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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
The Hepburns


HEPBURN is the name of an old and powerful family located on the Eastern Marches, and noted throughout the whole history of Scotland for their turbulence, and, not unfrequently, for their disloyalty. Their designation is said to have been derived from a place called Hepborne, or Hayborn, in Northumberland, from which ADAM HEPBURN, the founder of the family, came, in the reign of David II. He is said to have received grants of various lands in East Lothian from the Earl of March, the descendant of the Northumbrian Prince Cospatrick, and the head of the great family of Dunbar. The lands of North Hailes and Traprane were conferred upon him by Robert Bruce, which shows that he must have fought on the patriotic side in the War of Independence. His eldest son, SIR PATRICK HEPBURN of Hailes, distinguished himself by his bravery at the battle of Otterburn (1388), in which his son Patrick, styled by Fordun, ‘Miles magnanimus, et athleta bellicosus,’ also took part. In 1402, in the lifetime of his father, the younger Hepburn commanded a body of Borderers who made a hostile incursion into England, but were intercepted on their return by the Earl of Northumberland and the Earl of March, who had turned traitor to his king and country, and, after a stubborn conflict, the Scots were defeated, and Hepburn and other East Lothian barons were among the slain. His eldest son, SIR ADAM HEPBURN, took a prominent part in public affairs, and when the estates of the Dunbar and March family were forfeited, in 1435 he was made constable of the important fortress of Dunbar. In the following year he was present at the battle of Piperden, in which the Earl of Angus defeated the Earl of Northumberland, and took Sir Robert Ogle prisoner, with most of his followers. Sir Adam’s eldest son, SIR PATRICK HEPBURN, was created a peer of Parliament in 1456, by the title of LORD HALES. His son ADAM, the second Lord, who married the eldest daughter of the first Lord Home, was by no means a pattern of loyalty and obedience to the law; and, in alliance with his kinsmen, the Homes, took his share in the broils and feuds which disturbed the peace of the country in the unfortunate reign of James III. The minor branches of the Hepburn family had by this time spread themselves through East Lothian and Berwickshire, and some of them, such as the Hepburns of Waughton [Sir John Hepburn, the famous soldier, belonged to the Hepburns of Athelstaneford, a branch of the Waughton family. He fought with great distinction under Gustavus Adolphus, and afterwards entered the French service, in which he attained the rank of field-marshal. He was killed at the siege of Saverne, 21st June, 1636.] and Whitsome, had become powerful. GEORGE, the third son of the second Lord Hales, was Provost of Bothwell and Lincluden, Abbot of Aberbrothock, High Treasurer of Scotland in 1509, and, in the following year, Commendator both of Aberbrothock and Icolmkill. He fell, along with the Archbishop of St Andrews, and several other ecclesiastical dignitaries, at the battle of Flodden, in 1513. JOHN, the fourth son of Lord Hales, was Prior of St. Andrews, and the founder, in 1512, of St. Leonard’s College in that ancient city. The fifth son, JAMES, was first rector of Dalry and Parton; then, in 1515, he was elected Abbot of Dunfermline. In the same year he was appointed Lord High Treasurer, and, in 1516, he was elected Bishop of Moray. The fact that so many important offices were conferred upon his younger sons is conclusive evidence of the great influence to which the head of the Hepburn family had now attained.

PATRICK HEPBURN, third Lord Hales and first Earl of Bothwell, raised the family to a position in the foremost rank of the great barons of Scotland. He had the command of the castle of Berwick in 1482, and, after the town had surrendered, he held out the fortress with great bravery against a powerful English army, commanded by the Duke of Gloucester (afterwards Richard III.), and the Duke of Albany, King James’s brother. Lord Hales was one of the leaders in the rebellion against that unfortunate monarch, which was caused to some extent by his annexation, to the chapel royal of Stirling, of the rich temporalities of the priory of Coldingham, which the Homes had come to regard as virtually belonging to their family. The selfish and unpatriotic disaffected nobles entered into negotiations with Henry VII. of England to betray their country in order to promote their own interests, and obtained for that purpose a safe-conduct to England; but the dissensions between them and the King came so rapidly to a crisis that no use was made of it.

Lord Hales commanded the vanguard of the rebel forces at the battle of Sauchieburn (June 11, 1488), in which King James lost his life. On the surrender of the castle of Edinburgh a few days after this conflict, the custody of that important fortress was committed to Lord Hales, with three hundred merks of the customs of that city. As the government of the country was entirely in the hands of the victorious party, honours, offices, and estates were showered upon the person who had contributed so largely to their success. He was appointed Sheriff-Principal of the county of Edinburgh, Master of the Household, and High Admiral of Scotland for life. He obtained a charter of the lands of Crichton Castle and other estates in the counties of Edinburgh and Dumfries, along with the lordship of Bothwell, in Lanarkshire, of which Sir John Ramsay, a favourite of the late King, had been deprived. He was also created (17th October, 1488) Earl of Bothwell, a title which had been borne by Ramsay. Shortly after he obtained a grant of the office of Steward of Kirkcudbright, and of the custody of Thrieve Castle, the stronghold of the Black Douglases, with its feus. On the 29th of May of the following year, his covetousness being still unsatiated, the Earl and his uncle, John Hepburn, Prior of St. Andrews, received a lease of the lordship of Orkney and Shetland, and were made custodians of the castle of Stirling. A few weeks later he was appointed Warden of the West and Middle Marches. On the slaughter of Spens of Kilspindie, by Archibald Bell-the-Cat, Earl of Angus, the King compelled Angus, before he would pardon him for this crime, to exchange the lordship of Liddesdale and the castle of Hermitage for the barony and castle of Bothwell, which was a considerable diminution to the greatness and power of the Douglases, and added not a little to the influence and importance of the Hepburn family.

Lord Hales was repeatedly appointed ambassador to the courts of France, Spain, and England in connection with the negotiations for the marriage of the young King; and when all arrangements were at length concluded, and the Princess Margaret, eldest daughter of Henry VII., was married by proxy to James IV., at Richmond (January 27th, 1503), the Earl of Bothwell officiated as the representative of the King. He was honoured also to bear the sword of state before his Majesty when he received his young queen, and escorted her into the capital. The Earl died about 1507. Of his three sons by Lady Janet Douglas, only daughter of the first Earl of Morton, he was succeeded by ADAM, the eldest. JOHN, the second, became Bishop of Brechin in 1517; and PATRICK, the third, succeeded his uncle as Prior of St. Andrews. He held for three years (1524—27) the office of Secretary of State, and, in 1535, was consecrated Bishop of Moray, and was allowed to hold in commendam the abbacy of Scone. He was one of those prelates whose licentious conduct brought great discredit on their sacred office, and contributed largely to the downfall of the Romish system in Scotland. He had no fewer than nine natural children—seven sons and two daughters—who were legitimatised under the Great Seal in 1545, and 1550. When he saw the Reformation at hand, he made liberal provision for them by feuing out all the lands belonging to the see.

ADAM HEPBURN, second Earl of Bothwell, succeeded his father in his office of High Admiral, as well as in his titles and extensive estates, but did not long enjoy them. He commanded the reserve, consisting of the men of Lothian, at the fatal battle of Flodden, where he fell along with many of his kinsmen, and the chivalry of the Borders. When the result of the fight was still in doubt, the Earl advanced to the support of his sovereign, and attacked the enemy with such vigour as to put the standard of the Earl of Surrey in imminent danger. An ancient English poet describes Bothwell as having distinguished himself by his furious attempt to retrieve the fortunes of the day.

‘Then on the Scottish part, right proud
The Earl of Bothwell then outbrast,
And, stepping forth with stomach good,
Into the enemies’ throng he thrast;
And
Bothwell ! .Bothwell ! cried bold,
To cause his soldiers to ensue;
But there he caught a welcome cold,
The Englishmen straight down him threw.
Thus Haburn through his hardy heart
His fatal force in conflict found.’

Earl Adam left one son, by a natural daughter of the Earl of Buchan, brother-uterine of James II.

PATRICK, third Earl of Bothwell, was an infant only a few months old at the time of his father’s death. Brought up among a turbulent nobility, during the unsettled state of the country in the minority of James V., it need excite no surprise that at an early age he was involved in the feuds that prevailed in the Marches. In 1528, when he was in the sixteenth year of his age, a remission was granted to him and a number of his kinsmen by the Duke of Albany, the Regent, for treasonably assisting Lord Home, Home of Wedderburn, and their retainers, who were at that time proclaimed rebels to the sovereign. A few months later he was committed to prison by the King for protecting the Border freebooters. After six months’ confinement, he was released, on security being given by his friends to the amount of twenty thousand pounds. We next find him, in December, 1531, paying a secret visit to England, and holding a treasonable conference with the Earl of Northumberland, who wrote of him to King Henry in high terms, describing him as ‘of personage, wit, learning, and manners, of his years as toward and as goodly a gentleman as I ever saw in my life, and to my simple understanding he is very meet to serve your Highness in any thing that shall be your most gracious pleasure to command him withal.’ His intrigues, however, were discovered, and on his return to Scotland he was apprehended by the orders of the King and confined in the castle of Edinburgh, where he seems to have remained for a considerable time. Liddesdale, where a large portion of Bothwell’s estates lay, had long been the headquarters of the Border freebooters, who were harboured and protected by the nobles to serve their own purposes. King James saw clearly that it would be impossible to maintain peace in that lawless district until it was placed under royal authority. He therefore, in September, 1538, compelled the Earl of Bothwell to resign his lordship to the Crown. It would appear that the Earl was at the same time banished the kingdom, and he is said to have taken up his residence at Venice. In 1542 he was in England, and, like not a few of his unprincipled and unpatriotic class at that time, he engaged in treasonable negotiations with Henry VIII., and it was no doubt owing to the discovery of his treason that the barony of Bothwell and his other estates were annexed to the Crown.

The Earl returned to Scotland after the death of King James (13th December, 1542), and immediately became one of the prominent supporters of Cardinal Beaton and the Roman Catholic party in the kingdom. He, and the other Popish nobles, demanded that the Cardinal should be set at liberty by the Governor, Arran, and that the ordinance allowing the New Testament to be read in the vulgar tongue by the people should be rescinded. These demands were refused, and the faction having been charged on pain of treason to return to their allegiance, durst not disobey, but gave in their adherence to the Governor. Bothwell, at the meeting of the Estates in 1543, issued a summons of reduction of the deed of resignation of the lordship of Liddesdale and castle of Hermitage, and succeeded in obtaining the restitution of his estates. Sir Ralph Sadler, who found the Earl in possession of Liddesdale when he visited Scotland in 1543 to negotiate a marriage between the infant Queen Mary and Prince Edward of England, says, ‘As to the Earl of Bothwell, who hath the rule of Liddesdale, I think him the most vain and insolent man in the world, full of pride and folly, and here nothing at all esteemed.’ Bothwell was prominent and active in all the intrigues and movements of the Roman Catholic party at this juncture, for the purpose of preventing the alliance with England, and in supporting the claims of the Queen-mother, Mary of Guise, to the regency, in the room of Arran. He was the rival of the Earl of Lennox in a suit for her hand, and competed with him in his efforts to gain her favour by the magnificence of his apparel and his skill in the exercises of chivalry. He is described by Pittscottie as at this time ‘fair and whitely, something hanging shouldered, and went something forward, with gentle and humane countenance.’

