Vulgar History Podcast
There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots: Part Five: A Dagger, A Cloak, A Chair, and a Length of Rope (with Allison Epstein)
June 21, 2023
Ann: Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. My name is Ann Foster, and this is Part Five of There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots. I mean, the whole season is that, but this is Mary’s story, Part Five. And here’s what is LOL about that! I originally thought I could tell her whole story in four episodes. Ha-ha! Ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha! Yeah, we’re just getting to this. So, anyway, I don’t know if you can hear this in the background, but I’m joined by my cat whose name is Hepburn and I think she’s just here to be like, “I would like to remove myself from the narrative of Bothwell the Earl, like, James Hepburn, that is not my family. I’m not from Scotland.” We know that Hepburn, we know. But I’m also joined by a human who is Allison Epstein.
Allison: Hello! Also not related to Bothwell, also not from Scotland. Also happy to be here!
Ann: Yeah, so last time Allison joined us because we were talking about a person who is one of your most hated historical figures, yeah? Darnley?
Allison: He’s certainly top 10, some days he’s top 5. It varies based on the weather but yeah, way, way, way up there.
Ann: His overall, I think British people say gormless, he just changes sides so easily, he doesn’t have any principles other than he thinks he’s great. He would sell his mother out to get money to gamble with. He’s just, like, a shitty ass person, there are no redeeming qualities. Maybe his handsomeness.
Allison: Maybe. But there are other people in this era who are handsome and are not like this. He reminds me of the John Mulaney joke where you have, “the moral backbone of a chocolate éclair,” that’s Darnley. He’s just, like, a bowl of porridge that showed up to betray his mother. It’s, like, the worst.
Ann: And when you contrast him with someone who is a good, solid person with loyalties, like Davie Rizzio, tortoise of my heart.
Allison: I know. Just makes it so much more obvious how terrible he was and all he ever wanted was like, “Okay, but can we have sex now?” The selfishness and the absolute dickheadedness of it all.
Ann: So, last episode, [chuckles] we’re recording this sequentially, so I feel like, “You all know what happened in the last episode, it literally just happened.” But it’s, like, “No. For people, it’s been a week.” A lot happened last episode, but the big thing that happened was that Darnley teamed up with Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, some other dudes–
Allison: 200 other people. [laughs]
Ann: [laughs] A Douglas! To murder Davie Rizzio, tortoise of my heart, and they did in the most clumsy, ill-prepared, badly planned way. They did murder him, but they didn’t get any of the other goals they wanted, which were, like, to usurp control, make Darnley their puppet king, and take over the country.
Allison: And also, it was 200 to 12, so if they hadn’t murdered him, it would have been really, really, really sad.
Ann: Yeah. So, Mary was able to escape by manipulating her éclair filling of a husband [Allison laughs] to switch sides to her team and then she got the help of people who have had her back ‘til now. I don’t mean to say that ominously, just people who have had her back. Rizzio is now dead so the people who are still loyal to her, we’ve got Bothwell and we’ve got Cock o’ the North Junior are both on her side. There was a clutch assist from The Countess, though; she was smuggling letters in pee chamber pots, outstanding work.
Allison: It was a classic scheme happening in the ladies’ room, it was delightful.
Ann: It was great.
Allison: That’s why women don’t go to the bathroom alone is because sometimes we’re trying to scheme our way out.
Ann: So, last week’s episode ended in triumph, basically, because as we’ve talked about, one of the things that Mary very cannily did was she won the love of the people of Scotland so even though all these Protestant assholes, AKA her privy council, all hate her, all of Parliament, the everyday people love and support her and they got her back into power. And the last episode ended with her triumphantly entering Edinburgh for, I feel like, the third time in this podcast series. She keeps re-entering Edinburgh in triumph and her haters are just like, “Augh! Again.”
The other thing that I guess I’ll just mention is that Darnley had been on the side of the Rizzio murderers but then he switched over to support Mary and you know who is mad about that? The Rizzio murderers, a group of people who we know are prone to making a convoluted but successful murder plot so now that they all hate Darnley, you know, we’ll see where that all goes.
Oh, and one thing that I brought up last time and I wanted to just clarify, so one of the books that I was looking at was called David Rizzio and Mary, Queen of Scots: Murder at Holyrood by David Tweedie and I mentioned that David Tweedie’s were notable, and they are. First, he is Sir David Tweedie. And secondly, his ancestors were among the Rizzio murderers, their names are on those pieces of paper. So, I appreciate that he, knowing that those are his ancestors, wrote this very sympathetic and very complete biography of Davie Rizzio. I find that very touching, actually.
So, the references for this episode. Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary, Queen of Scots by Jennifer Morag Henderson, Embroidering Her Truth: Mary, Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter, Mary, Queen of Scots and… Okay, skip ahead 30 seconds if you don’t want some spoilers, [Allison laughs] and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Allison Weir, Mary, Queen of Scots’ Downfall: The Life and Murder of Henry Lord Darnley by Robert Stedell, and Mary, Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stewart by John Guy.
Yeah, so the two shining stars supporting Mary through all of this extreme– She’s still pregnant! She hasn’t had her baby yet.
Allison: She’s been pregnant for the last, probably, 90 minutes Anne and I have been recording and I’m just like, “This baby, oh my goodness.”
Ann: Now that Rizzio, again RIP, is dead, the two people who have her back and the two people who actively helped her escape all of this were Bothwell and Cock o’ the North Junior. So, we mentioned this before but here’s the timeline of this all. Two weeks before the Davie Rizzio murder extravaganza, Bothwell had married Cock o’ the North Junior’s sister, Jean Gordon, and we know Mary loves weddings, so our girl was there honouring her two best supporters as they came together and joined their families. So, the Davie Rizzio murder happened but the alliance between Bothwell’s family (the Hepburns) and Cock o’ the North Junior (the Gordons) was still going strong. Her two best guys and they’re getting along with each other, and they’re supporting her, they’re eating scrambled eggs, things are good.
Allison: At 5:00 in the morning.
Ann: Yeah. So, really, in an interesting way where it’s, like, at first with the Chaseabout Raids and stuff, things were sort of extreme and high key for a while but now, I think Mary even is just like, “Okay, this is how things just are in Scotland.” [Allison laughs] Revolutions happen then you have some eggs then you all meet up at Parliament the next day. Things were weirdly okay.
Allison: It doesn’t seem like they would be after what we just talked about, the whole stabbing her best friend 56 times after throwing his body down the stairs, but I guess we’re just going to get back to business because someone’s got to rule Scotland.
Ann: Exactly, so Mary learned that Darnley’s father Lennox had been complicit/involved in the Davie Rizzio murder in order to get Darnley the Crown Matrimonial so she banished him from court, but she couldn’t banish Darnley because he was her baby daddy. He had to be around for the birth of the child, for the christening of the child so that there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is the father of this child. So regardless, he had to be there.
The conspirators had mostly escaped. Once they knew that they had lost, they fled. While she was en route to Edinburgh in triumph, they were actively fleeing. So, “Only two minor figures were caught, tried, convicted, hanged, drawn, and quartered; their severed parts put on display around town.”
Allison: They went for the whole production.
Ann: Yeah, so of the like 500 people, two people took the fall for that. Mary made Darnley make an apology, [laughs] which you know he hated. So, his apology was like, “I didn’t know anything about anything. All I thought was I was going to help Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart and his friends get their land back. Didn’t know anything about any murder.” And this made the assholes, like, the murderers, so mad, that they sent Mary a copy of the document that he signed being like, “I, Darnley, agree to help kill Davie Rizzio.” So anyway, the paperwork of it all just really… It’s hard to hide what you’re up to when everything is on paper.
We know a lot of the details that we do know about what happened with the murder and what happened after because Mary herself wrote them in a letter to her ambassador in Paris. So, six days after the murder, she wrote this letter, but she sent it to him wanting him to share it with other Catholics, like, in Spain, at the Vatican, and in France. “It was published in the Netherlands,” is a note I have. Is that, like, where the printing press existed? The only one in Europe? I don’t know.
Allison: I feel like the Netherlands were like a centre of both trade, you could get a lot of places easily, but also a Catholic centre hold that maybe she wasn’t as politically connected to. But I think Gutenberg was German. You know I don’t know Germany, we’ll have to ask Lana.
Ann: I don’t know Germany either. All I know about the Netherlands is that that is where my artist friend January Jupiter, who does some of my merch, lives. So, it’s a cool place.
Anyway, so this guy, this friend, he translated her letter into Latin, published it in the Netherlands and so basically, in short order, anyone in Europe who could read Latin heard her version of what had happened that night.
Allison: And we love someone who will control the narrative. You know what? Good for her.
Ann: Yeah, exactly, there’s no way that this was going to… No one ever thought she was complicit in that, at all. Meanwhile, Darnley is just, kind of, living in his dream world. He was also writing letters; he wrote letters to Catherine de’ Medici in France.
Allison: Can you imagine [Ann laughs] Catherine de’ Medici sitting at her breakfast table, sipping her Italian coffee, opening up a letter written by Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley and she’s like, “This absolute muppet has written me, Catherine.” Oh boy, the time that they lived at the same time is Insane to me.
Ann: It’s ridiculous, the fact that he wrote her a letter. And he’s like, “Hey, it’s me, the King of Scotland. I’m innocent, I had nothing to do with that murder, and let’s all be Catholics together and work together.” He also wrote to Philip of Spain, the Philip. He also wrote to the Pope and in his letters, it’s just, like, a guy losing his mind on Reddit. He’s just complaining, like, “Scotland is falling to pieces. It should be a Catholic country but it’s not and it’s all Mary’s fault.”
He also developed these categorically ridiculous plans to invade England by landing Catholic armies on these random islands that England controlled. One of them is called Scilly and it’s funny, I just saw yesterday, someone was tweeting that Prince William, Kate Middleton, and their family like to go on holiday in this place, Scilly, which is this island owned by England but it’s sort of tropical adjacent. And I was like, “Scilly! That’s the place that Darnley, insanely, wanted to invade from.” So anyway, still controlled by England, apparently. Anyway, he was losing his mind. None of his plans made any sense and yeah.
Allison: He was not brought into this equation for his plans and his scheming skills. He was brought in as a terrible, bad decision… No one ever thought he was going to be the man with a plan.
Ann: No. But no one ever thought he was going to be actively this… Who would have ever thought that any human being could be this awful?
Anyway. Meanwhile, back in England, Sir Richard Attenborough from Jurassic Park, William Cecil, knew all about everything because his spies were everywhere [laughs] and everyone was writing everything on paper.
Allison: Everyone was writing him letters in triplicate with signed and notarized things.
Ann: So, he tried to trick Mary into doing treason herself by sending a spy called Rokesby up to Scotland and Rokesby was like, “Oh hey, what if we invade England? Being a Catholic is great, right?” And Mary saw right through it and also, she was, like, at this point 8 months pregnant and she’s not about to put her relationship with Elizabeth/England in any danger. Because remember, her goal, at this point, is still to be named Elizabeth’s heir. She’s not going to like, invade England. Anyway, so she saw Rokesby did this and then Mary wrote a great letter back to Cecil being like, “Oh hey, so this guy told me this weird stuff.” It’s very heavy-handed and subtextual, it’s like, “I know what you’re up to you, you piece of shit. [Allison laughs] If you don’t stop fucking around with me, I’m going to tell Elizabeth you did this, she won’t like it.” It’s a strongly worded letter, I admire it. It’s strongly worded, yeah, but polite.
Allison: This might have worked on my dumbass husband, but you’ve got to get up earlier in the morning to fool me.
Ann: She was also getting ready to go have her baby. In this period of time, a couple of things. Firstly, as it is now, childbirth is a dangerous thing. As far as they knew it’s, like, sometimes women die in childbirth, we don’t know why or who or what makes that happen or not. So, she’s like, “I might die.” But also, when you have a baby you go into confinement for months afterward, which is more maternity leave than you get in the United States.
Allison: Sure is.
Ann: But in her case, that meant that would be away for everything for months and she’s like, “Someone could do a coup. I need to get everything in line because I’m going to either die or be tucked away in a room for a month and I need to still be Queen after that, if I’m alive.”
