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Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland
Chapter III - Earldom and Earls of Huntly
Section VIII


GEORGE, FIFTH EARL OF HUNTLY—MURDER OF DARNLEY— HUNTLY’S ACTION—ESCAPE OF THE QUEEN—HUNTLY LIEUTENANT-GOVERNOR OF THE KINGDOM.

WHEN Darnley was brought to Edinburgh he was put into a house close to the City wall, called Kirk-of-Field, and here the Queen was very attentive to him, and for several nights before the murder she slept in the room immediately below his. At last everything seems to have been prepared, and the evening of Sunday the 9th of February, 1567, was fixed for his murder. When that day came, everything at the Court was going on in the most natural and joyful fashion; the Earl of Moray had left to join his wife at St Andrews, and on the evening fixed for the dismal deed, a marriage was to be celebrated between two of the Queen’s servants. Meanwhile, the agents of Bothwell and the Earl himself were intently engaged in making the final preparations for the horrible deed. The Conspirators had resolved to blow up the house with powder. After dark they placed a large quantity of this destructive element in the room below the King’s, Bothwell himself superintending the operations. About ten o’clock in the evening the Queen arrived from Holyrood to join her husband, and, passing the door of her own bedroom, entered the apartment of the King. Some agreeable conversation passed between them; and then the Queen recollected that she had promised to attend the ball to be held that night in honour of her two servants’ marriage. She bade the King farewell and departed, with Bothwell and the Earl of Huntly and her attendants, to Holyrood; and apparently only two of the conspirators stayed behind at the King’s lodgings. In spite of all the care that had been taken by the contrivers of this dolesome plot, there appears to have been a hitch in their proceedings. It is pretty evident that Darnley and his servants had discovered their danger and attempted to escape, and had got some distance away when they were caught in the garden and strangled. Bothwell, with a number of his followers, returned from the palace about midnight, and joined the two conspirators, who had already lighted the train. The explosion shook the earth, and the inhabitants of Edinburgh were aroused from their sleep. The murderers had to escape swiftly, Bothwell ran to his apartments in the palace and immediately went to bed, only to be awakened as if from slumber half an hour afterwards by a message informing him of the tragedy. He then, like an innocent man, shouted "Treason! treason!" and along with the Earl of Huntly called on the Queen to tell her what had happened.

It was well known at the time that Bothwell was the chief actor in this great crime, but at the moment no one would have been safe to accuse him. A few days after the murder, Bothwell himself, surrounded by fifty armed men on horseback, paraded the streets of Edinburgh, and, with hideous and furious gestures, openly declared that "if he knew who were the authors of the bills accusing him, he would wash his hands in their blood."

Rumours immediately began to arise that the Queen was about to marry Bothwell.

Parliament met at Edinburgh on the 14th of April, and Bothwell bore the crown and sceptre before the Queen when she rode to the Parliament House. A considerable number of Acts were passed, mostly relating to ratifications of grants of lands and reductions of forfeitures. John, Lord Erskine, got a ratification of the Earldom of Mar and Lordship of the Garioch, and other lordships. Ratifications of grants of lands to the Earls of Huntly, Moray, Crawford, Morton, Rothes, and other barons were passed; and also formal reductions of the forfeitures against the Earls of Huntly and Sutherland, and a number of gentlemen of the name of Gordon were passed, Bothwell received a grant of lands with the Castle of Dunbar.

On the 21st of April the Queen went to Stirling to visit her son, and stayed two days. When returning to Edinburgh on the 24th, the Queen—accompanied by the Earl of Huntly, Lethington, the Secretary, Sir James Melville, and others—at the Bridge of Almond was met by Bothwell at the head of an armed force of his retainers, who conveyed her and her party to the Castle of Dunbar. Sir James Melville said that Bothwell boasted that he would marry the Queen, "who would or who would not: yea, whether she would herself or not" The Queen was kept for about a week a close prisoner in Dunbar Castle; but the exact character of the acts which occurred between Mary and Bothwell during these days can never be fully known; yet there is evidence that the Queen was disgracefully treated by him.

Lady Jean Gordon, the Earl of Bothwell’s wife, was a sister of the Earl of Huntly. No doubt this lady was anxious to be released from such a man as Bothwell. Accordingly, on the 26th of April, 1567, she formally entered a process of divorce against him upon the ground of adultery. Bothwell also, on the 27th of April, entered a process of divorce from his wife on the ground of consanguinity, and his divorce was pronounced on the 7th of May.

Bothwell brought the Queen from Dunbar Castle to Edinburgh Castle on the 29th of April. Preparations for their marriage were rapidly pushed forward. The banns of their marriage were proclaimed on the 12th of May; and on the 15th of the month the marriage was celebrated in the Palace of Holyrood. For three weeks after their marriage, they stayed at Holyrood.

