Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

7 December 1545 - 10 February 1567

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was born on 7 December 1545, at Temple Newsam, Leeds, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He was the second son child, but the first surviving son of Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox and his wife Lady Margaret Douglas.

Through his parents, Henry inherited claims to both the Scottish and English thrones. His father Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox (21 September 1516 - 4 September 1571) was the son of John Stewart, 3rd Earl of Lennox, a descendant of James II, King of Scots. His mother Lady Margaret Douglas was the daughter of Archibald Douglas, sixth Earl of Angus, and Margaret Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII of England.

Henry Stuart, Lord DarnleyHenry Stuart, Lord Darnley

Henry's father Lennox had been declared guilty of treason in Scotland for the part he played in the war of the Rough Wooing, siding with the Henry VIII of England against the Scottish Queen Dowager Mary of Guise and Regent Arran, and his Scottish estates had been forfeited. Lennox had been in exile for 22 years before returning to Scotland in 1564.

The young Lord Darnley received a good education, becoming well-versed in Latin and grew up familiar with the Scots, English and French languages. He excelled at singing, playing the lute and dancing. He also was physically strong and athletic which made him a good horseman with knowledge of weapons and a passion for hunting and hawking. Darnley wrote a letter to his mother's cousin and close friend Mary I of England from Temple Newsam in March 1554 mentioning a drama or map he had made, the Utopia Nova, in which he wished, "every haire in my heade for to be a wourthy souldiour".

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of ScotsMary Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

Darnley entertained the idea of a marriage with his cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. Consequently, in 1561 both he and his mother Lady Margaret were imprisoned by Elizabeth. In February 1565 Darnley left London for a visit to Scotland, arriving in Edinburgh, he presented himself to Mary Queen of Scots at Wemyss Castle in Fife. Mary was impressed by her handsome young cousin, James Melville of Halhill reported that "Her Majesty took well with him, and said that he was the lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen." After a brief visit to his father at Dunkeld, Darnley returned with Mary and the court to Holyrood on 24 February, from then on, he was constantly in Mary's company. Mary seems to have been smitten by him and after nursing him through a dose of measles, impulsively rushed into marriage at Holyrood on 29th July 1568.

On hearing the news, the furious English Queen Elizabeth I, who had expressly forbidden their union, venomously imprisoned Darnley's mother, Lady Margaret, in the Tower of London. Mary's marriage to Henry Stuart proved to be a disastrous one. Arrogant, dissolute, self-seeking and a drunkard who demanded power, Darnley was soon to make Mary repent her impulsive choice. Mary came to regard her foolish husband as an embarrassment and spent much time with her favourite Italian musician, David Rizzio. Rumour swept through the Scottish court that Rizzio was the Queen's lover and driven by jealousy, Darnley burst into the Queen's apartments with Lord Ruthven and others of the Scots lords, clad in armour. Rizzio was stabbed brutally many times, while he tried to cling to the Queen's skirts for protection. Mary was heavily pregnant at the time. She was never to forgive her husband this outrage and grew to regard him with an intense loathing.

In June 1566, at Edinburgh Castle, a son was born of this tempestuous union, named James Charles, the future King James I and VI. The child was born with a fine caul, like a veil over his face, which was part of the amniotic sac. Darnley coldly cast aspersions on his son's legitimacy, heightening the Queen's resentment of her husband. Elizabeth I, although reported to be secretly depressed at the news of his birth, stood as godmother by proxy to the Scottish Prince at his baptism.

Memorial to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, featuring the infant James VI, the Earl and Countess of Lennox and their son CharlesHenry Stuart, Lord Darnley

On the night of 10th February 1566, Darnley, while recuperating from syphilis at a house at Kirk'o Field near Edinburgh, was murdered. In an explosion that shook Edinburgh, the house was blown up with gunpowder and Darnley and a servant was found dead on the grounds.

These explosions were later attributed to two barrels of gunpowder that had been placed in the small room under Darnley's sleeping quarters. Darnley's body and the body of his valet, William Taylor, were found outside, surrounded by a cloak, a dagger, a chair and a coat. Darnley was dressed only in his nightshirt, suggesting he had fled in some haste from his bed-chamber. Upon further examination, the bodies had no signs of injuries that could be associated with the explosion, so the blast did not kill Darnley.

It was determined that the two men were killed by strangulation, believed to have taken place after the explosion. James Hepburn Earl of Bothwell, was considered by many to be responsible for the act and the Queen's complicity in her husband's murder suspected. The skull of Darnley, pitted with the telltale marks of syphilis, is now in the possession of the College of Surgeons at Edinburgh.

Suspicion quickly fell on the Earl of Bothwell and his supporters, notably Archibald Douglas, Parson of Douglas, whose shoes were found at the scene, and Mary herself. Bothwell had long been suspected of having designs on the throne and his close relationship with the queen gave rise to rumours that the pair were intimate. This was viewed as a motive for Bothwell to have Darnley murdered, with help from some of the nobility and seemingly with royal approval. Mary had been looking at options for removing Darnley, though her ideas were for divorce, and none were suitable.

Darnley's shocked and grieving father, Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox, angrily demanded an inquiry into his son's murder. The Queen duly complied, and Bothwell was declared innocent of any involvement in Darnley's death. There were many, including Lennox himself, who were sceptical of this verdict and saw it as little more than a whitewash.