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Old World Scotland
Chapter XVIII. New Light on the Darnley Murder


Perhaps of the paradoxical in politics no more curious example could be found than the great, almost pre-eminent, part played by Darnley in the events of his time. His one gift, so to say, was the result of a peculiar combination of weakness and baseness. Had he been cleverer or greater villain his career had perhaps been less momentous. It was the inordinateness of his moral debility rather than of his positive wickedness that made him such an efficient marplot of the schemes both of Mary and her opponents. To the assassins of Riccio he proved a dupe and tool of matchless suitability for their particular purpose; and yet Mary found in him an equally admirable accomplice in robbing them of the main fruits of their daring venture. His joint capacity for dupery and treachery was so inordinately rank that it counted for one of the potent political forces of the period, and in no small degree assisted in constituting the few short months which comprehended the assassination of Riccio and his own tragic death one of the epochs of Scottish history. But fruitful of great results as had been the unrestrained action of his imbecility, these were more than matched by the consequences which followed his "taking off"; for his death proved to be the turning-point in the final struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism in Great Britain, and has up till now remained the centre of one of the most burning of historical controversies.

From the time of his marriage to the Queen of Scots Darnley was almost foredoomed to calamity, if not assassination. The career of any one who became Mary's husband was bound to be eventful, but in the case of one with Darnley's peculiar idiosyncrasies it was necessarily fated to be short. The causes that made for his assassination thickened with amazing rapidity. Originally danger threatened him only from the Protestants, including Moray, who, it has been argued, had already set his ambition on the Scottish throne; or from the Hamiltons, who had rival claims with Darnley to the Scottish throne apart from his marriage to the Queen of Scots; or from nobles such as Argyll, who had an hereditary feud with his family. With the murder of Riccio and escape of Mary the dangers so increased that his fate was practically sealed. What might have been the result had Mary not won him over to flee with her to Dunbar it is difficult to forecast. Possibly her escape did little to effect ultimate events, except as they bore on her reputation with posterity. had she not escaped she might have been saved from entanglement in Darnley's assassination, and her reputation with posterity as Catholic martyr might have been un- dimmed. As for Darnley, all that can be said is that practically he left nothing undone that could compass his own death. First and foremost he had, as M. Philippson, in his "Histoire du Règne de Marie Stuart," points out, won for himself the hatred, ''implacable and mortal," of hi consort Mary Stuart; for besides having been party to the murder of her most trusted political confidant he had burst her conspiracy for a Catholic conquest of Great Britain: he had done so unconsciously indeed, but in such a manner as to render wedlock to him an intolerable encumbrance. As regards the Protestants, he had shown that in the character of avowed friend and ally he was much more dangerous than as open foe. Even nobles such as Morton, who, though Protestants were "devoted to him by bond of blood," he had hopelessly estranged by a wanton betrayal of their interests; and diplomatists like Maitland he had outwitted and ruined by the incalculable peculiarities of his moral idiocy. To crown all there was the rise to a position of supreme influence in the councils of the queen of the sinister Bothwell, whose one, but all-sufficient, objection to Darnley was that he stood in the way of his ambition. Such in outline were the influences which worked together to effect Darnley's death. The chief question of historians has been as to the character of their combination—as to which were principal and which subordinate.

