Darnley, Henry Stuart, Lord

Darnley, Henry Stuart or Stewart, Lord, 1545–67, second husband of Mary Queen of Scots and father of James I of England (James VI of Scotland). His mother was Margaret Douglas, the daughter of Archibald Douglas, earl of Angus, and Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England; this made Darnley a candidate for succession to the English throne after Elizabeth I. His father was Matthew Stuart, 4th earl of Lennox. Darnley was born and brought up in England, where his father was in exile. In 1565, at the age of 19, he was allowed by Queen Elizabeth to follow his father to Scotland, and within a short time he married Queen Mary. The motives of the Scottish queen were predominantly political; Darnley was a Catholic and his right of succession to the English throne reinforced Mary's own. However, his handsome appearance and courtly manners must also have impressed Mary because at first she was infatuated with him. The Protestant lords, dismayed at what appeared a Catholic triumph, revolted, but Mary defeated them easily. Within a short time Darnley had shown himself to be a vicious and dissipated man, and Mary denied him the crown matrimonial (which would have given him power equal to Mary's). Wounded in pride and suspicious of Mary's relationship with David Rizzio, Darnley joined a conspiracy against Rizzio. On Mar. 9, 1566, Darnley and a group of nobles seized Rizzio in the queen's presence and stabbed him to death. They may have hoped simultaneously to shock the pregnant queen into fatal illness, but she defeated the coup by winning over Darnley and escaping from her captors to the help of loyal nobles. Darnley soon found himself without a friend in either camp. Although Mary made efforts toward reconciliation after the birth of their son, Darnley remained intractable, and the council demanded that the queen rid herself of him. Possibly with Mary's knowledge, there was then formed a plot, one of whose leaders was the earl of Bothwell. The earl of Morton was later executed for his part in it, and others may have had a hand. Recovering from an illness, Darnley arrived in Edinburgh early in 1567 and lodged in Kirk o' Field, a house just outside the city. On the night of Feb. 9, after a visit from Mary, the house was blown up by gunpowder. In the morning the bodies of Darnley and a page were found strangled in an adjoining garden. Details of the murder remain a historical mystery. Mary's subsequent failure to punish Bothwell and her hasty marriage to him led to the revolt that soon dethroned her.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: British and Irish History: Biographies