So, she wanted to go to Edinburgh Castle because she’s usually at Holyrood although I feel like, the memory, personally, I would not want to live at Holyrood anymore having seen my best friend stabbed 56 times in front of me.
Allison: The blood would still be there five centuries later.
Ann: Ahh, the haunted ghost blood! So, she went to Edinburgh Castle which was more secure. Anyway, so she wrote a detailed will beforehand including that she wanted to give the tortoise, the jewelled tortoise that Davie Rizzio had given her, she bequeathed to Joseph Rizzio, that’s right, Davie’s 19-year-old brother, she’d invited him to town, and what did she do? Made him her new private secretary. [laughs]
Allison: [laughs] Can you imagine the 200 people who had just gone through the most convoluted stabbing of all time and then being like, “And now there’s another one.”
Ann: Yeah. Yeah. I love that detail; I did not know that detail until I was doing this research. Also, I love that she bequeathed the tortoise to him. So, she wrote this list of what jewels to give to who, and there are all these secret, not cypher, not code – she wrote in code as well and we’ll talk about that later – but she just kind of has these messages along the side, she’s like, “You know what I mean,” or, “Do with it what we talked about.” So, she told him, “I want to bequeath this jeweled tortoise to you, Joseph Rizzio. Do with it as we discussed.”
Allison: Oooh! So sneaky.
Ann: Is it a key to a secret treasure map or was she like, whatever, sell this and start up a trust fund for the Rizzio family? I don’t know.
Allison: With Mary, either one is possible.
Ann: Another jewel I just wanted to mention, was there was a mermaid-shaped jewel that I know she bequeathed to Bothwell, I forget if he’d given it to her in the first place, but mermaid was clearly, like, a shared thing between them, the way that owl is with you and your friend. So, there was a mermaid-shaped jewel that she was bequeathing to Bothwell as well.
Anyway, time for her lying in period. So, a series of rituals happen. You know, Catholicism is sometimes indistinguishable from ritual, druid, Pagan stuff where it’s, like, there’s a torchlight procession and people are walking, and then they process into her bedchamber, and it’s a whole thing.
Allison: Love a ritual.
Ann: Yeah, I love a torchlight procession. So anyway, the windows were covered in dark cloth in the room that she would be in because people thought that light was harmful for childbirth. You know what? I don’t know, maybe it is. So, she would stay sequestered there until the baby was born, and then for one month later and she would only be attended by women, which I feel like of all the people in this story, she’s never been betrayed by any of her women. The Countess was there for her in a clutch moment, and the Marys, always there for her. So, I think she could feel as safe as possible knowing the women were around her, although, understandably paranoid.
So, she quadrupled the number of guards that were around her and she got a guy named the Earl of Argyll who she trusted to move into the room outside and to stay there night and day so that she always had a personal bodyguard there because the whole Davie Rizzio thing, she, understandably, thought they were maybe also going to kill her, that might have been an attempt at assassination because they pointed a gun at her pregnant belly and fired it, she thought they maybe wanted to kill her. So, she is worried for her own safety.
So, she gave birth, and this is a detail I added at the last minute because I was contacted by a recent fan of the podcast who turns out to be descended from someone who was there at the birth. So, one of the people who is at the birth is Margaret Fleming. So, she’s the Countess of Argyll, I presume married to the guy who is called Argyll who is, like, the bodyguard. But Margaret Fleming is the sister of Mary Fleming, who is one of the four Marys. She’s also the daughter of Janet Fleming, Mary’s governess who ended up getting pregnant by the French king and got kicked back to Scotland, if you will remember back in, like, Part One. Anyway, so the Fleming family, full of scandal. Margaret was also a witch.
Ann: She was brought in in an attempt to transfer Mary’s labour pains onto the wet nurse.
Allison: Man, that sucks to be the wet nurse! Rude.
Ann: Yeah. But you know what? Did not work. But she was brought in to maybe try to do that. I think I’m going to talk more about Margaret Fleming later but here’s what’s interesting. So, “After a prolonged and difficult labour, Mary gave birth to a son who she named James,” after every other man in this story but specifically her father and grandfather. We’re going to call him Baby Jamie or BJ. Later on, he becomes King James I/VI who is the husband of Anne of Denmark, I did a whole episode about that. He’s the, like, famous… I don’t know Allison, can you give a precis on his deal?
Allison: King James is the King James of the King James Bible. He is responsible for most of the witch burnings that happened in England at this point. He was kind of the wacky, eccentric man who hated women and black magic and just made a mess of things in England. He was a lot.
Ann: I love that you mentioned witchcraft because don’t you find it interesting? There was a witch present at his birth.
Allison: And I bet he hated that every day of his life.
Ann: Here’s the thing. So, Margaret Fleming lived a long life after this, and even when James became king and he was witch-burning and witch-hunting and whatever, he never went after Margaret Fleming because she had been present at his birth and that would put his birth into question if he accused her of being a witch.
Allison: It’s what he deserves, really.
Ann: So, I appreciate that for her. And we’re going to talk more about Margaret Fleming in a later episode, I think, now that I know that she exists, I’m excited to learn more about her. But anyway, it was a son, not just having a baby but having a son was what everybody wanted. So, her popularity increased in Scotland, and even in England, people were like, “Oh my god, a woman who is married and has a child? We like that better than our weird spinster lady Queen called Elizabeth.” So, more people were like, “We prefer her as queen because she’s doing the things we expect women to do, having sons.”
But also, people are just excited for a royal baby. 500 bonfires were lit in Edinburgh and its suburbs. People in Edinburgh, I talked about in a previous one, fireworks were a thing, bonfires were a thing, people were just figuring out what you could do with fire and gunpowder in an interesting way in this era, she says portentously. Anyway, the guns of Edinburgh Castle were fired, and people broke out in spontaneous rejoicing, it was a happy thing. But Mary, she’s always had health issues. So, not just, like, how would the hormones maybe trigger her potential porphyria, or whatever her chronic illness was, but she had this birth that was challenging, and she had just watched her best friend be murdered in front of her.
Allison: Yeah, it’s been a hard couple of months.
Ann: Exactly, exactly. So, in July, she stayed in the room for a month, and it’s like, you know what? You know who deserves a month-long nap? This lady. So, she left her birthing chamber and went on holiday. And when I say she went on holiday, this is kind of an Empress Sisi thing where it’s just, like, she’s very sick and is going somewhere else to go lie down, sort of holiday. But maybe, you know, the same as when the doctors were saying, “Oh no, if she doesn’t get fresh air, she’ll have a miscarriage.” I think she just needed fresh air, and to get away from the city where her best friend had just been stabbed in front of her and she was almost betrayed and murdered by those closest to her.
Allison: Yeah, I mean being surrounded by people who you can’t trust 100% of the time, with a newborn baby, the stress of that, even if you don’t have existing health issues, that’s not going to be good for you in your recovery anyway.
Ann: No, and these are things I want us to keep in mind when people are like, “Oh Mary, she wasn’t a strong queen,” or whatever it’s like, “Okay, let’s see how you would do in this situation.” Let’s see how, if we want to compare them, how would Elizabeth have done in this situation? No one could have done better than what she had done. She just used her smarts and her wiles to undo a coup and now she just had a baby.
Allison: I feel like the reason people don’t give Mary enough credit for her scheminess and her cleverness is because the things that she schemed worked and so the disasters that she avoided never happened. If there was a coup and she had to scheme her way back to the throne we’d be like, “Oh, look at this clever queen.” But because she was so good at it, she stopped these things before they became dramatic and now, we’re like, “It looks like she didn’t do that much.” She was good at it!
Ann: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I mentioned all the books that I’ve read, and I don’t want to throw any shade at any of the books I’ve read but they all have a different point of view. And some of them propose that Darnley himself decided to escape, Mary didn’t have to coerce or manipulate him into doing that which I think is incorrect. I don’t think Darnley was like, “Oh no, my number’s up. I’ll escape with Mary.” No! She got him to do that, clearly. Darnley–
Allison: Yeah, we’ve discussed already Darnley’s common sense was not a thing he was known for, he was never going to think one step ahead, let alone two.
Ann: Exactly. Even in that, often historians don’t want to give her credit where I think credit is due. So, that’s where I appreciate, especially people who – well I appreciate everyone who is listening to this – but people who have never heard this story before aren’t coming in with the pre-existing understanding of “Oh, she’s this poor victim who never did anything.” It’s like, no, to those people, she’s a woman with a plan who is succeeding, basically. So, remember that.
Anyway, so she went on holiday to this place. I find it startling but she has forgiven Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart by this point. You might think, “How and why?” But to make anything function, she couldn’t stay mad at everybody all the time. And remember when she was captive he was like, “Oh, I’m sorry,” and then he was out of town when it happened, so she didn’t know directly how much he was involved, maybe, but she knew that he was influential, and she had to keep him onside. So anyway, they’re in the good books again, apparently, Bothwell also went with her on this holiday trip, along with lots of other people. Darnley did not go on this trip because he was too busy saying, “I’m going to run away to the Netherlands,” and just being like, “Isn’t anyone going to stop me? No?”
Allison: No, please leave. Please. Go. Go.
Ann: He wasn’t invited, but then when he found out that she was going on holiday without him, he crashed the party long enough to get in a yelling fight with Mary in front of witnesses. Can you guess, I’m going to give you one guess, what he was demanding from her?
Allison: Well, I have two guesses. It’s either sex or the Crown Matrimonial. I don’t remember which one it was this time.
Ann: It was sex. He’s just like, “Why won’t you have sex with me? You just gave birth a month ago in Renaissance Scotland. Your friend was just killed, you have a disease, and you’re actively convalescing. Why won’t you have sex with me?” So, they got in a fight and everyone who saw that was like, “This fucking guy.” So, it’s no secret that he is the worst. He was also planning to kidnap their son so that he could then rule as regent in his name or something.
Allison: Not the first child kidnapping in the season, probably also not the last.
Ann: No. So, he’s just coming up with various plans. Mary found out that someone was going to try and kidnap BJ, someone named Darnley, so she moved the baby to Stirling Castle, which again, is just, kind of like… I guess Edinburgh Castle is more secure than Holyrood, but Stirling is the most secure, that’s where her mother took her when she was at risk of being baby kidnapped as well. It’s on a cliff, it’s hard to get to. Anyway, to make this trip, she got 50 musketeers to surround the carriage as they went to protect, to make sure the baby wasn’t kidnapped. Oh sorry, 500! 500 musketeers.
Allison: That’s so many musketeers.
Ann: That’s so many, it’s so many. So, she went there, and you know what? He wasn’t kidnapped so it was probably good. Again, that was a good choice. If she hadn’t done that, maybe he would have been kidnapped and we’d be like, “She’s so dumb.” So, she left him there and then went to resume her “holiday.” And this is normal, to leave babies with wetnurses and whatever, but also, she just needed to get herself better and back in Queen shape. So, she was slowly forgiving more and more of the Rizzio conspirators because otherwise, she wouldn’t have anyone in her parliament.
Allison: Right, if the alternative is to go to war with the entire government, eventually, you’re going to have to be like, okay.
Ann: So, first she forgave Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart. Then she forgave Scottish Machiavelli, who came to return to his position. Darnley was furious about that, she thought that she was reconciling with these guys to build consensus against him because they all hated him because he betrayed them.
Allison: Actually, everybody hates you, Darnley, it would be really hard to put someone in government that doesn’t.
Ann: There is a consensus that everyone hates you, she doesn’t have to do anything to make that consensus happen. So then, everything he did, he’s a messy bitch, lives for drama but it’s a real, sort of like, reality star, I don’t know, I’m just going to throw out Vanderpump Rules, I don’t know. But like, everything he did that was shocking, he made sure he did it in front of witnesses. He always did everything publicly, he wanted to shock people. So, he announced in front of witnesses that he planned to separate from her and go live abroad.
Allison: And Mary’s like, “Oh, thank god.”