M. Philippson, in his recent volume, has propounded the notion that the main contrivers of the Darnley murder were the leaders of the Protestant nobility, with apparently the connivance of Cecil; and has assigned as their main motive that ''they saw in him as Catholic prince a dangerous adversary, not on account of his personal qualities but of his position as husband of the queen and father of the future king of Great Britain." The credibility of this conclusion would have been more apparent had Darnley not at this time been notoriously and hopelessly estranged from the queen. On account of the estrangement he had already become and seemed destined to remain a political cypher, and therefore so far as Protestantism was concerned his removal from the political arena was at this particular juncture by no means urgent. Indeed it might even be plausibly contended that to the Protestants there was meanwhile considerable advantage in allowing Darnley to remain as husband of the queen. To prolong the quarrel between them. rather than to bring it to a close would probably have been the more prudent policy. Hampered as both then were they were practically powerless to effect much harm to Protestantism. Bishop Leslie would have had no scruple in ascribing the assassination to more Protestant zeal had there been the semblance of a reason for doing so; but in the short narrative included in Mr. Forbes-Leith's "Narratives of Scottish Catholics (1885) he affirms that it was done at the instance of Morton, Ruthven, Lindsay, and other assassins of Riccio, and solely in revenge for the betrayal of their plans to the queen. This is of course a by no means correct account of the origin of the conspiracy, and indeed so far as both Morton and Lindsay are concerned it is palpably the reverse of true, for Morton declined to take part in the assassination, and Lindsay, who also, like Morton, was a relative of Darnley, knew nothing of it—as even Lord Herries admitted—and cherished the deepest resentment towards the supposed murderers. But the bishop's theory manifests at least his disbelief in the plausibility of such a theory as that of Mr. Philippson, whose curious speculation indicates a strangely erroneous conception of the individual idiosyncrasies of the Scottish nobles. Even had Darnly been at this time the main anxiety of the Protestant nobility a divorce would have served their purpose quite as well as assassination; and thus Bishop Leslie clearly saw that if they were to be saddled with the responsibility of the assassination, revenge, and revenge alone, must be assigned as the motive. But plainly the main concern of the Protestant nobility at this time was to strengthen their position by obtaining the recall of Morton and other exiled assassins of Riccio. The assent of Bothwell and the queen to their recall indicates that if the leaders of the Protestant nobility did favour the assassination of Darnley they did so for the special benefit of Bothwell if not also of the queen. With their recall there arose, the danger that the scale of political influence might be turned against Bothwell and the queen, and it would never have been agreed to except on the clear understanding of a quid pro quo. That quid pro quo was undoubtedly riddance from Darnley with a view to the queen's marriage to Bothwell. It is admitted that the leaders of the Protestant nobility did agree to a divorce; and the idea of assassination must have been suggested by considerations more urgent or more vehement than any that primarily concerned Protestantism. M. Philippson has himself unconsciously guided his readers to these considerations, and has thus supplied the best possible refutation of his own theory, by proving that as early as the Craigmillar conference Bothwell and Mary had determined in one way or other to be rid of Darnley. Mary, as he conclusively shows, was passionately attached to Bothwell. The attachment may—as some deem it necessary to suggest—have had its origin in gratitude; for it was to him that she chiefly owed recovery of her crown and kingdom after time murder of Riccio; but the theory that Mary throughout acted from semi-compulsion or self-interest, while it worsens rather than betters her case, is entirely opposed to the whole tenor of the evidence. Moreover, one of the main arguments against time possibility of Mary's attachment to Bothwell—that he was destitute of personal attractiveness—can scarcely longer be Persisted in. It never had much cogency—hardly more indeed than the theory that she was the victim of Both- well's sorcery—but in any case it seems to be now entirely refuted, not merely by the statement of the Venetian ambassador ("Calendar of Venetian State Papers") that he was "a young man of handsome presence," but by the significant testimony of even Bishop Leslie himself (" Narratives of Scottish Catholics "), that he was "endowed with great bodily strength and masculine beauty." But be this as it may, that Mary had already determined to marry him " in spite of the whole world," is manifest from the fact that immediately after the Craigmillar conference she began to adopt measures to secure his divorce from Lady Jean Gordon. It is thus abundantly evident that at the time of Darnley's assassination riddance from him was a matter of more vital moment to Bothwell and to Mary than to any one else.

