Who were the husbands of Mary Queen of Scots?

04 July 2022
The story of the three husbands of Mary Queen of Scots: Francis II of France, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell.

Mary Queen of Scots was married three times, to:

  • Francis II of France (1558-1560)
  • Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (1565-1567)
  • James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell (1567-1578)

Although each of these marriages was short-lived, every one of these unions made an impact on Scottish history.

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Mary Queen of Scots and Francis II of France

Mary was aged just fifteen when she was married to Francis, although the pair had been betrothed ten years earlier.

Francis was the eldest son of Henry II of France and Catherine de’Medici and as such, heir to the French throne at the time of the marriage.

Francis and Mary were well known to each other at the time of their nuptials, since Mary had been brought up in the French royal court, following the death of her father King James V of Scotland when she was just five days old.
Mary’s mother Marie de Guise had arranged the marriage when Mary and Francis were infants, and so Mary was brought  up knowing she would one day be queen of France and Scotland.
The wedding took place at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, however less than a year after the ceremony, Francis’s father Henry II died and the young couple became king and queen of France.
Despite the fact that Mary was also queen of Scotland, she knew little of the land of her birth. The untimely death of Francis in 5 December 1560 changed Mary’s future and meant she would return to Scotland to claim her throne, leaving Francis’s ten-year-old brother Charles to inherit his brother’s title of king.
Read about the death of Francis II here.

Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart Lord Darnley

Mary’s second husband was Henry Stuart Lord Darnley, her cousin. The wedding took place on 29 July 1565 in the chapel of Holyrood Palace.

Mary, aged 22, described her 19-year-old groom as ‘the lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen’ but her infatuation was to be her downfall, and her initial happiness didn’t last.

Within two months of the wedding, Mary was pregnant with the future King James VI.

Not only had Darnley’s arrogant behaviour during the early months of the marriage angered many of the Scottish nobles, but it had also incurred the displeasure of Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was angry to see Darnley, as her English subject, marry the Queen of Scots, who was herself in line to the throne of England.

On 9 February 1567, Darnley was found dead outside a dwelling in Kirk o’Field, Edinburgh, following an explosion.

The king consort had been murdered and many believed Mary had played a part in his death. The fact that she married her third husband, the Earl of Bothwell, shortly after the murder, did little to help her cause.

You can read more about Darnley here.

Mary Queen of Scots and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell

Mary’s third and final marriage began and ended with controversy.

James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell was a Scottish nobleman who was accused of Darnley’s murder, although he was later acquitted. On 24 April 1567, Bothwell, with a force of 800 men, kidnapped Mary whilst she was riding between Linlithgow and Edinburgh.

Telling the queen that he had kidnapped her for her own safety, Mary was either raped by Bothwell or agreed to consummate her relationship with him (accounts vary) and on 15 May the pair were married at Holyrood Palace.

With the Scottish nobles divided over the union, a stand-off between the two sides took place at Carberry Hill on 15 June 1567, from which Bothwell fled, never to see his wife again.

He died a prisoner at Dragsholm Castle in Denmark in 1578.

Days after this final meeting, Mary fled Scotland to seek refuge in England, hoping for the protection of Elizabeth I of England.

This decision proved to be disastrous, since Mary was soon a prisoner of the queen and would spend the next nineteen years as Elizabeth’s prisoner, before she was executed for plotting against the queen on 8 February 1587 at Fotheringay Castle.

Further reading