James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell (b. 1534; d. 14 April 1578) and Mary, Queen of Scots (b. 8 December 1542) are believed to have first met in the autumn of 1560 when the Earl visited the French court and was kindly received by the Queen and her first husband, King Francis II (b. 19 January 1544). Francis II, who Mary had married in 1558 died in December 1560 and Bothwell was one of the men who played a part on organising Mary’s return to Scotland in August of 1561 in his capacity in the navy.
Four years after her return from France—where she had spent most of her young life—Mary married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley on 29 July 1565. they had one son (James VI; b. 19 June 1566) but the marriage was thought to be an unhappy one as Darnley demanded to be made co-sovereign of Scotland and to be given the right to maintain the throne in his own right if he outlived Mary. Mary refused the request and though their marriage grew increasingly strained until Darnley was found murdered in the garden of his residence in 1567.
Bothwell, who Mary had maintained contact with throughout her second marriage, was formally accused of having played a role in Darnley’s murder in February 1567. Legal proceedings against him proceeded on 12 April 1567 but he was ultimately acquitted and rumours that he was to marry Mary began to circulate.
In late April 1567, while returning to Edinburgh after visiting her son James at Stirling Castle, Mary was abducted by the Earl of Bothwell and his men and taken to Dunbar Castle. There she was taken prisoner and it is alleged that he forced himself on her in order to secure marriage and the crown. This issue remains controversial, however, as it is not known if she went willingly or not.
On May 6 the two returned together to Edinburgh where Mary created Bothwell the Duke of Orkney and Marquis of Fife on 12 May. On 15 May 1567 the two were married at Holyrood Palace. The marriage was deeply unpopular as Catholics and Protestants alike were shocked that Mary had married the man accused of murdering her husband and an uprising against the couple took place at Carberry Hill on 15 June. Bothwell fled into exile and was eventually imprisoned in Denmark where he became insane, dying a decade later in 1578. Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle and in July she was forced to abdicate in favour of her son James.
After unsuccessfully attempting to regain the throne Mary fled south to England in May 1568 to seek the protection of her first cousin, once removed—Queen Elizabeth I of England. She was not greeted warmly though. As the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s eldest sister, Margaret, Mary had previously laid claims to Elizabeth’s throne and many English Catholics saw her as the legitimate sovereign. It did not help her cause that Mary had been lukewarm about religion while in Scotland (having lived with a Protestant government and married Protestant Bothwell) but chose to emphasise her devotion to the Catholic faith while in England. In order to protect her throne, Elizabeth put Mary under house arrest in a number of castles and manors in England where she would stay for nearly 20 years. This time saw many attempted uprisings both on Mary’s behalf and, in some cases, allegedly with Mary’s involvement. Under pressure from parliament and fearing the relentless Catholic plots against her, Elizabeth eventually found Mary guilty of plotting to assassinate the queen and ordered her to be beheaded. She died 8 February 1587.
Mary, Queen of Scots—also known as Mary Stuart and Mary I of Scotland—reigned as Queen of Scotland from 14 December 1542, following the death of her father, James V, until 24 July 1567 when she was forced to abdicate in favour of her son, James VI.