Ann: She was not. They needed him to stay because Darnley in the wild, who knows what he would get up to? But at least in Scotland they could keep an eye on him, so they wanted to keep him in Scotland. Not that they wanted him around, but he was maybe more of a wildcard danger if he went to, whatever, the Netherlands. So, remember he had written to Catherine de’ Medici. The privy council also wrote to Catherine de’ Medici saying, “Hi, Darnley is insane. If he comes to France to start up his own kangaroo court, don’t support him, he is insane.” And I’m sure Catherine was like…
Allison: Catherine’s like, “Noted.” [laughs]
Ann: “I kind of figured that out but thanks for the heads up.” Anyway, so Mary is feeling better, I guess, I don’t mean she is better but she’s feeling better; she’s able to go horseback riding and do some queen duties and things. One of her queen duties was to go down to the English-Scottish border to a place called Jedburgh, just to go oversee criminal cases, go visit with her subjects and be like, “Hey, remember me? You all love me. Great.” So, the borders, this was Bothwell’s home turf, that’s where the Hepburns all live. So, he went down first to get things ready for her arrival. But while he was there, he was attacked by a person whose name was Jack o’ the Park. [laughs]
Allison: [laughs] A real cartoon character of a man.
Ann: It’s giving me big bushrangers energy.
Allison: It really is getting into, like, Captain Thunderbolt territory.
Ann: So yeah, he was attacked by Jack o’ the Park and then Mary was… So, she headed down to Jedburgh, Darnley obviously not with her, he was busy pouting or whatever, but she had Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart with her, Scottish Machiavelli was there, Cock o’ the North Junior, 40 other men. So, en route, they got word that Bothwell had been violently ambushed by Jack o’ the Park and they thought maybe he was dead, but he was not dead. He had been injured with sword wounds so, you know…
Allison: Not great.
Ann: No, exactly. Sword wounds; never a good thing. So, for a week she stayed in Jedburgh doing all of her queen work, and then after that, she and the 40 men she was with went to visit Bothwell. They went to check in on him, they saw, “Oh, he’s not dying. Great.” and then they left. So, there is a persistent myth that when Mary heard Bothwell was ill, she went off by herself right away to go be by his side. That is not true. She heard he was maybe injured, did work for a week, and then with 40 other men, went to check on him. So, I just wanted to point that out because that’s a misunderstanding that her haters would later claim because, I’ll say now, her haters started spreading rumours that she and Bothwell were having an affair and this experience is not evidence of that at all.
Allison: If I were having an affair, I probably would not bring 40 other men with me to watch.
Ann: Yeah, and I wouldn’t be like, “Oh my god, my lover was almost killed, let me work for a week and then go there with 40 other men.” Anyway, so a few days later she felt incredibly ill from “Spleen” which today we know as the name of an organ but back then was the name of a malady, I guess. And this was really intense; she had convulsions, she lost the power of speech, she lost the power of sight, she laid stiff as though she was dead, her body was all clenched up. This was over the course of a week, it just got worse and worse. Her doctor, Charles Nau, who is French, saved the day by wrapping her up really tight like a mummy and then massaging her muscles so they would bend, and then forcing wine in her mouth, and an enema up her bum, and then she vomited blood and then got better.
Allison: Huh! The human body is a mystery.
Ann: So, this was probably, again, not her chronic porphyria condition, some people say that the symptoms sound more like a gastric ulcer that burst, maybe. So, in an era before blood transfusions, what he did helped her. And in fact, she did get better, but she was so close to dying; everybody, herself, but also the advisors were like, “Oh my god if she died, leaving a baby King, does that mean Darnley would be in charge?”
Allison: Lord alive.
Ann: That was quite catastrophic for everybody to imagine. They also blamed Darnley for her medical situation because he had, I guess, visited her recently, but it’s, like, you can’t blame Darnley for her ulcer bursting.
Allison: You can try though.
Ann: Oh, I would. But I think you can blame him for upsetting her. Scottish Machiavelli wrote in a letter, “It is heartbreak for her to think that he should be her husband and how to be free of him she sees no way out.”
Oh yeah, so speaking of Scottish Machiavelli, a guy who I have to emphasize, people then called the Scottish Machiavelli. He’s a really crafty guy. His real name is Maitland, and he was her Secretary of State but he’s the Scottish Machiavelli to me. So, he was like, “Hmm, okay, Darnley sucks. So, maybe the best thing for everyone, by which I mean me, is if someone murdered Darnley.”
Allison: Hypothetically speaking.
Ann: Now, I’m going to say Darnley does suck and I would not blame anybody for murdering him and this isn’t a reason to murder him but note that when Mary was actively almost dying, he didn’t come to visit her until at the end when she had already gotten better.
Allison: Although, if I saw Darnley when I was sick, it would make me feel worse.
Ann: Actually, that’s true.
Allison: Maybe that was the right call.
Ann: In retrospect maybe a good call. Anyway, then Mary got sick again and this time it was probably the porphyria. I talked about that a bit in one of the first episodes. It’s a chronic condition that can be triggered by various things. One of them is fasting; if you don’t eat enough, it can be triggered. And when she got distressed, she would lose her appetite and stop eating so then this would happen. And porphyria, the symptoms are, like, severe stomach pains and things like that but also, what they called “a melancholy,” but extreme depression. I don’t blame her for having extreme depression as a person in this situation at all, but this would come simultaneously, she would get horrible stomach pains and she would express suicidal ideation. And then once she got better, she would stop. So, the mental illness was part of the porphyria as well. Probably having the gastric ulcer triggered the porphyria to come up again, she was heard to repeat, “I wish I could be dead,” over and over.
She was also thinking the whole thing about if she died, what next? She didn’t want Darnley to be in charge so she wrote to Elizabeth asking her, “Should Mary die, please step in and be the protector of baby BJ,” which was actually a really good move. Firstly, just yeah, it sidelines Darnley, but it also makes Elizabeth be like, “Huh, maybe I do want to consider Mary my heir. This is a nice thing she did.” And Elizabeth, at this point, she was annoyed by how Cecil and the other advisor kept telling her what to do, which is like, fair enough, his advice was good. But she was like, “You know what? Sure.” So, she proposed that they could write a new treaty that would be kind of like, “Okay, Mary will be my heir but put in lots of codicils being like, “She can’t be if Elizabeth is assassinated,” or whatever, to be like, “Mary’s heirs will be my heirs,” basically.
Allison: “But if Mary decides to kill me, she can’t be Queen.”
Ann: Yeah. So, it’s just really carefully written. They were writing letters back and forth and things, honestly, had never seemed as positive between them for a while. There had been this old Treaty of Edinburgh that was a thing that before Mary was even in Scotland, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart and the English wrote this thing that basically said, I don’t know, it was like “England can take over, Mary has no power.” So, she never ratified it. But Elizabeth was like, “That’s fine, you don’t have to ratify it. We’ll write this new treaty of perpetual amity.” Everything seemed to be, like, going in a good direction. This was February 8th and the next day, Darnley was murdered! And everything went to hell.
So, we’ll rewind a little bit to explain what happened.
Allison: Although that’s probably not a surprise to you if you listened to the names of Ann’s sources, two of them are called something like “Murder of Lord Darnley.”
Ann: Yeah, so rewind, 10 minutes ago to when Mary fell ill in Jedburgh, when she had the thing where the doctor had to wrap her up like a mummy and force wine down her throat… So, the Rizzio conspirators, who are still just a group of murderers, blame Darnley for upsetting her too much.
Allison: You know what else probably upset her? Your murders.
Ann: You murdering her best friend in front of her by stabbing him 56 times and then trying to take over.
Allison: Can’t imagine how that might be upsetting.
Ann: So, they just got together, and I think I might call the episode this, how do you solve a problem like Darnley? They’re just like, “What are we going to do? We hate Darnley, agreed. But his dad is Lennox and also, he’s connected to the Douglases,” A Douglas! “His family is powerful but how can we get rid of him in a way that won’t start a war with them?” So, what they wanted was to convince Mary, somehow, if she could pardon Jam-Jam, if you’ll remember, and the other exiled Rizzio murderers and recall them to Scotland because then the Rizzio murderers could get together and that could maybe counterbalance the Lennox faction. So, they needed to get those guys all back on the scene. And I think I mentioned before, they were starting to get back on the scene, so that’s because these guys were plotting.
Allison: This is a real reunion tour for the Rizzio murderers.
Ann: Yeah, so they’re like, “How can we get her to pardon all of them?” And so Scottish Machiavelli was like, Plan A: let’s get Mary a divorce so that Darnley can’t attempt a coup because if they’re not married, then he doesn’t have any claim to anything. And in this era in time, it was like, no big deal, seemingly, for women, especially Protestant women, to get a divorce. You remember Ruthven, who was dying of cancer, clanking around in his armour? His wife had divorced him while he was dying. You could just casually get divorced in Scotland at this time, no big deal. But Mary, that’s not an option for her because she’s the Queen and her son could be illegitimate, et cetera.
Allison: And also, she’s Catholic and the Pope is famously not…
Ann: Not into divorcing, exactly. But Scottish Machiavelli was like, “Okay, if we can arrange for her to get a divorce, then Mary will be so grateful that we helped her get a divorce that she will agree to pardon the murderers.” But Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart and Cock o’ the North Junior and Bothwell are involved in these talks, by the way, so it’s not just the Rizzio murderers, it’s everybody.
Allison: All of the people in the entire kingdom are like, “Okay guys.”
Ann: You know, it’s like Catholic? Protestant? Doesn’t matter. We all hate this fucking guy.
Allison: So much.
Ann: Let’s figure this out, team. Anyway, they’re like, what you just said Allison, “Mary is never going to agree to a divorce for Catholic reasons.” But Scottish Machiavelli was like, “Maybe she will.” So, eventually, he convinced them, because he is the Scottish Machiavelli, he’s persuasive.
Allison: Good at convincing.
Ann: So, eventually, he got Bothwell, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, Cock o’ the North Junior, and Argyll, the guy who had sat outside the birth room to work on this new plan to encourage her to divorce Darnley. So, eventually, Scottish Machiavelli went to her, I guess he was like, “I’m the most persuasive, I’ll be the one who can persuade her. What if you divorce Darnley?” And she’s like, “No, that puts my son’s legitimacy into question, et cetera.” In her usual way, she was like, “What if, everyone just acts cool, and we stop having murders and civil wars?” [laughs]
Allison: [chuckles] Wouldn’t that be a novel idea for 5 minutes?
Ann: And this is especially because the Elizabeth thing was in the works; she didn’t want to make any big move, she didn’t want any scandal to happen that would risk this treaty with Elizabeth not working out for her to get what she wanted, which is to be named Elizabeth’s heir. Divorcing Darnley would probably make Elizabeth change her mind, right. So, Scottish Machiavelli was like, “Okay cool, forget I ever suggested anything! Doo-doo-doo.”
So then, it’s time for the baptism of baby BJ. This is 6 months after his birth because a lot had happened. [laughs] Mary almost died twice, et cetera. So, she planned this extravaganza, this three-day celebration modeled on festivities that Catherine de’ Medici had recently held in France, the year before. And the festivities Catherine had done were a big reconciliation celebration where she was like, “Hey Catholics and Huguenots, what if not murdering each other? Let’s have a party.” So, Mary wanted her thing to be modeled after that because it was a great party but also in a similar reconciliation thing like, “Hey, Catholics and Protestants, let’s all be cool!”
Allison: Can I say, if I was a French Catholic or French Protestant, and Catherine de’ Medici threw another party and said, “Do you want to come to this party? I swear I won’t murder anybody anymore.” I feel like I might not believe that.
Ann: Yeah, and I mean, that would be fair. So, she had this big party and invited all the monarchs of the other countries. The monarchs couldn’t come because they were busy but they each sent representatives. And even though it was a big reconciliation party event, it was a Catholic baptism, so the Protestant lords boycotted it. Her allies at this point who were Protestant attended but they stood outside of the chapel for the actual baptism part, that’s Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, Bothwell, Cock o’ the North Junior.
As the godparents for baby BJ, godfather she chose the Duke of Savoy who was Rizzio’s boss. So, I think that’s a nod toward how much she loved Davie Rizzio, because she couldn’t choose his 19-year-old brother Joseph Rizzio as godfather, he’s just some guy. But she had to choose someone royal, so she chose the Duke of Savoy, so I like that as a Rizzio connection. As godmother, she chose Elizabeth, for political reasons.
