1562 – Mary, Queen of Scots Acts Plain Stupid


Mary Queen of Scots just couldn’t let go of the feud between Arran and Bothwell, even though by this time it was patently obvious to everyone that Arran was utterly barking mad. Bothwell was persuaded, and Arran ordered, to sign a formal pacification between them. Bothwell knew the written promise was worthless, and, still hoping for a quieter life (and less expenditure, as he had to ensure he was guarded wherever he went), sought to earn a true reconciliation via the most influential of Arran’s supporters, John Knox.

The two met twice. Bothwell explained that the attack on John Cockburn which had begun the feud had been a military necessity and not a personal slight. Knox agreed to bring about a reconciliation, provided that Bothwell followed his Protestant faith more publicly than was his usual wont.

Satisfied, Bothwell left Edinburgh for Berwick, where he was needed to settle a border dispute between England and Scotland. His route passed through Ormiston, John Cockburn’s town. Alexander, Cockburn’s son, recognised Bothwell and fired his pistol at his face. He missed, and Bothwell took him prisoner until he reached Berwick, where he released him.

A distorted version of events reached Knox, but he still managed to bring about the reconciliation of the two Lords in March 1562. On 25th March Bothwell and Arran attended Mass, lunched, hunted and visited friends.

Two days later Arran accused him of plotting to murder Lord James, kidnap the Queen, and imprison her under Arran’s jailorship at Dumbarton Castle. Arran and Bothwell would then rule as joint dictators. His family realised this was madness, an elaboration of his own previous fantasies, and locked him in his room. Somehow he managed to smuggle out letters spreading news of the ‘treason’, but now adding that his father was also involved. Then he escaped.

Gavin Hamilton rode to the Queen at Falkland Palace to warn her of Arran’s state of mind and of his escape. A little later in the day, Bothwell, still oblivious of the accusations, arrived at Falkland Palace.

Now imagine you are Mary. On the one hand you have the accusing letter of a demented lunatic. On the other you have protestations of innocence from a loyal subject and he is corroborated by a man who tried to kill him only a few months before. Who do you believe?

You guessed it – she had Bothwell and Gavin Hamilton both locked up. Admittedly Lord James probably had a hand in it, but honestly, was the woman thick or what?

By this time Arran had made his way to his friend Kirkaldy of Grange in Stirling. Lord James rushed over there to see what use he could make of him, but found he was completely barmy, convinced that he was the Queen’s husband. When the Queen herself visited he told her he was being haunted by the spirit of Lord James’ mother. Did this prompt her to release Bothwell? Not likely.

The Duke of Chatelherault (Arran’s father) wrote to the Queen asking her to release his two sons and Bothwell, but to no avail. Arran was removed to imprisonment in St Andrews and then Edinburgh Castle. Dumbarton Castle was taken from the Duke, and Bothwell was kept in close confinement in St Andrews.

Lord James decided to stir the pot, and cannily went so far as to obtain a letter from Elizabeth I of England pleading Bothwell’s cause. This of course seemed suspicious to Mary, and she continued to hold Bothwell without trying him (which would have resulted in his release). Lord James had managed to use Arran to ruin the strongest family in Scotland, and to remove Mary’s most loyal supporter, who was transferred to imprisonment in Edinburgh Castle.

The Fate of Arran

In January 1564, Arran’s condition in his imprisonment in Edinburgh Castle is recorded. He was solitary, seeking darkness, paranoid and jaundiced. He spent most time in bed and ate little, sleeping poorly. In 1565 he attempted suicide. A little later he lost his speech, probably as a result of a stroke. Various noblemen raised the money for his release out of pity and he lived out his days in dim-witted retirement, dying in 1609.

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