The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas by Alison Weir

  that his Queen did not write upon that matter, and she did not know why he asked such a thing, which she refused him. He replied that he asked it because they heard that Lady Margaret was ill, and he wished to take news of her health. He said he would see her in the presence of anyone the Queen desired, but the permission was withheld from him. The Queen, however, read the Earl of Lennox’s letter, which she had refused previously to do. She said that he wrote more politely than his son, and it was easy to see that he was older and wiser. She refused, however, to keep either of the letters, but returned them after she had read them. Four days ago a gentleman of the King of France arrived here, called M. du Croc, who goes as ambassador to Scotland. He was with this Queen the day before yesterday, and asked leave to see Lady Margaret, which was refused him.58

  Cecil’s agent, William Rogers, reported to his master on July 5 that Darnley had declared “before twenty gentlemen that he was not so ill-loved in England” as in Scotland, “but that forty gentlemen there would so serve him, and more soon after conveyance of my lady’s [Margaret’s] letters.” Rogers also drew Cecil’s attention to the interest shown by Sir Richard Chamberlain, Captain of Scarborough, in Darnley’s affairs, and his placing the castle at Darnley’s disposal; and to the interest shown by unnamed persons in the West Country, who had sent Darnley a map of the Scilly Isles off Cornwall. He mentioned his suspicions of Henry Gwyn, Yaxley’s servant.59

  Darnley’s boast was no empty one. Margaret, fearful of what might happen to her son in Scotland, had tried, with the aid of her Spanish friends, to arrange his escape to Flanders, and she had probably sought Sir Richard Cholmeley’s aid in garrisoning Scarborough to that end.60 Margaret’s aim was almost certainly to secure support from King Philip and her affinity in England for Darnley to press his claim to the English throne.

  The government was alarmed to hear what Rogers had to say. If Darnley took Scarborough and the Scillies, Philip II might seize the opportunity to invade England61 and set him up as a Catholic king. Immediately security around Margaret was tightened up. On July 6, the day after Rogers had made his report, Silva wrote that Elizabeth had “again refused to give Melville permission to visit Lady Margaret, whom they keep closer than before. The Queen tells Melville that her liberation is in the hands of his mistress, but no doubt it will be on conditions difficult to accept.”62 On August 15, Elizabeth did allow Melville “to speak with Lady Margaret, but in the presence of the keeper of the Tower and others.”63

  Lennox was not privy to Margaret’s plotting, and when he learned something of what was afoot, he did his best to persuade Darnley not to flee Scotland and desert his wife. On September 29 he warned Mary of the plan.64 Mary questioned Darnley, but he denied any knowledge of it.65

  On October 19, Silva asked Robert Melville “whether he had spoken to the Queen about Lady Margaret. He said he had not, as he had no instructions to do so, although he expected to receive them, the reason being that there were disputes between his Queen and her husband which were of no great importance, and did not arise from want of affection, but from childish trifles. His Queen, however, was going to Stirling where the King was, and everything would then be made up.” Silva was concerned because “the imprisonment of Lady Margaret has been made stricter” and she was “not allowed to communicate with anybody in order that [she] may not enlist the aid of members of Parliament.”66 This had the desired effect. In February, when Elizabeth made clear her determination to marry the Archduke Charles of Austria, Silva informed King Philip that “all the aristocracy apparently desire the match, except Margaret and her party, which is small.”67

  Despite that setback, Margaret continued to receive news of the outside world. In January 1567 she may have learned that Darnley was at Glasgow with his father and “there lies full of the small pox, to whom the Queen has sent her physician.”68 In fact Darnley was suffering not from smallpox but syphilis, which he may have caught during one of his visits to France some years earlier. Lennox, having heard that Darnley was to be “apprehended and put in ward” for plotting against Mary,69 had an obvious reason for wanting his son away from the dangers that lurked for him in Edinburgh. He would have been alarmed to hear that Morton, and those other lords who had been betrayed by Darnley and exiled from Scotland for their part in Rizzio’s murder, had been summoned home, thanks to the intercession of Cecil.70 There could be little doubt in anyone’s mind that Morton—and his partners in crime—would be out for revenge.