That Maitland was accessory to the murder of Darnley—if he did not suggest it or the arrangements for it—is more than probable, for his close confabulations with Bothwell at this particular time can scarce be explained otherwise; but although he had very good reasons for detesting Darnley —supposing Darnley were worth more than mere contempt—he was never supremely devoted to Protestant sin, at least iii its Scottish form. He had, in fact, long ceased to enjoy the confidence of the Presbyterians; for some time lie had in addition to this been on a very doubtful footing with Moray; and by his marriage to the beautiful Mary Fleming he was linking his fortunes more closely with those of the queen. His main difficulty no doubt was Bothwell, who, in addition to his personal unfitness to occupy the great position to which lie aspired, was his bitter enemy; but he had no choice meanwhile except submission to Bothwell's ascendancy, and he may also have believed in the possibility of ultimately frustrating his ambition to obtain the queen's hand. As to Moray, it is impossible to suppose him entirely ignorant of the conspiracy, although perhaps he purposely avoided acquaintance with its methods and details. Apart altogether from Mary's account of the Craigmillar conference signed by Huntly and Argyll, and inadmissible as evidence in itself, the chances are that Moray was perfectly well aware that Darnley's assassination had been purposed. One who had attained to a position of such prominence and authority among the Protestant nobility, and whose fortunes were at this time in so critical a condition, was bound, even for his own safety, to adopt every precaution to obtain reliable information regarding such an important move on the political chess-board. Besides, the conspirators had been by no means reticent as to their intentions. That "something had" was contemplated against Darnley had even reached the Spanish ambassador in London. But Moray's opponents—whatever rumours may have been put into circulation by them—did not directly charge him with anything worse than neutrality the resolution to avoid entangling himself either in endeavours to save Darnley or in plans for his murder. Possibly he may have deemed it best meanwhile to maintain an attitude of masterly inactivity, and allow Bothwell and the queen full freedom to accomplish their own ignominy; but there were other manifest reasons to prevent his interference. Apart from the fact that he had no interest in saving Darnley's life, he had also to look to his own safety. Bothwell would have welcomed any excuse for getting rid of him as well as Darnley. lndeed his chief danger at this time was not from Darnley, but Bothwell. He had done his best to ruin Bothwell, and he could not suppose that Bothwell had forgotten it. From Bothwell he could expect nothing more than mere sufferance. That he was influenced in permitting the assassination by considerations of immediate advantage, beyond those of mere personal safety, is, however, out of the question. As matter of fact, the success of the plot brought to him meanwhile not merely political extinction, but a great worldly disaster, for Huntly's support of it—as well as consent to Bothwell's divorce from his sister, Lady Jean Gordon—had been purchased by promise of restoration to his forfeited estates then held by Moray. That promise —while it indicates how deeply the queen was involved in Bothwell's machinations— is sufficient proof of the small influence which Moray then exercised in the councils of either. Possibly could Moray have saved Darnley's life without endangering his own, he might have interfered (there is nothing to show whether he would or not), but even had lie desired to perform an act, in that ruthless age, of such exceptional chivalry, he would probably like Morton—who from motives of kinship, not chivalry, may have desired to save Darnley—have been pre- eluded from interference by his knowledge of Darnley's almost phenominal weakness of character. r1i115 was of itself sufficient to frustrate all efforts to save him. Of his manner of welcoming interference on behalf, Lord Robert Stewart had unpleasant experience. It entirely coincided with Morton's estimation of Darnley, that he was sic a bairne that there was naething tauld him but he would reveal it to the queen again." At Kirk-o-Field Lord Robert ventured to convey to Darnley an intimation of his danger, and for his pains was confronted with the queen, when in dread of his life lie deemed it best to deny having uttered words bearing any resemblance to those reported to her by Darnley. The fact was that Darnley was his own worst enemy. Friendship with him had become not merely an impossibility but a positive danger; and all that can be charged against Moray or Morton is that they avoided an effort to save him, which, while it would probably have been ineffectual of its purpose, might have proved fatal to themselves. While, therefore, there is no reason to suppose that had the Protestant nobility apprehended deadly peril to themselves or to Protestantism from Darnley, they would have scrupled even to assassinate him, they could not have been influenced by such a motive at this particular time. Protestantism had nothing to do with the murder except indirectly. Some of the Protestant nobles, from motives of private interest or considerations of personal safety, were its abettors; others of them were probably quite content that he "sould be put off by ane way or other" by assassination if not by divorce, provided they were not involved in the crime; but its main contrivers—leaving Mary meanwhile out of account—were those who took the deed iii hand": Bothwell, who of all the conspirators had immeasurably the most pressing reasons for getting rid of Darnley; Huntly, who of all others was the noble most closely leagued with Bothwell, and who was influenced solely by hope of restoration to his forfeited estates; Sir James Balfour, the provider of the lodging at Kirk-o-Field, who was then a close partisan of Bothwell, and quite ready to sell his services for any form of lucre; Argyll, who, although Protestant of Protestants, had from the beginning been one of the most strenuous opposers of the queen's marriage to Darnley, with whose father his rival neighbour, the Earl of Lennox, he had a hereditary feud; and the Hamiltons, who as near heirs to the Scottish throne, were personally the most bitter foes of Darnley and his father, and were prepared to welcome almost any conspiracy that increased the chances of their own succession. All these as well as Maitland— who had very good reasons for cherishing a strong personal grudge against Darnley, and was at the same time anxious to ingratiate himself with the queen—remained the allies of the queen after her marriage to Bothwell. Probably to each and all of them the marriage was detestable, and in their allegiance to her they were therefore influenced either by loyalty to her person, or by dread of the possible consequences of their crime.

