Today in Mary Queen of Scots History:  February 10

Today is the 447th anniversary of the murder of Henry, Lord Darnley, the husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, and therefore the King of Scots.  He was King of Scots by marriage only; Mary would have had to petition the Scots Parliament for the Crown Matrimonial to be granted to Darnley and then she would have approved this edict.  Although in the first flush of love, Mary promised this to Darnley, as the relationship deteriorated, she became reluctant to confer such power and honor upon him.  Alison Weir writes, “The Crown Matrimonial was to become a bone of contention between Mary and Darnley, and would permanently sour their relationship.”1  Darnley was one of those guys who was charming only until the exchange of wedding rings.  He was alcoholic, abusive and antagonistic.  Not only did he manage to alienate his wife, the Queen of Scots, but he also betrayed every other ally he might have needed.  The only person who seemed to care for him or mourned him was his father, the Duke of Lennox.

In all the accounts of the murder and all the many biographies of Mary, Darnley and the others involved, not to mention all the novels, it is easy to forget that Darnley was only 20 years old when he was murdered.  (Mary was only 24).  I’m not excusing his bad behavior by any means; but it does put it into perspective.  Regardless of what age a person lives in, some people mature and some do not.  It appears that Darnley matured physically but never emotionally.  Antonia Fraser writes, “The truth was that Darnley was thoroughly spoilt:  he was the product of a striving mother and a doting father, and even the most rigorous education would probably have left little impact on a personality with from his earliest years had been encouraged to regard himself as the important centre round which the round revolved.”

Darnley seems like a typical abuser; Mary seems to fall into the pattern set by so many victims.  She fell in love with him in the spring of 1564; John Guy writes, “By the third week of May, Mary believed she was in love with Darnley.”3  However, her love was short-lived.  “By June 3, the relationship was already touring sour.” 4  Like many women before and after her, Mary continued with her plans of marriage even though nobody thought it was a good idea – Fraser writes that “Even the Maries were said to be against the match”5  and Guy asserts that, “If Randolph is to believed Darnley’s behavior became so ‘intolerable,’ Mary suffered a severe attack of melancholy.”6  But she wished to defy Queen Elizabeth more than anything else, and marrying Darnley would do that.  According to Guy, she was “determined to make a success of the marriage in spite of Darnley’s behavior.”7

There was not to be a successful marriage.  Eight months later, when Mary was pregnant with the future James VI of Scotland and I of England, Darnley entered into a conspiracy which engineered the murder of her private secretary, David Rizzio, in her presence, which could have only been an attempt to make her miscarry the child and bring on her subsequent death.  Mary was able to split Darnley from the other conspirators, which then assured his death, sometime in the future.

It has been said that Mary wanted Darnley dead to avenge David Rizzio’s death.  However, Darnley was of more used to Mary alive than dead; dead, he was a liability she would never overcome.  Given that he was mortally stricken with syphilis, all she had to do was shut him up in Craigmillar Castle and let him go insane.  She had her heir; he had done his duty.

1.  Weir, Alison.  Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley.  page 81

2. Fraser, Antonia.  Mary Queen of Scots.  page 225

3. Guy, John.  Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart.  page 203

4. ibid

5. Fraser, page 264

6. Guy, page 203

7. Guy, page 207


Fraser, Antonia.  Mary Queen of Scots. New York:  Dell Publishing, 1971

Guy, John.  Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart. Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004

Weir, Alison. Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley. New York:  Random House, 2003



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