1561: Reversals of Fortune


Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

Only when Mary was back in Scotland did Bothwell realise how much his enemies had influenced her. His Lieutenancy of the Borders was given to Lord James Stewart, Mary’s half brother, and the promised command at Dunbar passed to another of her half-brothers, John Stewart. He was even barred from court for the two weeks whilst Mary was in bed, supposedly to avoid creating friction with Arran, which was a blatant lie as Arran’s guilty conscience kept him away from court anyway.

A week after leaving her bed, Mary included Bothwell in her list of Privy Councillors, but his frequent absences from court attending to business in the Borders meant that it was easy for his enemies to spread innuendo about him. Of the other Councillors, Chatelherault had been the Fair Earl’s enemy, and had transferred that enmity to his son; Arran, Chatelherault’s heir, obviously had no love for Bothwell;  and Lord James, Earl Marischal and Maitland saw Bothwell as an obstacle to their ambitions to rule the young Queen.

Mary was determined to reconcile her Lords, and began with Bothwell and Lord James, inviting them both on a visit to Berwick. This worked in that Bothwell felt happy to transfer his claim to Melrose Abbey (disputed by Arran, who insisted it remained his) to Robert Stewart (the third of the Stewart half-brothers), and also to travel with Lord James to Jedburgh to hold a Court of Justice.

Whilst they were away, the court was alarmed by rumours that Arran was going to attempt to kidnap the Queen. It turned out to be nothing more than Arran’s crazy talk – he was obsessed with the Queen’s beauty.

Whilst Arran was doing nothing to endear him to the Queen, Bothwell did his own cause no good on his return from Jedburgh, by refusing to attend the Requiem held to commemorate the first anniversary of Francois II’s death, and refusing to wear mourning, due to his Protestant principles.

He had also not forgiven Arran and the Hamiltons, and he heard that Arran had taken to secretly visiting a merchant’s daughter named Alison Craig, at her father-in-law’s house. The father-in-law was Bothwell’s grandmother’s fourth husband, and so he found it easy to gain entry to the house, in the company of Lord John Stewart and the Marquis of Elboef. Arran was not there, so they returned the next night, to find that this time the door was not opened to them. Guessing that this meant Arran was inside, they smashed their way into the house, only to find that Arran had fled. By this time they had disturbed the whole neighbourhood, and the Church Assembly presented a petition to the Queen which resulted in her sternly rebuking Elboef and Bothwell.

Bothwell had, however, succeeded in exposing Arran’s antics, and the Hamiltons were infuriated. On Christmas Eve, three hundred of them, armed with spears, assembled in the market place to waylay Bothwell on his way back from supper. Bothwell caught wind of the plot and met them with five hundred men. He had sent a note to the Queen excusing himself from court that night (and sneakily letting her know what the Hamiltons were up to), and it was this note that prevented a battle. Lord James Stewart and the Earl of Huntly were despatched from Holyrood and put down the unrest, clearing the streets on pain of death.

From the next day, Mary tried to make peace between Arran and Bothwell, without success. As usual, she took the wily way out. She knew that she could bar Bothwell from court and keep his allegiance. Arran’s loyalty was far more questionable, and so it was Bothwell who was asked to leave town.

In any case, he had a lot to do preparing Crichton Castle for the marriage between his sister Janet and Lord John Stewart, since Mary had indicated she wished to stay in the castle, and Bothwell wanted to impress James Stewart, whom he still did not consider a friend.

The wedding was a huge success, and Bothwell decided to consolidate his position by following the wishes of the Queen and letting it be known that he desired only to have a better and quieter life at court, and to follow the teachings of the Bible. Yeah, right…..

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