  On February 3, Silva wrote:

  Margaret is still in prison, and greatly grieved, as she writes me, at the disputes between her son and his wife. She begs me to make every effort to bring them into harmony again, and also to speak to this Queen with regard to her liberation, or, at least, that she shall be taken out of the Tower and placed in some private house in confinement, as she not only suffers now morally, but is in great need, as they have taken all her property. If opportunity offers, I will remind the Queen of it.71

  Having learned that Darnley had again been plotting against her, and fearing that he would seize Prince James, Mary resolved to go to Glasgow and bring him back to Edinburgh, where she could keep a closer eye on his activities. It was a fateful decision given that the lords who were out for his blood were in the capital, but Mary dared not leave him in the heart of Lennox territory, where he might raise a force to overthrow her. But she found him ill in bed and in a much-chastened frame of mind. On the journey to Edinburgh he

  confessed that he had failed in some things, but that he was young; he craved her pardon and protested that he would not fail again, and desired nothing but that they might be together as man and wife. She said she was sorry for his sickness and would find remedy therefor as soon as she might. He said, if she would promise him that he and she might be together at bed and board, he would go with her where she pleased, and she answered that her coming was only to that effect. Notwithstanding before they could come together he must be purged and cleansed of his sickness.72

  On January 27, James Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow, wrote to Mary from Paris, informing her that Catherine de’ Medici had said that Mary’s good conduct and rule “would be a great mean to compass more easily all your designs and enterprises, and in special it would occasion that Madame of Lennox, whom she knew well-favoured by a great part of the nobility of England, would concur with you.”73

  But already it was too late for Mary and Darnley.


  “Horrible and Abominable Murder”

  It was bitterly cold and snowing in Edinburgh in the early hours of February 10, 1567. To the south of the city Darnley was completing his convalescence in the Old Provost’s Lodging at Kirk O’Field. Mary had been visiting him daily, and to all appearances the couple had become reconciled, even affectionate. In the morning Darnley was to return to Holyrood, fully cured, and resume marital relations with his wife. Mary had been at Kirk O’Field the previous evening, but shortly before midnight she left for Holyrood, having promised to attend a masque there in celebration of the wedding of two of her servants. When she and her retinue had departed, Darnley retired for the night.

  At two o’clock a mighty explosion reverberated across the city, awakened most of the inhabitants, and initiated one of the greatest murder mysteries in history. Those running to the scene to investigate found that the Old Provost’s Lodging had been blown up, undermined—as it proved—by gunpowder. Three hours later the bodies of Darnley and his valet were found lying in a nearby orchard. When Mary learned what had happened she was plunged—according to her own account and the testimony of witnesses—into grief and torment, and appears to have suffered a nervous collapse.1 On February 12, two days after the murder, the Scottish government proclaimed a lavish reward for information leading to the arrest of the King’s assassins.2

  The news had reached London by February 14, when Cecil told Silva that the Queen had been informed “of the finding of the dead body of the King of Scotland out of doors in his shirt,
but without a wound, and with him the dead body of one of his servants; but no news has come as to who had been the author of the crime, nor were any other particulars known. The case is a very strange one, and has greatly grieved the Catholics.”3

  On February 18 and 19 bills were affixed to the door of the Tolbooth, Edinburgh’s Parliament house, council chamber and jail. One denounced the Earl of Bothwell and his associates as the murderers.4 Bothwell was certainly at Kirk O’Field on the night of the explosion, and had arranged for the house to be undermined—but he had not killed Darnley. It was not until 1581 that Morton would confess that he had had foreknowledge of the plot, although he had not been “art and part” in it; but his—and Margaret’s—Douglas kinsmen, led by a distant relation, Archibald Douglas, Parson of Douglas, were at the scene. It appears that Darnley and his valet, hearing something suspicious, had fled from the house, climbed over the surrounding city wall and dropped into the orchard below. It was here that they were set upon by the Douglases, who did their evil work then disappeared into the night.

