Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley

I’ve been in a nonfiction mood lately, so I’ve been reading Alison Weir’s Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, a title that pretty much says it all. Weir is quite sympathetic toward Mary, not at all toward Lord Darnley, which seems to be the general attitude of most of Mary’s biographers. I’ve been supplementing Weir with Caroline Bingham’s biography Darnley, a sympathetic yet judicious study of the victim of one of history’s most famous murders. (Edward II fans may recognize Bingham as the author of a well-written and fair-minded popular biography of that ill-fated king.)

Being the type of bleeding-heart Democrat that I am (which may explain why no one ever offered me a job at the Justice Department), I confess to a certain amount of sympathy for Darnley. Admittedly, he was involved in the murder of Mary’s secretary David Rizzio, though he was hardly alone in the enterprise and by the standards of the day might have thought it was morally justified based on his belief that Rizzio was having an affair with Mary. He appears to have been spoiled, self-indulgent, and petulant. During the first part of his marriage, at least, he was a heavy drinker, though he also engaged in wholesome activities such as hunting, hawking, riding, and (unusually) swimming. He may have had syphilis at the time of his death, though this doesn’t necessarily imply that he was more promiscuous than other men of his class; one unfortunate encounter in a brothel would have been enough. On the other hand, he was only twenty or twenty-one when he was murdered. While his character might have degenerated with age, it’s also possible that it might have improved, especially if he had fallen under the influence of a wise and disinterested advisor. Unfortunately, such were few and far between, even if he had been inclined to listen, and the deadly politics of his time left no room for error. Caroline Bingham sums his life up nicely when she says, “Darnley is a tragic figure as the victim of a brutal and ruthless crime; but he is even more tragic as a figure of unfulfilled promise.”

I haven’t read widely enough on the subject to have an opinion on whether Mary was implicated in her husband’s murder, though Weir exonerates her. Amazon has benefited greatly from my curiosity to learn more about this matter.

Speaking of books, we’ve now arrived at Day 8 of Waiting for Harley, though two people have assured me that the books were finally sent on June 18 (which, coincidentally, was also the first day of Waiting for Harley). I have plans for a blog celebration when and if the books finally arrive, so keep checking! I just hope the damn things were sent by air mail.

5 thoughts on “Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley”

  1. If Darnley lived today – he would probably be in college doing all of the above that you described (other than possibly arranging for someone’s murder) The rest really doesn’t sound so unusual….

  2. Susan Higginbotham

    Catherine, it is! (Though granted, I was smack in the middle of my law school class and probably wouldn’t have got the call even if I’d been a card-carrying Federalist Society member.)

    Susan, how true! I wasn’t particularly rowdy at age 20 or 21, but I nonetheless had a lot of growing up to do. I would hate to be remembered only for what I was like at that time.

  3. Susan,

    I just cannot find myself warming to Darnely – reminds me too much of Dudley (consort of Queen / Lady Jane Grey).

    I guess that is most likely due to the role reversal – a Queen Regnant with a male Consort – in a typically male chauvinsistic age.

  4. elena maria vidal

    People forget that Darnley was so young when he died. And he was immature for his age, too, and quite spoiled. He behaved like a brat but might have grown out of it, with the right handling. John Guy’s bio of Mary is extremely balanced and he also exonerates Mary of any complicity in the murder.

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