Today marks the 450th anniversary of the day that Henry Darnley, King consort of Scotland, was killed.
1567, an explosion was heard in the Kirk O Fields house in Edinburgh, where Darnley had been recuperating. He had been ill for a short period, with smallpox. Mary, the Queen, had been caring for her husband and expressed a wish for his return to court once he was recovered.
On this particular night, Mary was attending a wedding in the town, while Darnley was being looked after by his own valet.
She is said to have been shocked to the core when she heard the explosions, no-one suspected her initially of any involvement.
The bodies of Darnley and his valet were found in the garden of the building, dead. No signs of burning were found on the bodies and it was suggested that they could have been strangled or killed outside of the blown apart building.
Modern day CSI would show that a body would not necessarily be burned in the explosion (I have watched many episodes of the CSI programmes…), but in those days it was presumed that he had been murdered because of the lack of injury from the explosion.
As rumours of his assassination spread, suspicion began to point to the royal court. A few years earlier, David Rizzio, the Queen’s secretary, had been murdered by members of the court, with whom he had made enemies of. They thought he had too much sway over the Queen !!
Darnley was not particularly popular among the members of the royal court, the list of his enemies could have been long. Suspicion was soon directed at Mary herself. The couple had separated briefly after the birth of their son James, but had come back together when Darnley had been taken ill. Some of the court may have seen this as a fine opportunity to rid themselves of both a hated consort and a weak Queen. She had a son and heir now, so an infant King, would be preferable over a female ruler !
There is no definitive proof either way as to whether Mary knew of his murder or planned it, as Elizabeth I claimed later, or whether she was perhaps thought to have been at the house that night, as she had been many previous nights, nursing her husband.
Mary was soon blamed though, and even after her escape to England, was always thought guilty of the murder. To the day of her own death, she refuted any knowledge in her husband’s death. In such a religious person, this is probably believable. She would not want to meet God without first confessing her sins, if she had planned his killing.
I think Mary was a naive girl. Brought up from a few days old as a Queen, she was fought over and used by the people in power around her. She ached for love, being married three times.
Scotland in those days, was a difficult country for a strong King to keep control over, it was never going to kowtow easily to a slip of a girl. Had Francois lived longer and been able to take control of the country in her name, she may have stood a chance of being a successful Queen of the Scots. But that is my writing alternative history coming up again………
Darnley himself is often portrayed as a drunk and useless man, but he was probably a man of his era. Born into a family who was more English than Scots, his grandmother was Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII (who was also grandmother to Mary, through her first marriage), he was probably spoilt as a child (most male heirs were in those days). When he caught the eye of the Queen on her return to Scotland, he expected to become King alongside her, but this was refused, and consort was all that he was granted.
This could very well have rankled him, it would with most men of that time. The husband was supposed to be head of the household, but he had to bow to his wife. Similar to the current Duke of Edinburgh, maybe……….
His death ensured his place in history though, and in a way ensured Mary’s too. Her downfall began in earnest with his killing. That downfall would lead to her own execution at the hands of another cousin, after years of imprisonment.
Both Darnley and Mary feature in my next book, due out soon, and also in my third book, due next year. Though in different roles. You will have to read it and find out exactly what their alternative life holds……………