Earl Bothwell [Child 174]
DESCRIPTION: A tale of the woes of Scotland. David [Riccio], the Queen's servant, is murdered with twelve daggers. King and Queen quarrel over this. Bothwell takes the king and hangs him. This produces such anger that the Queen flees to England
EARLIEST DATE: 1765 (Percy)
KEYWORDS: royalty nobility homicide death exile betrayal
1542 - Mary Stewart, at the age of eight days, becomes Queen of Scotland. She later becomes Queen of France by virtue of her marriage to the French King Francis III.
1560 - Death of Francis III. Mary eventually returns to Scotland to rule it directly for the first time
1566 - Murder of David Riccio (falsely called "Lord David"), secretary to Mary Stewart (rumour had it that he was her lover, but there is no evidence of this)
1567 - Murder of Henry, Lord Darnley, Mary's husband (he was in a house which blew up, but from the state of his body it appears that he was dead before the explosion). Mary Stewart soon after (forcibly?) married to James Hepburn, the fourth Earl of Bothwell (here called "Bodwell"). She was deposed not long after
1568 - Mary escapes to England
1578 - Death of Bothwell
1587 - Execution of Mary Stewart by Elizabeth I of England
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Child 174, "Earl Bothwell" (1 text)
Percy/Wheatley II, pp. 213-218, "The Murder of the King of Scots" (1 text)
NOTES [425 words]: Henry Lord Darnley was Mary Stuart's cousin (and heir if she remained childless), and after their marriage he was addressed as King (although never formally granted the crown matrimonial -- that is, if Mary died before Darnley, he would not become king in his own right; the crown would pass to her children; Lyon, pp. 190-191). Darnley is thus the "king" of this ballad and Mary Stuart the Queen. The Queen of England is, of course, Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603). Mary Stuart was Elizabeth's heir under strict primogeniture, although Henry VIII had barred her branch of the family in his will (Lyon, p. 177).
Darnley was Mary's second husband -- she had earlier been married to Francis II of France, who however died young (Magnusson, pp. 332-333). It seems to have started with passion -- Mary was a very passionate woman -- but cooled extremely quickly. The murder of Riccio at the hands of Darnley and his allies is believed to have been a friend by the toy king to increase his own power (Oram, pp. 255-256).
Darnley's turn came not long after. He had been ill -- it has been suggested that the cause was syphilis (Magnusson, p. 356) and had been recovering at a house called Kirk o' the Field. Mary visited him there, but after she left, the house exploded (Magnusson, p. 357). Darnley's dead body was found in the wreckage.
An investigation determined that Darnley had been killed before the explosion -- there were no marks on his body (Oram, p. 256). Contrary to the song, however, it was believed he was suffocated, not hanged.
The person directly responsible has never been determined (Oram, p. 257); some have blamed Mary herself. Suspicion at hte time, however, pointed directly at Earl Bothwell (Magnusson, p. 358). He was actually tried -- but controlled the proceedings and was easily able to secure acquittal (Magnusson, p. 358). It was Mary's response that brought her down: For some inexplicable reason, she voluntarily married Bothwell (Magnusson, p. 359; Oram, p. 257). Things fell apart rapidly after than, and Mary, her government in tatters, soon had to flee to England, leaving her baby son James VI as king (Magnusson, pp. 360-363). She would end up in the hands of Elizabeth I, eventually to be executed for conspiring against that monarch.
It is a tragic and regrettable story -- the more so since almost all of it was the result of Mary's own mistakes.
(A spelling note: The Scottish spelling of Mary's name was "Stewart." Since, however, she spent much of her youth in France, she used the French spelling "Stuart.") - RBW
Last updated in version 2.6
- Lyon: Ann Lyon, Constitutional History of the United Kingdom, Cavendish, 2003
- Magnusson: Magnus Magnusson, Scotland: The Story of a Nation, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000
- Oram: Richard Oram, editor, The Kings & Queens of Scotland, 2001 (I use the 2006 Tempus paperback edition)
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