Bothwell allowed himself to be made the tool of Cardinal Beaton in delivering into his hands George Wishart, the martyr, in January, 1546. The Cardinal’s influence had now become paramount in the country, and Wishart, knowing well the inveteracy of the Romish priests against him, was aware that he was in imminent danger. At Haddington he could not obtain an audience even of a hundred, for ‘the Earl of Bothwell, who had great credit and obedience, by procurement of Cardinal Beaton, had given inhibition to both town and country that they should in no wise give an ear to the heretical doctrine, under the pain of his displeasure.’ On leaving Haddington, Wishart refused to allow John Knox to accompany him, bidding him return to his pupils, for one was enough at this time for a sacrifice. He was spending the night at Ormiston, the seat of Cockburn, a zealous member of the Reforming party. At midnight the house was surrounded by a body of armed men, under the Earl of Bothwell, who summoned the inmates to deliver up Wishart, pledging his honour at the same time for the safety of his person, and confirming this assurance by an oath. Resistance was hopeless, and Wishart at once exclaimed, ‘Open the gates; the blessed will of my Lord be done.’ He was immediately seized, mounted on horseback, and conveyed to Elphinstone Tower, only a mile distant, where Cardinal Beaton was then residing, Bothwell all the time assuring him that his life and person would be perfectly safe, and that he would either procure him a fair trial, or set him at liberty. From Elphinstone Tower Wishart was conveyed to Edinburgh, and thence to Bothwell’s house at Hailes. It is alleged that Bothwell wished to protect his prisoner from injury, but that the Cardinal and the Queen-Dowager induced him to violate his pledge, and to deliver Wishart up to Beaton, who transferred him to St. Andrews, and speedily brought him to the stake. There is no reason to believe that Bothwell ever repented of his breach of faith, and complicity in this foul deed, but it was pleaded for him that he only yielded to the authority of the Governor and Council, before whom he was brought on the 19th of January, 1546, and commanded, under the highest penalties, to deliver up his prisoner. There is no reason to doubt that this order was issued merely for the purpose of affording Bothwell an excuse for his violation of his solemn promise.

Notwithstanding his ready compliance with the wishes of the Cardinal, Bothwell was soon after again committed to prison, in all probability in consequence of his intrigues with England, and did not obtain his release until after the battle of Pinkie, 10th September, 1547. He immediately waited upon the Duke of Somerset, the commander of the invading army, and there can be little doubt that he then gave in his adherence to the English cause. He is described as ‘a gentleman of a right comely porte and stature, and heretofore of right honourable and just meaning and dealing towards the King’s Majesty, (Henry VIII.), whom therefore, my Lord’s Grace did according to his degree and merits very friendly welcome and maintain.’ There was good reason why the Earl received a cordial welcome from the ruthless English invaders, for it has been ascertained that he had gone over wholly to their side. An instrument, dated at Westminster, 3rd September, 1549, sets forth that King Edward had taken the Earl of Bothwell under his protection and favour, granting him a yearly rent of three thousand crowns, and the wages of a hundred horsemen for the defence of his person, and the annoyance of the enemy; and, if he should lose his lands in Scotland in the English King’s service for the space of three years, promising to give him lands of equal value in England. There are good grounds for believing that the traitorous noble spent the remainder of his life in exile, and that he died in 1556. He left a son, who succeeded him in the family title and estates, and a daughter. The latter became the wife of John Stewart, Prior of Coldingham, a natural son of James V., to whom she bore Francis Stewart, the turbulent Earl of Bothwell who so often disturbed the peace of the country during the reign of James VI.

JAMES HEPBURN, fourth Earl of Bothwell, whose foul crimes have stamped his memory with infamy, was born about the year 1536. His early years were spent in the castle of Spynie, near Elgin, with his granduncle, Patrick Hepburn, Bishop of Moray, a prelate who was conspicuous, even at that immoral period, for the neglect of the duties of his office, and his gross licentiousness. James Hepburn was only in his nineteenth or twentieth year when his father died, and he succeeded him not only in the family titles and estates, including the strong fortresses of Bothwell, Crichton and Hailes, but also in his hereditary offices of Lord High Admiral of Scotland, Sheriff of the counties of Berwick, Haddington, and Midlothian, and Bailiff of Lauderdale. He was thus the most powerful nobleman in the south of Scotland. This ‘glorious, rash, and hazardous young man,’ as he is styled by Walsingham, was, from his youth upwards, the cause of strife and discord in the country, and of trouble to the public authorities. Though he professed to be a Protestant, he espoused the cause of the Queen Regent against the Lords of the Congregation, and showed himself utterly unscrupulous in the means he adopted to promote her interests. In 1558, though little more than of age, he was appointed by her Lieutenant-General of the Middle Marches, and keeper of Hermitage Castle, which added largely to his already overgrown power. In October, 1559, having learned that Cockburn of Ormiston had received four thousand crowns from Sir Ralph Sadler, for the use of the Protestant party, Bothwell waylaid and wounded him, and robbed him of the money. On receiving intelligence of this gross outrage, the Earl of Arran, the Governor, and Lord James Stewart (afterwards Regent Moray) immediately went to Bothwell’s house in Haddington, with a body of soldiers, to apprehend the depredator; but, a few minutes before they reached the place, he received intelligence of their approach and fled down the bed of the river Tyne, which is closely adjoining, and took refuge in the house of Cockburn of Sandybed. Entering by the back door, which opened to the river, he changed clothes with the turnspit and performed the duties of that menial. In return for the protection afforded him in this extremity, Bothwell gave to Cockburn and his heirs a perpetual ground annual of four bolls of wheat, four bolls of barley, and four bolls of oats, to be paid yearly out of the lands of Mainshill, near Haddington. These quantities of grain continued to be paid to Cockburn’s heirs till the year 1760, when his estate was sold by his descendant to Mr. Buchan of Lethem; and he shortly after disposed of the ground annual to the Earl of Wemyss, who was then proprietor of Mainshill.

