Mary Queen Of Scots And Lord Bothwell
Mary Stuart and Cleopatra are the two women who have most
attracted the fancy of poets, dramatists, novelists, and painters,
from their own time down to the present day.
In some respects there is a certain likeness in their careers.
Each was queen of a nation whose affairs were entangled with those
of a much greater one. Each sought for her own ideal of love until
she found it. Each won that love recklessly, almost madly. Each,
in its attainment, fell from power and fortune. Each died before
her natural life was ended. One caused the man she loved to cast
away the sovereignty of a mighty state. The other lost her own
crown in order that she might achieve the whole desire of her
There is still another parallel which may be found. Each of these
women was reputed to be exquisitely beautiful; yet each fell short
of beauty's highest standards. They are alike remembered in song
and story because of qualities that are far more powerful than any
physical charm can be. They impressed the imagination of their own
contemporaries just as they had impressed the imagination of all
succeeding ages, by reason of a strange and irresistible
fascination which no one could explain, but which very few could
experience and resist.
Mary Stuart was born six days before her father's death, and when
the kingdom which was her heritage seemed to be almost in its
death-throes. James V. of Scotland, half Stuart and half Tudor,
was no ordinary monarch. As a mere boy he had burst the bonds with
which a regency had bound him, and he had ruled the wild Scotland
of the sixteenth century. He was brave and crafty, keen in
statesmanship, and dissolute in pleasure.
His first wife had given him no heirs; so at her death he sought
out a princess whom he pursued all the more ardently because she
was also courted by the burly Henry VIII. of England. This girl
was Marie of Lorraine, daughter of the Duc de Guise. She was fit
to be the mother of a lion's brood, for she was above six feet in
height and of proportions so ample as to excite the admiration of
the royal voluptuary who sat upon the throne of England.
"I am big," said he, "and I want a wife who is as big as I am."
But James of Scotland wooed in person, and not by embassies, and
he triumphantly carried off his strapping princess. Henry of
England gnawed his beard in vain; and, though in time he found
consolation in another woman's arms, he viewed James not only as a
public but as a private enemy.
There was war between the two countries. First the Scots repelled
an English army; but soon they were themselves disgracefully
defeated at Solway Moss by a force much their inferior in numbers.
The shame of it broke King James's heart. As he was galloping from
the battle-field the news was brought him that his wife had given
birth to a daughter. He took little notice of the message; and in
a few days he had died, moaning with his last breath the
"It came with a lass--with a lass it will go!"
The child who was born at this ill-omened crisis was Mary Stuart,
who within a week became, in her own right, Queen of Scotland. Her
mother acted as regent of the kingdom. Henry of England demanded
that the infant girl should be betrothed to his young son, Prince
Edward, who afterward reigned as Edward VI., though he died while
still a boy. The proposal was rejected, and the war between
England and Scotland went on its bloody course; but meanwhile the
little queen was sent to France, her mother's home, so that she
might be trained in accomplishments which were rare in Scotland.
In France she grew up at the court of Catherine de' Medici, that
imperious intriguer whose splendid surroundings were tainted with
the corruption which she had brought from her native Italy. It
was, indeed, a singular training-school for a girl of Mary
Stuart's character. She saw about her a superficial chivalry and a
most profound depravity. Poets like Ronsard graced the life of the
court with exquisite verse. Troubadours and minstrels sang sweet
music there. There were fetes and tournaments and gallantry of
bearing; yet, on the other hand, there was every possible
refinement and variety of vice. Men were slain before the eyes of
the queen herself. The talk of the court was of intrigue and lust
and evil things which often verged on crime. Catherine de' Medici
herself kept her nominal husband at arm's-length; and in order to
maintain her grasp on France she connived at the corruption of her
own children, three of whom were destined in their turn to sit
upon the throne.
Mary Stuart grew up in these surroundings until she was sixteen,
eating the fruit which gave a knowledge of both good and evil. Her
intelligence was very great. She quickly learned Italian, French,
and Latin. She was a daring horsewoman. She was a poet and an
artist even in her teens. She was also a keen judge of human
motives, for those early years of hers had forced her into a
womanhood that was premature but wonderful. It had been proposed
that she should marry the eldest son of Catherine, so that in time
the kingdom of Scotland and that of France might be united, while
if Elizabeth of England were to die unmarried her realm also would
fall to this pair of children.