The main difficulty of the question is as to the part played by Mary. Was she confederate? or how far was she confederate? Was she one of the main authors of the conspiracy? 1)id she approve of it? Did she consent to it? Was she an agent in it? Was she a mere dupe and tool? or was she entirely ignorant of it? That she was in entire ignorance that Darnley's death had been determined on has ceased to be maintained except by her more fantastical devotees. Yet is the position of such artless visionaries less hazy and inconsistent, if more aloof from contact with reality, than the faltering and paltering pleas of her more subtle apologists. Mary, it is admitted, did induce Darnley—her champions or apologists affirm from excess of innocent simplicity—to take up his residence in the lodging at Kirk-o-Field which the assassins designed to be his shambles. Her chief motive for choosing the half-ruinous and isolated dwelling was avowedly a tender regard for his health, which it was supposed might have been injuriously affected by the mists and damps that clung round Holy- rood; but yet it would appear that after the assassination neither resentment nor horror at the discovery of the base purposes for which she had been utilised, lessened in the smallest her esteem and affection for the chief assassin. Even M. Philippson who cannot, however, exculpate Mary from responsibility for the murder, the more especially as he admits her passionate devotion to Bothwell—has fallen a prey to a form of this seductive yet suicidal reasoning. While admitting that Mary knew that the assassination was in contemplation— and so far from desiring to prevent it, was quite willing to accept it as a preliminary to her marriage to Bothwell, the chief assassin—he has the courage to ask his readers to disbelieve that she designedly placed Darnley in the power of his enemies, and actually arrives at the conclusion that Darnley was taken to Kirk-o-Field at his own request. Granted that it was so, the casuistry of the plea is too refined for modern appreciation ; but the hypothesis, inherently incredible in itself, is without tangible evidence to support it. For his remarkable deduction he adduces no better reason than the statement of Nelson, Damnley's page, that Darnley was taken to Kirk-o-Field because he declined to go to Craigmillar. But Nelson did not say that the ruinous and isolated lodging at Kirk.-o-Field was Darnley's special choice; nor would it have mattered anything if he had said it, for it is notorious that Darnley had nothing to do with its selection. Moreover the statement of Thomas Crawford— the retainer and friend of Darnley—which is also appealed to in support of the same conclusion, is to the effect that Darnley was willing to go with her wherever she might take him, even supposing she designed to cut his throat; and that Crawford, who suspected some evil design, advised Darnley that he should stipulate to be taken to his own house, apparently Holyrood, and certainly not Kirk-o-Field, about which Darnley knew nothing whatever until his arrival in Edinburgh.

