1567: Assassination, abduction and rebellion

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  • Hermitage Castle was visited by Mary, Queen of Scots only once when she went to attend to an injured Lord Bothwell.
    Hermitage Castle in the Scottish Borders © Historic Scotland
  • Mary, Queen of Scots and the Earl of Bothwell married in the Palace of Holyroodhouse on 15 May 1567.
    James V Tower at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh © Royal Collection Trust
  • A depiction of the military stand off at Carberry Hill, which took place when Mary's third marriage became unpopular.
    Meeting at Carberry Hill watercolour from The National Archives
  • The Memorial of Lord Darnley was a propoganda painting commissioned by Darnley's parents after his death.
    The Memorial of Lord Darnley © Royal Collection Trust

1567 was a particularly dramatic year for Mary. Lord Darnley was assassinated in Edinburgh whilst Mary was attending a servant’s wedding celebration. To add to the controversy, Mary was apparently ‘abducted’ by Lord Bothwell – the man she was accused of having an adulterous affair with – only to marry him barely three months after the death of her husband.

Assassination: 10 February 1567

Mary aged 24

In February 1567 Darnley was recovering in Glasgow from a bout of serious illness. It seems Mary encouraged him to return to Edinburgh, to stay in the lodgings of one of her connections at Kirk o’Field. While Mary was attending the wedding celebrations of a servant, in the early hours of 10 February 1567 an explosion devastated the house at Kirk o’Field. Darnley was found dead in the nearby orchard, apparently smothered, with no signs of injury on his body. Rumours spread that Mary and Lord Bothwell were complicit in the plot.

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The site of Kirk o’Fields (Church of St Mary in the Fields) was just yards from the location today of the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, Edinburgh. 

Palace of Holyroodhouse A propaganda painting, The Memorial of Lord Darnley (Livinus de Vogelaare, 1567) was commissioned by Darnley’s parents, the Earl and Countess of Lennox. It is a damning condemnation of Mary’s alleged role and her inappropriate relationship with the Earl of Bothwell.

Abduction?: 24 April 1567

Aged 24

There were rumours that Mary and Lord Bothwell were lovers as early as October 1566, when she made a journey of four hours each way on horseback to visit him at Hermitage Castle, where he lay ill from wounds inflicted during a skirmish with border reivers. After Darnley’s death, between 21-23 April 1567, Mary visited her son James at Stirling Castle. On her way back to Edinburgh, on the road from Linlithgow Palace, Bothwell confronted her, with 800 of his men. She was abducted ‘for her safety’ and taken to Dunbar Castle, where Bothwell reputedly assaulted her to secure marriage. Other accounts suggest she was a willing accomplice.

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Hermitage Castle Mary visited this castle in the Scottish Borders only once, but in dramatic circumstances, leading to rumours that she was having an adulterous affair with Bothwell. 

Dunbar Castle Once one of the mightiest fortresses in Scotland, this is where Mary and Bothwell emerged to be married in 1567.

Third marriage: 15 May 1567

Aged 24

It must have seemed extraordinary that barely more than three months after the death of Lord Darnley, Mary married the Earl of Bothwell, who had been accused (and indeed tried and acquitted) of Darnley’s murder. What is more, Bothwell had divorced his own wife only a fortnight before the wedding, on the grounds of his alleged adultery with her maid. The new royal couple married at Holyrood, according to Protestant rites. Mary defended her choice of husband, stating that she and the country were in danger and Lord Bothwell was proven both in battle and as a defender of Scotland.

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Palace of Holyroodhouse Visit the Great Hall where Mary and the Earl of Bothwell were married in on 15 May 1567.

Rebellion: 16 June 1567

Aged 24

Both the marriage and Bothwell quickly became very unpopular. The Scottish lords turned against Mary and raised a force against her, resulting in a military stand-off at Carberry Hill, near Musselburgh, on 16 June 1567. The queen, on horseback, was dressed after the fashion of the women of Edinburgh, in a red petticoat, sleeves tied with points, and a velvet hat and muffler. It is said she used ‘great encouragements’ to attempt to get her army to fight. Bothwell offered single combat to any of the lords, but only a ‘mere’ baron would fight him and he declined. Desertions on Mary’s side eventually led to her surrender. Bothwell was given safe passage from the field and, after a final embrace, was never to see Mary again. The following day she was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle.

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Carberry Hill Take a stroll to see the commemorative stone on Queen Mary’s Mount marks the highpoint of an atmospheric woodland walk with panoramic views across East Lothian.