Mary Queen Of Scots Part 2 - The Life And Legend Of Bothwell

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"...he was as naughty a man as liveth"
This was what they said about Bothwell third husband and the less well-known, but even more interesting character, from the Mary Queen Of Scots story. I would add :-"then or now".
An amoral ladykiller, a fearsome soldier-of-fortune, an ambitious opportunist, who could hold any audience spellbound. First and foremost he was a plotter and a schemer par excellance and when he got together with Mary it was a lethal mix.

Submitted: May 27, 2014

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Submitted: May 27, 2014




In a linked post to Mary Queen Of Scots - The Darkest Revolution - I am going to further explore the life of the third husband of Mary, namely the dastardly James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. Why do this? I was originally going to do a post on Justin Beiber, but hey his story is so straightforward, it's almost boring by comparison to this arch-scoundrel. And the gossip magazines think that modern celebrity behavior is outrageous and vastly more interesting than historical celebrity behavior. What do they know?

Just about every detail of his life seems to be conjectural as well, so it's impossible to know the real truth, but reasonable guesses can be made. I don't even have a definitive date or year of birth for 'Life Cycles' analysis. We can say however, that he became the Earl of Bothwell and Lord High Admiral of Scotland on the death of his father in 1556. He was thus the most powerful nobleman in the south of Scotland. In The Great Historic Families of Scotland it was stated that he was about 19 or 20 when this happened. So, maybe in his first adult age 19 'Year of Broken Pathways'.

In October 1559, along with a party of 24, he wounded and robbed Cockburn of Ormiston of 4000 crowns, that he had received for the Protestant Party to be used against the Catholic dowager Queen, Mary of Guise and he had to flee his home. He decided as Admiral to sail around Europe, where he met and fell in love with the daughter of a famous Norwegian Admiral, by the name of Anna Throndsen. To be more precise, he kidnapped her from her family and "ravished" her or as they put it in 'ye olde English' :-

"and thair keep her surelie, or otherwyse demayne hir person at your plesour, quhill sche aggre to quhatsumevir thing yo shall desyre."


This must have been reciprocated, because they pledged marriage to each other, although there was no formal ceremony. In Flanders, he said he was out of money and asked Anna to sell all her possessions. She complied and then visited her family in Denmark to ask for more money. Anna was unhappy and apparently given to complaining about Bothwell. Bothwell's treatment of Anna was to play a big part in his eventual downfall.

After this he deserted Anna and one account even alleges he marries a woman in France. All this, before coming to call on Mary as Queen Regent in the autumn of 1560. He was flat broke, but must have charmed Mary even then, because "The Queen recompensed me more liberally and honourably than I had deserved" — receiving 600 Crowns and the post and salary of gentleman of the French King's Chamber. This may have been in his age 24 'Year of Revolution', which would have marked the beginnings of his relationship with the young Mary. He visited Paris twice more before Mary was widowed and came to Scotland in 1561.

With the Protestants now in charge, he was little more than a troublesome noble at court. However, he became restless and turbulent, and made violent attacks on other barons, hatched conspiracies against the Government, and was at length imprisoned in late 1562, and then banished from the kingdom, for a conspiracy against the Earl of Moray (Mary's Protestant half-brother). Walsingham, the English spymaster, called him :- 'This glorious, rash, and hazardous young man'.

He was to be in exile until 1565, but continued the whole time to be in close correspondence with Mary. These two actually plotted that Darnley would make a good husband for her (little did they know how wrong they were!). Then, on his return, Mary chose one of her court, Jean Gordon, to be his wife and gave a generous wedding gift. Her image is below. None appears to exist for Anna, although she has been descirbed as being dark and of latin appearance, so not a tall blonde it appears.


Before this, however, Anna had spent several years in Scotland until 1563 and the main reason is suspected to be, that she had Bothwell's child; his only son William. She was probably both exceedingly vexed and still in love with this scoundrel. She wrote him an impassioned letter of undying love that became a possible 'Casket Letter' (ie. secret letters written between Mary and Bothwell before Darnley's murder).

It seemed to matter little to him however. Indeed it was said of Bothwell's character :-

The Earl of Bedford wrote of him to Cecil, 'I assure you Bothwell is as naughty a man as liveth,' and accused him of crimes of which 'it is a shame even to speak.' There were scandalous reports widely spread respecting his connection with a certain Lady Reres, and her sister Janet Beaton, both disreputably associated at a later period with Queen Mary and him.

Because I've dealt with it in the other post, I'll leave aside his main crimes of murdering Darnley (Mary's second husband and a cousin of Elizabeth I) by explosion, stabbing and strangulation in February 1567 and his scandalous affair with Mary. Even if they plotted her kidnapping and story of being "ravished" at Dunbar Castle, soon after in April 1567, it would have been totally in keeping with his style.

