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earl of Bothwell James Hepburn

(c. 1535—1566)


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B. c.1535, s. of Patrick, earl of Bothwell, and Agnes Sinclair, da. of Henry, Lord Sinclair; m.(1) Jane Gordon, da. of George Gordon, earl of Huntly, 24 Feb. 1566; (2) Mary Stewart, 15 May 1567; illeg. issue: William; d. Dragsholm, Denmark, 14 Apr. 1578; bur. Faarvejle.

Succeeding to the earldom in 1556, Bothwell loyally served the dowager Mary of Guise, despite being protestant, and was sent by her to France in 1559, to become briefly gentleman of the chamber to the newly acceded Francis II. A man of action rather than a statesman, Bothwell became one of the most powerful magnates in the Borders, strongly anti-English, and described by Throckmorton as ‘a [vain]glorious, rash and hazardous young man’.

He had no part in the murder of Rizzio, but as Darnley became an increasing problem, the queen's predilection for Bothwell grew noticeably. If he did not personally murder Darnley, he was generally believed to have planned the death, but when placed on trial, the absence of submitted evidence could only result in acquittal. Bothwell's abduction of the queen and conveyance to his castle at Dunbar (21 April) was almost certainly collusive, and led to considerable revulsion. Conveniently, his first marriage was deemed to have been with the ‘forbidden degrees’ of consanguinity, so was annulled, and marriage to Mary took place on 15 May, three days after his creation as duke of Orkney. Even Mary was aware he could not be created king, but the nobles' hostility forced an encounter at Carberry Hill. Bothwell went first to Shetland, then Norway, where he was arrested and detained as a state prisoner. Escaping execution and extradition, he wrote a brief vindication of his actions, Les Affaires du Comte de Boduel, and was moved between prisons, ending at Dragsholm on Zealand, where he died insane and was buried in the nearby church of Faarvejle.

Subjects: British History.


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