Married to Lord Darnley, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, had been, by most accounts, subject to a horrendous period. After she was made to witness the murder of her secretary, Riccio, her advisors had decided that something need be done. A conference was held at Craigmillar Castle. Shortly afterward, Lord Darnley had been blown up at Kirk-o-Fields map.
The conference, famously known as The Conference of Craigmillar, between Mary and her nobles, regarded the problem of Lord Darnley and took place some time toward the end of 1566. Attending were Lethington, Argyll, the Lord Justice, Bothwell, his cousin, Sir James Balfour, later, President of the Court of Session, Huntly, the Chancellor, and Maitland, the Secretary, the former acting as spokesperson. A divorce had been proposed though this was rejected by the Queen: “Her Grace answerit, that under twa conditions she might understand the same – the ane, that the divorcement were made lawfully; the other, that it war not prejudice to her son – otherwise her hyness would rather endure all torments, and abyde the perils that might chance her in her grace’s lifetime.”
Resulting from the conference was a bond signed by four of those present, namely, Argyll, Huntly, Maitland and Bothwell (or so it was to be alleged). The bond, known as The Craigmillar Bond, stated, to the effect, “That forsaemickle it was thought expedient and maist profitable for the commonwealth, by the haill nobility and lords under subscryvit, that sic ane young fool and proud tyrant suld not reign or bear rule over them; and that for divers causes, therefore, they had all concluded that he suld be put off by ane way or another – and whosoever suld take the deed in hand, or do it, they suld defend and fortify it as themselves.” This, taken from an account in the Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials, cited from memory by the Laird of Ormiston during a confession for his part in the murder.
The Murder of Lord Darnley
Lord Darnley had been recovering from a spell of smallpox in Glasgow. At the behest of his wifeit was suggested he should continue his convalescence in the fresh air and ‘pleasant’
surroundings of Craigmillar Castle. This had been the plan. But at some point Darnley changed his mind and had begun to
suspect some danger and, upon advice from his circle, and, not least, considering the evil deeds that had previously befallen the Earl of Mar, had instead returned to one his town houses, Kirk-o-Fields, just inside the town walls.
Only a few months after the murder of Darnley, the Queen married Bothwell, a leading actor, it was generally regarded, in the plot. The Laird of Ormiston, having been convicted of the murder at a trial six years later, had made a confession during his last moments such that Bothwell had spoken to him just two days before the murderous deed and that he “utterly refused to join the plot”. Bothwell, at this time, had shown him the Bond, drawn up by Sir James Balfour,and signed by Huntly, Argyll, Maitland and Sir James. In Birrel’s Diary, it had been noted that, on the 3rd January, 1568, four of Bothwell’s servitors “ver hangit and quarted, and their bodies brunt for murther of ye King”. Over the years, and after much quarrelling between those concerned, also found guilty and convicted of being “art and part” to the crime were the Regent Morton, Archibald Douglas, Sir James Balfour, Maitland, Huntly, Argyll and a number others. Though publicly charged, nothing was ever discovered which could incriminate the Queen, nor, indeed, Bothwell. Tom Speedy, in his excellent book, Craigmillar and its Environs, explains “From this fact many have concluded that the Queen could not have been altogether ignorant of the dark deed consummated at Kirk-of-Field.”
Bothwell subsequently escaped to Denmark and died there in 1578. Mary, Queen of Scots abdicated the throne and fled to England seeking refuge with Queen Elizabeth I of England. She was later to be found guilty of treason and a plot to assassinate Elizabeth and was famously put to death by way of a clumsily executed beheading.