1559-1560: The End of Mary of Guise’s Regency

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Mary of Guise

Once the Lords of the Congregation had retreated to Stirling, the Queen Regent marched back into Edinburgh. Her army consisted of three thousand Frenchmen, a number of Scots and even a few English mercenaries. The lords who supported her were Bothwell, Lord Borthwick, Lord Sempill and Lord Seton. She could rely only on these four and the bishops – other nobles who had not openly supported the revolt had remained ‘neutral’, but were not trustworthy.

Bothwell blamed the Earl of Arran for his own personal losses, but characteristically did not turn to intrigue to revenge himself. He proclaimed Arran a traitor by the sounding of a trumpet and a challenge to single combat, as dictated by the rules of chivalry:

“Having respect to my honour, I am compelled to seek remedy and on a convenient day, in a competent place, I am content to defend the said quarrel before French and Scottish, armed as you please, on horse or foot, to the death. When, God willing, I shall offer to prove that you have not done your duty to authority as a nobleman ought, nor yet to me.”

Arran replied from Stirling:

“You have no place to seek the combat of any man of honour, for it is the deed of a thief to beset a gentleman’s road and rob him of his goods……. When you may recover the name of an honest man, I shall answer you as I ought, but not before French, for there is not a Frenchman in this realm with whose judgement I will have to do.”

The argument was dropped after this, the honour of both sides seeming to be satisfied.

Bothwell knew that the Regent was desperately in need of supporters, no matter how dubious. Elizabeth and Cecil were planning to send a fleet and an army to Scotland within six weeks of Bothwell’s audacious ambush, with a plan to set Arran on the throne. Bothwell had no choice but to turn to intrigue, trying to enlist the support of John Cockburn, whose name had been published on a list of traitors, and whose goods had been confiscated. He refused to change sides, but his son-in law had no such qualms. Mary of Guise was convinced that invasion was inevitable and sought reinforcements from France.

On Christmas Eve 1559 a force of eighteen hundred French and Scots marched from Edinburgh to Stirling, led by the Earl of Bothwell. The ensuing battles with the Lords of the Congregation in Fife lasted a month, but Bothwell’s name never appeared in records of them. It is known that Cecil had plans to kidnap him – he had cost Elizabeth £14,000 with his ambush – and it seems likely that he was taken into hiding by the Queen Regent.

Reinforcements from England arrived in time to save the Congregation, and the Queen Regent’s party were once more forced to refuge in Leith. Knowing that war with England was inevitable, Mary of Guise began proceedings against Arran for his rebellion.

Once war was declared, Mary’s health began to falter, and invasion was daily expected. The English army crossed the border on 30th March 1560, to join the forces of Arran and Lord James. Leith was blockaded by sea and land, and fighting began on the eve of Palm Sunday, continuing through Holy Week.

As well as working throughout the siege to break English supply lines from Berwick, on Easter Monday Bothwell led a force of fifty men and five hundred hagbutters to destroy three of the guns bombarding the town. Bothwell personally wounded both the English general, Lord Grey de Wilton, and his son Arthur Grey. Half of Bothwell’s men were killed, but they killed twice as many English.

Having been repulsed by the Regent’s forces, the Rebels decided to starve Leith out. Bothwell was able to get clear of the town, and planned to seek support from overseas. He first went to the Highlands (to throw Cecil off his trail), and then to Denmark, the foremost naval power in Europe.

Bothwell made a good impression on Frederick II,, but just as he appeared to have achieved success, news reached him of the death of Mary of Guise, of ascitic dropsy. Knowing that she was dying, Mary had prepared for her daughter a list of important people in Scotland, with notes on their characters. Mary Stuart unfortunately never paid as much attention to this as she should, or she would have placed far more trust in Bothwell at a far earlier date. As it was, Bothwell would never receive the same backing from the Queen of Scots as he had from her mother.

Within three days of the death of the Regent, France and Scotland were ready to sign a treaty with England. With no need now to continue his efforts to secure a fleet, Bothwell turned his attentions to love, and Anna Throndsen, daughter of a retired Danish admiral……

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1556-1559: First Love, First Allegiances, First Enemies

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Kevin McKidd as Bothwell in ‘Gunpowder, Treason and Plot’

In 1556, aged twenty-one, James Hepburn inherited the Earldom of Bothwell along with the offices and duties of Sheriff of Berwick, Haddington and Edinburgh; of Bailie in Lauderdale (with the castles of Hailes and Crighton); and of Lord High Admiral of Scotland.

The Fair Earl had sold many acres of land to meet the demands of his creditors, and so James found the lands and rents were much diminished. His first task was therefore to save what he could from the wreck of his father’s fortunes. Bothwell’s grandmother died within a few months, and it appeared he cared little about her good name as he declared that she had been illegitimate, and so claimed, and was granted, all her goods. He also managed to disinherit his great-uncle Patrick Hepburn of Bolton.

Meantime, as the Reformation proceeded in Scotland, key positions were being given by the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, to French Catholic officials. At the end of 1557, the Band of the Congregation of the Lords was formed. A group of earls and lairds, including Lord James Stewart (Mary Stuart’s illegitimate half-brother, and later Earl of Moray) and the Earls of Glencairn and Argyll, entered into a Covenant to support the new Protestant religion and oppose Catholicism. Bothwell considered that they were using religion to undermine the power of the Queen Regent. Mary of Guise had few nobles she could trust, and as her daughter would do in future, she had blind spots to the treachery of certain lords – one of her most trusted was the Earl of Argyll, along with the largely faithful Earl of Huntly an Bothwell himself, who always seemed to have her best interests at heart.

War with England was dragging on, and the French men-at arms found Border warfare difficult. This was something Bothwell excelled at, and his success earned him Hermitage Castle, which was granted to him along with a monthly income of twenty three pounds.

As time went on, the situation failed to improve, and the Queen Regent was forced to abandon her plans to invade England. However, she was impressed by Bothwell, and in October 1558, she appointed him Lieutenant of the Border, giving him many new powers.

Just after Christmas in 1558 he led a raid on Norham Castle, a Percy stronghold in the North of England. London was alarmed at his success, and promised to increase garrisons at the border. The reinforcements never came, for Mary Tudor died. Elizabeth wished to secure her kingdom and long-protracted peace talks ensued. Bothwell was suspicious (with good reason) of the English, and they found him difficult to deal with.

Bothwell paid perhaps less attention to these talks than he should – he had fallen in love with Janet Beton, a woman nineteen years older than him. It was rumoured that she had used magic to trap him, but it was more likely their shared enmity against the Kerrs that brought them together. When Janet appeared in a law-case which Bothwell was trying in 1559, the plaintiff complained that they were handfast, and so a new sheriff was found to try the case. Handfasting was a common form of binding betrothal in the Borders until the beginning of the eighteenth century. The romance was brief, but the couple parted on friendly terms.

Meanwhile, Henri II of France had died as a result of a jousting accident, making his son, Francois, king. Francois’ wife, Mary Stuart (the heir to the Scottish throne) was now Queen of France.

Peace talks being protracted, England managed to instigate a Protestant uprising against Mary of Guise, confident that she only had the support of two of her lords (Bothwell being one). On 21st October 1559 the Congregation met at the Tolbooth and formally deprived her of all authority. Money was being sent to these rebels from England, carried by John Cockburn of Ormiston. He never made it. Bothwell had heard of his plans via the Blackadder family. (Yes! There really were Blackadders! And it seems like one of them had a cunning plan!) As a ruse, Bothwell sent an emissary to the Congregation to discuss the planned treachery. This convinced them that Cockburn was safe to pass though Hepburn lands, and Bothwell successfully ambushed him just outside Haddington, carrying the money off to Crichton Castle. He had both deprived the rebels of the help they needed, and had exposed England’s pretence of neutrality.

Lord James Stewart and the Earl of Arran acted immediately they heard what had happened, and pursued Bothwell with two thousand men. He left Crichton Castle and fled back to Haddington where he hid in the house of Cockburn of Sandybed, disguised as a kitchen-maid for a few days until the coast was clear. He repaid the family with a yearly grant of four bolls of wheat, barley and oats, which was paid for the next two hundred years.

When Bothwell had fled Crichton, it was taken by Lord James Stewart. He sent word to Bothwell that unless he returned the money and made reparation to John Cockburn, Crichton would be sacked and burned, his property confiscated, and he would be declared an enemy of the Congregation. By now sheltering at neighbouring Borthwick Castle, Bothwell refused to comply. He could only watch as his castle was destroyed and his belongings removed to Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, the Queen Regent’s forces were gaining in strength, as lack of funds and growing numbers of defeats meant that Congregation numbers were falling fast. The French cut the Congregation’s food supply, and laid siege to them in Leith. Retreat to Stirling was the only way out.

Much of the bad press Bothwell recieves to this day dates from this exploit. By ambushing John Cockburn, he irritated the English and earned the enmity of the important Protestant lords. Maybe Antonia Fraser would have been a bit nicer to him if she’d known what part he’d played in helping out the Catholic Queen Regent.

This episode also shows how he had a strong moral code – he would do what he thought was the right thing, regardless of the consequences to himself. His actions had lost him a castle and his belongings – but even knowing that, he had stuck by his Queen Regent. On the other hand, Lord James Stewart had proven himself to be duplicitous, self-serving and untrustworthy. Who would prosper…..

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The Early Life of James Patrick Hepburn

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James Hepburn was most likely born in 1535. This date is fixed by the facts that he needed to be over twenty-one when he succeeded to his father’s title in Autumn 1556, and he was ‘twenty-four or about’ when he gave evidence against the Earl of Arran in February 1560. He was the son of Patrick Hepburn, third Earl of Bothwell (the ‘Fair Earl’), and Agnes Sinclair. He had a sister, Janet.

The life of his father couldn’t help but have a large bearing on James Hepburn, and the times his father lived through set the stage for James’ entrance into public life. Patrick Hepburn was the son of Adam Hepburn and Agnes Stewart and was born in 1512. A year later, Adam Hepburn was killed at Flodden. Agnes Stewart went on to marry three further husbands.

Patrick’s ‘ Fair Earl’ nickname was earned by his looks rather than by his character. He was described in his youth by Lindsay of Pitscottie as ‘fair and white and something hanging-shouldered and went somewhat forward with a gentle and humane countenance’.

His first public appearance was on 15th May 1529, when he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle for protecting robbers in Liddesdale. When he was released two years later he sought his revenge by beginning a treasonable correspondence with England which continued throughout his life. During the next ten years he paid for this with a further prison sentence and three periods in exile in Venice and England.

He married Agnes Sinclair before he was twenty one in one of his periods in Scotland. After his second period of imprisonment, his son James was born.

When James V died after the battle of Solway Moss, Patrick was in England. He signed a pact that would commit the infant Mary Queen of Scots into the keeping of Henry VIII of England, and promised to serve and aid him. He then returned to Scotland.

Once there, his actions did nothing to commend him to the new Scottish regime, or to satisfy his English sponsors. Traditionally, imprisonment and banishment had been the only means available to cope with the Earl’s disaffection, but Mary of Guise, the infant queen’s mother, had other plans. She granted Patrick a yearly pension of a thousand pounds in return for his fidelity. Patrick had sworn his loyalty to Henry VIII only months previously, but Mary was convinced she could keep him loyal by dangling the prospect of a royal marriage before him. His courtship would also provoke the jealousy of other wavering nobles, especially the Earl of Lennox, who had dangerous claims to the Stewart succession.

The two men were constantly at Mary’s court in Stirling, and Patrick Hepburn was so confident of success that in 1543 he divorced his wife on the grounds of consanguinity, as Agnes was also a Hepburn. But the political situation was changing around him. The vacillating Protestant Earl of Arran finally turned his back on England after Henry VIII arrested some Scottish merchant ships sailing for France. Mary of Guise also dangled the prospect of a marriage between the infant queen and Arran’s son in front of him. On 8th September 1543, Arran did penance for his apostasy and received the Catholic sacrament – the Earl of Bothwell holding the towel over his head. A day later, Mary Stuart was crowned in Stirling Castle chapel, aged nine months. Mary of Guise now had no further use for the Fair Earl, and dismissed his suit.