Allison: It was a very smart move.
Ann: Oh definitely, because Elizabeth is the protector and stuff. So, Elizabeth couldn’t come, of course, she was busy. But she sent along as a baptism present, this font. So, a fountain made of solid gold, this gigantic, jewel-encrusted, humungous thing as a gift. I don’t know if giving gifts is also her love language, but I guess she told people, “Play it down. Tell Mary, ‘I don’t know if it’s big enough to baptize the baby in,’” and then when it arrives, it’s big enough to baptize 12 babies in. It’s this ridiculously ostentatious thing.
Allison: I love it.
Ann: And I think she was like, “This is for you to baptize your baby in and all the future babies you’re going to have.” It’s a nice gesture. Darnley did not attend because he was busy making schemes or, like, visiting the brothels, or whatever he did, trying to hire a boat to sail to the Netherlands or whatever he was doing.
Allison: I have the vaguest memory that he was having a syphilis flare-up again so that’s why he didn’t go, but I’m not sure if that’s true.
Ann: That could be entirely true because he’s going to have a really bad syphilis flare-up very soon. So, with him absent, honestly nobody missed him. I like this, even the haters weren’t like, “Where is Darnley? Does that mean the baby is illegitimate?” Everyone’s like, “Thank god, he’s not here. [laughs] He’s not here? Great.” So, she just got her other guys, her trusted advisors to step up to be the man to greet the ambassadors and whatever. So, Bothwell took that role, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart was there, Cock o’ the North Junior, they were all there. She gave them each outfits, I forget who got what colour, but she gave one a blue outfit, and one a green outfit, and one a red outfit.
Allison: I love it, she’s got so much style.
Ann: She does. Her fashion, she really makes a statement. The ambassador, because Elizabeth couldn’t be there, so her representative was a guy named Bedford who William Cecil had chosen. His job was to sweet talk Mary into pardoning the David Rizzio co-conspirators. That was because, well, Cecil wanted them back in Scotland just to cause chaos, to destabilize her reign, because that was what he wanted, long-term plan. Cecil wasn’t like, “Let’s assassinate Mary.” He was like, “Let’s put a whole bunch of assholes there, wait for chaos to happen, and then inevitably that will destabilize her reign.” And that’s why he’s so good at scheming because he’s always thinking ahead.
Allison: Yeah, because you can get caught in an assassination. It’s hard to get caught in subtly destabilizing a reign enough so that she doesn’t have the power to usurp anybody. You’re home free that way.
Ann: This is where I would call Cecil the English Machiavelli, but I’ve never seen people call him that. So, he wanted Bedford to do this but meanwhile, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart and Bothwell also wanted those guys back because they wanted the Douglases back, they wanted the Rizzio murderers back so they could help get rid of Darnley. So, this guy Bedford is like, “Maybe you should forgive these guys.” And then her trusted guys, Bothwell and Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart were like, “That’s a great idea, maybe you should pardon those guys.” And she’s like, “Maybe I should.” So, on Christmas Eve, she pardoned Jam-Jam and over 70 of the other murderers, including the guy who had held the pistol to her belly.
Allison: That’s a bold move.
Ann: Which is a guy I personally would not have. But anyway, it’s just like, her whole thing, she’s like, “This will make things be cool, let’s be chill. Let’s just not have a civil war,” which again, is very much the point of view of Mary in the TV show Reign. In the France parts, they show her, and Francis really try to make everything be cool in France between the Catholics and Protestants; it didn’t work but that’s what they wanted. And it’s interesting that in history, this actually is her point of view. She just wanted people to be cool, but she was like, I don’t know, 300 years too early to try to have people have a peaceful coexistence.
Anyway, so she agreed to pardon them, and I put in a note here that she was still very ill, by the way. She had gotten over the almost-dying thing and then the porphyria attack. She’s still… postpartum things are happening, she was seen weeping and complaining of a grievous pain in her side. So, she might have just been like, “I trust these guys, if this is what they say, let’s just do it. I can’t even… I don’t have the spoons to think about this.” And this is where people were like, “Oh Mary, she was a bad queen, she made a bad decision.” It’s like, [laughs] what would you have her do?
Allison: I don’t think it’s that bad of a decision, selfishly.
Ann: No, I think it’s fine. I’m just saying, for instance, people are like, “Well, why did she let those guys back in town?” It’s like, well, what choice did she have? Truly. Even the people who were on her side were telling her to do this so if she said no then she would alienate them, she needed someone on her side.
So anyway, Jam-Jam is back in town, what is his name? Like Jam from Parks and Recreation. He is the leader, as you might recall of the Douglases, “A Douglas! A Douglas!”
Allison: A Douglas!
Ann: And he hated Darnley more than anything for betraying them because if you recall, the David Rizzio murder, the Douglases, there are like 400 people there, 350 of them were Douglases and he’s the head of the Douglases, and Darnley truly betrayed them when he escaped with Mary and made them all lose their lands and titles. So, Jam-Jam is back on the scene, and he meets up immediately with Scottish Machiavelli and Bothwell, he’s like, “What’s the scheme? What are we scheming?” And they’re like, “Okay, the plan is to try and get Mary to divorce Darnley but maybe also murder Darnley; we’re batting those ideas around.” And Jam-Jam is like, “I’m in, whatever the plan is. Fuck Darnley, let’s do it.”
Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart knew about this plan, by the way, but in his usual way, he kept his hands clean because he knew that it would be to his benefit if Darnley was murdered, but he didn’t want his name to be connected to it in case it went badly, so he’s just a slippery guy, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart; he wanted this to happen and he was involved but he didn’t want anyone… So, if there was paperwork, I don’t think he signed the paperwork, sort of thing. He also notably didn’t warn Mary that this was going to happen.
So, okay. We’re catching up to the actual murder. Again, this is the second true crime podcast in a row. And again, I’m going to tell this in order, so you know who is doing what and when. You know who killed Darnley, it’s all these guys, [laughs] all these guys I just said.
Allison: There’s no mystery here, it’s all the guys who said, “Let’s get together and kill Darnley.” Those are the ones who did it.
Ann: Exactly. So, at this point in time, Darnley had fallen ill with what some people said was smallpox, but which was more than likely, untreated secondary syphilis. He had sores all over his body with, like, erupting pustules. And here’s what I want to say, syphilis is not an old-timey disease only, people get it today. But there are now antibiotics, so this is why you want to treat your syphilis, so it doesn’t turn into pustules all over your body.
Allison: Right. And if it’s left untreated for long enough, it starts to eat away at parts of your brain and affect your personality and cognition. So, old-timey syphilis, real, real horrible, awful, terrible disease. Today, much more treatable.
Ann: Much more treatable. But also, Darnley is a piece-of-shit, horrible person and…
Allison: Oh, I’m not blaming the syphilis for his personality.
Ann: But I’m saying, maybe some of his wackier plans to invade England, that might be syphilis getting in the brain.
Allison: Maybe. It could just be him being a dumbass, who’s to say?
Ann: That’s true, that’s true. So, he had sores all over his body and so at this time, the treatment was six weeks of mercury baths.
Allison: God, the Renaissance was awful.
Ann: [laughs] He was staying in Glasgow at the moment and the reason he was there is because that’s where his kinsman were, like, the Lennoxes so he felt safer there. To be fair, everyone wanted to kill him, so he was right. So, he was in Glasgow, where he was planning a coup against Mary, by the way, because he did want to kidnap the baby and take over. Mary heard about this because Darnley is terrible at keeping secrets. So, she went to Glasgow, and he was like, “No! Don’t look at me!” [laughs]
Allison: [through laughter] “My syphilis!”
Ann: “My handsome face.”
Allison: “The only thing I had that wasn’t annoying.”
Ann: It’s like in Little Women, “Jo, your one beauty!” [Allison laughs] The only good thing about Darnley was his handsome face and now it’s…
Allison: “Your one redeeming quality!”
Ann: Yeah. And honestly, she went to Glasgow, and he was like, “Don’t see me until after my pustules have cleared up.” But then one day later he was like, “Okay, you can see me, but I’ll wear a taffeta mask across my face,” which he did.
So anyway, she was just going there to be like, “Hi can you please come back to Edinburgh?” basically so we can keep an eye on you. “I want you to not be planning a coup against me so can you not be here? Can you be closer to me?” So, she wanted to bring him back there for that reason but her advisors, Bothwell and Cock o’ the North Junior wanted him back in Edinburgh because they couldn’t assassinate him if he was in Glasgow because his family were around to defend him. They wanted him in Edinburgh for murder reasons; she wanted him in Edinburgh for keep-an-eye-on-him reasons. So, she went and told him, “I know you’re planning to kidnap our son and imprison me to take over,” and he’s like, “Actually, I’m the victim.” [laughs]
Allison: [laughs] He sucks so bad Ann, he’s the woooorst.
Ann: Everything. At every turn, he does the worst thing. But he was also like, “I’m not going back to Edinburgh, I know everyone there wants to kill me, so I need to stay in Glasgow where they probably also hate me but they’re my family, so they probably won’t kill me.” But she wanted him there because she was in this really delicate negotiation with Elizabeth, she had to keep Darnley under house arrest, so he didn’t do anything stupid until she got these papers signed with Elizabeth.
Allison: She’s babysitting this man. Just like, “Go sit in your room and don’t touch anything while I try and finish this contract, and then you can go do whatever you want.”
Ann: Also, she was sort of play-acting that they were reconciling as husband and wife because that made her look like a good, stable person that Elizabeth would want as her heir. To be like, “Look, my marriage is stable, I will therefore be a stable monarch also.” So, she was sort of play-acting reconciling with him. And then, he was still like, “I don’t want to go.” So finally, she was like, “If you come back to Edinburgh, I will let you fuck me.” [both laugh] This is true.
Allison: And he’s like, “My one desire!”
Ann: He’s like, “Okay,” and she’s like, “Only after your pustules are healed over,” and he’s like, “Deal. I’ll just go hop in my mercury bath.” [laughs]
Allison: “On wheels and we’ll push it to Edinburgh.”
Ann: Anyway, so he’s like, “I will, I will come with you back to Edinburgh.” So, she was actually staying in Holyrood, a place that I would have thought had too much trauma for her to stay in but whatever, you know what? She’s tough. It also had nice memories of her time with Davie Rizzio, not just his murder.
Allison: And the sex stairs, so if they were going there to have sex, the stairs were ready.
Ann: Oh, that’s true, the sex stairs. So, she was going to go to Holyrood but he’s like, “I can’t go there, no one can see me like this, no one can see me with pustules.” So, they were planning that he was going to stay at a different castle, also near Edinburgh, called Craigmillar Castle, but at the last minute he’s like, “I feel like I will be murdered if I go there,” so at the last, last minute he’s like, “I’m going to go somewhere else.” And the house that he chose to go to was whimsically called Kirk o’ Field.
Allison: Kirk o’ Field really sounds like a Scottish lacrosse player to me, it’s quite a name.
Ann: It’s a cute name. Like Jack o’ the Park was the guy who attacked Bothwell and then Kirk o’ Field is the house. Also, I just want to clear this up. People who don’t know the story are like, “Why are you hammering this home?” but for people who do know the story, I’m just debunking here.
People wanted to murder Darnley and the people who wanted to murder Darnley thought he was going to be at Craigmillar Castle, and that’s what they were planning, so good for him for switching. So, he switched at the last minute to Kirk o’ Field and this was his decision. Some people later said that Mary chose that house, but no, he was like, “No. I want to go somewhere else.” But he didn’t want to go to Holyrood because people would see his pustules. So, Kirk o’ Field was near Edinburgh but a bit further away.
So, Kirk o’ Field was a place that had two lodgings in it; there was a mansion which was owned by Arran Senior who was in Parts Two and Three quite a lot, but he hasn’t been seen since, I think, the Chaseabout Raids, he just went off to France and that’s where he’s been. The other lodging was the Old Provost’s lodging. So, he wanted to stay in the mansion, but they were like, “Uhh, how about the Old Provost’s lodging?” It didn’t have any furniture in it, they had to really quickly furnish it and he was like, “But I need also tapestries and my Turkish rugs.” This fucking guy.