Bothwell was one of the nobles who waited upon Queen Mary in France, in the year 1561, and must, even at that time, have been a person of some political importance, for, on his departure from France, Throckmorton wrote to Queen Elizabeth: ‘The said Earl is departed suddenly from this realm to return to Scotland by Flanders, and hath made boast that he will do great things, and live in Scotland in despite of all men. He is glorious, boastful, rash, and hazardous, and therefore it were meet that his adversaries should both give an eye to him, and keep him short.’ Darker traits speedily showed themselves in Bothwell’s character. He became restless and turbulent, and made violent attacks on other barons, hatched conspiracies against the Government, and was at length imprisoned, and then banished the kingdom, for a conspiracy against the Earl of Moray. He was allowed to return home in 1565 but, on May 2nd of that year, he was proclaimed a rebel and put to the horn for not appearing to answer for an accusation of high treason, in conspiring to seize the person of the young Queen. He was charged with having proposed to the Earl of Arran to carry her off to the castle of Dumbarton, ‘and thair keep her surelie, or otherwyse demayne hir person at your plesour, quhill sche aggre to quhatsumevir thing yo shall desyre.’ It thus appears that Bothwell’s abduction of the Queen at Cramond Bridge, in 1567, was no new project.

The private life of the young noble was as profligate as his public conduct was treasonable and violent. The Earl of Bedford wrote of him to Cecil, ‘I assure you Bothwell is as naughty a man as liveth,’ and accused him of crimes of which ‘it is a shame even to speak.’ There were scandalous reports widely spread respecting his connection with a certain Lady Reres, and her sister Janet Beaton, both disreputably associated at a later period with Queen Mary and him.

It has quite recently been discovered by Professor Schiern of Copenhagen, [Life of James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. By Frederick Schiern, Professor of History in the University of Copenhagen.] that during Bothwell’s exile on the Continent he had formed a connection with Anna, a daughter of Christopher Throndesson, a Norwegian nobleman, and one of the admirals of Christian III. This lady complained that Bothwell ‘had taken her from her father’s land and paternal home, and led her into a foreign country away from her parents, and would not hold her as his lawful wife, which he with hand, and mouth, and letters, had promised both them and her to do.’ It appears that the young lady accompanied Bothwell from Denmark to the Netherlands, but was there abandoned by her villainous betrayer, and reduced to such straits that she was obliged to dispose of her jewels. She seems afterwards to have made her way to Scotland, where she resided for some time, and to have finally returned in the year 1563 to her own country, where the Earl, in after years, and in very strange circumstances, once more encountered his deserted wife.

When Queen Mary and her brother, the Earl of Moray, quarrelled in consequence of her marriage with Darnley, and Moray was driven out of the kingdom and compelled to take refuge in England, Bothwell, ‘the enemy of all honest men,’ as he was justly termed, was recalled from his exile, and received into favour. He was shortly after appointed Warden of the Three Marches, an office never before held by one person, was restored to his office of High Admiral, and received grants of the abbeys of Haddington and Melrose, and of extensive Crown lands. His influence at Court speedily became paramount, and all favours and preferments passed through his hands. In the autumn of 1566 he was commissioned to suppress some disturbances which had arisen among the freebooters in Liddesdale, and was severely wounded (7th October) in an encounter with one of them named Elliot of Park. The Queen, who was then holding a justice court at Jedburgh, on hearing of Bothwell’s wound, rode to Hermitage Castle, where he lay—a distance of twenty miles, through an almost impassable district—and returned on the same day. Her rapid journey, fatigue, and anxiety threw her into a fever, which nearly cost her her life.

It is not possible to point out the precise period at which Bothwell’s plot for the murder of Mary’s husband had its origin; but, in all probability, it must have been shortly after the Queen left Jedburgh (7th November) for Coldingham, Dunbar, and Tantallan, accompanied by the Earl. It is certain that the ‘band’ for the murder of Darnley was signed by Bothwell and his associates in the month of December following. This flagitious plot was carried into effect on the 9th of February, 1567. The whole circumstances connected with the deed were, of course, not known at the moment; but no doubt was entertained that Bothwell was the murderer of the ill-fated prince. He was denounced by name in public placards, and vengeance was loudly demanded on him and his accomplices; but, notwithstanding, he continued as much as ever in favour with the Queen, and was for some time the only one of her nobles who had access to her presence. On the 21st of February he accompanied her to Seton Castle, where they remained until the 10th of March, when they returned to Holyrood. On the 19th of March, Mary conferred upon Bothwell the command of Edinburgh Castle, along with other marks of her favour. On the 24th of the same month he again accompanied the Queen to Seton, and stayed with her till the 10th of April. His mock trial for the murder of Darnley, and acquittal, his obtaining from the leading nobility a bond recommending him as a suitable husband for the Queen, his divorce from his Countess, Lady Jean Gordon;

[The marriage between Bothwell and Lady Jean Gordon was dissolved by the Consistorial Court of St. Andrews, presided over by Hamilton, the Primate of the Roman Catholic Church, on the plea that they were related within the prohibited degrees, and that they had married without a papal dispensation. But a dispensation had in reality been obtained, as was confidently asserted at the time. That document was issued on the 17th of February, 1566, only fifteen months before the marriage of Mary and Bothwell, by the prelate who declared the prior marriage null and void, with the authority of Legate a latere. It is undeniable, therefore, that according to the law of the Romish church, Mary was never really married to Bothwell. When it is taken into account that the Queen was the most intimate friend of Lady Jean Gordon, that she took a special and personal superintendence of the arrangements for her marriage, that hers is the first signature to the marriage contract, that she made a gift to the bride of her marriage dress, and that she and Darnley were at the expense of the first day’s feast on the occasion of the wedding, it is difficult to believe that Mary was ignorant of the fact that a dispensation had been granted. The advocates of the Queen have always denied that this could have been the case, but the document was recently found by Dr. Stuart in the charter chest at Dunrobin.]

his elevation to the rank of Duke of Orkney and Shetland; his collusive seizure of the person of the Queen; his marriage to Mary amid mingled horror and indignation on the part of the people, followed by his coarse and brutal treatment of the ill-fated princess; the confederacy of the nobles for the protection of her infant son against the machinations of this bold, bad man; his flight along with Mary to Dunbar; his march to Carberry Hill to meet the confederate barons, and his final separation there from the Queen, succeeded each other with startling rapidity. Bothwell’s subsequent career has hitherto been but imperfectly known, and various conflicting but erroneous accounts have been given of the closing years of his flagitious and miserable life. The laborious researches of Professor Schiern have at length brought the whole circumstances to light.