  Sir Robert Melville arrived in London on February 19. He told Silva that Queen Mary was very distressed. Silva “asked him certain questions to get at the bottom of the suspicions as to who had been the author of the crime, but could get nothing definite.” Melville greatly feared “that some rising or disturbance will take place in the country.” Silva gained the impression that Queen Mary “or her followers had some prior notice of the misfortune, although this seems incredible. Even if the Queen clears herself from it, the matter is still obscure.”

  Silva reported that Elizabeth had expressed “sorrow at the death of the King, and she thinks that although he married against her wish, yet, as he was a royal personage and her cousin, the case is a very grave one, and she signifies her intention to punish the offenders.”5

  By February 19, Elizabeth had received corroboration of the details of the murder, as well as a report that Lennox had been killed too. Now she could no longer delay breaking the appalling news to Margaret. Cecil was moved to write to Sir Henry Norris: “I hope her Majesty will have some favourable compassion of the said lady, whom any humane nature must needs pity.”6

  That day Margaret was informed that she had two visitors: Margaret Gamage, the wife of William, Lord Howard, and Cecil’s wife, Mildred Cooke, who had been entrusted by the Queen with the awful task of telling her that both Darnley and Lennox were dead.7 The shock of learning of the terrible end of her son, who had been just twenty years old, was more than Margaret could bear, and she “could not by any means be kept from such passion of mind as the horribleness of the fact did require.”8 “How may I with tears his death overpass?” she cries in Phillips’s Commemoration, which contains long reflections on how Darnley was entrapped and betrayed by flatterers and traitors. “The mother was so grieved that it was necessary for the Queen to send her doctors to her,” and Dr. Robert Huicke, and Gabriel Goodman, the Protestant Dean of Westminster,9 who was looking after young Charles Stuart, hastened to the Tower.


  For a time it was widely believed that Lennox had been killed alongside his son. On February 21 the Venetian ambassador in France reported that “the husband of the Queen of Scotland, and his father the Earl of Lennox, had been assassinated.”10 The next day the Papal Nuncio referred in a letter to “the news of the death of the King of Scotland and of the Earl of Lennox his father. He and his father were found dead in the public street, both of them stripped, a spectacle worthy of the most profound commiseration.” As late as March 20 it was believed in Paris that Darnley “and the father of the King both lost their lives.”11

  In fact Lennox had not been at Kirk O’Field; he had left Glasgow on the night of the murder and gone to Linlithgow, where he was given the dreadful news of his son’s death. Immediately he went back to Glasgow.12 With his enemies—Bothwell, Moray and Maitland—ranged against him, it was the safest place. But by February 19, Mary had summoned him back to Edinburgh.13

  On February 20, Cecil visited Darnley’s “bereaved mother” in the Tower, and reassured her that Lennox could not have perished in the explosion as he had certainly been at Glasgow when it happened.14 That was a huge relief to Margaret, but nothing would ever compensate her for the loss of her son, and she was in such grief that Cecil advised the Queen to release her from the Tower.

  Elizabeth seems to have felt genuine pity for Margaret. On February 21 she was “taken out of the Tower, and placed in Sackville’s house.”15 Sackville Place was where Margaret had stayed four years earlier, after her release from Sheen. Her former host, Sir Richard Sackville, had died the previous April, and it was his son, Thomas, Lord Buckhurst, who was now to be her custodian, although the terms of her confinement were not onerous and she was permitted visitors. When Silva saw Elizabeth on February 22 he “praised her action in consoling and taking Margaret out of prison, and said how it had been approved by all.”16 Elizabeth had also arranged for Margaret’s remaining son, nine-year-old Charles, to be brought to his mother.17

  Margaret had learned that Mary had left Kirk O’Field for Holyrood two hours before Darnley’s murder.18 With hindsight this looked damning. Melville told Silva that in the first, most terrible, throes of her grief,