Allison: He needed a tapestry to hide his pustules behind.
Ann: [laughs] So he could whip it out and be like, “It’s me!” So, the Old Provost’s lodging wasn’t owned by Arran Senior, it had recently come into the hands of a guy named Sir James Balfour, who was Darnley’s friend… Darnley thought was his friend. So, he was like, “I feel good staying there because Balfour owns it, I trust Balfour.” But he didn’t know that Balfour was now also on the side of everybody else who wanted to murder him.
Allison: [laughs] The entire country of Scotland.
Ann: Anyway, so it was a last-minute plan because the place was sparsely furnished so everyone rushed to get his stuff moved in. In fact, the tapestries, the six tapestries that were hung up in his bedchamber were ones that had been confiscated from the house of Cock o’ the North back in the day.
Allison: Right before his posthumous trial.
Ann: Darnley’s room, okay, so Darnley’s room was set up on the first floor. There’s, like, the ground floor then the first floor, so one might call it the second floor, but the books I read call it the first floor. [laughs] Which confused me because then they’re like, “Mary’s room was one floor below,” and I’m like, “Mary was in the basement?” No. Okay. So, Darnley is on “the first floor” and he had a bathtub set up right next to his bed so he could have his mercury baths all the time and there was a room directly below that was set up for Mary because she would come by and spend the night sometimes, no secret sex stairs. And then there was a kitchen in the cellar. So, he had a small group of servants with him, various people, I don’t know, five or six men, one of them is called William Taylor, and that’s a name I will bring up later. And they all spent the night, I don’t know, I guess they had to move beds in?
Allison: Or did they? Maybe they just slept on some chests.
Ann: [laughs] RIP Rizzio, sleeping on chests. Yeah, the bed shortage was such that the bed that was– Actually, they brought a bed for Darnley, and he was like, “This bed isn’t good enough,” which is just Princess and the Pea vibes, really, so then they brought a different bed that actually had been Mary’s mother’s old bed, Marie de Guise’s bed. Anyway, all the servants stayed in the house in, either, beds or toppled over bookshelves except for, there was a cook whose name was Bonkil.
Allison: All right.
Ann: Who went home after his duties were done. Good for you, Bonkil. There were apparently no guards which was either an oversight or intentional because…
Allison: I was going to say, if you are so worried you were going to get murdered, I feel like that would be the first thing you would check?
Ann: No, all he had was a cook, some footmen, that was all he had. Anyway, so he stayed there. So, he went to Kirk o’ Field. Mary went to visit him every day, twice she spent the night in her separate room, and they seemed to be on okay terms because remember, she’s play-acting, “We’re reconciled, I’m a stable person to be the heir to the throne of England.” So, they’re playing cards, and listening to music, other nobles came by to visit. At some point, Mary tried to make peace between Darnley and everyone [laughs] but everyone refused because they hated him and were actively planning his murder.
Anyway, so while Mary was being like, “We’re a happy, stable couple,” she also had her spies investigating what he was up to which was some sort of crazy treason plan. By that Friday night, February 7th, rumours were spreading that there was some sort of conspiracy against Darnley in the works, and people already started to suspect Bothwell was behind whatever it was.
So, Sunday, February 9th. It’s the last Sunday in Lent and therefore a day of carnival and feasting and you know Mary loves a feast, she loves dancing. And so, what a coincidence, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart came to see Mary, to be like, “Ooh, I have to be out of town today because my wife is very ill after a miscarriage. So, bye!”
Allison: Another convenient, maybe miscarriage in this story.
Ann: Yeah. And his wife was… If he was like, “Oh no, my wife had a miscarriage, I have to go be with her,” he didn’t go be with her, whether she was or not. He just was like, “I need to be pointedly not here tonight, for no reason,” which is how he slips and slides out of blame for everything.
Anyway, that Sunday morning, Mary attended the marriage of two of her favourite servants and remember, she loves marriage, she always buys the bride’s dress, and she pays for the banquet. The two servants were Bastian Pages, who was one of her…
Allison: Incredible name.
Ann: Oh, it’s great. Sometimes it’s spelled with a Z, Bastian Pagez. And his wife was Christily Hogg.
Allison: Not a James to be seen! Very happy about that.
Ann: The marriage of Bastian and Christily. Bastian Pages was also, in the absence of Davie Rizzio, he had taken over doing some of the party planning, so he was responsible for the big, three-day baptism extravaganza, he helped write the masques and stuff. So, she attended the wedding at Holyrood in the chapel, but she had other things to do but she’s like, “I’ll be back tonight for the dancing,” which was going to be a masqued dance and you know she loves a disguise.
Next, she went to a house where a farewell party was happening for the Duke of Savoy, remember, who had been in town to be the godfather. So, she went to that party, and she was accompanied by Bothwell, Argyll, Cock o’ the North Junior, and they were pre-wearing their masques for the masque party later, which I think is funny, that they just wore masque, like, fancy-dress to a non-fancy dress party because they’re like, “We’ll we’re just going to a fancy-dress party after this.” So, Bothwell’s masque, or outfit, was black satin fringed with silver. And remember, Mary had all those coloured feathers and things, so I’m sure they had amazing outfits.
So then, she left that banquet, still in their costumes, to go hang out with Darnley at Kirk o’ Field. He was having a, “Yay, my pustules are gone!” party. He had finished his final mercury bath and was planning to head over to Holyrood the next day. Also present at this party was Scottish Machiavelli. So, they were just hanging out, playing cards, music, dice games, and Mary was like, “I have to go back to Bastian and Christily, I’ve been wearing this masque all day, I have to go to the actual masque dance party.” And Darnley was like, “But then you’ll come back and spend the night with me?” And Bothwell was like, “No! Nope, she can’t. No reason! Nope! [Allison laughs] Don’t support that, can’t say why. She has an early start tomorrow.”
Anyway, so she was like, “I’m going to this masque party, it’s at Holyrood, where I live, so I’ll sleep there. Whatever.” And then she’s like, “But don’t worry, tomorrow when you come to Holyrood, we can go up those secret sex stairs,” and as a token of this pledge to have sex tomorrow, she gave him a ring. Anyway, on her way out, she noticed a servant known as French Paris. [chuckles]
Ann: Was he from France? I have to say, I doubt it, but I love the commitment. It’s like, “Oh, I’m French.” “Oh really, what’s your name?” “French… Paris. French Paris.” [laughs] So, on her way out she saw French Paris who was, I think, a servant of Bothwell and he looked dirty she was like, “Paris, how begrimed you are!”
Allison: [laughs] The better to eat you with, my dear.
Ann: He said nothing but turned very red and in retrospect, he was, in fact, covered in gunpowder that he had been, putting all over the house.
Allison: Because nobody involved in this part of the story can keep a secret for a single second.
Ann: It’s the same with the Rizzio murder! They’re all so bad at this.
Allison: This is horrendous!
Ann: No, exactly. So, it was very cold that night, February in Edinburgh. “There was a light frosting of snow, it was very dark, and the new moon would not appear until 6 AM. At Kirk o’ Field, Darnley went to bed at around midnight, and he ordered his horses to be outside by 5 AM so he could go to Holyrood.” He’s just like, “I’m getting fucked tomorrow, at 5 AM!” And then this, I have to say, asterisk, his father wrote that this is what happened, this is what his father imagined happened that night. So, he said, “Let us go merrily to bed in singing a song before, but he declined to accompany his men on the lute saying, ‘My hand is not inclined to the lute this night.’”
Allison: Why is Lennox making these– What are these details adding to the story?
Ann: But then his father said that Darnley and the pages all sang together some Bible song. [laughs]
Allison: [laughs] Oh, I’m sure it was a real sing-along.
Ann: A real psalm sing-along. So okay, so then he went to bed, that’s midnight. Shortly before 2 AM, a woman named Mrs. Barbara Mertine, who lived nearby, I’m going to refer later to a drawing, her house is on the drawing.
Barbara Mertine lived nearby, she was awakened by running footsteps, she looked out and counted 13 armed men rushing past. Around the same time, some women lodging in another area nearby, heard a man’s voice crying desperately, ‘Pity me kinsman, for the love of him who had pity all around the world.’ Then silence, then a bright flash lit the sky followed by a huge explosion. The noise was like nothing anyone had ever heard.
This is like– I hadn’t thought of it this way, but I think it was, one of the books I read was saying that no one had ever used explosives in a non-war situation ever before. Like, to blow up a house was like, what?! No one knew what was happening. They’re just like, “Was it a crack of thunder? It sounded like 30 cannons simultaneously firing.” No one knew what this was, it was a weird thing.
Everything within 100 yards or more of Kirk o’ Field was covered in a thick layer of dust and the house itself was just reduced to a pile of rubble. People who slept in the furthermost parts of the town were awakened.
Everyone heard this everywhere, it was a weird thing, and no one knew what it was.
Just after the explosion, Mrs. Barbara Mertine and her neighbour, Mrs. Mary Sterling saw 11 men emerge and run up the street, two of them in light-coloured clothing. As they passed, Barbara, to her credit, called after them, “Traitors! You have been at some evil turn!”
Allison: You tell ‘em, Barbara!
Ann: Exactly. She grabbed one of them by his silk cloak and asked him, where did that explosion just happen? But he didn’t answer and then the men broke up into two groups and ran away. Members of the night watch, remember the night watch when they came with their torches to see if Mary was okay? The night watch shows up and the first man they saw–
Allison: Grab your torches!
Ann: The night watch just seems really wholesome to me, in this story. They’re just like…
Allison: They’re always looking out!
Ann: Yeah, neighbourhood watch. Anyway, so the night watch shows up and the first men they saw there were Captain William Blackadder, [Allison laughs] played by Rowan Atkinson in the long-standing British TV show, who was one of Bothwell’s men, actually. The night watch was like, “Something weird happened, this guy is here, that’s suspicious.” Although he was like, “No, I was just drinking at my friend’s house and I came to see what caused the explosion, like all the looky-loos.” But they’re like, “Mmm, okay Blackadder.”
Allison: “Your name sounds suspicious, and you look like Rowan Atkinson, this can’t be normal.”
Ann: Yeah, look at those eyebrows. So, everyone started converging on the site of the explosion, looking, like, “What the fuck just happened? What was that noise, what was that sound? Why is the house rubble now?” No one had ever experienced, outside of war, and even in war, I don’t think you exploded things like this. So, anyway, they rescued one of Darnley’s men, who had survived, and they’re like, “Oh my god, people were in this house.” And then they started digging in the smoking rubble with their bare hands to see ifthere wass anyone else because they knew the king was there and they’re like, “Oh my god, where’s Darnley?”
So, the explosion woke up Mary at Holyrood. Bothwell was also there, maybe. Was Bothwell there when the explosion happened or was he back– It was close, so he could have been at one and then went back to the other thing. But anyway, conveniently, one of Bothwell’s titles was Sheriff of Edinburgh and it was his responsibility to investigate any crimes committed in the city.
Ann: Yeah! Since he had organized the whole thing, no conflict of interest, don’t worry about it. Allegedly he was found in his bed where he was with his wife Jean Gordon, and they were like, “Oh my god, the house of Darnley just blew up.” And he said, “Fie! Treason!” And then sent his–
Allison: “No! Not the house of Darnley,” he said, startled.
Ann: So, he sent his investigators to see what was going on and then he went back to bed.
Allison: [laughs] I love that he couldn’t even muster the fucks to pretend for a full hour, he’s just like, “Nah, I’m done.”
Ann: Yeah, he’s like, “Someone else will look into that, I’m tired now.” So meanwhile, two more dead bodies were unearthed at Kirk o’ Field, two of the other servants. It wasn’t until 5 AM, three hours after the explosion, that Darnley’s body was discovered in a garden, like, 40 feet away from the house. So, he was lying dead along with his valet, Taylor. Now, both were nearly naked, wearing just nightshirts and no pants.
