The Mysterious Death of Lord Darnley

A contemporary portrait of Darnley ~

A contemporary portrait of Darnley ~

What do we know of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley? He was the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. Darnley was tall enough to entice Mary, who was reportedly near six foot tall. He was a Catholic, but knew Anglicanism while attending the court of Elizabeth I. He was in line for the English throne though his mother, the Countess of Lennox. He and Mary married on 29 July 1565 in the Chapel at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, much to the dismay of many of Mary’s advisors. 

Supposedly, Darnley made enemies among the Scottish lords. He was arrogant and bad tempered. Even so, divorce was not possible for a Roman Catholic. 

Henry demanded the Crown Matrimonial from his wife, which would mean he would become King of Scotland if Mary died. She permitted him the title of King, but refused the legally binding Crown Matrimonial. Darnley blamed Mary’s refusal on David Rizzio, an Italian Catholic, who served as Mary’s  private secretary. Darnley, therefore, joined forced with several Protestant nobles to murder Rizzio. 

At a supper on 9 March 1566 at Holyroodhouse, Darnley and his coconspirators confronted Rizzio. Although Mary attempted to resolve the differences, Rizzio was stabbed 47 times. 

How did Darnley die? Darnley and Mary stayed at Kirk o’Field, a large church outside of Edinburgh on the evening of 9 February 1567. Conspirators secreted two barrels of gunpowder in the room below the one in which Darnley slept (the one assigned to Mary). Darnley was reportedly recovering from smallpox. [Many believe that Darnley suffered from syphilis.] At two of the morning, an explosion occurred, sending Darnley’s body hurtling some forty feet from the house. This find was part of the mystery. Should not Darnley’s body be found within the rubble of the explosion? Darnley’s body (and that of his servant found close by) displayed signs of strangulation.  (Historic Mysteries

Mary was away at a wedding upon the night of her husband’s death. 

Suspicion says Darnley learned of the plot beforehand and fled into the night and was killed then. Initially, the soldier who found the bodies was thought to be innocent, but was later arrested for the crimes, tried, and executed. Mary fled to England, only to be imprisoned by Elizabeth I and executed in 1587. 

One of the theories of the death comes to us from “The man who had the most to gain from the death of Henry Stuart, was James Stuart, Earl of Moray, Mary’s half brother. He may not have physically committed the murder but he was the one behind the scenes pulling the strings and orchestrating the development of the plan.

Hugh R. Williamson wrote:
“Whoever the actual murderers were and however the crime was accomplished, and the mystery is never likely to be solved, there is no reasonable doubt that the man behind it all was Moray.

“After he was pardoned and recalled from England, he was never absent – except when it was dangerous to be present – from his sister’s side.

“He pretended to befriend both Darnley and Bothwell, playing on Darnley’s jealousy and on Bothwell’s growing affection for the queen.

“He had to accomplish an even more sensational coup before the end of that year 1567. In December, Mary would be twenty-five, and on her twenty-fifth birthday she would, by Scottish custom, have the right to annul or confirm all grants made during her minority.

“Moray knew well that at that moment his power and his wealth would be taken from him. But in any event, Mary on her twenty-fifth birthday was his prisoner in Lochleven Castle and he was Regent of Scotland, ruling in the name of the baby prince.”

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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