B. 7 Dec. 1545, s. of Matthew Stewart, earl of Lennox, and Margaret Douglas; m. Mary Stewart, 29 July 1565; issue: James; d. Edinburgh, 10 Feb. 1567; bur. Holyrood.
Descended from James II on his father's side, and grandson of Margaret Tudor on his mother's, Henry Stewart was next to Mary in line to the English throne, but since he had been born and brought up in England as a result of his father's forfeiture, many thought his claim the stronger. Darnley had been spoken of as a possible husband for Mary, and when Lennox returned to Scotland and rehabilitation in 1564, his nineteen-year-old son soon followed. Mary found him ‘the lustiest and best proportionit lang [tall] man sche had seen’, and their marriage was celebrated before papal dispensation arrived. Darnley's elevation to kingship prompted a minor rebellion among the protestant lords, but more serious was the realization that he was unfit for a real share in power, being vain and irresponsible. Darnley was not the only one to feel threatened by Rizzio, but it was his dagger that was left prominently in the secretary's corpse. His reconciliation with Mary was short-lived, and indifference turned to loathing: he withdrew to Stirling, failed to attend his son's christening, then went to Glasgow to his father, to recover from what was euphemistically termed ‘smallpox’. Eventually returning with Mary to Edinburgh, badly disfigured, he convalesced at Kirk o'Field, which was healthier than Holyrood, but was never to return to public life.
The real truth about Darnley's murder may never be known, and there was probably more than one conspiracy behind it. A reasonable reconstruction postulates that he tried to escape semi-naked from the Old Provost's Lodging, was caught by the men below, and smothered; with the realization that the house would shortly explode from the gunpowder in the cellars, his body was laid in the nearby orchard, where it was found later uninjured. Mary's complicity in the deed has never been wholly established.
Subjects: British History.