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A Royal Murder: Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

Around 2:00 am on the 10th February 1567 the area around Kirk O’ Field in Scotland was rocked by two large explosions. Following them, two people were found dead in a nearby orchard. One was Lord Darnley, and the other his valet. His wife Mary, Queen of Scots, was not present in the house at the time. But what had led to this tragic murder, which marked the downward spiral of Mary, Queen of Scots – from Scottish Queen to prisoner of Queen Elizabeth I of England?

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was born in Temple Newsham in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1545 the son of Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox and his wife Margaret (née Douglas). Brought up a Roman Catholic, he had a claim to the thrones of both England and Scotland through his parents. Matthew had been third in line to the Scottish throne, however, following him siding with the English (during the attempt to marry Edward VI to the infant Mary, Queen of Scots) he fled to England. His mother Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, the younger sister of Henry VIII, who married Archibald Douglas.

He received a very good education, and in 1559 he was sent to the French court where his cousin Mary, Queen of Scots who had married the Dauphin had become Queen Consort of France following the death of King Henry II. Though Mary became Queen of Scots, she had ruled through regents as she was only six days old when her father died. Sadly, her time in France was short-lived as her husband died in 1560, and she returned to the Scottish Court.

Some five years later in mid-February 1565, Henry was presented to Mary at Wemyss Castle. Contemporary accounts detail Mary’s pleasure at the sight of Henry, and they were married that July in Mary’s private chapel in Holyrood. However, he was leaning towards Protestantism in his faith and did not accompany his wife to Mass after the wedding.

After the wedding, Mary soon saw a different side to Henry, one that was disruptive at court sometimes due to drinking. Though the Scottish Parliament had consented to the couple ruling together, Mary would not give Henry the right of Crown Matrimonial, so in the event of her death, he would continue to rule solely as King. In addition to his displeasure over this, Henry also did not like the attention paid to his wife by her private secretary, David Rizzio. Mary had become pregnant, and there was little question of who the father may be.

Seven months into the pregnancy, Rizzio was knifed and killed in front of Mary, by confederates of Henry who then fled to England, though Henry protested his innocence. Mary gave birth to a child christened Henry James; later he would become James VI of Scotland and then James I of England. Following the birth, it appeared the couple were heading for reconciliation, despite Henry’s continued insistence of wanting the Crown Matrimonial.

Henry was murdered eight months after the birth of his son. Weeks before he had been ill with smallpox and was recuperating with his relatives. However, Mary brought him to be near her at Kirk O’ Field, a two-storey provost’s house in the quadrangle of Holyrood. It was there his life was brought to his tragic end.

Mary was implicated in his death, and she fled to England. She was later executed by Elizabeth I, not for her husband’s murder but for being involved in a plot against Elizabeth. Her son James took the Scottish throne as James VI, upon the death of Elizabeth he would also take the English throne as James I.