Regent Moray: Life Story

Chapter 17 : Mary's Escape

In the autumn of 1567, Moray occupied himself in the Borders and in the punishment of those who were to take the blame for Darnley’s death – Bothwell’s associates. No blame was attached to any of the others who had been involved in the Craigmillar Bond. Even the man who was widely known to have been the prime mover in the affair, Sir James Balfour, was pardoned and granted lands and money from Moray’s own estates. Moray also tried to come to terms with the Hamiltons, who were pressing for Mary’s release.

By and large, Moray’s rule was accepted. He was effective in the Borders and his suppression of Catholicism gained plaudits from the more radical Protestants. A crack appeared when he quarrelled with his long term friend and supporter, the Earl of Argyll.Argyll and his wife, Lady Jean Stewart, who was Moray’s half-sister had been miserable together for years, but Moray would not agree to them being divorced. Argyll left the regent and joined the Hamiltons, holding out at Dumbarton Castle.

In December, Moray called a Parliament at which Mary, for the first time, was accused of complicity in Darnley’s murder. A letter substantiating the claim was talked of, but not produced. Mary’s capacity as an adult, which had been confirmed by an Act of 1564 was reaffirmed, to prevent the revocation of any acts made before her twenty-fifth birthday. Under normal Scottish practice, any acts made by a monarch before he or she was twenty-five could be rescinded, and this tradition might be used to invalidate either her abdication or her previous grants of land and office. Some of the nobles, including Huntly and Herries, refused to sign the Act of Abdication which confirmed that Mary was no longer Queen, and that James VI was now King, with Moray as Regent.

Mary’s appeal to Moray to appear and defend herself was ignored. The undertakings of Parliament were reported in person to Mary at Lochleven by Moray, Morton and Sir James Balfour. Presumably the irony of the situation was not lost on any of them – they had taken her crown for a crime that they are far more likely to have committed than she (although it is hard to believe that Mary had no inkling of the plot against Darnley).

All was not straightforward for Moray. There were plenty of people who believed that the murder of Darnley had been perpetrated not by Bothwell alone, but by Moray, Morton, Maitland and the other lords who had met at Craigmillar. This was confirmed when John Hay of Tallo, executed for some part in the assassination, yelled out the names of Huntly, Argyll, Balfour and Maitland from the scaffold, as partakers in the bond.

Maitland seems, surprisingly, to have been pricked by his conscience – or else he was concerned that Mary’s abdication under duress was illegal, which would endanger his position. Despite having been Moray’s ally for years, he was now barred from the Council, suspected by Moray of sympathy for the Queen, and, indeed, he began sending secret message to Mary.

The Hamiltons, too, believing that Moray was after the throne himself, which would remove their status as the legitimate heirs, withdrew their support.

In May 1568, Moray was ‘sore amazed’ to hear that Mary had escaped from Lochleven. With the support of Argyll, Huntly, Maxwell and others, she raised a formidable army, significantly outnumbering Moray’s troops. The two forces met at Langside, but, despite superiority of numbers, Mary’s army was less well-disciplined and fell into disarrary when Argyll was suddenly incapacitated – possibly from a stroke or fit. Moray’s troops triumphed, and Mary, rejecting better advice, crossed the Solway Firth, to a lifetime of imprisonment in England.

Elizabeth was aghast at the problem confronting her. To commit to helping Mary regain her throne would reinstate a Catholic Queen and encourage her hopes of succession and the many Catholics still in England. To refuse aid would give succour to rebels against a crowned sovereign. If she did neither, holding Mary without any valid reason, she might expose England to attack from France or Spain.

Moray was urging that Mary be kept under lock and key, denouncing her for murder and adultery and asking for assurance that, if he could prove the Queen guilty by her own letters, she would be held in England. It is not hard to infer from Moray’s letter, that, if he were assured Mary would be held, he would find the evidence.

‘For what purpose shall we either accuse, or take care how to prove, when we are not assured what to prove, or, when we have proved, what shall succeed?’

Elizabeth temporised, claiming to Mary that she could not help her until Mary’s innocence had been proven, meanwhile, she wrote to Moray, assuring him that, no matter what Elizabeth might say, she would not help Mary to be restored to the throne.