Mary, Queen of Scots Downfall Book ReviewPosted: 2018-01-29
Mary Queen of Scots' Downfall: The Life and Murder of Henry, Lord Darnley
by Robert Stedall
On 10 February 1567, a terrifying explosion split the night, wreaking destruction in the Old Provost's Lodging in Kirk o' Field, Edinburgh. One of those staying in the Old Provost's Lodging that night was Henry, Lord Darnley, the estranged husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. Darnley's body was found the following morning, but not in the wreckage of the house but in a neighbouring garden.
On examination of the body and that of Darnley's valet, who was found beside him, it was found that Darnley had not been killed in the blast but had been suffocated.
But by whom?
To this day Darnley's murder remains one of British history's most notorious and controversial unsolved crimes.
Historian Robert Stedall sets out to investigate 'King Henry' Darnley's murder and how the tragic events of 10 February helped bring about the fall from power of Mary, Queen of Scots and her abdication in favour of her infant son James.
The book is an exceptionally well-researched historical whodunit. It plunges the reader into the murky waters of Scottish politics and religion and describes in minute detail the machinations of Mary's enemies and her own misguided decisions in the aftermath of her husband's death.
The book begins, not with a murder, but with a marriage. The marriage was that of Darnley's parents Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox, and Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII's niece. Stedall looks at how the Lennoxes manoeuvred to have Margaret named as heir to the English throne. When that failed, they altered their ambitions in favour of their son, eventually managing to engineer his marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots.
Henry Darnley was an unsavoury character, and treated Mary badly, no more so than by his murder of her secretary, David Rizzio. Darnley made powerful enemies, and Mary had every right to be among them.
Mary has often been portrayed as a romantic figure, a tragic victim of circumstances beyond her control, pushed this way and that by the machinations of her nobles and under the thumb of James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell, who would become her second husband.
The author has no hesitation, however, in laying the blame for Mary's fall from power squarely at her own feet.
He argues convincingly that Mary showed poor judgement throughout her reign, especially in her decision to marry Darnley in the first place, and extreme naivety in her unfounded belief that she would be acceptable as an heir to her cousin Elizabeth I's English throne despite her refusal to consider renouncing her Catholic faith.
He does not argue, as some historians have, that Mary was implicated in her husband's death, but points out that she showed extremely poor judgement in her actions following Darnley's murder. In particular, she did not immediately distance herself from Bothwell, even when he was put on trial for the murder.
More importantly, she organised Bothwell's trial so that it was perceived as a whitewash, and following that up by marrying him shortly thereafter even though most people considered him guilty of murdering her first husband.
But if Bothwell did not murder Darnley, who did?
Stedall has no qualms about naming the murderer. According to the author, the murderer was Archibald Douglas of Whittingham, the 6th Earl of Angus, acting on behalf of James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton. They were part of a wider conspiracy headed by Mary's illegitimate half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray.
Though these Scottish nobles played an active role in Darnley's murder the figure in the shadows, pulling the strings, was Elizabeth I's chief minister, William Cecil.
The book is beautifully written, with a copious bibliography of historical sources and arguments by modern historians. Mary Queen of Scots' Downfall is available online at Amazon and directly from Pen and Sword publishers.