Matthew Stuart: A Soldier of Fortune

Born in Scotland and brought up in France, Lennox campaigned there under François I. Returning to Scotland, the border warfare with England meant he moved extensively within both countries, skirmishing, besieging castles, and, later, taking part in English court life.

The numbers against the places correspond to those on the map here and at the end of this article.

Lennox was born in Dumbarton Castle (1), Dunbarton, situated on a rocky outcrop on the banks of the Clyde, west of Glasgow. Dumbarton is the oldest fortress in the whole of Great Britain, its original construction pre-dating the Tower of London by some 600 years. Located at the confluence of the rivers Clyde and Leven, it was the stronghold of the ancient British kingdom of Strathclyde.

The ancient fortress was replaced in the 1220s by King Alexander II and it played an important part in the Anglo-Scottish Wars of Independence. Robert the Bruce confirmed Malcolm, Earl of Lennox as Sheriff of Dumbarton in 1321, although it is likely the king retained the castle as his own property as over the following 150 years, various men other than the earls of Lennox, had the office of constable.

In 1514, during the troubled minority of James V, the castle came, for a short period, under the control of John, 3rd Earl of Lennox. Dumbarton’s strategic position made it of enormous importance throughout the sixteenth century, and its impregnable nature made it almost impossible to capture without the consent of the man holding it.

In 1543, Lennox used it to hold the treasure and artillery sent by the French to aid the Scots against the English. Access to the munitions gave him a strong bargaining tool when he decided to throw in his lot with Henry VIII against Governor Arran later that year.

Exiled thereafter in England, Dumbarton was one of the castles restored to Lennox in 1564 when he was finally permitted to return home, just before his son, Lord Darnley, married Queen Mary.

The years surrounding Lennox’ youth were full of tension – as Queen Margaret, the Duke of Albany, the Earl of Angus and the Earl of Arran quarrelled and fought over the regency of James V. In 1526, this led to the death of Lennox’ father at the battle of Linlithgow Bridge (2). Linlithgow, a small town between Edinburgh and Stirling, was the location of one of the delightful palaces created by the Stewart kings – it was here that both James V and Mary, Queen of Scots were born.

Linlithgow Palace

The battle, which probably took place at the bridge where the old road from Edinburgh to Stirling crosses the River Avon, was fought on 4th September 1526. John, 3rd Earl of Lennox was leading the force that Dowager Queen Margaret hoped would be able to free fourteen-year-old James V from his enforced subjection to her second husband, the Earl of Angus. Lennox had some 10,000 troops, compared with the 2,500 led by the opposition James Hamilton, Earl of Arran.

Lennox had brought his troops across the river at the ford near the Manuel Convent, but this meant he had to fight uphill across marsh. His men were trapped and Arran had the victory. It is alleged that Lennox surrendered, but was killed in cold-blood by Arran’s illegitimate son, Sir James Hamilton of Finnart. Certainly, our Earl of Lennox, John’s son, believed this, and it created a life-long feud with Arran and the Hamiltons.

Today, there is no sign of the battle, but more information can be found at the Scottish National Battlefields site.

In the wake of the battle, the ten year old Matthew, now 4th Earl of Lennox, was sent with his second brother, John, to the home of their great-uncle, Robert Stuart, Sieur d’Aubigny and Marshal of France in Aubigny-sur-Nère, in mid-France. The family lived at the Chateau de La Verrerie (3), about 120 miles south of Paris. The chateau was built in the late fifteenth century by Robert Stewart’s predecessor, his cousin-once-removed and father-in-law, Bernard Stuart. It is a classic chateau of the French Renaissance, complete with turrets and a lake. It passed to Lennox’ brother in the 1540s, and passed down the d’Aubigny Stuart line until it failed in 1670, at which point it reverted to the French crown.

Louis XIV, eager to encourage his second cousin, Charles II of England, in a French alliance, reconveyed the seigneury d’Aubigny to Charles, as the nearest heir. Charles granted it to his French mistress, Louise de Kerouaille, who bequeathed it to her son by Charles, Charles Lennox, later Duke of Richmond, and raised to the French peerage as Duke of Aubigny.

