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Mary Queen of Scots

Darnley and Bothwell

Mary's chief diplomatic project was to secure recognition as successor to the English throne, and she sought a marriage that would reinforce her claim. In 1565 she married her English Catholic cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, whose descent from Margaret Tudor gave him a claim to the English throne almost as close as Mary's. Murray and some other Protestant nobles opposed the marriage and tried to raise a revolt, but they were defeated and fled to England.

Though infatuated with him at first, Mary soon came to dislike her husband and consistently refused his demands for the crown matrimonial (i.e., parliamentary assurance of power during her lifetime and after). Chagrined at his own lack of power and jealous of David Rizzio, an Italian musician who had become Mary's most trusted friend, Darnley joined a plot against Rizzio. In Mar., 1566, a band of nobles led by Darnley and the earl of Morton broke into Mary's apartment and murdered Rizzio, perhaps hoping that the shock would prove fatal to the pregnant queen. Mary talked Darnley over to her side, escaped to Dunbar to be joined by the earl of Bothwell and other loyal nobles, and so defeated the coup.

In June, 1566, Mary bore her son, James. According to tradition, about this time she fell in love with Bothwell, who had been consistently loyal to her. Darnley, meanwhile, had succeeded in making himself ever more unpopular, and all the royal counselors urged Mary to get rid of him. On the night of Feb. 9, 1567, the house in which Darnley was staying was blown up, and Darnley was found strangled outside. Bothwell was universally suspected of the murder, but was acquitted by a packed court. On Apr. 24, Mary was intercepted by Bothwell on her way to Edinburgh and carried off to Dunbar Castle. In the ensuing two weeks Bothwell secured a divorce from his wife, and on May 15 he and Mary were married by Protestant rites.

Aroused by outraged Protestant preachers, the Scots rebelled. Mary had lost the support of the people and the lords, first by her failure to punish the man believed to be her husband's murderer and then by the flagrant act of marrying him. She was forced to surrender to the rebels at Carberry Hill on June 15. Bothwell escaped, only to die insane in a Danish prison. Imprisoned at the castle of Lochleven, Mary abdicated in favor of her son and named Murray regent. In May, 1568, she escaped and soon accumulated a considerable force of men. However, she was defeated by Murray at Langside, near Glasgow, and she immediately fled to N England.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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