James Hepburn

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James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell

  • Name  : Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell
  • Born  : c.1535
  • Died  : 1578
  • Category  : Famous Historical Figures
  • Finest Moment : Blowing up Lord Darnley at Kirk

Plots, counterplots, and yet more plots. This story has it all. Best known as being the third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, Bothwell succeeded to the earldom when he was 21. He was a Protestant and strongly anti-English; this led him to support Mary of Guise, who was regent for the young Mary. On the death in 1560 of Mary of Lorraine, Mary Stuart assumed control of the government. A year later Bothwell became a member of her Privy Council.

In 1562, Bothwell was accused by the powerful but mad Earl of Arran of plotting to kidnap the Queen, and he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle in March of that year. He escaped the following summer, and after a period of detention reached France in September 1564.

Bothwell was recalled to Scotland in 1565, to help Mary suppress a rebellion by her half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, who had opposed her marriage in July 1565 to Lord Darnley. Bothwell acted with great resourcefulness, especially following the murder of her secretary, David Riccio (at the instigation of Darnley), in March 1566. By the end of the year, Bothwell was the most powerful noble in southern Scotland, and, after abducting Mary (probably with her persuasion), he divorced his own wife and married Mary.

Did I forget to mention that Darnley himself had been bumped off earlier in 1567' Bothwell almost certainly was involved in this murder, but covered his tracks well, marrying Mary on 15 May, 1567. Darnley, who was an effete waster, did manage to produce a child with Mary, a boy who would be James VI of Scotland, and James I of England, born in 1566.

Mary created Bothwell Duke of Orkney and Shetland the day before they married, and the couple were soon facing a series of revolts by both Protestant and Catholic nobles, who considered Bothwell a usurper. Mary's forces met the rebels at Carberry Hill near Edinburgh on 15 June, but her troops refused to fight. She then surrendered, on condition that Bothwell be allowed to flee. He went north at first, to Orkney and Shetland, then Norway.

In Norway, Bothwell was taken into custody by King Frederick II. In June 1573, following the ultimate collapse of Mary's cause in Scotland, Bothwell was locked up in solitary confinement where he died, insane, five years later. Mary meanwhile, had obtained an annulment of their marriage in 1570.

As a grotesque finale, Bothwell's body was embalmed, and exhibited in a church at Faarevejle in modern-day Denmark.

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