But the main difficulty of those who seek to absolve Mary from the charge of direct or indirect agency in the murder, is to discover a plausible reason for her sudden desire for Darnley's companionship, especially in view of the arrangements she had made for her marriage to Bothwell. If she still contemplated marriage to Bothwell, the society of Darnley must in the circumstances have been specially distasteful to her. Unquestionably she would never have chosen it except from sheer necessity. Al. Philippson suggests that she wished to frustrate an absurd scheme of Darnley for seizing the government, but can it be seriously maintained that this gave her the smallest anxiety? Could the menace to her authority at this particular time from the pitiful intrigues of Darnley have been deemed more than infinitesimal? Moreover, if serious and immediate danger was apprehended from him there was only the more clamant call for his assassination; and does the explanation therefore not tend to strengthen rather than weaken the supposition that by enticing him from Glasgow she intended to facilitate the designs of the assassins? She knew that such designs were contemplated, and undoubtedly they would rid her of all danger from Dariiley's intrigues. Why, therefore, trouble about these intrigues, if the assassins had determined on his death, and if they had resolved to effect it without her aid?

The only other possible supposition is that she wished to make a last effort to patch up a reconciliation with him; but this, as M. Philippson at once recognises, is quite untenable. She was already too irrevocably committed to Bothwell to dream of going back, and even if thoughts of compunction and pity had moved her to a last effort at reconciliation she could scarce suppose that a reconciliation could be safely effected with Bothwell looking on. But, besides, we have not been left to mere conjectures as to the extent to which she might have indulged in such inconsistent and witless vagaries. A glimpse has been afforded us by Dc Silva, the Spanish ambassador, of her real attitude at this time towards Darnley, and it completely disposes of the question of reconciliation. After Darnley's arrival at Kirk-o-Field, Morette, or Moretta, the ambassador of the Duke of Savoy, had, according to Dc Silva (the quotation is from the "Calendar of Spanish State Papers," 1892), "asked the Queen of Scotland whether he should see the King [Darnley]. She told him he would not, and she did not think he would be Pleased to see him in consequence of the secretary's [Riccio's] murder, lie, the secretary, having been a servant of Morette. The latter knew that the King wished to see him, in order to give him two horses for the Duke, and the King had even told the Queen that he wished to see him, whereupon she had replied that Morette had declined to meet him by reason of the secretary's death." This curious example of Mary's diplomatic finesse reveals how fresh and vivid was still her memory of the part played by Darnley in Riccio's murder, and how deep, heartfelt, and incurable was her alienation from him. Well might De Silva infer from Morette's "mode of speech" that Morette "was not favourably disposed towards the Queen" as regards her connection with Daruley's assassination.

Further evidence of Mary's attitude towards Darnley is of course afforded by the letters said to have been discovered in the silver casket; and with the additional testimony to their genuineness made available by the publication of the "Calendar of Spanish State Papers" relating to this period of Scottish and English history, it seems impossible any longer to adduce even a plausible pretence for excluding them as evidence. In the comparatively mild language of the editor of the "Calendar," the result of this new testimony is that the "many arguments against their genuineness founded upon the long delay in their production disappear." The language is mild, for the arguments were founded chiefly on suppositions and assertions ; and there was in fact no evidence of long delay in their production. But at any rate this additional testimony deprives such arguments of their last semblance of plausibility. We now know that the French ambassador was actually furnished with a copy of the letters some time before the 12th of July, 1567, or within three weeks after the time when the casket was declared to have fallen into the hands of Morton. The mere fact that the French ambassador was officially furnished with a copy of the letters that he might show them to the French Court, is in itself sufficient to remove any possible shadow of doubt as to the truth of Morton's declaration that the letters were "sichted," or officially examined; and the argument that the letters are "under suspicion" from the mere fact that the casket and its contents remained " for eighteen months in the hands of Morton " becomes still more devoid of cogency. The supposed difficulties as to the language in which the letters were written are also completely disposed of. The ambassador must have obtained a copy of the original French version of the letters. The sending of a Scots version of the more important passages of the letters to Elizabeth—surely not on the face of it an unaccountable procedure if it be remembered that Scots was the native language of Scotland, and that in all probability also these were the very identical passages that were read to the Scottish Parliament in justification of the action against the queen—has been made much of by certain critics; but however ingenious