In 1834, the chateau was sold to the family which still lives there, running it as an upmarket hotel and restaurant.

Lennox returned from France in 1543, charged with promoting French interests in Scotland, in opposition to the Governor, the Earl of Arran’s pro-English policy. Over the next eighteen months, he tried to gain influence in Scotland, refusing to accept Arran as Governor, hoping to ally with the Queen-dowager, Marie of Guise, by marriage, and generally supporting the anti-Arran faction. In the summer of 1543, his troops accompanied Marie of Guise, and the baby queen, Mary, to Stirling (4), where the child was crowned.

Stirling Castle is one of the gems of Scotland. Built at the strategic point where the Firth of Forth could be crossed, it overlooks the battle sites of Bannockburn and Sauchieburn. Whilst not quite as impregnable as Dumbarton, it was the safest place for the young queen. Nearly 30 years later, when Lennox was regent of Scotland for his grandson, James VI, it was in the town of Stirling that he was assassinated. Today, Stirling Castle is managed by Historic Scotland. There has been impressive restoration of the royal apartments, and those of Marie of Guise have been decorated and laid out as she would have known them.

Determined that he would not accept Arran as Governor, when Arran, forced by circumstance and his own weak position, adopted a pro-French policy, Lennox performed a volte-face and negotiated an agreement with Henry VIII of England. He signed the documents at Carlisle (5), the English border town, to which he had retreated in March 1544.

Carlisle Castle, currently in the care of English Heritage and open to the public, is the archetype of the mediaeval border fortress. Built of sandstone, the earlier part dates from the late 1100s, and was built by William II ‘Rufus’ of England. Carlisle was once part of the British kingdom of Rheged (later known as Strathclyde), whose history is a confusion of battles and conquests by the Scots and the Saxons. Certainly by the first half of the eleventh century, it was ruled by Scotland, but the southern part was taken by William Rufus into England and became the county of Cumberland.

During the Middle Ages, Carlisle was besieged by the Scots on seven occasions, and in 1461, in Yorkist hands, it fell to a combined Lancastrian-Scots army. During the Pilgrimage of Grace, Lord Clifford remained loyal to Henry VIII – had he allowed the rebels to take Carlisle, the outcome of the insurrection might have been very different. He was rewarded, in part, with the hand of Henry’s niece, Lady Eleanor Brandon, daughter of Mary, the French Queen.

Just over 100 years later, in 1468, Mary, Queen of Scots was housed at Carlisle for a few weeks after her arrival in England, to seek Elizabeth I’s help in regaining her kingdom. Elizabeth declined, and what had begun as a period of refuge, soon became imprisonment for Mary.

Carlisle Castle continued to play an important part in border warfare until the Union of the Crowns under James VI & I. It was garrisoned until the 20th century, and was the headquarters of the Border Regiment, until its amalgamation with the King’s Own Royal Regiment, now the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (King’s, Lancashire and Border).

Having signed an agreement with Henry VIII, Lennox was expected to prove his worth before he could be granted his reward. Lennox was expected to promote English interests in Scotland through his connections, and to take more practical action, including attempting to invade his homeland, with the purpose of capturing key strongholds. Henry would then be able to bargain for the marriage of Queen Mary to his son, Edward, from a position of strength.

The first campaign that Lennox was ordered to undertake was intended to take Dumbarton, and the castle of Rothesay (7), on the Isle of Bute. Rothesay was significant, because it guarded the entrance to the Firth of Clyde, and would make an excellent location for English troops to control the sea ways.

Like many of Scotland’s castles, Rothesay was held at various times by Scottish nobles, Viking warlords and the English. It was built by one of the early Stewards of Scotland, in the early 1200s. When a descendant, Robert Stewart, became King Robert II, the castle passed to the crown. Lennox was successful in his assault in 1544, but his overall campaign was beaten back by Arran at the Battle of Glasgow Muir.

In the seventeenth century, Rothesay was garrisoned by Oliver Cromwell, as part of his campaign to crush the Scots, who had crowned Prince Charles as King of Scotland. After the restoration of Charles as King of England as well, Rothesay fell into disrepair. It was partially restored in the late nineteenth century by the fabulously wealthy Marquess of Bute. It is now cared for by Historic Scotland, and is open to the public.

Having shown his worth, Lennox received the prize. He travelled to London, where, in July 1544, he married Henry’s niece, Lady Margaret Douglas. The marriage took place in London, possibly at St James’ Palace, Westminster (6). St James’ was one of Henry’s numerous new builds – constructed largely between 1531 and 1536, in the classic Tudor red-brick style. Ten years later, Henry had it remodelled to designs drawn by Hans Holbein. Henry’s illegitmate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, died there in 1536, as did Mary I, in 1558. Queen Mary’s viscera were buried in the chapel, whilst her body was entombed at Westminster Abbey.

In the 1760s, St James’ proved too small for George III and his enormous family of fifteen children (poor Queen Charlotte!) so they spent most of their time at Buckingham Palace. Nevertheless, St James’ Palace remains the official residence of the British monarch, and ambassadors from other countries are credited ‘to the Court of St James’. It is a working palace, and the London home of HRH The Princess Royal, and HRH Princess Beatrice of York. It is not open to the public.

Following his marriage, Lennox and his wife were granted extensive lands in England, including Temple Newsam (8). Considering its size, its beauty, and its history, Temple Newsam is surprisingly little known. Once belonging to the Knights Templar, it was in the hands of Thomas, Lord Darcy (c. 1467 – 1537).

Lord Darcy had been a faithful servant, first of Henry VII and then of Henry VIII. In 1536 he wrote letters of increasing desperation for support to hold Pontefract against the Pilgrimage of Grace. It was not forthcoming, and Darcy was obliged to join the Pilgrims, with whom he probably sympathised. Aged seventy, he was executed, and his lands forfeit to the crown, making them usefully available for Henry to grant to Lennox and his wife.

When they were in residence at Temple Newsam, the Lennoxes lived like great feudal magnates – dining in the Great Hall, under a cloth of state, each attended by a train of gentlemen and ladies, and served on bended knee. It was here that their son, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was born in 1545. After the campaigns of 1546 and 1548, Lennox and his wife spent most of their time at Temple Newsam, until their return to court in 1553. In 1565, after the marriage of Darnley to Mary, Queen of Scots, the house was confiscated by Elizabeth I.

In the early days of their marriage, Lady Lennox spent much of her time at court, in the train of Queen Katherine Parr, whilst Lennox continued campaigning on behalf of Henry VIII. His next expedition began at Beaumaris (9), in Anglesey, where he met the fleet commandeered to take him on yet another expedition to Scotland. Beaumaris Castle is one of the ring of castles built by Edward I when he finally crushed North Wales into submission in the 1280s.

Overlooking the Menai Straits, Beaumaris was key to Edward controlling the grain shipments from the slightly sunnier and warmer Anglesy, to the mainland (sunny being a relative term in the wet land of Wales). The castle was captured by the Welsh hero, Owain Glyndwr in 1403 but was taken back by the English a couple of years later.

It played a part in the Civil Wars of the seventeenth century, and was fortunate to avoid slighting by the Parliamentarians. Today, it is considered one of the best examples of mediaeval military construction, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Managed by Cadw (the Welsh equivalent of English Heritage and Historic Scotland), it is open to the public.

Following the death of Henry VIII, the war with Scotland, often referred to as the War of the Rough Wooing, continued under Edward, Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector for the minor Edward VI. Lennox again played a part, and undertook various campaigns. At December 1547, he was a Wressell Castle (10). Wressell (with various spellings), was originally built by Sir Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester, and brother of the Earl of Northumberland. Percy became estranged from his former friend Henry IV, and was captured at the battle of Shrewsbury. Wressell was confiscated.

Some seventy years later, it was returned to the 4th Earl of Northumberland, as part of Edward IV’s mission to reconcile the Lancastrian Percies. The 6th Earl (once the suitor of Anne Boleyn) allowed Robert Aske, leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace to use the castle, but played no part in the rebellion. On his death, as he was estranged from his brother, the earl left his lands, including Wressell, to Henry VIII. It is likely that Lennox was there as castellan for the crown, rather than having a personal interest in the property.

Seven years before, John Leland, author of a compendious travelogue about his travels through England in the 1530s and 1540s, had admired Wressell as one of the fairest properties in England north of the Trent. He admired the gardens particularly, describing mounds with topiary hedges, and a spiral staircase cut into the turf.

Wressell was returned to the Percies, but became yet another victim of the Civil War – being slighted by Parliament, and what was left was ordered to be dismantled. The 10th Earl of Northumberland was permitted to keep only the south range, as a house. A devastating fire in the nineteenth century gutted most of it. The land was sold in 1957, and the ruins were made safe in the early 2000s. The remains are privately owned, and not open to the public.

Whilst the Lennoxes had lived largely at Temple Newsam in the 1540s and early 1550s, during the first years of Elizabeth’s reign, they spent more time at Settrington (11). Settrington, of which there is no trace, had been the property of Sir Francis Bigod, executed following the Bigod Rebellion of February 1537, a doomed attempt to resurrect the Pilgrimage of Grace. It was closer to the coast than Temple Newsam, perhaps facilitating correspondence with France and Scotland.

In 1564, Elizabeth I permitted Lennox to return to Scotland, where Mary, Queen of Scots had agreed to pardon his previous treason and restore his lands. He was publicly pardoned at the Mercat Cross (12) in Edinburgh.

The Mercat Cross, situated on what is now known as the Royal Mile, in Edinburgh, was the usual place for public proclamations, situated close to St Giles’ Kirk, at the end of the High Street. It was first documented in 1365. A few months later, in the same location in July 1564, Lennox was thrilled – even if no-one else was - to hear his son, Lord Darnley, proclaimed as King of Scots. The current Mercat Cross is a nineteenth century replacement, although fragments of the original and its 1617 replacement are contained within it.

Today, it stands in the busy square in front of the old Parliament buildings, and is the location for important public announcements, such as the calling of elections, or the succession, by Lyon King of Arms.

Lennox believed his dreams had come true with the marriage of Darnley to the queen, but within months the royal couple were estranged. In February 1567, after suffering a serious bout of illness, Darnley believed himself to be on a path to reconciliation with his wife. She had brought him to Edinburgh, where he was lodged in a house near St Mary’s Kirk – hence ‘Kirk o’Fields’ (14), having declined to go to the royal property at Craigmillar. Early in the morning of 10th February, following an explosion, Darnley’s dead body was found in the garden.

Lennox was utterly convinced that Queen Mary had been behind the murder, aided and abetted by the Earl of Bothwell. Scotland descended into armed conflict – Mary was ousted, and replaced by her half-brother, the Earl of Moray, ruling as regent for Lennox’ son, James VI. Moray too, was assassinated, and Lennox took his place. But war between the Queen’s Party and the King’s Party continued.

An experienced soldier, Lennox led the King’s Party in various skirmishes, including one at Brechin (15), in Angus. It was here that Lennox was probably guilty of an act considered barbarous even at the time – the hanging of thirty-four men, and their captains in his own presence, despite them having surrendered.

Since the main supporters of Queen Mary were the Hamiltons, it is possible that Lennox saw this as final payback for his father’s murder, some forty-four years before. Brechin today boasts one of two Gaelic round towers in Scotland, dating from around 1000 AD. It is adjacent to the thirteenth century church.

Lennox was soon back in Stirling (4), which was attacked by the Queen’s Party. He was shot, although whether by one of the enemy, or by one of his own party, as is sometimes claimed, or even by mistake, has never been satisfactorily proven. Strangely, the date of his death – 4th September – was the same as that of his father.

The map below shows the location of the places associated with Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox, discussed in this article.


Blue: in current use

Purple: later replacement

Green: ruins

Grey: no trace