Darnley was stretched out under a pear tree with one hand delicately covering his genitals, while Taylor lay a yard or two away, curled up, wearing a night bonnet, and one slipper. There were no burns, no marks of strangulation or violence, no fracture wound or bruise on either of them. Next to the bodies lay a chair, a length of rope, a dagger, and Darnley’s furry cloak. There’s also one backless velvet slipper.
So, the bodies and the items did not look like they’d been thrown there by the blast, clearly, somebody had laid them out there like that. This just sounds like the opening scene of Encyclopedia Brown or some sort of brain teaser or Miss Marple. [laughs]
Allison: It feels like an answer to a game of Clue: It was Darnley under the pear tree with a length of rope and a single slipper.
Ann: Yeah! It was really weird. So, this is what happened. Here’s what probably happened, I pieced together through reading several books that were all guessing what happened. So, the thing is, the conspirators, one of them was a gunpowder/explosives expert and I was like, “Who is an explosives expert in 1560-whatever?” But it’s this army guy, this mercenary. So, the conspirators had put gunpowder… Well, first of all, the conspirators had rolled barrels of gunpowder up the street to Kirk o’ Field and those were Bothwell’s servants and people saw them doing it.
Allison: Probably where they got covered in gunpowder ahead of time. Like, bros.
Ann: “Paris, you are begrimed!” So, the conspirators had put gunpowder all through the downstairs of the house, packing it into the foundation of the house and things like that because they were planning to blow up the house with Darnley in it. “John Hepburn, who was one of Bothwell’s kinsmen, watched the house after Mary left,” because remember they didn’t want to kill her, they just wanted to kill Darnley. So, they waited for her to leave and then they waited until the candles were snuffed out and then he lit the slow fuse. So, there were people outside as well, lurking around, in case Darnley escaped, to make sure that he would die in some other way, if necessary. But Darnley was awakened, or he had been awakened when he heard armed men around the house, the backup guys. And also, I don’t know if it was John Hepburn or somebody else, went through and locked all the doors so Darnley couldn’t escape through any of the doors. So, “guessing they were there to kill him,” correctly, “he used his chair and the rope to sneak out a window, first putting on his cloak, and grabbing his dagger.” This is where I feel like I’m solving the brain teaser.
Allison: Wait, wait, wait. Not grabbing his pants, apparently.
Ann: Nope, nope, nope. You know what? Darnley is not a pants-on type of person.
Allison: That is true.
Ann: Once outside, a guy named Ker of Hawdonside, the man recently pardoned who had held the pistol to Mary’s belly during the Rizzio murder, was waiting with a gang of others loyal to Bothwell. They were waiting in what’s called Thieves Alley which is, like, of course, that’s also in the drawing. We’re going to talk about the drawing in a minute. So, Darnley tried to reason with them, father would later claim that “Darnley recited a whole paragraph of Bible verses.” [laughs]
Allison: Okay, sure. I bet what he actually recited was, “Oh fuck, please don’t kill me.” That’s probably the extent of it.
Ann: I’m really the victim, I knew it! Anyway, so then they probably strangled him with his own nightshirt, and then put it back on him? I’m not sure. Or with the rope? I don’t know. Anyway. So, this is like, the house had not yet blown up. So, they dragged him over to the nearest garden, but they couldn’t bring him any closer to the house because they knew the house was about to explode and they had to get out of the way, that’s why he was in this garden kind of nearby. So, the whole thing where the women had heard somebody say, “Oh my kinsman have mercy on me,” indicates that it was A Douglas! A Douglas! [both laugh] To their credit, I don’t think they yelled that while they were killing him.
Allison: [laughs] They might have.
Ann: I would not be surprised if they had. Anyway, the women who saw all this stuff were later brought in for questioning, but their testimony was suppressed because guess what? The people investigating this were also the murderers and they didn’t want evidence.
Allison: Right. The Sheriff, Bothwell was like, “Maybe we don’t want you guys to testify.”
Ann: But you know what, I appreciate these women stepping forward and saying this evidence because I’m sure there was a lot of intimidation of people to not step forward. Anyway, “Mary was informed that he was dead, and in grief she remained in her chamber all day.” Remember she’s still dealing with various health issues including mental health issues.
Allison: Sure. I do feel like “in grief” might be a little bit of an overstatement about why she was staying in her room.
Ann: Well, in grief for the fact that she knew this fucked up her deal with Elizabeth.
Allison: Yeah, that’s true.
Ann: So, Bothwell was also informed Darnley is dead and later wrote, “I was very distressed at the news as were many others,”
Allison: [laughs] He’s hardly even trying to lie. “Yes, I was upset and surprised.”
Ann: “As anyone would be.” [Allison laughs] So anyway, some people went to comfort Mary, those people were Bothwell, Cock o’ the North Junior, and Scottish Machiavelli – I feel like the least comforting people in the world. But Mary’s half-sister, Jean, the one who saved the candle that other time, they went to comfort her. Mary apparently called herself one of the most unfortunate queens in the world and I would say yes, true.
Yeah, so she was emotionally shattered, and she was also pretty sure, because remember she had been there last night so she was like, “Oh my god, if I hadn’t come back here to go to that masque party, I would have been killed. They were clearly trying to kill me also.” A reasonable assumption.
Allison: A reasonable assumption, yeah.
Ann: The whole thing about monarchy is “God chose us” or whatever and she’s just like, “You know what, I could have stayed there but I decided to go to the party. That was God, that was God saving me.” But she’s upset because this is an upsetting situation. Darnley was a piece of shit, but this is still distressing, and she thought that she had narrowly escaped being assassinated.
Allison: Which would upset anybody.
Ann: Exactly. So, Mary commanded, she’s like, “We need to get to the bottom of this.” So, Bothwell got a company of soldiers to “Search the area for those responsible.” “Let’s ‘investigate’ this,” said Bothwell.
Allison: “Is the murderer in the room with us right now?”
Ann: There’s an episode of Columbo that’s just like this where this guy kills somebody and he’s a private detective, he kills this guy’s wife and he’s a private detective. And then the guy whose wife was killed hires a private detective to solve the murder and he’s working with Columbo. [both chuckle] It’s just like that.
Anyway, so William Cecil, on top of everything, already had agents on the scene and one of his agents is who in fact drew a picture that I would like for you to describe, Allison.
Allison: It is a delightful hand-drawn map of Kirk o’ Field, allegedly showing exactly what happened during and after the murder of Darnley and it is truly a thing to behold. I have to assume Ann will be sharing this on the Vulgar History…
Ann: I’ll put this on Instagram for sure but also, there’s so much happening in this picture, it’s a little bit of a Where’s Waldo? picture. But the fact that it’s showing kind of like a movie, what happened before, during, and after. So, you’ve got a picture of Darnley’s body laid out dead in his nightshirt…
Allison: The size of a tree. He is enormous. There’s a little tasteful smudge of ink where his privates should be, which is really very thoughtful.
Ann: But then there’s also in another part of the picture, there are some men carrying what is the dead body of Darnley. So, the picture shows, this is not a snapshot in time of everything happening at once, it’s a bit of a comic strip of, here’s what happened…
Allison: In the top left, I think is Darnley sitting in bed yelling something like, “God, revenge me!”
Ann: No, no, no! In the top left, baby BJ is pictured in bed praying and his mouth is saying, “Judge and avenge my cause, oh Lord.”
Allison: Baby BJ at this point was what, 7 months old?
Ann: He is not a year old.
Ann: But much like his father, he likes quoting long Bible verses. There are also numerous trees. You can also see in the picture there are the men lurking in what is Thieves Alley, so that gives you an idea of where those guys were standing. So, this guy, William Cecil’s guy, instead of writing out what happened, he drew it.
Allison: [laughs] Can you imagine him sitting at the scene here taking testimony from witnesses and he’s like, “Okay, so there’s a guy in the alley and the body under the tree. I could write that down in words, but somebody get me my coloured pencils, I have to create a montage.” I wish all evidence was taken this way.
Ann: It’s true, it’s a montage in a single image. At first, I assumed it was a picture of a snapshot in time. But it’s much more interesting than that. Yeah, anyway, it’s a wild image. And I will for sure put that on Instagram. [laughs] Anyway, that was sent to Cecil, and he filed that away. He’s like, “Well, put this in my drawer of, this guy’s weird testimony.”
Allison: [laughs] “Can we not ask this guy to take the reports anymore.”
Ann: So, Mary ordered a period of mourning, remember when her first husband died it’s, like, 40 days, we need to cover the windows, everything needs to be black, on black, on black. She ordered more black fabric for dressings for the chapel and for herself and to cover the windows. It was the whole thing about… When Francis died, in France, when she was a teen widow for the first time, she went and stayed in a room, not 24 hours a day, but the room, the windows were covered in black drapery, and she would just stay in seclusion.
So, Bothwell was like, “Here’s what I’ve figured out from my investigation. I think there was some weird thunder and lightning storm and the house burned down from that and Darnley was thrown from the house by the thunder, is my conclusion as your Sheriff.”
Allison: [laughs] I do love… I mean, yeah, that’s quite a story that he probably thought about for 30 seconds before saying it out loud.
Ann: And here’s the thing it’s like, you planned this murder, what were you going to say happened? Why didn’t you think of that before?
Allison: He stopped thinking after the gunpowder and everything else was just…
Ann: It’s just… Anyway, so there was a post-mortem examination done and they found Darnley had a broken rib, probably sustained when he jumped out of the window or climbed over the wall to get into the garden, he had some internal injuries but allegedly no evidence of asphyxia or strangulation, but like, most people seem to agree he was strangled? So, just not bruises, I don’t know. His body was briefly put on public display and a queue formed to view it, different from the queue that formed to view the body of Elizabeth II because this was… Did they put pants on him? I don’t know.
Allison: You’d have to hope!
Ann: He’d just had an autopsy done on him, a Renaissance autopsy. What were they seeing? I don’t know. I feel like that queue might also be in the drawing but I’m not sure. So then, okay, remember, the conspirators were everybody including the entire privy council. So, they had a meeting like, “How can we make ourselves, the murderers, look innocent?” Again, my guys, think of that before.
Allison: The worst conspirators. They’re so bad at it.
Ann: Even Scottish Machiavelli, not worthy of the name Scottish Machiavelli. No one thought before… Anyway, so they wrote a letter which is the first description of the crime to send to Catherine de’ Medici, I don’t know, people keep sending her letters. In this case, it’s because her envoy happened to be in town, so they were like, “Okay, we’ll send that letter to her because he’s here.”
So, two days after the murder, “Mary emerged from her mourning room because one of the other favourite servants was getting married in the Chapel Royal at Holyrood,” she’d already paid for the bride– Okay, so brides didn’t used to always wear white, is a pet peeve of mine in general. Because in movies, we have an expectation now that brides wear white so no matter what time period it is, often movies will put brides wearing white. The exception I have for that is Mary, Queen of Scots did, in fact, wear white to her wedding, which was weird because white was the colour of mourning but she’s like, “It looks good against my skin so I’m going to wear white,” and that was weird. So, she bought the fabric for the wedding dress for this bride which was black satin and velvet.
Allison: Ooh! Drama.
Ann: Goth bride. Anyway, so she went to attend this wedding, and she’d also paid for the banquet. And some people, like John Knox, were scandalized that she left her mourning to attend this wedding. I would say, the wedding was happening in the same castle she lived in.
Allison: She didn’t really go anywhere.
Ann: She kind of went down the stairs, she didn’t go to the banquet afterward. But anyway, some people were like, “This shows that she wasn’t mourning, really.”
Allison: I mean, I wouldn’t have mourned if it was me.
Ann: I don’t know. But people wanted to think the worst of her all the time, but also people mourn in different ways. You know how people say, “She doesn’t seem upset by this, that must mean she’s not upset.” Where it’s like, no, some people just hide their emotions. She’s also just walking in a fugue state, like, “I guess I’ll go to this wedding now, what do I do?” Anyway, this was later used as evidence to be like, “She must have been behind Darnley’s murder,” even though it ruined her deal with Elizabeth and everything.