Henry VIII was enraged to hear of Arran’s treachery, and he decided that if he could not take Scotland by peaceful means, he would take it by force. He styled his campaign a holy war as a result of the broken promises of the Scots. He instructed his invading force to ‘put all to fire and sword’, to burn Edinburgh, sack Holyrood, the Castle and Leith, and destroy St Andrews and all the villages in Fife – sparing no-one, not even women and children. The ‘Rough Wooing’ of Mary Queen of Scots had begun.

The appalling acts that followed did nothing to dissuade Patrick Hepburn from re-commencing his correspondence with England.

He carried out another abortive love-affair, this time with Lady Isobel Borthwick, his neighbour. She lured him to a midnight tryst, and he was then taken and temporarily imprisoned by the men of Borthwick castle.

On 15th January 1545, George Wishart came to Haddington to preach. The congregation was so small that it was suspected that the Earl of Bothwell had given orders forbidding attendance.

The next night Wishart stayed at the house of John Cockburn of Ormiston. By midnight Patrick Hepburn had the house surrounded and took Wishart away with him to Hailes Castle, guaranteeing his safety. Mary of Guise requested that Wishart be handed over to her, and eventually, despite his promises, the Earl took him to Edinburgh Castle. Wishart was thrown into the smaller of the pit-prisons in the castle.

George Wishart stood trial at St Andrews in February 1545. He was found unsurprisingly guilty and horrifically burned to death.

Before the end of 1545 the English had again crossed the Scottish border. England’s Scottish sympathisers were suspect, and the Fair Earl was once again exiled and imprisoned. Hailes Castle was given to Isobel Borthwick’s husband, but in any case soon fell into English hands.

The Scottish defeat at Pinkie meant that Patrick was freed, and he almost immediately sent his nephew to the English, with the proposal that the Fair Earl be given either the Princess Mary or the Princess Elizabeth as his wife, in exchange for Hermitage Castle. This proposal was coolly received.

Meanwhile, the Scots had treatied with France, and six thousand troops landed at Leith, forcing the Earl to flee to London. About this time he publicly claimed that Mary of Guise had twice promised to marry him. Mary’s only option was to accuse him of treason.

In the late summer of 1548 Patrick formally renounced his allegiance to the Scottish crown and became a pensioner of England to the tune of 3000 crowns. He passed five more years in exile.

In 1554, Mary of Guise forgave him, appointing him Lieutenant of the Borders and he returned to Edinburgh.

In July 1556, he betrothed his daughter Janet to Robert Lauder of the Bass. By September he lay dangerously ill in Dumfries and Janet’s engagement had been called off, indicating that her father’s illness had allowed her to exert her choice. Patrick died shortly afterwards and his titles passed to his son, James Hepburn.

With a father constantly on he move and sometimes imprisoned, James’ early life was likely to have been unsettled.  is parents’ divorce meant that he saw little of his mother – his father gifted her the lands of Moreham, where she lived until her death, whereas James was sent to his great uncle Bishop Patrick at the Palace of Spynie, to be educated.

James completed his education abroad, certainly spending some time in Paris, where critics later claimed he studied the black arts of magic and sorcery. He returned to Scotland on the death of his father in September 1556. Patrick Hepburn had died, possibly of TB, aged thirty four, and James succeeded to his titles.

James’ later actions showed that he had learned from his father’s follies – his disloyalty had brought about the loss of his liberty and his lands, and his grudges had never been satisfied. James Hepburn became a loyal servant of the Scottish Crown, and the only noble not to ever be in the pay of the English – he never forgave them for the Rough Wooing, and refused to accept such an income, however badly in need of it he became.

Although a Protestant, James also had a hatred of religious persecution which was not shared by his Knox-led contemporaries. As well as the fact of his being educated partly by a Catholic Bishop, it has been speculated that this may have been due to the involvement of his father in the death of Wishart, a man James Hepburn likely heard preach in the villages around his childhood home, possibly even his spiritual teacher.

One trait James did share with his father was an eye for the ladies and a sense that he could have any woman he wanted – even a Queen.

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