Scotlands History

Bothwell

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, would become the third husband of Mary Queen of Scots. He was an uncompromising, hard-bitten man with a fighter’s broken nose and a steely resolve. He made enemies among the Protestant Lords and remained a steadfast and loyal supporter of Mary Queen of Scots.

Mary of Guise had recognised Bothwell’s loyalty by granting him Hermitage Castle and appointing him Lieutenant of the Border in addition to his hereditary role as Lord High Admiral of Scotland. In 1559 Bothwell managed to intercept and steal a consignment of gold coins sent by Elizabeth I to fund the rebellion of the Protestant Lords of the Congregation. The Lords burned Bothwell’s home, Crichton Castle, when he refused to return the money.

Bothwell first met Mary Stuart when she was Queen of France. He had run out of money at the time and later recalled that the Queen ‘recompensed me more liberally and honourably than I had deserved’.

Bothwell gained a reputation as a womaniser - his failed relationship with a Norwegian noblewoman named Anna Tronds would later have dire consequences. He married Lady Jean Gordon in 1566. The marriage lasted little more than a year.

In March 1566, when Rizzio was murdered, Bothwell helped to plan Mary’s escape from Holyroodhouse. He then mustered an army to support the Queen as she rode back to Edinburgh with Darnley to face the plotters.

Bothwell has been accused of the murder of Lord Darnley for hundreds of years. In the weeks following the assassination, a well orchestrated propaganda campaign started against Bothwell led by the Protestant Lords. Bothwell had made powerful enemies. These included Mary’s illegitimate half-brother, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray. Moray had led the Protestant Lords of the Congregation’s rebellion against Mary of Guise. Moray had helped plan the murder of Rizzio and was plotting in secret with Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster, against Mary.

Barely a few weeks after the murder of Darnley, Bothwell abducted Mary, taking her to Dunbar Castle. On 15 May 1567 Bothwell and Mary were married at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The backlash from Moray and the Protestant Lords intensified. Placards in the streets depicted Mary as a mermaid - a sign for a prostitute. The plot against Bothwell and Mary would later include the forging of the famous Casket Letters. Mary’s short marriage to Bothwell was a disaster.

Many Scots nobles rose up against Mary, raising an army that met Mary, Bothwell and their force at Carberry Hill in June. An agreement was made between Mary and the opposing nobles; she would ride with them in safety to Edinburgh and Bothwell would be free to go. He would never see Mary again.

Bothwell escaped Scotland but fell into the hands of relatives of Anna Tronds. He was then sent to the notorious Dragsholm Castle by the King of Denmark. Bothwell spent the next decade living in terrible conditions. He died - mad and chained to a stone pillar - on 14 April 1578.

  • Portrait of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell

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