How to use Timeline

You can move up and down the timeline using the date bands: the bottom band moves you along centuries quickly and the middle bank moves along decades. Click on individual events to see more details and description.

Timeline of Scottish History

A timeline of events in Scottish History!. Scroll through a growing chronology of events and click on them for more details and links


“Let none of them escape” was Elizabeth’s message to the gaolers of Mary and her companions at Carlisle.  The unhappy queen prayed to see her in whose hospitality she had confided, or to be allowed to depart free.  Elizabeth’s policy was to lead her into consenting to reply to her subjects’ accusations, and Mary drifted into the shuffling English inquiries at York in October, while she was lodged at Bolton Castle.  Murray, George Buchanan, Lethington (now distrusted by Murray), and Morton produced, for Norfolk and other English Commissioners at York, copies, at least, of the incriminating letters which horrified the Duke of Norfolk.  Yet, probably through the guile of Lethington, he changed his mind, and became a suitor for Mary’s hand.  He bade her refuse compromise, whereas compromise was Lethington’s hope: a full and free inquiry would reveal his own guilt in Darnley’s murder.  The inquiry was shifted to London in December, Mary always being refused permission to appear and speak for herself; nay, she was not allowed even to see the letters which she was accused of having written.  Her own Commissioners, Lord Herries and Bishop Lesley, who (as Mary knew in Herries’s case) had no faith in her innocence, showed their want of confidence by proposing a compromise; this was not admitted.  Morton explained how he got the silver casket with the fatal letters, poems to Bothwell, and other papers; they were read in translations, English and Scots; handwritings were compared, with no known result; evidence was heard, and Elizabeth, at last, merely decided—that she could not admit Mary to her presence.  The English Lords agreed, “as the case does now stand,” and presently many of them were supporting Norfolk in his desire to marry the accused.  Murray was told (January 10, 1669) that he had proved nothing which could make Elizabeth “take any evil opinion of the queen, her good sister,” nevertheless, Elizabeth would support him in his government of Scotland, while declining to recognise James VI. as king.

All compromises Mary now utterly refused: she would live and die a queen.  Henceforth the tangled intrigues cannot be disengaged in a work of this scope.  Elizabeth made various proposals to Mary, all involving her resignation as queen, or at least the suspension of her rights.  Mary refused to listen; her party in Scotland, led by Châtelherault, Herries, Huntly, and Argyll, did not venture to meet Murray and his party in war, and was counselled by Lethington, who still, in semblance, was of Murray’s faction.  Lethington was convinced that, sooner or later, Mary would return; and he did not wish to incur “her particular ill-will.”  He knew that Mary, as she said, “had that in black and white which would hang him” for the murder of Darnley.  Now Lethington, Huntly, and Argyll were daunted, without stroke of sword, by Murray, and a Convention to discuss messages from Elizabeth and Mary met at Perth (July 25-28, 1569), and refused to allow the annulment of her marriage with Bothwell, though previously they had insisted on its annulment.  Presently Lethington was publicly accused of Darnley’s murder by Crawford, a retainer of Lennox; was imprisoned, but was released by Kirkcaldy, commander in Edinburgh Castle, which henceforth became the fortress of Mary’s cause.

The secret of Norfolk’s plan to marry the Scottish queen now reached Elizabeth, making her more hostile to Mary; an insurrection in the North broke out; the Earl of Northumberland was driven into Scotland, was betrayed by Hecky Armstrong, and imprisoned at Loch Leven.  Murray offered to hand over Northumberland to Elizabeth in exchange for Mary, her life to be guaranteed by hostages, but, on January 23, 1570, Murray was shot by Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh from a window of a house in Linlithgow belonging to Archbishop Hamilton.  The murderer escaped and joined his clan.  During his brief regency, Murray had practically detached Huntly and Argyll from armed support of Mary’s cause; he had reduced the Border to temporary quiet by the free use of the gibbet; but he had not ventured to face Lethington’s friends and bring him to trial: if he had, many others would have been compromised.  Murray was sly and avaricious, but, had he been legitimate, Scotland would have been well governed under his vigour and caution.


Randolph was now sent to Edinburgh to make peace between Mary’s party and her foes impossible.  He succeeded; the parties took up arms, and Sussex ravaged the Border in revenge of a raid by Buccleuch.  On May 14, Lennox, with an English force, was sent north: he devastated the Hamilton country; was made Regent in July; and, in April 1571, had his revenge on Archbishop Hamilton, who was taken at the capture, by Crawford, of Dumbarton Castle, held by Lord Fleming, a post of vital moment to the Marians; and was hanged at Stirling for complicity in the slaying of Murray.  George Buchanan, Mary’s old tutor, took advantage of these facts to publish quite a fresh account of Darnley’s murder: the guilt of the Hamiltons now made that of Bothwell almost invisible!

