The Earl of Mo­ray

Mary’s half-brother turned out to be her great­est en­emy

BBC History Magazine - - Cover Story -

Mo­ray vis­ited the cap­tive Mary, who was weak­ened by sick­ness and a mis­car­riage, and coolly told her that she must ab­di­cate

On the face of it, Mary’s half­brother was her great­est sup­porter. He had ac­com­pa­nied her to France when she was five, had been a long-term ad­vi­sor and, when Mary was first wid­owed, had coun­selled her to re­turn to Scot­land to take the throne.

But Mo­ray’s mo­tives were du­bi­ous. He wanted power for him­self and – ham­pered by a weak claim to the throne, due to his il­le­git­i­mate sta­tus as the son of James V and his mis­tress, Lady Mar­garet Ersk­ine – saw Mary as the fastest way of gain­ing it. She would rule as a fig­ure­head for him. But Mary was hav­ing none of it, and so be­gan Mo­ray’s re­peated at­tempts to un­seat her.

Mary’s mar­riage to Lord Darn­ley in­fu­ri­ated Mo­ray be­cause he feared this new ri­val would seize his lands and re­duce his power. And so Mo­ray and his al­lies plot­ted Darn­ley’s mur­der. When the deed was fi­nally done, he cun­ningly de­flected the blame on to Mary, en­cour­ag­ing her to leave the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the coun­cil of lords that had been ap­pointed to ad­vise her. But the coun­cil did lit­tle to find the mur­der­ers.

Mary sur­vived this at­tack on her throne, but her luck wouldn’t last. So un­pop­u­lar was her mar­riage to Both­well that it gave Mo­ray the op­por­tu­nity to gather around him an ar­ray of Scot­tish lords and make a fi­nal mil­i­tary at­tack to win power. He suc­ceeded, took Mary cap­tive and locked her in iso­lated Lochleven Cas­tle. There, Mo­ray vis­ited the queen, who was weak­ened by sick­ness and a mis­car­riage, and coolly told her that she must ab­di­cate. In 1568, she es­caped (with the aid of the brother of the cas­tle’s owner) and fled to Eng­land.

Mo­ray now bus­ied him­self di­vid­ing up Mary’s trea­sures – both the queen of France, Cather­ine de Medici, and El­iz­a­beth I sought to buy his sis­ter’s fa­mous black pearls. He had gained the power and the riches he had craved – while act­ing as re­gent for Mary’s son, James – un­til he was shot in Lin­lith­gow in 1570. Power in Scot­land was a dan­ger­ous game.

Mo­ray was a chief en­gi­neer of Mary’s down­fall, lock­ing up the queen and forc­ing her to ab­di­cate

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