And so Mary, at sixteen, wedded the Dauphin Francis, who was a
year her junior. The prince was a wretched, whimpering little
creature, with a cankered body and a blighted soul. Marriage with
such a husband seemed absurd. It never was a marriage in reality.
The sickly child would cry all night, for he suffered from
abscesses in his ears, and his manhood had been prematurely taken
from him. Nevertheless, within a twelvemonth the French king died
and Mary Stuart was Queen of France as well as of Scotland,
hampered only by her nominal obedience to the sick boy whom she
openly despised. At seventeen she showed herself a master spirit.
She held her own against the ambitious Catherine de' Medici, whom
she contemptuously nicknamed "the apothecary's daughter." For the
brief period of a year she was actually the ruler of France; but
then her husband died and she was left a widow, restless,
ambitious, and yet no longer having any of the power she loved.
Mary Stuart at this time had become a woman whose fascination was
exerted over all who knew her. She was very tall and very slim,
with chestnut hair, "like a flower of the heat, both lax and
delicate." Her skin was fair and pale, so clear and so transparent
as to make the story plausible that when she drank from a flask of
wine, the red liquid could be seen passing down her slender
Yet with all this she was not fine in texture, but hardy as a man.
She could endure immense fatigue without yielding to it. Her
supple form had the strength of steel. There was a gleam in her
hazel eyes that showed her to be brimful of an almost fierce
vitality. Young as she was, she was the mistress of a thousand
arts, and she exhaled a sort of atmosphere that turned the heads
of men. The Stuart blood made her impatient of control, careless
of state, and easy-mannered. The French and the Tudor strain gave
her vivacity. She could be submissive in appearance while still
persisting in her aims. She could be languorous and seductive
while cold within. Again, she could assume the haughtiness which
belonged to one who was twice a queen.
Two motives swayed her, and they fought together for supremacy.
One was the love of power, and the other was the love of love. The
first was natural to a girl who was a sovereign in her own right.
The second was inherited, and was then forced into a rank
luxuriance by the sort of life that she had seen about her. At
eighteen she was a strangely amorous creature, given to fondling
and kissing every one about her, with slight discrimination. From
her sense of touch she received emotions that were almost
necessary to her existence. With her slender, graceful hands she
was always stroking the face of some favorite--it might be only
the face of a child, or it might be the face of some courtier or
poet, or one of the four Marys whose names are linked with hers--
Mary Livingstone, Mary Fleming, Mary Beaton, and Mary Seton, the
last of whom remained with her royal mistress until her death.
But one must not be too censorious in thinking of Mary Stuart. She
was surrounded everywhere by enemies. During her stay in France
she was hated by the faction of Catherine de' Medici. When she
returned to Scotland she was hated because of her religion by the
Protestant lords. Her every action was set forth in the worst
possible light. The most sinister meaning was given to everything
she said or did. In truth, we must reject almost all the stories
which accuse her of anything more than a certain levity of
She was not a woman to yield herself in love's last surrender
unless her intellect and heart alike had been made captive. She
would listen to the passionate outpourings of poets and courtiers,
and she would plunge her eyes into theirs, and let her hair just
touch their faces, and give them her white hands to kiss--but
that was all. Even in this she was only following the fashion of
the court where she was bred, and she was not unlike her royal
relative, Elizabeth of England, who had the same external
amorousness coupled with the same internal self-control.
Mary Stuart's love life makes a piteous story, for it is the life
of one who was ever seeking--seeking for the man to whom she
could look up, who could be strong and brave and ardent like
herself, and at the same time be more powerful and more steadfast
even than she herself in mind and thought. Whatever may be said of
her, and howsoever the facts may be colored by partisans, this
royal girl, stung though she was by passion and goaded by desire,
cared nothing for any man who could not match her in body and mind
and spirit all at once.
It was in her early widowhood that she first met the man, and when
their union came it brought ruin on them both. In France there
came to her one day one of her own subjects, the Earl of Bothwell.