Anyway. Later that day, she switched over to… She took baby BJ over to Edinburgh Castle because there’s better security there and then she returned to her secluded room. In her absence, she’s just checked out, is the sense I have of things, and yeah, this is two days after this weird thing happened.
Allison: Yeah, you’re in shock. What are you going to do?
Ann: She’s just not fit to do anything, frankly. So, in her absence, Bothwell kind of took control of the government and acted, sort of, in charge because somebody had to. And she trusted him, she didn’t know he was the murderer. So, this is where the investigators/cover-up team brought in witnesses, this is where the women were brought in and they were like, “Oh, these silly women, didn’t see anything. None of us, they didn’t see us going there, or our servants, or grab any of us by our cloaks, nothing like that.” But Mary, even at this point she’s just like, “Why are the investigators not finding out who the murderer is, why is this so complicated? What’s going on?” And they’re like, “It’s complicated. Derp-erp-erp.” So, she offered a reward and a free pardon to anyone who could identify the murderers.
This is all happening day by day, so the murder was overnight on the 9th. By the 15th, Darnley was buried in the royal vault of James V in the Chapel Royal of Holyrood, next to her father, the previous King of Scots. And then because clothes were expensive at this time and Darnley had nice clothes, his clothes were left behind and it’s like who are you going to give them to? They’re not going to have Darnley Memorial Closet Museum. So, Mary decided to give the clothes to Bothwell because she trusted him. And a tailor recut them to fit him because Bothwell, not a long lad.
Anyway, so note, it was an extraordinary shock to everybody, notably, to all the other kings and queens of Europe to learn about this thing. Not just a king, because Darnley was the King of Scotland, not just a king had been killed, but he’d been killed in this new, technologically advanced way. No one had ever heard of gunpowder being used like this before. This was weird and unusual.
Allison: One more thing for every monarch in Europe to be afraid of, now somebody might blow up my house.
Ann: Exactly. So, Mary, not doing well. [laughs] We know that her health is already not great, and this is obviously very startling to her. She’s still fairly recently postpartum, she recently almost died from the gastric ulcer, and her doctors were like, “Maybe being shut up all day in a dark room, in the castle where her best friend was murdered in front of her is not great for her so let’s move her elsewhere.”
So, she went to a place called Seton, like a mansion or something there. She brought along with her some of her advisors, Scottish Machiavelli was one of them. She left BJ in the care of Bothwell and Cock o’ the North Junior, and she went to this other house to just be sick there, to continue her mourning; we know that she got black cloth, she covered the windows there, but she was able to be away from this and walk the grounds. Later, Mary’s enemies made up stories about how she went there and was just partying all the time, but frankly, fresh air was good for her, and a change of scenery was good for her. For her, horse riding was useful, she did do things, but she wasn’t partying.
Allison: Right, because when you’re depressed and in shock, what you don’t want to be doing is sitting alone, silently, in a darkened room, in the house where everything went wrong. Get outside, take a walk, get a drink of water.
Ann: Exactly, and grief works differently for different people. But people really wanted to judge her and think she was responsible for this, so they were really thinking like, “She is happy about this, she helped organize this.” Also, this trip that she took is the single, one entry we have about her playing golf which was really interesting to me because I thought going into this it’s like, I knew she brought golf over from France, and I think she played various sports but the only time it was mentioned specifically she played golf was a guy who later criticized her saying, that she went to this house and was playing “Sports that women shouldn’t play like golf.” That’s the only time the word golf is mentioned by anyone about her ever.
Anyway, so everyone knew that she was not doing well, really, people who knew her, even Elizabeth, someone was like, “Oh, she’s at this house and she’s goofing off.” And Elizabeth is like, “No, she’s not. I’ve never met her, and I know that’s not true. I know that she’s convalescing from various illnesses and grieving,” even Elizabeth knew that.
Then we get into some real pamphlet shenanigans. Okay, again, his murder was on the 9th. “By the 16th, a poster was found on the toll booth,” I’m not sure what that is, “in Edinburgh and this poster claimed the assassins were Bothwell, Balfour,” and two other guys.
Allison: I mean, two others is the only part there that’s not quite accurate. Like, “And 200 others.”
Ann: Yeah, I didn’t list the two other guys’ names because they don’t really come up, they’re not really… anyway, just two other guys. And so, by this point also, Lennox, Darnley’s dad, had been told about the murder but it wasn’t until now, several days later, that Darnley’s mother was told about it. If you might recall, she’s been in jail in England ever since Lennox went to Scotland in the first place, two years ago. She was being held hostage because Elizabeth thought if Margaret Douglas was in jail, then Lennox and Darnley wouldn’t secretly arrange a marriage to Mary, which they did, so Margaret Douglas has been in jail this whole time. And at first, there was a misunderstanding, people thought that Lennox had also been killed so Margaret Douglas freaked out thinking her son and husband were both dead. Then she found out it was just her son, but she’s still really upset, so much so that Elizabeth actually freed her from jail. And immediately Margaret Douglas began stirring up shit, blaming Mary for the murder, saying that this was Mary’s revenge for Darnley’s role in the murder of Davie Rizzio. She was also mad Mary had not had Darnley buried with “the pageantry of a state funeral,” as befit the king. So, she’s really blaming Mary, she’s riding that hard.
Meanwhile, her husband Lennox and his kinfolk are starting to really lean into the Bothwell of it all. So, Elizabeth wrote a letter to Mary telling her, “You need to find these murderers. People are saying you’re involved so you need to find the murderers and punish them to free your own reputation.” Catherine de’ Medici wrote a similar letter saying, to her credit, Catherine was like, “It’s good Darnley’s dead because he was awful, [both laugh] but you need to find and prosecute the killers quickly to proclaim your own innocence in the eyes of your subjects,” because the normal people loved Mary and that’s her big power here, right, and people are starting to doubt her.
Allison: All of the schemiest queens in Europe are like, “Listen, you’ve got to find these people or it’s all over.”
Ann: Exactly and Mary’s like, “I’m trying. But the investigators…”
Allison: “I’ve put my best sheriff on the case!”
Ann: “The investigators keep saying they can’t find any evidence.” Columbo’s not here, there’s no one she can ask. So, she’s doing what she can, my friends. Who can she, like… what can she do? Anyway, so the night of February 26th, another poster went up, this one had a picture, so it had Mary’s initials and also Bothwell’s initials and the image of a mallet; I don’t know exactly what that symbolism is, but Bothwell lost his mind at this. He said, “Someone tell me who made these posters because I will wash my hands with his blood.” So, not a way to convince people you’re not a murderer, is to say that.
Every night, posters went up; night postering was happening. So, Bothwell, remember, he had married Cock o’ the North’s sister, Jean Gordon, and Jean Gordon was currently very ill and this poster suggested that was because Bothwell was poisoning her because he wanted to marry Mary, the Queen.
So, Mary is just, like, she’s clearly emerging from her extreme shock, fugue state and is like, “I need someone to advise me here.” So, she tried to get Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart back in town, but he was busy scheming. He had started a new Protestant/Catholic coalition and one of his co-conspirators in this was Jam-Jam and this group was working really hard to frame Bothwell for the murder that they had all also been involved in. So, anyway, night postering continued. Pictures of Bothwell, like, his face, and it said slogans like, “Here is the murderer of the King.” [laughs]
Allison: [laughs] We love a clever slogan.
Ann: It’s straightforward, to the point. And at this point, “A ghostly figure prowled Edinburgh’s streets saying that Bothwell had murdered the King.”
Allison: I love both explanations for what could have happened here which is that A) maybe ghosts are real, I don’t know, maybe Darnley was waiting for himself to be avenged. Or maybe one of those ladies who saw all of the people coming in and out of the house put a sheet on and started waving their arms around being like, “Ooooh I bet it was Bothwell.” Both of those are incredibly likely.
Ann: This is amazing, I love a ghostly figure prowling the streets. So, basically, everybody was very susceptible, it’s giving, like, mid-2000s Facebook conspiracy theories. Someone is like, “I heard it was Bothwell.” “You heard it was Bothwell?” And suddenly, everyone’s like, “It was Bothwell.”
Allison: Except in this case, it actually was.
Ann: It was true, exactly. But it’s just like that cascading, where everyone is so convinced of something. Someone’s like, “I did see Bothwell’s servants rolling barrels of gunpowder toward Kirk o’ Field,” a true thing that happened.
Allison: He did try to blame it on a crack of thunder, which seemed…
Ann: True, Bothwell’s just like, “A weird crack of thunder. I know it didn’t rain and it’s February but thunder?” So, the single-minded focus on Bothwell is evidence that it was just, like, a group dedicated to bringing down Bothwell behind this. And that was the group I just said, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, Jam-Jam, they needed a fall guy and Bothwell was the fall guy. They probably also wanted to drag Mary down as well because she was so connected with Bothwell because he had been her trusted advisor for so long. So, “Mary couldn’t stop this runaway train, the more she tried to suppress the posters and rumours, the more people believed them to be true and the more they thought that made her look guilty.” So, anyway, she’s just like, “Oh my god, can you guys find the killers please, this is getting really bad.” And they’re like, “Actually, our priority right now is figuring out who made the posters.” [Allison laughs] And again, they are the ones making the posters. [laughs]
Ann: Again, we know what happened, Mary didn’t, and she firmly believed the explosion had been meant to murder her as well because of course, she would think that, that makes sense. She thinks she only narrowly escaped by not spending the night there and so she thought this was meant to kill her and Darnley and she’s like, “I know Bothwell is loyal to me, ergo Bothwell can’t be behind this because he would never murder me.” That’s her train of thought. And Bothwell was like, “I’m kind of running out of money so can you give me some more titles that come with more money, so I can have more money?” And she’s like, “Okay.” And this was disastrous timing because it just looked like she was backing the prime suspect in the murder. And then, the next night, I got Allison to bring this image up and we’re about to get into it, “the most infamous poster went up. A sketch of it made at the time still exists and is kept in the National Archive in London.” Allison, can you describe? This is the mermaid poster.
Allison: Okay, I will try. I have never seen this image before, it’s amazing. At the top of this poster is a bench and on top of the bench is a topless mermaid, tits out in the air, holding a scroll in one hand and what looks like a Venus flytrap in the other. It’s got MR next to it, Mary’s initials, and then underneath the mermaid is what I think is a goat surrounded by three circles and a shit-ton of swords. And I don’t know what any of this is supposed to mean.
Ann: Mm-hm. But apparently, this was the most provocative poster anyone made and apparently, everyone in Edinburgh knew immediately what it all meant. So, I’ll explain. [laughs]
Allison: Okay please, because this is quite a look.
Ann: I don’t know if everybody in Edinburgh actually understood what it meant. I think you get that it’s saying something bad about Mary.
Allison: I assumed she is the tits-out mermaid doing something and slutty and bad. I got that.
Ann: Okay. “It depicts a bare-breasted mermaid wearing a crown. She is waving what is maybe a sea anemone, or maybe a feathered lure used in falconry.” Either way, a sea anemone is a symbol for female genitalia and the feathered lure used in falconry… Anyway, it insinuates seduction, whatever she’s waving around. “Written alongside the mermaid are the initials MR,” which stands for Maria Regina, Mary the Queen. “Below the mermaid is a crouching hare,” so like, a rabbit.
Allison: Okay, not a goat.
Ann: Yeah, “enclosed by three circles. The outer circle has 17 daggers around its rim, above the hare are the initials JH, for James Hepburn, Bothwell’s name.” So okay, here’s from one of the books. “The image preserves a public conjoining of Mary and Bothwell in an accusation of adultery. For even those with a minimal grasp with the meaning of the symbols, its message would have been clear.” But in case it’s not, [laughs] I’ll explain further. “The hare is a device on Bothwell’s coat of arms,” so, it’s one of the heraldic images of the Hepburn family, I guess, so that indicates him, he’s the hare. “But also symbolized fear and its portrayal was intended as a threat. A mermaid was a familiar symbol denoting temptation but the mermaid in this image has a forked tail denoting prostitution.