It appears that on leaving Dunbar, to which he fled from Carberry Hill, Bothwell had only two small vessels with him, but on reaching Shetland he persuaded two Bremen merchants, who happened to be there at that time, to give him the command of two of their ships, along with the crews, on condition that he was to pay them a certain sum as long as he retained their ships in his service, and compensation if they were lost or not returned. His four vessels were lying at anchor in Bressay Sound, and part of their crews, along with Bothwell himself, had gone on shore, when four Scottish ships, commanded by Kirkcaldy of Grange and Murray of Tullibardine, who had been sent in pursuit of the murderer of Darnley, hove in sight. Bothwell’s men, on the approach of their enemies, cut their cables and took to flight. It has hitherto been supposed that Bothwell was on board one of these vessels, and that he escaped capture only by the accident that the Unicorn, Kirkcaldy’s ship, struck upon a rock, and went down, just as it was on the point of overtaking his vessel. Professor Schiern has, however, shown that Bothwell made his escape unobserved across Yell Sound and the island of Yell, and was taken on board one of his ships at Unst. Shortly after, his pursuers came up with him, and a battle ensued which lasted for several hours. One of the Earl’s ships had its mainmast carried away by a cannon-shot, and Bothwell owed his escape to an opportune gale, which separated the combatants, and drove the ship which carried him, and one of its comrades, far out on the North Sea. He succeeded, however, in reaching the south-west coast of Norway, but he had scarcely cast anchor in the Sound of Kharm, when the Danish warship, Bjornen, appeared, the captain of which, Christian Aalborg, demanded to see the ship’s papers; but none could be produced, Bothwell alleging that ‘he whose duty it was to issue such papers in Scotland was now in close confinement.’ Captain Aalborg, finding, as he said, these two ‘Scottish Pinker, without any passport, safe-conduct, or commissions, which honest seafaring people commonly use, and are in duty bound to have,’ determined to carry them to Bergen. By a dexterous stratagem he contrived to get a portion of Bothwell’s men on board his own ship, and another portion on shore, and thus rendered resistance hopeless. Bothwell on this made himself known to the Danish Admiral, who had some difficulty in believing that the man whom he saw, ‘attired in old torn coarse boatswain’s clothes, was the highest of the rulers in all Scotland.’

In spite of his remonstrances, the Earl was conveyed to Bergen Castle, where he was hospitably entertained by the commandant, but, to his surprise and dismay, had a prosecution immediately raised against him by Anna Throndesson, the lady whom he had so basely deserted in the Netherlands, but who was now resident in the neighbourhood of Bergen. On hearing of Bothwell’s arrival, she at once seized the opportunity of seeking redress for her wrongs. She summoned the Earl before the Court, and read in his presence the letters in which he had promised to marry her, ‘Lady Anna being of opinion that this promise had been of no weight in his eyes, since he had three wives alive—first, herself; another in Scotland, from whom he had procured his freedom; and the last, Queen Mary.’ Bothwell, in the end, succeeded in getting this prosecution quashed by promising the injured lady an annuity to be sent from Scotland, and handing over to her the smallest of his two ships. He was peremptorily refused permission, however, to leave the country; and the discovery of a letter-case with papers, which he had concealed in the ballast of his ship—among which was the patent creating him Duke of Orkney, a letter from Queen Mary, ‘in which she bewailed herself and all her friends,’ and ‘divers letters both in print and writing,’ in which the Scottish Council accused him of the murder of the King, and offered a reward for his apprehension— made it clear that ‘he had for no good reason withdrawn from his native country.’ The cautious governor, with the advice of certain freemen and councillors, on this discovery resolved to send Bothwell, along with these compromising documents, to Copenhagen. He reached the Danish capital about the close of the autumn of 1567. The King of Denmark, Frederick II., was absent in North Jutland at the time of Bothwell’s arrival, and he delayed coming to any decision regarding his disposal till he himself, at the end of the year, returned to Zealand. The Earl was speedily recognised by some Scottish merchants at Copenhagen, and intelligence conveyed to the Government respecting his place of refuge.

On the 15th December, Sir William Stewart, the Scottish herald, appeared at the Danish Court, and delivered to Frederick a formal demand from the Regent Moray for the surrender of Darnley’s murderer. In this emergency the Earl proved himself, as Peter Oxe, the High Steward, and John Frus, one of the Danish councillors, described him, in a document which still exists, ‘very cunning and inventive.’ He affirmed that he had come to Denmark to ‘declare the cause of the Queen of Scotland, his royal Majesty’s kinswoman, and to desire his Majesty’s good counsel and assistance for her deliverance, as from the lord and prince on whom, both on account of kinship and descent, as also on account of the ancient alliance which has been between both kingdoms from time immemorial, she altogether relies.’ He pleaded that ‘he had already in Scotland been legally acquitted of this charge, that he was himself the real regent of Scotland, that the Queen was his consort, and that his opponents were only rebels.’ He addressed letters to Charles IX. of France, declaring that he had left Scotland ‘to lay before the Danish king the wrongs to which his near relative, the Queen of Scotland, had become a victim,’ and entreated the French king ‘favourably to take into account the goodwill with which through his whole life he had striven, and would further strive, to be of service to him.’ He also solicited, and, it would appear succeeded, in securing the interposition in his behalf of Charles Dancay, the French ambassador at the Court of Denmark. In the end, Frederick declined to surrender Bothwell, but offered permission to the Scottish envoy himself to prosecute the Earl in Denmark, for the crimes laid to his charge—a course, however, which Sir William Stewart did not think it expedient at that time to adopt. Meanwhile, orders were given by the King that Bothwell should be removed from Copenhagen to the castle of Malmoe, where he was confined in a large oblong vaulted hall, strongly secured with iron-barred windows, which still exist. During his residence in the castle of Copenhagen Bothwell composed a detailed memoir of the transactions in Scotland that had led to the dethronement of the Queen and his own banishment, which is throughout a tissue of the most extraordinary falsehoods, denying all participation on his own part in the murder of Darnley, and ascribing that deed to Moray and the other Protestant lords.