On the 7th of June, the Queen and Bothwell left Edinburgh, and fled to Borthwick Castle, and thence with extreme difficulty escaped to Dunbar Castle. There they issued a proclamation commanding the Crown vassals to muster immediately. Meantime a party of the barons took possession of Edinburgh, and, having come to an understanding with Sir James Balfour, the Governor of Edinburgh Castle, the confederate barons at once assumed all the functions of the Government. The leading men in this movement were the Earls of Morton, Athole, Glencairn, Lord Lindsay, and Lord Home. On the 11th of June they issued a proclamation ordering the people to muster and assist in rescuing the Queen from thraldom. The Queen and Bothwell had mustered about 2000 men, and advanced upon Edinburgh. The confederate barons resolved to meet them, and, marching from the capital, the two armies came in sight of each other near Musselburgh. Bothwell had posted his men on Carberry Hill. After a day’s manceuvring and treating, the Queen surrendered to the confederate Barons, and Bothwell was permitted to ride off in the direction of Dunbar. The Queen was conveyed to Edinburgh; and when she at last saw herself a prisoner in the hands of a party of the Barons, she was extremely vexed. She surrendered on the 15th of June, and on the 17th she was carried a captive to Lochleven, and there imprisoned in the island fortress.

On the 29th of June, the Earls of Huntly and Argyle and others met at Dumbarton, and entered into a bond to make all reasonable efforts to secure the Queen’s liberty. But Huntly and Argyle soon after retired to their own districts, and for a time stood aloof.

Huntly was present at the Parliament which met in December, 1567, and bore the sceptre. He was pardoned by the Regent Moray for all offences committed since the 10th of June. In February, 1568, he was ordered, as Sheriff of Aberdeen, to prevent the theft of lead from the Cathedrals of Elgin and Aberdeen.

On the 2nd of May, 1568, Queen Mary escaped from Lochleven, and proceeded to Hamilton. Her chief supporters were the Earls of Huntly, Argyle, Rothes, and Cassillis; the Lords Harris, Livingston, Fleming, and the Hamiltons. Huntly immediately mustered his vassals, and marched to her assistance. After the defeat and flight of the Queen, Huntly held out for her.

For a time Huntly held Justice Courts, and executed those who would not obey him as lieutenant under the Queen’s authority. He also levied taxes in the north. He held Aberdeen and the north for the Queen.

About the end of January, 1569, the Earls of Huntly and Argyle proceeded to Glasgow and issued a proclamation that all men between the ages of sixteen and sixty should be ready at an hour’s warning with twenty days’ victual, to resist the Earl of Moray, Regent, and their old enemies the English. The Regent got notice of this move, and nothing came of it. But Huntly continued active in the Queen’s cause, and he got bonds from a number of the northern lairds, who undertook to assist him to the utmost of their power. Amongst those were—Sir Alexander Ross of Balnagown, Robert Munro of Foulis, Sir George Gordon of Shives, John Gordon of Cluny, George Gordon of Lesmore, Robert Innes of Invermarkie, Lachlan Mackintosh of Dunnachtan, Alexander Leslie of Arderay, Alexander Leslie of Pitcaple, John Mortimer of Craigievar, John Leslie of Leslie, James Innes of Draunie, John Hay of Perke, Alexander Abercrombie of Pitmedden and others.

The Regent was hard pressed. The Laird of Grange, Governor of Edinburgh Castle, and Maitland of Lethington, left him and threw in their lot with the Queen’s cause. On the 13th of January, 1570, the Regent was shot by Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh; and a civil war raged in the kingdom for several years.

Huntly was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the kingdom by Queen Mary. On the 13th of June he issued a proclamation at Aberdeen commanding all men to hold themselves ready and well armed for war, to advance against "the rebellious faction who conspired for their sovereign’s murder, and brought strangers to waste her realm." Huntly occupied Aberdeen, and raised men in the surrounding country. He ordered the northern lairds to meet him at Brechin on the 8th of August; but the Regent (Lennox) resolved to disperse this gathering. The Earl of Morton advanced on Brechin with a number of horsemen, who attacked and defeated Huntly’s party, and executed forty prisoners. Huntly returned to Aberdeen, and met the representatives of the Duke of Alva, who had come to negotiate with the Queen’s party. After this meeting, Huntly and Argyle sent Lord Seton with a letter to the Duke of Alva, informing him of the Queen’s imprisonment in England, and Queen Elizabeth’s extreme hostility to Mary’s party, and therefore requesting assistance.

In the month of August, 1570, Huntly attended a meeting of his party at Dunkeld. Immediately after, he entered Angus at the head of eight hundred men, and destroyed mills, and burned houses. On the 3rd of September he, along with others, signed a bond to Queen Elizabeth to abstain from fighting for two months, in order that the treaty between her and Queen Mary might proceed more rapidly. The English Queen had heard of Lord Seton’s mission to the Duke of Alva, and she proposed this treaty to delude Mary’s foreign friends; for the Regent Lennox protested that any negotiations with Mary would be disastrous to Elizabeth and King James. The result was that neither party adhered to the agreement.


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