The Earl of Bothwell and Mary Queen of Scots

James Hepburn, The Earl of Bothwell


The marriage to  James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell took place on May 15, 1567 in the Chapel of Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh.  For Marie Stuart,  this union was the first step on the “road to Fotheringhay.”  (Fotheringhay Castle being the place of her execution.)

In order to marry the Queen of Scotland, Lord Bothwell had to obtain a divorce from his wife, Jean Gordon. The divorce was granted because of “consanguinity.”    Apparently, one of Bothwell’s ancestors had  married a Gordon.  To find this excuse, Bothwell’s advisors had to go back three generations;  Bothwell’s great great grandmother was the ancestor in question.  The Lady Jean Gordon agreed to the divorce, not  on the grounds of consanguinity,  but on her own terms.   She charged Bothwell with adultery involving a servant girl by the name of Bessie Crawford.  Jean’s intention was to shame and embarrass Bothwell , but Bothwell being a brazen, arrogant character was completely unaffected by the exposure and the inevitable gossip that followed.   His goal was marriage to the Queen and he challenged  all that opposed it. Some believe that his ultimate goal was to become King of Scotland.

By nature, Bothwell was the opposite of Mary.  Where she was mannerly, gracious, and spoke well, he was rowdy, uncouth, loud and confrontational in  manner.  Although Bothwell forced Mary into marriage so that he could gain power  over Scotland, it is said that he may have been a better match for Mary than  her first two husbands who had both been weak and immature.  By contrast, Bothwell was a strong, independent man, someone she could rely on.  This must have been a  comfort to a Queen who was constantly plotted against, gossiped about, and beset with the problems of quarrelsome, self-serving lords and nobles regularly  vying for her attention.

After the Battle of Carberry Hill they were never to see each other again. Carberry Hill, just east of Edinburgh, was the place Bothwell and Mary had come to fight the battle against those powerful nobles who hated Bothwell because of his power and  influence, and who wanted to bring him to trial for the murder of Darnley.  However,  the battle did not take place.  Instead, the French Ambassador, Philibert du Croc, intervened.  From the rebel army leaders he obtained the following conditions for peace:

If Mary separated from Bothwell, the rebel army would become Mary’s  “dutiful servants.”   Mary’s answer: She reminded the Ambassador of the bond that had been signed six weeks  previously at the Ainslie Tavern, and signed by some of these rebel lords, begging her to  marry Bothwell.
As to the murder of the King of Scotland  (Lord Darnley):    To be settled by single combat between Bothwell and their champion.   Bothwell accepted the challenge and Lord Lindsay was chosen as the champion for the rebel side.

As conditions for the combat were discussed by the seconds, it became apparent that the courage of Bothwell’s army was fading fast.  After the parleying back and forth by the representatives of both camps it had become evident that there was to be no duel and no war.    The Queen was then offered safe passage back to Edinburgh provided that Bothwell was sent away.  He would leave with the promise that he would not be pursued.  Mary persuaded the unwilling Bothwell to leave for his own safety.  They never came face to face again.

BURIAL SITE James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, died in Denmark.  He had eventually escaped Scotland headed for Norway, a country he had visited before. He was imprisoned in Copenhagen for some debts that he owed to people he was acquainted with/had dealings with from past visits.  King Frederick of Norway and Denmark used the Earl in his international political maneuverings, in other words held him hostage thinking he would be a good bargaining tool. Therefore, James Hepburn spent the rest of his life being moved from prison to prison at the mercy of the King until he died in April of 1578.  Bothwell presently lies in the crypt of Faarevejie Church near Dragsholm, Denmark.


 Lord Bothwell, a Study of the Life, Character and Times of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, 1937, by Robert Gore-Brown

 The Queen’s Man, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell and Duke of Orkney, 1536-1578, by Humphrey Drummond, 1975

The Life of James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, by Frederik Schiern, 1863.  (Professor of History at the University of Copenhagen)

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