Lady Jean Gordon – Mary Queen of Scots

Lady Jean Gordon
Lady Jean Gordon
James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
The Marriage

If it had not been for the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots and James Hepburn,  probably nothing more would have been thought of  Lady Jean Gordon and the Earl’s  shared ancestor.  The Bothwell-Gordon marriage took place in the Canongate Church on the 24th of February, 1566 after a dispensation from the Pope was procured to allow the marriage to be validly performed.

As to the contract of marriage between Bothwell and Lady Jean:  Among the parties who consented  to the alliance was the queen who signed as ‘Marie R.’  …  “The great interest of the queen in the affair is attested by her gift of a wedding-dress to the bride, consisting of ‘cloth of silver, lined with taffeta’.  She also bequeathed to her a coiff, garnished with rubies, pearls and garnets.’

Lady Jean had no particular objection to the alliance probably because the marriage could possibly  restore the honor of the Huntly family.  The family had become persona non grata when they had taken  up arms against Mary at  the Battle of Corriche.  They lost the battle and the result being the forfeit of their lands to the Queen.  ( Note:  Since  Bothwell had the Queen’s  support the Huntlys  reckoned that the union could be a great advantage to restoring their lands and fortunes.)

The Dispensation

Some contemporaries doubted the existence of the dispensation, however, the “original dispensation was found in the Charter Room of Dunrobin Castle by Dr. John Stuart, while he was engaged in examining  documents for the Historical Manuscripts Commission .” (Circa 1870)  “It is an instrument in Latin, issued by Archbishop John Hamilton of St. Andrews as legate of the Holy See, and is dated February  17, 1566.”

After the death of Darnley Bothwell ‘s objective was to marry the Queen, however, his marriage to Lady Jean Gordon would first have to be dissolved.  After  certain nobles signed the Ainslie Bond in Edinburgh indicating that Bothwell would be a suitable husband for  Mary It was put about that the marriage to Lady Jean  had been performed without a dispensation  and was invalid according to  canon law.

The Mysteries

While knowingly having the dispensation in her possession ,the mystery of why Lady Jean went along with the deception could perhaps be concluded that her reasoning was twofold;  (1)  to be rid of Bothwell  and  (2) to appease the queen  in the hope of promoting   the interests of her brother the earl of Huntly.   (Note:  As to  Bothwell, in the divorce proceedings,  she accused him of having an adulterous affair with a maid. ” On 3 May 1567, she was given judgement against Bothwell in the Protestant commissary court on the grounds of his alleged adultery with her maid and seamstress, Bessie Crawford.”)

Even more mysterious was the behaviour of Archbishop John Hamilton who had issued the “instrument” of dispensation  as” legate of the Holy See “.    In April 1567,  Bothwell  applied to him for a declaration of nullity of the marriage on the grounds that there was no dispensation.  The following month the Bishop pronounced ” that the marriage was radically null, in respect that the parties were related to each other within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity and consequently were debarred from lawful marriage without a previous dispensation having been obtained.”  Was there  either political or purely selfish reasons behind his declaration?

Earl of Huntly , who previously was in favor of the marriage of Bothwell to his sister Lady Jean, now fully agreed with the annulment.  In fact, he attended Bothwell’s arranged meeting at the Ainslie Tavern in Edinburgh, where he  was one of the nobles who signed the Ainslie Bond  recommending  Bothwell to be a suitable husband for Queen Mary.   (Note:  At the Battle of Carberry Hill another interesting point  unfolds;   many of these same nobles, in spite of having previously  signed the Ainslie bond of agreement recommending Bothwell as a suitable husband for Mary, now urged her to separate from him.)

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