He was but a few years older than she, and in his presence for the
first time she felt, in her own despite, that profoundly moving,
indescribable, and never-to-be-forgotten thrill which shakes a
woman to the very center of her being, since it is the recognition
of a complete affinity.
Lord Bothwell, like Queen Mary, has been terribly maligned. Unlike
her, he has found only a few defenders. Maurice Hewlett has drawn
a picture of him more favorable than many, and yet it is a picture
that repels. Bothwell, says he, was of a type esteemed by those
who pronounce vice to be their virtue. He was "a galliard, flushed
with rich blood, broad-shouldered, square-jawed, with a laugh so
happy and so prompt that the world, rejoicing to hear it, thought
all must be well wherever he might be. He wore brave clothes, sat
a brave horse, and kept brave company bravely. His high color,
while it betokened high feeding, got him the credit of good
health. His little eyes twinkled so merrily that you did not see
they were like a pig's, sly and greedy at once, and bloodshot. His
tawny beard concealed a jaw underhung, a chin jutting and
dangerous. His mouth had a cruel twist; but his laughing hid that
too. The bridge of his nose had been broken; few observed it, or
guessed at the brawl which must have given it to him. Frankness
was his great charm, careless ease in high places."
And so, when Mary Stuart first met him in her eighteenth year,
Lord Bothwell made her think as she had never thought of any other
man, and as she was not to think of any other man again. She grew
to look eagerly for the frank mockery "in those twinkling eyes, in
that quick mouth"; and to wonder whether it was with him always--
asleep, at prayers, fighting, furious, or in love.
Something more, however, must be said of Bothwell. He was
undoubtedly a roisterer, but he was very much a man. He made easy
love to women. His sword leaped quickly from its sheath. He could
fight, and he could also think. He was no brawling ruffian, no
ordinary rake. Remembering what Scotland was in those days,
Bothwell might well seem in reality a princely figure. He knew
Italian; he was at home in French; he could write fluent Latin. He
was a collector of books and a reader of them also. He was perhaps
the only Scottish noble of his time who had a book-plate of his
own. Here is something more than a mere reveler. Here is a man of
varied accomplishments and of a complex character.
Though he stayed but a short time near the queen in France, he
kindled her imagination, so that when she seriously thought of men
she thought of Bothwell. And yet all the time she was fondling the
young pages in her retinue and kissing her maids of honor with her
scarlet lips, and lying on their knees, while poets like Ronsard
and Chastelard wrote ardent love sonnets to her and sighed and
pined for something more than the privilege of kissing her two
In 1561, less than a year after her widowhood, Mary set sail for
Scotland, never to return. The great high-decked ships which
escorted her sailed into the harbor of Leith, and she pressed on
to Edinburgh. A depressing change indeed from the sunny terraces
and fields of France! In her own realm were fog and rain and only
a hut to shelter her upon her landing. When she reached her
capital there were few welcoming cheers; but as she rode over the
cobblestones to Holyrood, the squalid wynds vomited forth great
mobs of hard-featured, grim-visaged men and women who stared with
curiosity and a half-contempt at the girl queen and her retinue of
The Scots were Protestants of the most dour sort, and they
distrusted their new ruler because of her religion and because she
loved to surround herself with dainty things and bright colors and
exotic elegance. They feared lest she should try to repeal the law
of Scotland's Parliament which had made the country Protestant.
The very indifference of her subjects stirred up the nobler part
of Mary's nature. For a time she was indeed a queen. She governed
wisely. She respected the religious rights of her Protestant
subjects. She strove to bring order out of the chaos into which
her country had fallen. And she met with some success. The time
came when her people cheered her as she rode among them. Her
subtle fascination was her greatest source of strength. Even John
Knox, that iron-visaged, stentorian preacher, fell for a time
under the charm of her presence. She met him frankly and pleaded
with him as a woman, instead of commanding him as a queen. The
surly ranter became softened for a time, and, though he spoke of
her to others as "Honeypot," he ruled his tongue in public. She
had offers of marriage from Austrian and Spanish princes. The new
King of France, her brother-in-law, would perhaps have wedded her.
It mattered little to Mary that Elizabeth of England was hostile.
