We take a closer look at the life and times of Henry Stuart Lord Darnley, and what made him one of the monarchy’s most interesting members.
If you want tales of treason, infidelity, invasions, war, ransom, murder, revenge, and much more besides, forget about period dramas, forget about Game of Thrones, and forget about Horrible Histories, and instead let’s learn more about the British monarchy.
When we think of famous monarchs, names such as Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Mary, Queen of Scots immediately spring to mind. It’s Mary, Queen of Scots, whom we will be focussing on today, though the piece we’re covering today isn’t about her at all, but rather her second husband, Henry Stuart (sometimes spelt Stewart) Lord Darnley.
Lord Darnley was Mary, Queen of Scotland’s second husband, and was the father of a future king, James I of England and VI of Scotland. He lived an eventful, yet ultimately tragic life, which royal enthusiasts still focus on to this day.
Here’s a look at the life and times of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.
Who Was Lord Darnley?
Despite being one of the monarchy’s most interesting members, it’s hard to believe that Lord Darnley was not even 23 years of age when he passed away.
Born in 1545 and dying on the 10th of February 1567, it’s safe to say that Darnley was a slightly controversial character. We say controversial in that he made himself about as popular with the noblemen and women of Scotland as a Vegan activist would be at a BBQ cook-off.
The second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, not to mention being her cousin, Darnley was the great-grandson of King Henry VII of England.
Murdered at Kirk o’ Field in 1567, Darnley would be given many titles in his short life, including the Earl of Ross, the Duke of Albany, and King Consort of Scotland before his gruesome and somewhat controversial demise.
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was a Yorkshire lad as he was born in Temple Newsam, Leeds, Yorkshire in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in what many believe to be 1545. There is, however, evidence to suggest that he was actually born in 1546, though this has not been confirmed.
As Henry Stuart was a descendent of both James II of Scotland and Henry VII of England, Darnley was actually considered to be a fairly powerful individual as he had potential claims to both the English, and the Scottish thrones.
His father, Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox, was found guilty of treason when he was still a baby, as his father sided with the English against the Scottish in the Battle of Rough Wooing. His father would go into exile for 22 years.
Henry was a very bright and intelligent young boy, and from a young age, he understood his royal status, as well as his inheritance. He would become fluent in Latin, as well as Gaelic, French, and of course, English.
Unlike many other young boys his age, because of his royal standing, he received a very comprehensive education. As well as studying languages, he was also quite the showman and would often flex his creative muscles, as he mastered the lute, and was quite the singer and the dancer.
As he grew older he proved to be quite athletic and mastered horsemanship and weaponry, and was very interested in hunting and hawking.
Marriage To Mary
By 1565, Darnley found himself in Edinburgh after leaving London. His mother had been keen for him to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, despite them being related, and Mary being 4 years older than him, which in those days was quite the age gap.
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley would present himself to Mary Wemyss Castle, Fife. This wouldn’t be the first time the lord had attempted to woo Mary, however, as previously his mother had sent him to France in an attempt to seduce Mary after the death of her first husband. Sadly for Darnley, and indeed, his mother, nothing would come of this meeting.
When Lord Darnley travelled to Scotland however, he was 19 years of age now, and this time he and Mary would grow close.
To begin with, he would associate with Mary as part of a close group, rather than just the pair of them. Of course, the two would talk, and they formed a bit of a bond, but they were rarely alone. One day, however, Henry would contract measles and fall very sick, and it was Mary who visited his bedside and helped nurse him back to health.
By the time he recovered, Mary had fallen for him and the two formed a romantic relationship. On the 29th of July, 1565, the two were married.
Mary would fall pregnant shortly afterwards, and it was here where cracks began to appear in their relationship. Henry Stuart was unhappy with his royal standing and his titles, and he felt he should become the King of Scots. This really ticked off pretty much everybody, and people began to lose respect for the young man.
Darnley was talked into staging a coup against his own wife, but Mary would outwit her husband and talk him into helping her flee from Edinburgh and away from those plotting to dethrone her. Shortly afterwards in 1566, she would go on to give birth to a son.
People often talk about Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley’s grandchildren, as his son was James VI, the future king of Scotland. He would go on to have six children in total, though of course, Henry Stuart Lord Darnley, would never get to meet his grandchildren, as he would die when his son was just one year of age.
In 1567, Darnley would fall ill and would contract smallpox, though some believe it was actually syphilis due to his exploits behind his wife’s back.
He was taken to Provost House, Edinburgh, by Mary, who once again nursed him, just as she had when she first fell in love with him. The house was attached to a church known as Kirk O’ Field.
In the early hours of the 10th of February, as Darnley lay in bed recovering, the house he was staying in was rocked by a huge explosion caused by two barrels of gunpowder. The blast didn’t kill Lord Darnley, as he was found in the orchard outside, dead, as it looked as if he had been smothered to death, though some historians believe he had been strangled.
Darnley had annoyed virtually everybody in Scotland, so suspects were everywhere, though it is believed that James Hepburn was behind the blast and subsequent suffocating of the lord. Hepburn was said to be in collusion with Mary.
Mary had lost support by marrying Darnley, and then by turning against him, the public turned against her and she was swiftly ousted from power.
Feature Image: Blair Castle, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons