Matthew Stuart: Life Story

Chapter 11 : The 'Innocent Lamb'

A semblance of normality was restored at the Scottish court, but Mary’s contempt for her husband was widely known. She suggested that, since she would not sleep with him, he should seek a mistress – she would not hold it against him. Astonished by this, Darnley sought his father’s advice. Lennox, devoted to Margaret, was shocked at such a light attitude towards adultery, and lectured his son on his duty to remain faithful to his wife.

Lennox was now Darnley’s only friend, and so the son took refuge with his father at Glasgow, having hinted that he would go abroad. Mary and her councillors believed that he would be even more of a nuisance wandering the continent and made strenuous efforts to prevent it. The sulky young man wrote a letter to Mary, complaining of the lack of respect in which he was held by the entire Scots nobility – she replied with words to the effect that it was his own fault, and he must earn respect.

Despite the difficulties being put in his away, Darnley still contemplated an escape to France. Lennox and he invited the French envoy, Philippe du Croc, to Scotland to meet them outside Glasgow to discuss the idea. Du Croc made every argument he could to dissuade Darnley from such a course, so the men returned to Glasgow, realising that Darnley would not be welcome in France.  

For the sake of a smooth succession, Mary needed Darnley to publicly acknowledge James as his son. A grand baptismal ceremony was planned and took place at Stirling in December 1566. Darnley was forced to acknowledge the child, but did not take part in the ceremony.

Her objective gained, within days of the christening, Mary pardoned most of the men who had been involved in the murder of Riccio. They could now return to Scotland. Having roundly double-crossed them, Darnley now feared their revenge.

Lennox claimed later to have heard rumours of a meeting that had taken place at Craigmillar Castle, when Mary had requested her nobles to find her a way out of her marriage. Whether murder was in anyone’s mind,  particularly the queen’s, has been argued over for centuries, but the discussion, together with the pardoning of Darnley’s former co-conspirators, certainly led Lennox to fear for his son’s safety, and send him a message to leave Stirling for the relative safety of Lennox’ home in Glasgow.  

En route, Darnley was taken ill, and rumours of poison were immediately circulated, although the modern interpretation is that he was suffering from syphilis. Whilst Darnley lay on his sickbed, Queen Mary began to investigate reports that he and Lennox were conspiring to abduct Prince James, crown him, and rule in her stead. She found no concrete evidence, but wrote in a letter that she knew Lennox and Darnley would make trouble for her ‘if their power were equal to their minds.’

The queen set out for Glasgow with the intention of bringing Darnley back to Edinburgh. Lennox sent a messenger, Thomas Crawford, to intercept her, apologising for not coming to greet her himself, but claiming that he was also ill, and besides, did presume to come into her presence until ordered, as she had spoken harshly of him.  Mary’s response was that Lennox would not be afraid, if he did not have a guilty conscience.

Mary visited Darnley on his sick-bed, where he did his best to win her forgiveness, pleading that she had forgiven others, and that he wanted only their reconciliation and a return to a normal married life. Mary gave him to understand she would consider the matter, and that she would take him to Craigmillar to be nursed – she certainly could not sleep with him until he was better.  Darnley agreed to this, but Crawford was nervous: why couldn’t Darnley convalesce in Edinburgh?

In the event, Darnley refused to go to Craigmillar, but was, instead, housed in the Provost’s House at Kirk o’Fields, near Holyrood. The queen visited him regularly, and he believed that a reconciliation was possible. Lennox received a letter from his son dated 7th February, in which Darnley assured him that his health was improving and that the queen

 ‘doth use herself like a natural and loving wife. I hope yet that God will lighten our hearts with joy that have so long been afflicted with trouble.’

In the early morning of 10th February 1567, there was an explosion of gunpowder in the cellars of the house. Darnley was found dead in the garden, unmarked, and presumed dead by deliberate suffocation.

As soon as he heard the terrible news, Lennox was convinced that Mary had been behind the death of his ‘innocent lamb’.  He urged her to bring the perpetrators to justice, Mary seemed in no hurry to act, and talked of remitting the matter to Parliament. Lennox continued to urge her to do something, anything, to avenge his son. Before long, rumours were everywhere that the Earl of Bothwell, one of Mary’s chief supporters had been behind it, but Mary made no effort to bring him to trial.

Public outrage grew, and eventually, Mary, still not taking control of events, was pressured into allowing a prosecution of Bothwell. Instead of it being a crown trial, however, it was a private prosecution, instigated by Lennox. Lennox himself intended to come to Edinburgh, backed by a force of 3,000 men, for the trial on 12th April. He received orders that no more than six men could accompany him.  Edinburgh was already packed with Bothwell’s followers, so Lennox had the choice of appearing, and risking his own life, or staying away. He sent a message to the court that he dared not enter the city for fear of his life. The court acquitted Bothwell on the grounds that the plaintiff, Lennox, had brought no evidence.

Lennox, his ambitions destroyed, and his beloved son dead, returned to England, to seek help from Elizabeth. 

Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox

Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox

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