Just Who Was James Hepburn 4th Earl Of Bothwell?

We take a close look at the life of James Hepburn 4th Earl of Bothwell and how his life made an impact on history.

If you want a story of murder, jealousy, revolts, incarceration, rebellion, and execution, you’ve come to the right place and you’re about to read about the right nobleman.

James Hepburn 4th Earl of Bothwell was a man believed to be responsible for the probable murder of Lord Darley and becoming 3rd husband of Mary Queen of Scots and being responsible for her eventual downfall.

James Hepburn 4th Earl of Bothwell was a controversial man, and some would say a wicked man, but why the reputation and was it justified or was he somewhat misunderstood? To help you decide, here’s a look at the life and times of one of the most controversial figures in history, James Hepburn 4th Earl of Bothwell.

Early Life

James Hepburn 4th Earl of Bothwell was born in 1534 and was the son of the 3rd Earl of Bothwell, Patrick Hepburn, and Agnes Sinclair. From birth, he was styled as ‘The Master of Bothwell’ and in 1556 he succeeded Lord Hailes and his father.

In 1559 he visited Copenhagen, Denmark, and fell in love with Anna Throndsen, a Norwegian noblewoman who was also known as Anna Tronds.

The two married and left the country. While in Flanders, Bothwell claimed he was out of money and asked his wife to sell all her possessions for him. She agreed and returned to Denmark to ask for more money from her family.

Shortly after she became unhappy with James Hepburn 4th Earl Of Bothwell and would often complain about him and his selfish tendencies.

Hepburn was a known adulterer and would go on to re-marry in 1566.

Just Who Was The Prominent Scottish Nobleman James Hepburn 4th Earl Of Bothwell?
Portrait of the Earl of Bothwell, 1566. Unknown Painter, Public Domain.

Marriage And Murder

James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell’s spouses

After marrying in 1566, James Hepburn 4th Earl Of Bothwell was divorced a year later after admitting to an affair with Bessie Crawford. Shortly after, he would go on to marry Mary Queen of Scots.

In 1567, James Hepburn was accused of murdering Mary’s previous husband, Lord Darnley, along with Mary.

Just Who Was The Prominent Scottish Nobleman James Hepburn 4th Earl Of Bothwell?
Mary with her second husband, Lord Darnley. | Image: © National Trust Photographic Library / Bridgeman Images.

While on trial, it was obvious that it was rigged as witnesses were intimidated or bribed not to appear and testify against the Earl. New evidence would come to light years later, pointing to the fact that both Mary and Hepburn had plotted and conspired to murder Darnley in what is now known as the ‘Craigmillar Bond’.

After proposing to Mary, she allegedly turned him down and so he would kidnap her and take her to Dunbar Castle, sexually assault her, and again propose to her. This time she agreed, despite the fact that he was still married.

This instigated revulsion and the two would flee to Dunbar Castle. On the 15th of June, 1567, Mary, James Hepburn 4th Earl Of Bothwell, and their supporters were confronted by dissident Scottish nobles and their army at Carberry Hill.

Just Who Was The Prominent Scottish Nobleman James Hepburn 4th Earl Of Bothwell?
Portrait by François Clouet, c. 1558–1560. | Royal Collection Trust.

James Hepburn 4th Earl Of Bothwell fled to Orkney and then to Norway, leaving his wife to be captured, imprisoned in England, and executed for treason.

Just Who Was The Prominent Scottish Nobleman James Hepburn 4th Earl Of Bothwell?
Arms of James Hepburn, 1st Duke of Orkney. | Image: Sodacan, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Death Of James Hepburn 4th Earl Of Bothwell

After going into exile, James Hepburn 4th Earl Of Bothwell was eventually imprisoned at Dragsholm Castle in horrendous conditions. He would die in April 1578 aged 44, likely due to the conditions in which he was imprisoned in.

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