The seizure of the Queen at Almond Bridge, and her abduction to Dunbar, along with other important incidents, are passed over unnoticed in this narrative, the object of which was to convince the King and Council that the Regent Moray and his associates were alone the special instruments and sources of the disturbances that had taken place in Scotland from the year 1559 down to that time, and to induce them to give help by land and sea for the deliverance of the Scottish Queen. A few days after his transference to the castle of Malmoe, Bothwell drew up another paper, in which he not only entreated assistance, but with his characteristic ‘cunning and inventiveness,’ declared that he was empowered to offer to make over to the King, in return for his help, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and, ‘if the King and Council would themselves state how they wished bonds to be drawn up with respect to the surrender of these islands, the Earl became surety that they would be so drawn and sealed by the Queen, by himself, and by the Scottish Privy Council,’ in accordance with ‘their intention and final will.’ This was a very dexterous proposal, for Frederick, like his father, Christian III., had striven in vain to recover these islands from the Scottish Government, and Christian had even threatened to enforce his claims upon them by a great naval armament. There is every reason to believe that this most welcome offer contributed not a little to the lenity with which Bothwell was for a good many years treated by the Danish Government. In vain did Moray renew his demand for the Earl’s extradition; equally in vain did Elizabeth, as the relative of Darnley, support the Regent’s demand, and plead that it was a matter which concerned every monarch, ‘whose majesty ought always to be sacred, and never violated without punishment.’ Supported by the French king and his ambassador, Frederick obstinately refused to surrender the Scottish refugee.

The Regent, however, was not to be turned from his purpose, and he employed a Captain John Clark, an officer in the service of the King of Denmark, and in high favour with Frederick, to support his request for Bothwell’s extradition. Clark had been employed to enlist mercenary troops in Scotland for the Danish king, and had been present with his men at Carberry Hill on the side of the Lords. It was he who captured Captain Blacater, one of Bothwell’s accomplices, the first of them that was executed for the murder of Darnley. Clark set himself with great zeal to support the request of the Scottish Government that the Earl should be given up to be tried in Scotland, or that he should be executed in Denmark; but his efforts were all in vain. He obtained, however, the surrender of two of Bothwell’s accomplices in the murder: William Murray, and Nicolas Hubert the Frenchman, usually called Paris, whose confessions proved highly injurious to the Scottish Queen, though their genuineness and vefacity have been impeached by her defenders. A document brought to light by Professor Schiern, dated October 30th, 1568, has settled the disputed point of time when Paris was surrendered to Captain Clark; but the problem is still unsolved what was done with him during the long period which elapsed before his landing at Leith, in the middle of June in the following year. There is a curious episode introduced by the Professor respecting Captain Clark himself, who shortly after fell under the displeasure of Frederick. Bothwell and his associates seem to have furnished evidence respecting certain charges brought against the unfortunate soldier, one of which was that he had employed the mercenaries whom he had enlisted for the service of the Danish King, against the Queen of Scotland. He was tried by a court-martial and found guilty, and ended his days in the prison in which Bothwell himself was ultimately confined.

After the assassination of Regent Moray, Lennox, his successor, the father of Darnley, made another and still more urgent demand for the surrender of the murderer of his son, and despatched Thomas Buchanan, a relative of the celebrated George Buchanan, as his ambassador to press his request that the Earl should be either given up to the Scottish Government, or punished in Denmark. But though the arguments which Buchanan employed were both ingenious and forcible, he, too, failed of success. He discovered, however, that Bothwell, when in Malmoe, had received letters from Mary, and that through some channel or other he still kept up a correspondence with her, though she was now a prisoner in England. Up to this time the Earl had been subjected to what is known as ‘an honourable imprisonment,’ and the King had given orders to his High Steward to procure velvet and silk stuff for his apparel. But after the accession of Morton to the Regency, and the complete overthrow of Mary’s party in Scotland, Bothwell received very different treatment. ‘The King of Denmark,’ wrote the French ambassador to his master (28th June, 1573), ‘has hitherto treated the Earl of Bothwell very well, but a few days ago he put him in a worse and closer prison.’ The prison, it appears, was in the old castle of Dragsholm, in Zealand, where the Earl spent the closing years of his wretched existence. Professor Schiern says that tradition still points out, in the part of the prison called Bothwell’s cell, two iron bars in the wall to which the Earl’s fetters are said to have been so fastened that he could move round with them. It is stated in the memoirs of Lord Herries, that ‘none had access unto him, but onlie those who carried him such scurvie meat and drink as was allowed, which was given in at a little window.’ In this ‘loathsome prison’ Bothwell dragged out a miserable existence for five years. According to unvarying tradition, he became insane before his death, which took place in 1578. The adjoining church of Faareville, which stands in ‘a lonely and quiet spot on the west bay of Fsefjord, the haunt of gulls and seafowl,’ is said to be ‘the last resting-place of him who once was the husband of Scotland’s Queen.’