Let's not forget he still had his own wife and had had an affair with their servant, resulting in their divorce in May 1567, just a week before he marries Mary and then let's not forget goings on with:- "a certain Lady Reres and her sister Janet Beaton". OMG! Why Errol Flynn, Richard Burton, even Tiger Woods of a few years ago, and the rest of them, are starting to look tame by comparison. Oh, I almost forgot, throw in getting Mary pregnant with twins before the sham kidnapping! He was indeed "as naughty a man as liveth".


Now all this happened in 'Life Cycles' terms, when Mary was in her age 24 'Year of Revolution' and Bothwell was conceivably in his own age 31 'Year of Broken Pathways', so it was one almighty mess of a period of 'Confluence' and the only time they were 'Confluent' together. We left Bothwell, in June of 1567, kissing Mary in front of the army of the Protestant Lords and galloping off into the sunset to try and raise an army abroad.

Mind you, he only just escaped Scotland with his life, but this cat seemed to have plenty. So, where to next? Well truth is stranger than fiction, because his travels lead him almost straight to the city of Bergin in Norway, where he was detained for lack of proper exit papers. Who should happen to be living in Bergin at the same time? You guessed it - Anna! His goose was cooked.

She made sure his detainment turned into imprisonment in Rosenkrantz Tower on the order of her cousin the viceroy of Denmark. He had to face charges of having "three wive's alive" (ie. Mary, Jean Gordon and Anna herself). She sought restitution of her sizable dowry. A woman scorned you see. He settled the dowry out of court offering her as restitution one of his ships and promising her an additional annuity, which he never was able to pay, as he never regained his freedom. The scoundrel knew she'd never see a penny.

The King of Denmark had taken notice of him as a political pawn. Elizabeth I was calling for Bothwell's extradition back to Scotland to stand trial for the murder of Darnley. Rather than turn him over to England, the Danish King transferred Bothwell from Malmo to Dragsholm Castle. Bothwell aided his cause by showing papers to King Frederick II, proving he had regency over the Orkney and Shetland Islands and could potentially, with Mary's help, cede this to the Danes, who had long coveted them. He was an expert in playing 'both ends against the middle'. He was thus treated generously, allowed to wear velvet clothes, read books and occasionally go hunting or shooting under guard.


Now the final piece of his life is as shrouded in mystery as most of the rest of it. The usual story put about is that once Mary's supporters in Scotland had begun to crumble, his influence and plotting to return the Orkney and Shetland islands to Denmark, all vanished and he was put in close confinement (ie. in chains). This was in June 1573 and again quite possibly in his age 36 'Year of Revolution'. It was said he lived out a miserable existence and went insane and dying five years later.

However, there's another version of events that I like even better. A certain mercenary officer, one Captain John Clark, had been sent to facilitate an extradition, however he had somehow fallen foul of Frederick II and instead, ended up a prisoner in Dragsholm Castle, along with Bothwell. This actually happened. Now Bothwell was always larger than life and a great gambler and opportunist and in Queen of Scots - The True Life of Mary by John Guy, it was stated that Bothwell and Clark buried the hatchet and both being professional Scots military men, became buddies.

"By June 1578, their unbridled drinking and revelry had taken its toll and first Clark died of excessive drinking and even Bothwell's ox-like constitution started to collapse." Reports reached London that "he is great but swollen and not yet dead." More intrigue follows as Mary's supporters on the continent claim he made a deathbed confession exonerating Mary of all responsibility for Darnley's murder. He died of liver or kidney failure, without so much as a final word.

Now that's more like it wouldn't you say? In fact, I'm going to suppose an imaginary final day for Clark and Bothwell. I'm going to add to the Bothwell legend and hell, it's my blog and if I want to, I can rewrite a little bit of history:- "quhatsumevir thing yo shall desyre." OK, their final day together in June 1578, was spent by a morning hunt with each claiming a stag. Exhausted by their labours, they read and rested for the afternoon and then Bothwell tells their gaoler, that he has a secret map of buried treasure somewhere in the Orkney Isles, and in exchange for an evening's entertainment, he can have it.

Then, they duly summon a couple of wenches into their quarters and spend their last night on earth, feasting on roasted venison, and then drinking and carousing and carousing and drinking some more, till they are so spent they can't stand upright. Their last deed is to clink their goblet's, toast each others health and then pass out, never to awaken.

I always remember this poem I read many years ago called :- "Oh, Let Me Die A Young Man's Death". Why, I can hear Bothwell roaring with laughter down the corridors of eternity......................"So be it. Thou impudent scribe. So be it!"

© Copyright 2019 Neil Killion. All rights reserved.

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