James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, Duke of Orkney and Shetland, and third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, died on the 14th April, 1578.
Bothwell was one of the most colourful figures in Scottish history, succeeding his father as Earl of Bothwell and hereditary Lord High Admiral of Scotland. He was implicated in the murder of Henry, Lord Darnley, Mary, Queen of Scots’ second husband. He was said to be a womaniser, but surely not by the standards of the day, when illegitimacy was rife amongst the nobility. However, perceived wisdom surrounding his marrying Mary does appear the stuff of bodice ripping fiction. He was also ambitious, with his fair share of rivals in an age of intrigue and counter plotting, which is probably why history has judged him so harshly, being ultimately on a losing side. He should be viewed as neither good nor bad; a man of his time.
Although he was formally a Protestant, Bothwell was not rabid, like John Knox, and supported the Catholic Regent, Mary of Guise. Whatever else can be said of him, we surely can’t question his loyalty and zeal in the nation’s cause. Throughout his life, he was at odds with many of his fellow nobles in Scotland, many of whom were more concerned with their own fortunes, rather than Scotland’s. James’ father had his moments of disloyalty and was forgiving of the English for the ‘rough wooing’ of the child Mary. Both these circumstances likely contributed to Bothwell’s unforgiving, anti-English stance.
Regent Mary’s judgement was suspect, giving too many key positions to French Catholic officials. This led to the formation of the Band of the Congregation of the Lord, where a group of earls and lairds, including the Earl of Argyll, entered into a Covenant to support the Reformation and oppose Catholicism. Whatever your opinion on the rights and wrongs betwixt either side in a religious context, the Lords’ actions amounted to treason. Trouble was, several of these ‘traitors’, particularly Argyll, were trusted by the Regent Mary, as was Bothwell, whom she appointed Lieutenant of the Border.
Raids by and against the English were commonplace and, after Mary Tudor died, Elizabeth I attempted to secure peace, initiating talks. However, Bothwell had good reason to be suspicious and procrastinated on the Scots’ behalf. These suspicions were realised when an English instigated Protestant uprising, allied to the ‘Congregation’, managed to formally remove the Regent Mary from power, in Ocotber, 1559. Shortly after, Bothwell managed to successfully foil a shipment of ‘blood money’ on route to the rebellious Lords, depriving them of funds and exposing the English Queen’s treachery.
After that, in 1560, he was despatched Mary of Guise on a mission to her daughter’s court in France – she was at that time, Queen of France, in addition to being Queen of Scots, which is why the Regency existed beyond her minority, of course. On his way to France, Bothwell paid a visit to Denmark, which was to prove significant, albeit much later. In Copenhagen, he met and seduced Anna Trond Rustung. He became engaged, perhaps married, to this lady and was given a huge dowry by her father, the Norwegian Admiral. Anna accompanied him on his journey, but only as far as Holland, where he abandoned her, retaining the dowry, like a good villain should.
After the return of Mary, Queen of Scots, from France, in 1561, the loyal Bothwell was amongst her advisers and a member of the Privy Council. Nevertheless, in 1562, he was accused, by the Earl of Arran, of plotting to kidnap her. The entire history of this period is one of plot and counter plot, imprisonment and escape, betrayal and reconciliation. Here’s a summary of Bothwell’s next several years: he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, escaped, headed for France, captured by the English, held in the Tower, released and reached France, before being recalled by Mary who wanted him to suppress a revolt by her half brother, the powerful Earl of Moray and Bothwell’s nemesis. Who exactly, were the traitors in all this, I wonder?
By this time Mary was married to the unfortunate Lord Darnley and Bothwell to Jean Gordon, sister of the Earl of Huntly. Bothwell was now Mary's closest adviser and hints of a relationship were beginning to show. However, as Mary was pregnant at the time of the murder of her secretary, ‘Fiddler Davie’ Rizzio, we can discount Bothwell as a possible father to the future James VI in lieu of a cuckolded Darnley. Who knows, maybe it was Rizzio.
Then, in February, 1567, Lord Darnley, was murdered. Most Scots at the time believed that Bothwell was responsible and he was put on trial in Edinburgh, however, he was acquitted. The plot to kill Darnley was known as the Craigmillar Bond and it is usually said that it was signed by Huntly, Argyll, Maitland, Bothwell, Balfour, and Morton. This bond has not survived and its existence relies on the testimony of two men, extracted under torture and since discredited. I think we can safely say that Bothwell signed no such bond.
In April, 1567, Bothwell proposed marriage to Mary, despite being still married to Jean Gordon. At first, Mary refused. Undettered, Bothwell kidnapped her and took her to Dunbar Castle. As Mary later stated that she was an unwilling participant, it is assumed that Bothwell raped her. However, that doesn’t square with rumours of their imitate relationship and Mary is on record as declaring, "that she cares not to lose France, England and her own country for him and will go with him to the world's end in a white petticoat". Detractors can’t have it both ways. Whatever happened, they agreed to marry and Bothwell sorted out a divorce from Jean, in May, on the grounds of his adultery with her servant, Bessie Crawford. Bothwell and Mary were married in May, 1567, and then fled to Dunbar Castle to avoid the scandal.
The beginning of the end for both Mary and Bothwell came when they were confronted by the dissident Scottish Nobles and an army at Carberry Hill, in June, 1567. Mary surrendered and Bothwell made his escape, intending to raise support for Mary. However, he ended up fleeing to his Dukedom of Orkney and Shetland, on to Norway and finally, back to Denmark. On route, he was apprehended on behalf of the jilted Anna Trond Rustung, whom this time he had to repay.
After Mary’s imprisonment in England, Bothwell lost the good faith of the Danish King and was locked up in the castle of Dragsholm. Here, in solitary confinement and dreary inactivity, the full-blooded, energetic Bothwell succumbed to insanity and died on the 14th of April 1578. He was buried at the church of Faarevejle.