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Portrait of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley by Adrian Vanson

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (1545-1567)

Young Darnley and his brotherHENRY STEWART, LORD DARNLEY, or Henry Stuart, Earl of Ross and Duke of Albany, second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, was the eldest son of Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox (1516-1571), and through his mother Lady Margaret Douglas (1515-1578) was a great-grandson of the English King Henry VII.  Born at Temple Newsam in Yorkshire on the 7th of December 1545, he was educated in England, and his lack of intellectual ability was compensated for by exceptional skill in military exercises. After the death of Francis II of France in 1560 Darnley was sent into that country by his mother, who hoped that he would become King of England on Elizabeth's death, and who already entertained the idea of his marriage with Mary, Queen of Scots, the widow of Francis, as a means to this end.

Consequently in 1561 both Lady Margaret and her son, who were English subjects, were imprisoned by Elizabeth; but they were soon released, and Darnley spent some time at the English court before proceeding to Scotland in February 1565. The marriage of Mary and Darnley was now a question of practical politics, and the Queen, having nursed her new suitor through an attack of measles, soon made up her mind to wed him, saying he "was the properest and best proportioned long man that ever she had seen." The attitude of Elizabeth towards this marriage is difficult to understand. She had permitted Darnley to journey to Scotland, and it has been asserted that she entangled Mary into this union; but on the other hand she and her council declared their dislike of the proposed marriage, and ordered Darnley and his father to repair to London, a command which was disobeyed. In March 1565 there were rumours that the marriage had already taken place, but it was actually celebrated at Holyrood on the 29th of July 1565.

Darnley and Mary, Queen of ScotsAlthough Mary had doubtless a short infatuation for Darnley, the union was mainly due to political motives, and in view of the characters of bride and bridegroom it is not surprising that trouble soon arose between them. Contrary to his expectations Darnley did not receive the crown matrimonial, and his foolish and haughty behaviour, his vicious habits, and his boisterous companions did not improve matters. He was on bad terms with the regent Murray and other powerful nobles, who disliked the marriage and were intriguing with Elizabeth. Scotland was filled with rumours of plot and assassination, and civil war was only narrowly avoided. Unable to take any serious part in affairs of state, Darnley soon became estranged from his wife. He believed that Mary's relations with David Rizzio injured him as a husband, and was easily persuaded to assent to the murder of the Italian, a crime in which he took part. Immediately afterwards, however, flattered and cajoled by the Queen, he betrayed his associates to her, and assisted her to escape from Holyrood to Dunbar. Owing to these revelations he was deserted and distrusted by his companions in the murder, and soon lost the Queen's favour.

In these circumstances he decided to leave Scotland, but a variety of causes prevented his departure; and meanwhile at Craigmillar a band of nobles undertook to free Mary from her husband, who refused to be present at the baptism of his son, James, at Stirling in December 1566. The details of the conspiracy at Craigmillar are not clear, nor is it certain what part, if any, Mary took in these proceedings. The first intention may have been to obtain a divorce for the Queen, but it was soon decided that Darnley must be killed. Rumours of the plot came to his ears, and he fled from Stirling to Glasgow, where he fell ill, possibly by poisoning, and where Mary came to visit him. Another reconciliation took place between husband and wife, and Darnley was persuaded to journey with Mary by easy stages to Edinburgh. Apartments were prepared for the pair at Kirk o' Field, a house just inside the city walls, and here they remained for a few days. On the evening of the 9th of February 1567 Mary took an affectionate farewell of her husband, and went to attend some gaieties in Edinburgh. A few hours later, on the morning of the 10th, Kirk o' Field was blown up with gunpowder. Darnley's body was found at some distance from the house, and it is supposed that he was strangled whilst making his escape. The remains were afterwards buried in the chapel at Holyrood.

Contemporary sketch of the scene of the Darnley murder

Much discussion has taken place about this crime, and the guilt or innocence of Mary is still a question of doubt and debate. It seems highly probable, however, that the Queen was accessory to the murder, which was organized by her lover and third husband, Bothwell. As the father of King James I, Darnley is the direct ancestor of all the sovereigns of England since 1603. Personally he was a very insignificant character and his sole title to fame is his connexion with Mary, Queen of Scots.




      Excerpted from:

      Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed. Vol VII.
      Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910. 837.









Books for further study:

Weir, Alison. Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley.
            Pimlico Press, 2005.




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Images:

Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
Map of England from Saxton's Descriptio Angliae, 1579
Location Map of Elizabethan London
Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time
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Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
Visscher's Panoramic View of London, 1616. COLOR
c. 1690. View of London Churches, after the Great Fire
The Yard of the Tabard Inn from Thornbury, Old and New London




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