“The circle of daggers,” the explanations are getting more and more niche, this is written by somebody who went to university, read the really weird books and assumes everyone knows all the things they know, level symbolism. Okay, so “the circle of daggers has a very niche explanation, it’s paired in–“ Okay, so there’s this obscure book that’s kind of like, here are images and what they mean in ancient Rome or something. So, this book shows the circle of daggers and in this book, the circle of daggers is next to the motto, “The sword shall destroy them from without and terror within.” So, this is assuming other people have read that book and know that the circle of daggers in this other book has that quote next to it. “The number of 17 daggers may come from an ancient Roman text explaining that that’s an unlucky number.”
Allison: Okay, which I’m sure everyone knows.
Ann: Someone just really overthought this. But also, it’s interesting and maybe a coincidence and maybe not, somebody knew that in that will that Mary wrote when she thought she was going to die in childbirth, she bequeathed Bothwell a jeweled mermaid. So, it might be someone who knew mermaid was their secret, shared thing. Ultimately, this poster is just being like, “Mary is a slut. She and Bothwell are having an affair and they killed Darnley together.”
I just find it interesting that this poster was the worst one; this is the one that made Mary panic, this poster of this mermaid and daggers. Anyway, Mary acted quickly because she was like, “This poster is the worst thing that ever happened to me.” So, she convened a gathering of the city’s painters and writers to be like, “Whose art style is this? Whose handwriting is this?” to try and figure out who did it. Suspicion fell on this one guy, but he fled before he could be arrested. So, then she passed an act in parliament saying anyone who is found putting up posters, slanderous material, would face prosecution and execution. But the damage had been done, the poster campaign had really made everybody suspect Bothwell but also her.
Just as a coda because we’re wrapping up this part of the story. The crisis at this point was so extreme that Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart couldn’t avoid town anymore, so he came back to town. And just to recap, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, if we think back to all the major crises that have happened during Mary’s reign, the Cock o’ the North scenario, the Chaseabout Raids, the murder of Davie Rizzio, the murder of Darnley, they had all happened because of him, basically, and because he wanted more power and to eliminate his enemies. So, it made sense that Bothwell was the fall guy because Bothwell had taken up more power in the absence of Davie Rizzio and Darnley, so of course that’s the next guy Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart wanted to take down.
Mary just kept refusing to proceed against Bothwell. Everyone was like, “You need to put Bothwell on trial for this,” and she’s like, “How can I do that? He’s the sheriff.” The more she protected him, she felt absolutely sure, everyone around her was constantly betraying her but she was like, “This guy has had my back I’m not going to turn on him,” but the more she supported him the more the public, which had always been this thing that supported her, turned against her. And so, potentially in like a William Cecil long-term planning way, maybe that’s part of what Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart had wanted all along, to make the murder look so weirdly suspicious and point the finger at Bothwell to bring him and her down.
So, I’m going to leave us all in suspense for now but next week we will continue, what happens next. Allison, do you have any thoughts about anything? The posters? Anything about the murder?
Allison: I just… My favorite part of this entire story is how unprofessional and bad at schemes everyone involved in it is. When you describe this in just a couple of words where like, “The King of Scotland was assassinated by a group of his, like, advisors on the privy council,” it sounds very Game of Thrones-y, like they had planned this out 45 steps in advance. And I love getting under the hood here and watching just, oh no, it’s really dumb. And after that, we were putting up a bunch of political cartoons in the town square and everyone was chasing each other around and maybe there was a ghost impersonator happening.
Ann: It’s just, yeah, I think it’s also like the number of conspirators, both in the Rizzio murder and this one, it’s like the bigger a committee is, the messier your annual report becomes. So, I think it’s just that so many people were involved in this. Someone was like, “We need to blow up the house.” “Yes, and we should also strangle him.” “Also…” It’s too many people.
Allison: They really “Yes, and”-ed their way out of a good murder here. There are too many cooks.
Ann: It’s way too complicated. That’s the thing, it’s like who could outsmart people this bad at scheming?
Allison: Personally, this might be me being a Mary fangirl, that’s very possible. But I think the reason that she’s, it’s very easy from our perspective now to be like, “Mary, oh my god, look. Look at what’s happening. How can you not see that it was him? Why are you still believing in these people?” She’s a good schemer, she thinks it’s an attack on her because she’s thinking three, four steps ahead, she can’t imagine that it’s actually this stupid.
Ann: Yeah, it’s the Benoit Blanc, Glass Onion.
Allison: She’s thinking way too hard. She’s like, “It’s got to be somebody else, that would be stupid.” It’s like, “No, no, no honey, that’s actually what’s happening. Everyone around you is a moron.”
Ann: Yeah, it’s just such a weird cavalcade of events. Even in this podcast, it’s like this episode takes place over the course of two years, and this one is like, over the course of one month, everything, like, just devolves into chaos. And next week, similar. But no spoilers for people who don’t know this story yet.
So, Allison thank you again for joining me to talk about the weird demise of a man who you hated.
Allison: It’s a great catharsis episode for me now that Darnley is gone, I assume none of your listeners will miss him.
Ann: He was just… he came in like a wrecking ball, in a bad way. Just, everything was really fucked up and bad and he just kind of like made it all worse. And then he died.
Allison: He was the problem at every moment of his life, he was the problem.
Ann: And he was like, 21, and one of the things I wrote as well was like the level of syphilis, the advanced-ness of how… Again, if you have syphilis, see a doctor, and get antibiotics, very treatable nowadays. But the level of syphilis that he had, the mercury baths maybe helped get rid of his pustules but was probably going to die within the next year anyway, so all of this could have been avoided. But also, that’s what I was thinking about, it’s like, if you’re this group of 500 people who are like, “We’re going to kill Darnley.” It’s like, “Oh, he’s really sick and convalescing, let’s poison him.”
Allison: This is not the easiest way to do it, to fill the basement of an entire house with gunpowder. You were already in the house to lock all of the doors; you could have just walked into the room.
Ann: He had no guards. That’s the thing too. I feel like the committee of it all, it’s like, this mercenary explosive expert came in so I feel like they’re all like, “Great we’re going to kill Darnley,” and then someone’s like, “Hey, I just met this guy at the pub, he says you can do this shit with gunpowder,” they’re like, “Yes, that’s great bro, let’s use gunpowder too.” It’s like, they only used that because this one guy came in and was like, “You know, if you put gunpowder in a house, you can blow up a house.” And everyone’s like, “Can you?”
Ann: “Let’s do it.”
Okay so Allison, please let everybody know about your books, and how people can follow you, and things like that.
Allison: Sure. So, I’m the author of two historical fiction novels, one out and available for purchase right now called A Tip for the Hangman, it is a historical thriller set in the Mary, Queen of Scots era.
Ann: I just want to say, your book is set in the Mary, Queen of Scots era, and when we get to the part in the story where your book is, we’ll mention that. But there’s so much spy shit going on in this story! William Cecil’s got his spies, Mary’s got her spies, spies everywhere. The spy who only draws graphic novels, spies. And your book is like Mary, Queen of Scots era, spy shit.
Allison: Yes. I extremely regret not making my book a graphic novel in the style of that one spy’s work.
Ann: Make your book just be one big picture?! [laughs]
Allison: Yes. All happening at the same time with a giant, out-of-proportion Darnley in the corner. Yes.
Ann: And then you have another book coming out that people can pre-order.
Allison: Yes. You can pre-order my second book, it’s called Let the Dead Bury the Dead, it is out in October. You can also find me on the internet if you search my name, I’m around.
Ann: Is there not AllisonEpstein.com or something?
Allison: There is. That would be, once I update that website, to be accurate to the present moment, that will have all–
Ann: Wait! But also talk about your newsletter because you did a two-part Darnley special in your newsletter.
Allison: I did, yes. My Substack is called “Dirtbags Through the Ages,” it’s what it says on the tin, it’s terrible, terrible people in history. My most popular issue of the Substack is my two-part Darnley special. So, if you’re looking for a place to start you can listen to… Ann and I have now talked about Darnley for upwards of four hours, you can get my more concise thoughts on Darnley in about 2,000 words.
Ann: But also, you’ve got all the good pictures. You don’t have the mermaid picture, but you do have other good pictures there.
Allison: Now I wish– I might have to go back and add the mermaid picture because that’s truly…
Ann: Because your thing ends when Darnley dies. A mermaid picture is more appropriate were you to write about Bothwell, for instance, not saying he’s a dirtbag, but I mean, stay tuned for next week.
Allison: We shall see, we shall see.
Ann: We shall see what he ends up doing. I think it’s so, again, just like that episode of Columbo, it was so silly watching this guy try to cover up his own crime while Columbo was investigating it. And Columbo knew from minute one that this guy was the killer, and he was just setting him up. But in this, there’s not the Columbo figure, it’s just Bothwell being like, “I’m going to investigate this crime, I did. Guess it was thunder! Oh, you don’t believe that?” He’s bad. Everyone’s bad at schemes and that’s…
Allison: If there is a Columbo in this story though it’s Cecil.
Ann: Yes. Cecil. Yes! Peter Falk is William Cecil, definitely. Or, I don’t know, maybe that guy who drew the picture is the Columbo.
Allison: I think that guy deserves his own show.
Ann: I don’t know, maybe for next time I’ll try and find what the guy’s name was because that picture is outstanding. So yeah, if you want to follow this podcast and see the pictures of things we’ve been describing, if you go to Instagram, I’m at @VulgarHistoryPod, I put up a little post with pictures every week. Also, I’m on TikTok @VulgarHistory and if you go to VulgarHistory.com you can get transcriptions of the most recent episodes. If you go to the episode, there will be a little thing you click on to get the transcriptions and those transcriptions are by Aveline Malek of The Wordary.
I have a store, VulgarHistory.com/Store is where you go to get merch if you’re in the US, it works better for that. If you’re not in the US, if you’re international, VulgarHistory.Redbubble.com, I also have merch there. And honestly, I’m thinking what’s our new merch going to be for Mary, Queen of Scots? From last time we have the “You’re my tortoise. RIP Davie Rizzio.” From this, I don’t know, do we want to have the tits out mermaid, I don’t know, I’m not sure.
Allison: I kind of want, like, a Starbucks cup that’s got the tits out mermaid on it, but we might get sued for copyright infringement…
Ann: The tits out mermaid, the first thing I thought of when I saw it was the Starbucks mermaid, she’s got that sort of vibe. I don’t know. But you know, tits out brigade, all the best ideas for merch come from you so let me know what you think. What else?
Patreon, I have a Patreon so if you go to Patreon.com/AnnFosterWriter, that’s where you can get early ad-free access to all of the episodes, including if you join at the $5 or more level, you get episodes of Vulgarpiece Theatre which is where Allison, who you’ve been listening to me talk with, and our friend Lana Wood Johnson, we talk about costume dramas. Where I live, honestly, sorry, it’s just like pouring rain. It feels very evocative for all the weird murders we’ve been talking about. And then a mighty blast of thunder and a house will explode or something.
Allison: [laughs] Got to be careful.
Ann: Anyway, thank you so much for joining me, Allison. Next week I’m going to be back, and I believe you’re going to be back and we’re going to be talking about what happened next in this increasingly unhinged chaotic story of this woman who honestly deserves to be able to just go to a spa and chill for like, 5 years.
Ann: Give her a break, my god. Like, can everything calm down?
Allison: She needs a vacation so badly. And if y’all think the story is off the rails now…
Ann: Yeah… Oh, just wait. Thank you so much for joining me Allison and everyone, keep your pants on and your tits out.
Vulgar History is hosted, written, and researched by Ann Foster and edited by Cristina Lumague.
Transcribed by Aveline Malek at TheWordary.com
Here’s the drawing of Kirk O’Field we discuss.
And here’s the mermaid drawing.
Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary Queen of Scots by Jennifer Morag Henderson
Embroidering Her Truth: Mary Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter
Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir
Mary Queen of Scots’ Downfall: The Life and Murder of Henry Lord Darnley by Robert Stedell
Mary Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy
Learn more about Allison Epstein and their books at allisonepstein.com and follow them on IG and Twitter @rapscallison
Get merch at vulgarhistory.com/store (best for US shipping) and vulgarhistory.redbubble.com (better for international shipping)
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