When you think of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley a couple of things come to mind – his tumultuous marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots and his scandalous death that made Mary herself the prime suspect. But what do you know about Darnley prior to his marriage to the Queen of Scots?
Henry Stuart was born 7 December 1545 to Margaret Douglas and her husband Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox in England. Named after King Henry VIII, Darnley’s mother was the daughter of Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister) and her second husband, Archibald Douglas. His father was third in line to the throne of Scotland as a descendant of James II of Scotland – so between his two parents he had a strong claim to both the English and Scottish thrones.
The upbringing of Henry Stuart was much like that of a prince or princess of England. He had tutors and was taught Latin, French and was familiar with Scottish Gaelic as well. As any noble he excelled at singing, playing the lute and dancing. Very similar to his great-uncle Henry VIII, he was strong, athletic, a good horseman and had a passion for hunting and hawking.
From early on it seems that Henry’s mother, Margaret Douglas had a hand in everything that Henry did. She may have also pushed Henry to wed his first cousin, the Queen of Scots. What desire did Margaret have to place her son on the throne of Scotland? Did it have something to do with the fact that Margaret felt she deserved to have a piece of Scotland for herself since her half-brother was James V, or that she felt Scotland owed her something after what it had done to her mother, Margaret Tudor? To learn more about that read: The Thistle and the Rose: English Princess, Scottish Queen
King Henry II of France died from a jousting accident in 1559 – Darnley, just 13-years-old, was sent by both his parents (since they were not allowed in the country) to send his condolences and to have a formal audience with the Queen of Scots. Darnley carried a letter from his father in which he pleaded to have his forfeited Scottish estates restored to his family. This would be the first meeting between Darnley and Mary.
In 1560, after the untimely death of Mary’s first husband, King Francis II of France, Darnley, now 15-years-old, was again sent to France to meet with his grieving cousin. Were his parents intentionally positioning him in front of Mary in hopes that she would wed him next? It turns out that nothing came from the 1560 meeting between the two cousins, other than an offering of condolences.
In 1561, both Henry Stuart and his mother were imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth, but they were released soon after. This imprisonment probably had something to do with the fact that Margaret wanted her son to take the throne of England after Elizabeth’s death – as we learned from Henry VIII, to even think of the King’s death was treason. After their release Darnley spent time at English court before eventually heading to Scotland.
In February 1565 , the now 19-year-old Darnley traveled to Scotland to meet-up with his father, Earl of Lennox. During this visit Henry fell ill with the measles while staying at Stirling Castle and the Queen of Scots took it upon herself to nurse him back to health. This is when Mary fell in love with the young Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.
“Darnley was tall and lanky and extremely good looking, making a huge impression on Mary right away. It is believed Elizabeth knew he was difficult and a drinker and sent him to Mary, knowing she would fall for him.”
Most of Mary’s advisers were against the love match, as was Queen Elizabeth – but Mary being the independent love-bird she was, moved forward anyway. Henry Stuart and Mary, Queen of Scots married in the chapel of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh on 29 July 1565.
The marriage between Henry Stuart and the Queen of Scots infuriated the Queen of England. By marrying Henry Stuart, Mary strengthened her claim to the English throne and become a bigger threat to Elizabeth’s reign.
By the Fall of 1565 Mary was pregnant with Darnley’s child. They would have a boy, named James – who would later become King James VI of Scotland and James I of England.
In February 1567, Lord Darnley was murdered at Kirk o’ Field.
Whether or not Darnley was a pawn is left up to your interpretation. It is completely possible that Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley fell in love with Mary, Queen of Scots and wanted to marry her, but it’s also possible that he was hungry for power and would do whatever it took to get it – including manipulating a Queen.
What do YOU believe?
*This article was originally written by Rebecca Larson for Tudors Weekly