Edinburgh Castle, under Kirkcaldy with Lethington, held out; Knox reluctantly retired from Edinburgh to St Andrews, where he was unpopular; but many of Mary’s Lords deserted her, and though Lennox was shot (September 4) in an attack by Buccleuch and Ker of Ferniehirst on Stirling Castle, where he was holding a Parliament, he was succeeded by Mar, who was inspired by Morton, a far stronger man.  Presently the discovery of a plot between Mary, Norfolk, the English Catholics, and Spain, caused the Duke’s execution, and more severe incarceration for Mary.

In Scotland there was no chance of peace.  Morton and his associates would not resign the lands of the Hamiltons, Lethington, and Kirkcaldy; Lethington knew that no amnesty would cover his guilt (though he had been nominally cleared) in the slaying of Darnley.  One after the other of Mary’s adherents made their peace; but Kirkcaldy and Lethington, in Edinburgh Castle, seemed safe while money and supplies held out.  Knox had prophesied that Kirkcaldy would be hanged, but did not live to see his desire on his enemy, or on Mary, whom Elizabeth was about to hand over to Mar for instant execution.  Knox died on November 24, 1572; Mar, the Regent, had predeceased him by a month, leaving Morton in power.  On May 28, 1573, the castle, attacked by guns and engineers from England, and cut off from water, struck its flag.  The brave Kirkcaldy was hanged; Lethington, who had long been moribund, escaped by an opportune death.  The best soldier in Scotland and the most modern of her wits thus perished together.  Concerning Knox, the opinions of his contemporaries differed.  By his own account the leaders of his party deemed him “too extreme,” and David Hume finds his ferocious delight in chronicling the murders of his foes “rather amusing,” though sad!  Quarrels of religion apart, Knox was a very good-hearted man; but where religion was concerned, his temper was remote from the Christian.  He was a perfect agitator; he knew no tolerance, he spared no violence of language, and in diplomacy, when he diplomatised, he was no more scrupulous than another.  Admirably vigorous and personal as literature, his History needs constant correction from documents.  While to his secretary, Bannatyne, Knox seemed “a man of God, the light of Scotland, the mirror of godliness”; many silent, douce folk among whom he laboured probably agreed in the allegation quoted by a diarist of the day, that Knox “had, as was alleged, the most part of the blame of all the sorrows of Scotland since the slaughter of the late Cardinal.”

In these years of violence, of “the Douglas wars” as they were called, two new tendencies may be observed.  In January 1572, Morton induced an assembly of preachers at Leith to accept one of his clan, John Douglas, as Archbishop of St Andrews: other bishops were appointed, called Tulchan bishops, from the tulchan or effigy of a calf employed to induce cows to yield their milk.  The Church revenues were drawn through these unapostolic prelates, and came into the hands of the State, or at least of Morton.  With these bishops, superintendents co-existed, but not for long.  “The horns of the mitre” already began to peer above Presbyterian parity, and Morton is said to have remarked that there would never be peace in Scotland till some preachers were hanged.  In fact, there never was peace between Kirk and State till a deplorable number of preachers were hanged by the Governments of Charles II. and James II.

A meeting of preachers in Edinburgh, after the Bartholomew massacre, in the autumn of 1572, demanded that “it shall be lawful to all the subjects in this realm to invade them and every one of them to the death.”  The persons to be “invaded to the death” are recalcitrant Catholics, “grit or small,” persisting in remaining in Scotland. {137}

The alarmed demands of the preachers were merely disregarded by the Privy Council.  The ruling nobles, as Bishop Lesley says, would never gratify the preachers by carrying out the bloody penal Acts to their full extent against Catholics.  There was no expulsion of all Catholics who dared to stay; no popular massacre of all who declined to go.  While Morton was in power he kept the preachers well in hand.  He did worse: he starved the ministers, and thrust into the best livings wanton young gentlemen, of whom his kinsman, Archibald Douglas, an accomplice in Darnley’s death and a trebly-dyed traitor, was the worst.  But in 1575, the great Andrew Melville, an erudite scholar and a most determined person, began to protest against the very name of bishop in the Kirk; and in Adamson, made by Morton successor of John Douglas at St Andrews, Melville found a mark and a victim.  In economics, as an English diplomatist wrote to Cecil in November 1572, the country, despite the civil war, was thriving; “the noblemen’s great credit decaying, . . . the ministry and religion increaseth, and the desire in them to prevent the practice of the Papists.”  The Englishman, in November, may refer to the petition for persecution of October 20, 1572.

The death of old Châtelherault now left the headship of the Hamiltons in more resolute hands; Morton was confronted by opposition from Argyll, Atholl, Buchan, and Mar; and Morton, in 1576-1577, made approaches to Mary.  When the young James VI. came to his majority Morton’s enemies would charge him with his guilty foreknowledge, through Both well, of Darnley’s murder, so he made advances to Mary in hope of an amnesty.  She suspected a trap and held aloof.

Print Email