She felt that she was strong enough to hold her own and govern
But who could govern a country such as Scotland was? It was a land
of broils and feuds, of clan enmities and fierce vendettas. Its
nobles were half barbarous, and they fought and slashed at one
another with drawn dirks almost in the presence of the queen
herself. No matter whom she favored, there rose up a swarm of
enemies. Here was a Corsica of the north, more savage and untamed
than even the other Corsica.
In her perplexity Mary felt a woman's need of some man on whom she
would have the right to lean, and whom she could make king
consort. She thought that she had found him in the person of her
cousin, Lord Darnley, a Catholic, and by his upbringing half an
Englishman. Darnley came to Scotland, and for the moment Mary
fancied that she had forgotten Bothwell. Here again she was in
love with love, and she idealized the man who came to give it to
her. Darnley seemed, indeed, well worthy to be loved, for he was
tall and handsome, appearing well on horseback and having some of
the accomplishments which Mary valued.
It was a hasty wooing, and the queen herself was first of all the
wooer. Her quick imagination saw in Darnley traits and gifts of
which he really had no share. Therefore, the marriage was soon
concluded, and Scotland had two sovereigns, King Henry and Queen
Mary. So sure was Mary of her indifference to Bothwell that she
urged the earl to marry, and he did marry a girl of the great
house of Gordon.
Mary's self-suggested love for Darnley was extinguished almost on
her wedding-night. The man was a drunkard who came into her
presence befuddled and almost bestial. He had no brains. His
vanity was enormous. He loved no one but himself, and least of all
this queen, whom he regarded as having thrown herself at his empty
The first-fruits of the marriage were uprisings among the
Protestant lords. Mary then showed herself a heroic queen. At the
head of a motley band of soldiery who came at her call--half-
clad, uncouth, and savage--she rode into the west, sleeping at
night upon the bare ground, sharing the camp food, dressed in
plain tartan, but swift and fierce as any eagle. Her spirit ran
like fire through the veins of those who followed her. She crushed
the insurrection, scattered its leaders, and returned in triumph
to her capital.
Now she was really queen, but here came in the other motive which
was interwoven in her character. She had shown herself a man in
courage. Should she not have the pleasures of a woman? To her
court in Holyrood came Bothwell once again, and this time Mary
knew that he was all the world to her. Darnley had shrunk from the
hardships of battle. He was steeped in low intrigues. He roused
the constant irritation of the queen by his folly and utter lack
of sense and decency. Mary felt she owed him nothing, but she
forgot that she owed much to herself.
Her old amorous ways came back to her, and she relapsed into the
joys of sense. The scandal-mongers of the capital saw a lover in
every man with whom she talked. She did, in fact, set convention
at defiance. She dressed in men's clothing. She showed what the
unemotional Scots thought to be unseemly levity. The French poet,
Chastelard, misled by her external signs of favor, believed
himself to be her choice. At the end of one mad revel he was found
secreted beneath her bed, and was driven out by force. A second
time he ventured to secrete himself within the covers of the bed.
Then he was dragged forth, imprisoned, and condemned to death. He
met his fate without a murmur, save at the last when he stood upon
the scaffold and, gazing toward the palace, cried in French:
"Oh, cruel queen! I die for you!"
Another favorite, the Italian, David Rizzio, or Riccio, in like
manner wrote love verses to the queen, and she replied to them in
kind; but there is no evidence that she valued him save for his
ability, which was very great. She made him her foreign secretary,
and the man whom he supplanted worked on the jealousy of Darnley;
so that one night, while Mary and Rizzio were at dinner in a small
private chamber, Darnley and the others broke in upon her. Darnley
held her by the waist while Rizzio was stabbed before her eyes
with a cruelty the greater because the queen was soon to become a
From that moment she hated Darnley as one would hate a snake. She
tolerated him only that he might acknowledge her child as his son.
This child was the future James VI. of Scotland and James I. of
England. It is recorded of him that never throughout his life
could he bear to look upon drawn steel.
