitland should come into her presence and that he, Moray and Bothwell should thrash the matter out. This was done in September 1566, and Bothwell and Maitland apparently reconciled.Later that month, there was another public confrontation between Mary and her husband. Darnley had complained that he was so ill-treated by his wife, and accorded such little respect, that he was determined to leave the country. In front of her Council, Mary asked him to state his grievances, but he did not come up with anything concrete and left the room.

Bothwell now came to be the most trusted of Mary’s advisers – perhaps because he was the only one who had not betrayed her, but there was no talk of there being any relationship between them other than of sovereign and councillor.

During the autumn, Moray accompanied Mary on a Justice in Eyre, to be held at Jedburgh.Whilst they were there, news came that Bothwell had fallen ill. A few days later, the whole court visited him in his sickbed, returning the same day. Once back at Jedburgh, Mary collapsed into serious illness – possibly a ruptured ulcer. She lay sick for weeks, and at one point was believed to have died, before regaining consciousness. On what she herself thought was her deathbed, she left her son her kingdom, specifically excluding Darnley. She also begged Moray (whom she presumably intended to act as Regent) to promise that, as she had not attempted to interfere with Protestants, so he should not interfere with Catholics.

Mary recovered, but the whole kingdom was left with the problem of Darnley and pretty much everyone, except his father, Lennox, wanted to see the back of him – preferably permanently.

According to the depositions of Huntly and Argyll, made two years later, they, together with Moray, Maitland and Bothwell, had agreed that they should find a way to arrange a divorce for Mary.Maitland informed Mary of their ideas, and she agreed that, provided a divorce would not impugn the legitimacy of her son, or harm her honour, that that would be the best course. In order to secure their support, Mary was to agree to the reinstatement of the Earl of Morton, still exiled for his part in the murder of Riccio. This agreement is known as the Craigmillar bond. Although there is no contemporary copy of it it was referred to as having existed by some of the signatories.

Other reports suggest that there was more to the bond, and that both Moray and Mary (or only one of them depending on the viewpoint of the commentator) knew that divorce was not the real plan, but murder. In this case, either or both ‘looked through their fingers’ – that is, chose not to understand the implications of the bond. There were certainly rumours that something was afoot – on 18th January 1567, the Spanish Ambassador in London wrote to Philip of Spain that Mary had been approached to join a plot to murder her husband, but had declined.

What happened next has been argued over for centuries, so we are unlikely to uncover the truth here.The facts are that Darnley, who had been ill, was visited by Mary who appeared to be attempting a reconciliation.He was brought to Edinburgh and lodged in a house at Kirk o’Fields where Mary spent considerable time nursing him until it was pronounced that he would be well enough to return to normal life at court on the following day – 10th February 1567.

Moray left Edinburgh on the morning of 9th February, informing his half-sister that he needed to visit Lady Moray who had suffered a miscarriage. The same night, Mary and several of the lords, including Bothwell, Argyll, Huntly and Cassilils visited Darnley, had dinner and played the usual gambling games. Late in the evening Mary, and the courtiers left to attend a wedding party. At around three in the morning, an explosion was heard. The house at Kirk o’Fields was blown up, but Darnley’s body, rather than being found in the wreckage, was found in the garden in his nightshirt, with no mark of the blast on him and was presumed, therefore, to have been suffocated.

The Queen and Council wrote to the monarchs of Europe, informing them of the dreadful event, which, they said, had actually been aimed at Mary herself – only the lucky fact of her having left to go to the wedding feast had saved her. Every effort would be made to bring the perpetrators to justice.