Scotlands History

Murder of Darnley

On the night of 9 February 1567, the Provost’s lodgings at Kirk o’ Field where Lord Darnley was staying were destroyed by a massive explosion. Darnley’s body was found in a neighbouring garden the next morning. The Queen’s husband had been murdered. He was 21 years old.

Darnley was unwell - he had contracted either smallpox or, more likely, syphilis. He had been convalescing in Glasgow, staying in a cottage near the Cathedral. Mary had visited Darnley, lodging at the Provand's Lordship. At the beginning of February, Darnley was taken to Edinburgh and lodged in rooms in the upper floor of the Old Provost’s House at Kirk o’ Field, at the edge of town.

A plot to assassinate Darnley took shape. The cellars under his rooms were secretly packed with gunpowder. In the evening of the murder, Mary rode with her following to visit Darnley. She had attended the wedding of one of her ladies-in-waiting earlier that day and soon returned to Holyroodhouse to attend a masque to celebrate the marriage.

At two in the morning a violent explosion ripped through the house at Kirk o’ Field. It could be heard throughout Edinburgh and was thought to be cannon fire by guests at Holyroodhouse. The bodies of Darnley, and his servant Taylor, were discovered in their nightshirts. They had suffered no burns or bruising and it was quickly said that they had been strangled or smothered.

It has often been said that the murder of Lord Darnley is ‘one of the great unsolved mysteries of Scottish history’. At the time suspicion immediately fell on James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. Mary was later accused of being part of the conspiracy to murder her husband. Placards with Bothwell’s insignia and depictions of Mary as a mermaid (a symbol for a prostitute) appeared in Edinburgh.

  • Detail of a map showing two partly clothed male bodies

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