Professor Schiern has devoted a considerable space to a discussion of the authenticity of Bothwell’s ‘Testament,’ in which he is said shortly before his death to have declared that the Queen of Scots was innocent of all complicity in the murder of her husband, and confessed that he was the originator and perpetrator of that crime, with the approval of Moray, Morton, and the other Protestant lords; at the same time accusing himself of other gross crimes of which the people of Scotland could never have heard. The author has shown that if any such declaration was ever made it must have been emitted a number of years before Bothwell’s death, and that the published extracts alleged to have been made from the document were in all probability forgeries. He lays great stress on the fact that James VI., who, while yet a child, had been greatly moved when the abstract of Bothwell’s alleged ‘Testament’ came under his notice, passed a whole winter in Zealand when he went to obtain the hand of his bride, and was noted there for his curiosity respecting everything important or interesting in Denmark, met with the sons of the men who were said to have been present when Bothwell made his dying declaration, was within sight of Malmoe Castle, where the murderer of his father was so long imprisoned, and was only a few miles distant from the spot where he was buried, yet apparently made no inquiry respecting this document, and certainly made no reference to it. That in these circumstances, says the Professor, James ‘never then nor afterwards sought to bring to light any such attestation of his mother’s innocence as that alleged, and never caused it to be communicated to any of the historians whose works he followed with such interest, is the strongest proof against its authenticity.’ Bothwell fortunately left no issue.

The title of Earl of Bothwell was conferred by James VI., 29th July, 1576, on FRANCIS STEWART, eldest son of John Stewart, Prior of Coldingham, natural son of James V. by Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Carmichael. The Prior obtained legitimation under the Great Seal, 7th February, 1551, and married, in 1562, Lady Jane Hepburn, daughter of Patrick, third Earl of Bothwell, and sister of the murderer of Darnley. It was no doubt owing to his near relationship to the Hepburns through his mother, that their forfeited titles were conferred upon him, along with a considerable portion of their estates. He was also appointed Lord High Admiral of Scotland, Sheriff-Principal of the county of Edinburgh, and within the constabulary of Haddington, and Sheriff of the county of Berwick, and Bailiary of Lauderdale.

From his early years Francis Stewart was noted for his restless and turbulent disposition. He took part against the Earl of Arran, the royal favourite, and quarrelled with Sir William Stewart, Arran’s brother, whom he killed in a fray which took place in Blackfriars Wynd, in Edinburgh, on the 3oth July, 1588. In that same year he assisted the Popish Earls of Huntly, Errol, and Angus, in their rebellion, and was imprisoned in Tantallon Castle; but after a few months’ confinement he was released on payment of a fine to the Crown. In 1589, when James went to Denmark in quest of his betrothed bride, he appointed Bothwell one of the administrators of the kingdom during his absence, in the hope of conciliating him by this mark of distinction. But on the return of the King the Earl returned to his former practices. In January, 1591, a number of wretched creatures were brought to trial and burned on a charge of witchcraft, and two of them declared that Bothwell had consulted them in order to know the time of the King’s death, and that at his instigation they had raised the storm which had endangered the lives of James and his queen, on their voyage homeward from Denmark. The Earl surrendered himself a prisoner in the castle of Edinburgh, to meet these charges, insisting that ‘the devil, wha was a lyer from the beginning, nor yet his sworn witches, ought not to be credited.’ But after remaining three weeks in prison he became impatient of restraint, and on the 22nd of June, 1591, he effected his escape from the castle, and fled to the Borders. The King on this proclaimed him a traitor, and forbade, under the penalties of treason, any one to ‘reset, supply, show favour, intercommune, or have intelligence with him.’ Bothwell, no way intimidated by this procedure, returned secretly to Edinburgh with a body of his retainers, and on the evening of December 27th, furtively obtained admission to the inner court of Holyrood. An alarm was given, and the King, who was then at supper, rushed down a back-stair leading to one of the turrets, in which he took refuge. [Spottiswood lauds the firm deportment of the King when Bothwell was thundering at the door of the Queen’s apartment But Birrel describes the King’s majesty as ‘flying down the backstairs with his breeches in his hand’ (Birrel, p. 30). ‘Such is the difference,’ says Sir Walter Scott, ‘betwixt the narrative of the courtly archbishop and that of the Presbyterian burgess of Edinburgh.’ This scene seems to have been regarded by Sir Walter with great amusement. In the ‘Fortunes of Nigel’ he represents Richie Moniplies as describing the array of King James when his majesty was about to go out to hunt, or hawk, on Blackheath. ‘A bonny grey horse, the saddle, and the stirrups, and the curb, and the bit o’ gowd, or silver gilded at least; the King, with all his nobles, dressed out in his hunting-suit of green, doubly laced and laid down with gowd. My certy, lad, thought I,’ adds Richie, ‘times are changed since ye came fleeing down the backstairs of auld Holyrood House in grit fear, having your breeks in your hand, without time to put them on, and Frank Stewart, the wild Earl of Bothwell, hard at your haunches.’] The attendants barred and barricaded the door of the Queen’s apartment, which Bothwell attempted to force open. Meanwhile notice of this attack was sent to the Provost of the city, who hastily collected a band of armed citizens, with whom he entered the palace by a private door leading to the royal chapel, and compelled Bothwell and his followers to take to flight. Nine of them were captured, and without a trial were hanged next morning, on a new gallows erected opposite the palace gate for the purpose.

Sir James Melville, who was present, gives a lively picture of the scene of disorder, brilliantly illuminated by the glare of passing torches; while the report of firearms, the clatter of armour, the din of hammers thundering on the gates, mingled wildly with the war-cry of the Borderers, who shouted incessantly, ‘Justice! justice! A Bothwell! a Bothwell! ‘

The ‘Abbey Raid,’ as it was called, was so nearly successful that Bothwell was encouraged to make another attempt to seize the royal person. Having collected a body of his retainers on the Borders, he made a rapid march, during the night, to Falkland, where the King was then residing in peaceful seclusion, and had very nearly fallen into the hands of his turbulent subject. A messenger, sent by Sir James Melville to warn the King of his danger, reached the palace only a few moments before the Earl and his followers. After a fruitless effort to force an entrance, he withdrew to the Borders, and shortly after took refuge in England, where he seems to have been welcomed by Queen Elizabeth. James was so indignant at this renewed act of treason, that he vented his anger upon Bothwell’s countess, a daughter of the seventh Earl of Angus, and widow of Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, and issued a proclamation ordering that no one should ‘reset her, give her entertainment, or have any commerce of society with her in any case.’