or forcible such arguments may have seemed in the past, it can henceforth avail little to ask why the letters were sent to Elizabeth in Scots? The procedure may have been stupid or even inexplicable—as some, to whom one would willingly defer, seem to think ; but henceforth it will be impossible to argue that it implied deceit or criminality. Another point also is—as the editor of the '' Calendar " points out—"that the French ambassador in Loudon knew the purport of the letters early in July at a time when it was impossible for Moray to have been informed of their existence." Clearly, therefore, the supposition that Moray, when at the end of July he gave a description of the long Glasgow letter, was then simply engaged in the pro- cess of forging it, and had not yet decided on the precise form it should assume, is no longer tenable. But more decisive than all is the consideration that it is no longer possible to suggest that any portion of this letter has been borrowed from the declaration of Darnley's retainer, Thomas Crawford. The correspondence between the two documents, however it may have occurred, can no longer be adduced as an argument that the letter was forged on the basis of Craw- ford's statement. If the one document has been based on the other, the only possible conclusion now is that Crawford "refreshed his recollection by aid of the letter." Thus the main difficulty to the acceptance of the Glasgow letter as genuine disappears. It was really the only plausible evidence ever adduced to support the theory that the letters were forged or "doctored." Latterly the theory that they were forged throughout has, for more reasons than can here be stated, been abandoned, but the theory that they were doctored is in itself much more incredible. "Doctoring" is of course a suggestive epithet, but to practise "doctoring" of documents is, if not more difficult, more dangerous than to forge throughout. Indeed, as usually promulgated, the theory was almost hopelessly involved in contradictions ; for what advantage could be gained by doctoring writings of Mary that were already compromising? And if they were not compromising what was there to prevent Mary exposing the doctoring process?

The chief value of the long Glasgow letter is not that it more conclusively establishes Mary's connection with the murder—for apart from it the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming—but that it more clearly reveals her motives in consenting to act as confederate of Bothwell, and contains her best available apology or defence. The mitigating circumstances of the case are there stated more persuasively than by those who have deceived themselves by the flattering unction that Mary's cause is served by the rejection of the letter. It discovers to us that the real author of the conspiracy was not Mary but Bothwell
that in all probability Mary, as indicated in her version of the Craigmillar conference, was originally strongly opposed to the murder, and that she was to a considerable extent the victim of Bothvell's overmastering purpose. Deeply and irreparably as Darnley had wronged her, hateful as was the very thought of reunion to him, she declared that for her ''own particular revenge" she would have been no party to the murder. Even as it was the despicable part she had to play—more than pity for Darnley—caused her the keenest anguish. "I will never rejoice," so she wrote, "to deceive any one that trusts me" [Would a forger have been at the pains to reveal this noble trait of character?]; "yet notwithstanding ye may command inc in all things''; and again, 'Now seeing' to obey you, my dear love, I spare neither honour, conscience, hazard nor greatness whatsoever " [How closely the sentiment of this accords with another declaration of hers recorded by Kirkcaldy of Grange as to her readiness to follow Bothwell to the world's end!]; "take it, I pray you, in good part, and not after the interpretation of your false good brother, to whom I pray you give no credit against the most faithful lover that ever you had or shall have." But while passionate love to Bothwell seems to have been what chiefly reconciled her to her odious task, there was also the overwhelming influence of other circumstances to incite and nerve her to its performance. Not only had Darnley by the rankness of his offence incurred her unquenchable hostility, but he had become an object of general hatred and contempt; lie was now virtually a political pariah, and murderer as well as traitor, he had fully earned his death. Moreover, regard must be had to the genius and temper of the time. The wild justice of revenge had still a recognised Place in the moral code of the Scottish noble, and the Darnley murder was only rendered possible by the laxity of prevailing opinion as to the sacredness of human life. Mary succumbed to that laxity of opinion in circumstances of peculiar difficulty and temptation, and while not the less was she responsible for the murder, it is impossible to believe that in their hearts any of those—except the Catholics and Darnley's kinsmen—who afterwards took the most pronounced part against her, appreciably regretted his death. For us the chief abiding interest of the crime is in the light flashed by it on the schemes and intrigues of the rude and fierce society of the Scottish Court. It affords a vivid apocalypse of the passions, hates, and unscrupulous ambitions that mingled with nobler influences in effecting the triumph of Protestantism in Scotland.


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