  Lady Margaret used words against his Queen, whereat I am not surprised, as I told him, because grief like this distracts the most prudent people, much more one so sorely beset. She is not the only person that suspects the Queen to have had some hand in the business, and they think they see in it revenge for her Italian Secretary, and the long estrangement which this caused between her and her husband gave a greater opportunity for evil persons to increase the trouble. The heretics here publish the Queen’s complicity as a fact, but they are helped in their belief by their suspicion and dislike for her. The Catholics are divided, the friends of the King holding with the Queen’s guilt and her adherents the contrary.19

  Margaret could not even find comfort in a funeral service, for already Darnley had been buried in the choir of Holyrood Abbey. It had been a private ceremony, and he had not been accorded the honors of a royal funeral, which drew criticism in London and must have given Margaret further cause for grief. Many years later she would recall how “thus lingering in woe my dolour increase[d]. Dame Nature constrained me to rush forth my tears; to send forth my woes I no time have ceased; the heavens of my cries just record still bears; the fact of this slaughter blown in my cares, my cares made babble day and night.”20

  Lennox was as grief-stricken as his wife, and consumed with the desire for vengeance. Honor demanded that he avenge his son’s murder, so he resolved to stay in Scotland to gather evidence and bring the perpetrators to justice. On February 20 he had written to Queen Mary complaining that, since she had failed to prosecute anyone, he was “forced” to give her his “poor and simple advice for bringing the matter to light.” He reminded her that she was bound to pursue the murderers “for God’s cause and the honour of your Majesty and this your realm,” and urged her to summon Parliament to make a “perfect trial,” so “that the bloody and cruel actors of this deed shall be manifestly known.”21 The next day Mary informed him that she had already proclaimed a parliament for this purpose.22 Lennox also appealed to Queen Elizabeth to preserve King James, “the little innocent, her poor orphan and kinsman.”23

  On February 24, Elizabeth wrote to Mary of her shock at Darnley’s murder. The fact that she addressed her as “Madame,” rather than the customary “Sister,” suggests that she, like Margaret and many others, had her suspicions. She wrote: “My ears have been so astounded and my heart so frightened to hear of the horrible and abominable murder of your husband, my cousin, that I have scarcely spirit to write, yet I cannot conceal that I grieve for you more than him.” She was concerned about Mary’s apparent inertia when it came to pursuing the assassins, and the sinister conclusions that many people were beginning to draw from that. Public opinion was increasingly connecting Bothwell to the murder, and Bothwell was powerful at c
ourt and high in favor with Mary, which in itself now looked suspicious. Not knowing that Mary was suffering a nervous and physical collapse, she exhorted her to do something and still the wagging tongues. “I should not do the office of a faithful cousin and friend if I did not urge you to preserve your honour, rather than look through your fingers at revenge on those who have done you such a favour, as most people say. I counsel you to take this matter to heart that you may show the world what a noble princess and loyal wife you are. I write thus vehemently not that I doubt, but for affection.”24

  Lennox was also wondering why Mary was not vigorously searching out the murderers. On February 26, having heard that Parliament would not assemble until April 14, he expressed his anxiety at the delay, naming Bothwell and others as Darnley’s murderers and urging that they be taken into custody and punished “to the example of ye whole world.” We do not know what evidence he had against Bothwell, but his exhortation to the Queen to consider her duty and her honour, “for the love of God,” reflects a swell of opinion that she was dragging her heels in bringing the murderers to justice. She should act speedily, he urged, so that it should not be said that she was in league with murderers.25

  Silva later heard, probably from Margaret, that Lennox had written to Mary

  that he does not think that calling Parliament together is very necessary, as it is not a matter for Parliament to punish such a crime as this. He has written the same effect to his wife, who is still grieving for the loss of her son, and confesses that she, like her husband, has no other object but to avenge his death, although she sees that it would be better for her to be calmer about it than she is. She thinks the end of it all will be that they will murder her husband, as they have murdered her son, and she is in great fear that the heretics will take possession of her grandson, and try to bring him up to their own tricks. She thinks that they have been prompted to this action by some friends here of Catherine [de’ Medici], who have found ready compliance in the Scotch, in consequence of their small attachment to the English. Margaret, although she is sensible, is impassioned, as is natural in her position, and believes that the Queen of Scotland is not free from the death of her husband.26

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