The Earl, however, had warm friends at Court, particularly Lennox, Athole, and Ochiltree—nobles of the Stewart family; and encouraged by their support, he returned to Scotland in 1593, and on the 23rd of July was brought secretly to Edinburgh, accompanied by John Colville, brother of the Lord of Castle Wemyss, and was lodged for the night in a house adjoining the palace, belonging to the Countess of Gowrie, Athole’s mother-in-law. Early next morning the Countess of Athole, taking Bothwell and Colville along with her, entered the palace by a private passage which communicated with Lady Gowrie’s house, and conducting them into an anteroom opening into the King’s bedchamber, hid them behind the arras. She then stealthily displaced the arms of the guard, and, having locked the door of the Queen’s bedchamber, to prevent the escape of the King, retired with her attendants. In a short time Bothwell, emerging from his hiding-place, knocked loudly at the King’s chamber door, which was immediately opened by the Earl of Athole. James, who happened to be at the instant in a closet opening into the apartment, hearing a noise, rushed out in a state of dishabille, and seeing Bothwell and Colville standing with drawn swords, attempted to escape by the Queen’s bedchamber, but finding the door locked he called out, ‘Treason! treason!’ At that moment the Duke of Lennox, Athole, Ochiltree, and others of Bothwell’s friends, entered the room, and James, finding that he was completely in their power, threw himself into a chair, and with unwonted courage faced the danger which he could not avoid. Bothwell and Colville threw themselves on their knees before him, but James called out, ‘Come on, Francis! You seek my life, and I know I am wholly in your power. Strike, and end thy work!’ But Bothwell, with unexpected moderation, only stipulated for the remission of his forfeiture. He declared his willingness to submit to trial on the charges of witchcraft, and of seeking the King’s life directly or indirectly, and offered that, after he had been tried and acquitted, he would leave the country, if it should be his Majesty’s pleasure, and go to any place he should be pleased to appoint. James yielded to Bothwell’s entreaties, and subscribed a document, promising him, on condition of his peaceable behaviour, a fair trial, and in the event of his acquittal, restoration to his rank and estates. It was further stipulated that he should in the meantime retire from the Court; and Bothwell having readily acquiesced, his peace was next day proclaimed by the heralds at the Cross of Edinburgh.

The trial accordingly took place on the 10th of August, and lasted for nine hours. It ended in Bothwell’s complete acquittal, and was immediately followed by full remission of all his ‘by-gone offences done to his Majesty and his authority, preceding this day, never to be quarrelled hereafter.’ A proclamation was also issued by the King, charging the lieges that none of them ‘tak upon hand to slander, murmur, reproach, or backbite the said Earl and his friends.’ James, however, had no intention of keeping the agreement which he had made with his factious subject, and Bothwell was informed that if he would renounce the conditions extorted by force from the King, being a breach of the royal prerogative, a remission would be granted for his past offences, but that he must forthwith retire out of the kingdom, and ‘remain forth of the same,’ during his Majesty’s pleasure. Lord Home and Bothwell’s other enemies were at the same time permitted to return to Court, from which his friends were expelled. He was served with a summons to appear before the King and Council on the 25th October, 1593, to answer sundry charges of high treason, and, having failed to appear, he was denounced a rebel, and put to the horn. Incensed at these proceedings, Bothwell levied a body of five hundred moss-troopers, and marched to the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. James went out to meet him at the head of a numerous but undisciplined body of the citizens, and drew them up on the Boroughmuir. He had previously despatched Lord Home with a body of cavalry to attack Bothwell, but they were no match for the warlike Borderers, and were quickly put to the rout. As soon as the King saw the fugitives approaching, he fled upon the gallop back to the city. Bothwell however, in his eager pursuit of the defeated troops, was thrown from his horse, and so severely injured that he retired to Dalkeith, where he passed the night. Next morning he dismissed his followers, and once more sought security on the English side of the Border. Elizabeth, however, had by this time discovered that he could no longer be of service to her, and expelled him from the country. Sentence of excommunication was pronounced against him by the Church, which rendered him liable to the highest civil penalties. He was driven from all his castles and places of shelter, and was chased from one quarter of the country to another. At length, after being keenly pursued through the county of Caithness, where he made several hairbreadth escapes, he found means of retiring to France. He then wandered into Spain, and afterwards passed into Italy, where he renounced the Protestant faith. He there led a life of obscurity and indigence, earning a wretched subsistence by the exhibition of feats of arms, fortune-telling, and necromancy. He died at Naples in 1612, in great misery. The forfeited estates of Bothwell were divided among Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, his stepson, Ker of Cessford, and Lord Home. The forfeited titles of the Earl were never recovered, but the greater part of his extensive estates were restored by Charles I. to Francis Stewart, his eldest son, who married Lady Isabella Seton, only daughter of Robert, first Earl of Winton, and ultimately sold his paternal estates to the Winton family. He left a son and a daughter. In Creichton’s ‘Memoirs’ it is stated that Francis Stewart, the grandson of the Earl of Bothwell, though so nearly related to the royal family, was a private in the Scottish Horse Guards, in the reign of Charles II. This circumstance appears to have suggested to Sir Walter Scott the character of Sergeant Bothwell in ‘Old Mortality.’ John Stewart, the second son of the Earl, was the last Commendator of Coldingham, and he got the lands which belonged to that priory formed into a barony in 1621.


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