Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Lord Darnley

Mary Tried and Convicted

Mary was moved from castle to castle.  These moves were interspersed with a brief escape with subsequent recapture. Elizabeth bowed to the pressures of her advisors, and allowed Mary to be tried for the murder of Darnley.  The trial took place without Mary's being allowed to defend herself in person.  The principal evidence against her was the so-called Casket Letters. This series of documents appeared to be love letters and poems written to Bothwell before the murder. They suggested that Mary was in league with Bothwell (now rotting in a Danish prison). 

The Box that is said to have contained the Casket Letters
The Box that is said to have contained the Casket Letters

The Casket Letters, now lost and existing only in copies, have been a problem for scholars ever since their unveiling by Moray at Mary's trial.  Some of them may indeed have been written by Mary, but it is not clear to whom they had been truly addressed.  Others appear to be forgeries, implicating Mary as an unfaithful wife and libertine.  Whatever the conclusion at the time, the Casket Letters constitute very slim evidence in Mary's involvement in the murder of Darnley.  Even if they were true, they prove only motive for the murder, not complicity.  Mary was found guilty of having conspired to kill Darnley. Elizabeth did nothing, choosing to keep Mary as a prisoner.

A narrative drawing of Mary's trial
A narrative drawing of Mary's trial

In 1570, Moray, Regent of Scotland, was assassinated.  Darnley's father, Lord Lennox, was assassinated the following year.  Lord Morton, who succeeded Moray as Regent, was found guilty of treason and executed in 1581.  By this time, James VI, now fifteen years old, assumed the throne of Scotland without assistance from a regent.  Raised a Protestant, he essentially disavowed his mother and did nothing to help her.

Lord Moray
Lord Moray

The rest is sad history.  Mary was kept imprisoned for nineteen years.  It was only after the discovery of the Babington Plot (a plot to assassinate Elizabeth and to place Mary on the throne of England) that Elizabeth was faced with the problem of what to do with her troublesome cousin.  It is clear that Mary had been indiscrete when she had given her written approval of the plot.  What she had not been aware of was that she had been the victim of a sting, and that the entire plot had been devised to ensnare her into an act of treason.  Elizabeth's Lord of her Secret Service, Thomas Walsingham, had done his job well.  This time her trial led not only to a verdict of guilty, but a sentence as well.

 

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