After this Mary summoned Bothwell again and again. It was revealed
to her as in a blaze of light that, after all, he was the one and
only man who could be everything to her. His frankness, his
cynicism, his mockery, his carelessness, his courage, and the
power of his mind matched her moods completely. She threw away all
semblance of concealment. She ignored the fact that he had married
at her wish. She was queen. She desired him. She must have him at
"Though I lose Scotland and England both," she cried in a passion
of abandonment, "I shall have him for my own!"
Bothwell, in his turn, was nothing loath, and they leaped at each
other like two flames.
It was then that Mary wrote those letters which were afterward
discovered in a casket and which were used against her when she
was on trial for her life. These so-called Casket Letters, though
we have not now the originals, are among the most extraordinary
letters ever written. All shame, all hesitation, all innocence,
are flung away in them. The writer is so fired with passion that
each sentence is like a cry to a lover in the dark. As De Peyster
says: "In them the animal instincts override and spur and lash the
pen." Mary was committing to paper the frenzied madness of a woman
consumed to her very marrow by the scorching blaze of unedurable
Events moved quickly. Darnley, convalescent from an attack of
smallpox, was mysteriously destroyed by an explosion of gunpowder.
Bothwell was divorced from his young wife on curious grounds. A
dispensation allowed Mary to wed a Protestant, and she married
Bothwell three months after Darnley's death.
Here one sees the consummation of what had begun many years before
in France. From the moment that she and Bothwell met, their union
was inevitable. Seas could not sunder them. Other loves and other
fancies were as nothing to them. Even the bonds of marriage were
burst asunder so that these two fiery, panting souls could meet.
It was the irony of fate that when they had so met it was only to
be parted. Mary's subjects, outraged by her conduct, rose against
her. As she passed through the streets of Edinburgh the women
hurled after her indecent names. Great banners were raised with
execrable daubs representing the murdered Darnley. The short and
dreadful monosyllable which is familiar to us in the pages of the
Bible was hurled after her wherever she went.
With Bothwell by her side she led a wild and ragged horde of
followers against the rebellious nobles, whose forces met her at
Carberry Hill. Her motley followers melted away, and Mary
surrendered to the hostile chieftains, who took her to the castle
at Lochleven. There she became the mother of twins--a fact that is
seldom mentioned by historians. These children were the fruit of
her union with Bothwell. From this time forth she cared but little
for herself, and she signed, without great reluctance, a document
by which she abdicated in favor of her infant son.
Even in this place of imprisonment, however, her fascination had
power to charm. Among those who guarded her, two of the Douglas
family--George Douglas and William Douglas--for love of her,
effected her escape. The first attempt failed. Mary, disguised as
a laundress, was betrayed by the delicacy of her hands. But a
second attempt was successful. The queen passed through a postern
gate and made her way to the lake, where George Douglas met her
with a boat. Crossing the lake, fifty horsemen under Lord Claude
Hamilton gave her their escort and bore her away in safety.
But Mary was sick of Scotland, for Bothwell could not be there.
She had tasted all the bitterness of life, and for a few months
all the sweetness; but she would have no more of this rough and
barbarous country. Of her own free will she crossed the Solway
into England, to find herself at once a prisoner.
Never again did she set eyes on Bothwell. After the battle of
Carberry Hill he escaped to the north, gathered some ships
together, and preyed upon English merchantmen, very much as a
pirate might have done. Ere long, however, when he had learned of
Mary's fate, he set sail for Norway. King Frederick of Denmark
made him a prisoner of state. He was not confined within prison
walls, however, but was allowed to hunt and ride in the vicinity
of Malmo Castle and of Dragsholm. It is probably in Malmo Castle
that he died. In 1858 a coffin which was thought to be the coffin
of the earl was opened, and a Danish artist sketched the head--
which corresponds quite well with the other portraits of the ill-
fated Scottish noble.
It is a sad story. Had Mary been less ambitious when she first met
Bothwell, or had he been a little bolder, they might have reigned
together and lived out their lives in the plenitude of that great
love which held them both in thrall. But a queen is not as other
women; and she found too late that the teaching of her heart was,
after all, the truest teaching. She went to her death as Bothwell
went to his, alone, in a strange, unfriendly land.
Yet, even this, perhaps, was better so. It has at least touched
both their lives with pathos and has made the name of Mary Stuart
one to be remembered throughout all the ages.