Skip to main page content (AccessKey S)
James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell lived from around 1536 to 14 April 1578. He is best known as the probable murderer of Lord Darnley, Mary Queen of Scots' second husband, and for becoming her third husband, a wedding that sparked the downfall of both Mary and Bothwell. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
James Hepburn was the son of Patrick Hepburn, 3rd Earl of Bothwell. He was educated by his grand-uncle, Bishop Hepburn of Moray and he succeeded his father to become the 4th Earl of Bothwell (and hereditary Lord High Admiral of Scotland) in 1556 at the age of 20.
In 1560 he visited Copenhagen, and met Anna Trond Rustung, the daughter of the Admiral of the Danish Navy. The two became engaged and left for Scotland, together with the huge dowry presented by her father. Bothwell abandoned his bride to be, but not the dowry, while en route home in Holland.
After the return of Mary Queen of Scots from France in 1561, she selected a number of Protestant to be her principal advisers. Bothwell was amongst them and became a member of the Privy Council. In 1562, Bothwell was accused of plotting to kidnap Mary by an old enemy of his, James Hamilton, The Earl of Arran. Bothwell spent some time imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle before departing overland for France, a journey that led to his being imprisoned by the English for a year en route.
Mary recalled Bothwell from France to Scotland in 1565, to assist her suppress a revolt by her half brother, the Earl of Moray. By this time Mary was married to Lord Darnley, and in 1566 Bothwell married Jean Gordon, sister of the earl of Huntly. Bothwell was by now Mary's closest adviser, and their relationship certainly became closer after Lord Darnley was involved in the murder of Mary's Italian secretary, David Rizzio, in front of the heavily pregnant Mary, on 9 March 1566. It seems likely that the two became romantically involved some time after the birth of the future James VI on 19 June 1566.
Perhaps the strongest evidence of this came in October 1566 when Mary rode 25 miles from Jedburgh to be with Bothwell at Hermitage Castle after he had been injured in a clash with border reivers: and then 25 miles back after ensuring he was not seriously hurt.
On 10 February 1567 Lord Darnley, was murdered. Most Scots at the time believed that Bothwell was responsible. While Darnley was not greatly mourned, there was a principle at stake, and Bothwell was put on trial in Edinburgh. After a deeply flawed trial in which prosecution witnesses were intimidated or simply persuaded not to appear, Bothwell was acquitted. In fact both Bothwell and Mary (among others) were involved in the plot to kill Darnley, a plot known as the Craigmillar Bond which had been agreed at Craigmillar Castle on 7 December 1566.
On 19 April 1567 Bothwell proposed marriage to Mary. She turned him down, and on 21 April Bothwell kidnapped Mary, took her to Dunbar Castle Here, on the assumption she was, as she later stated, an unwilling participant, he raped her. The two then agreed to marry. The minor detail that Bothwell was still married was tidied up on 3 May 1567 when he was divorced by Jean Gordon on the grounds of his adultery with her servant, Bessie Crawford. Bothwell and Mary married on 15 May 1567, then fled the popular revulsion this provoked to Dunbar Castle once more.
Mary, Bothwell and their supporters were confronted by the dissident Scottish nobles and their army at Carberry Hill on 15 June 1567. Mary surrendered to the nobles, and Bothwell made his escape. He had intended to raise support for Mary across Scotland, but ended up fleeing to Orkney, where he was refused protection by Gilbert Balfour, and then to Norway in September 1567. Here his past caught up with him, and Bothwell was imprisoned pending his repayment of the dowry of Anna Trond Rustung who he had jilted in Holland seven years earlier. There was no way he could begin to repay the sum involved, and as a result Bothwell remained imprisoned in the notorious Dragholm Prison until he died, completely insane, on 14 April 1578. Even his death did not release him from the vengeful clutches of Anna Trond Rustung, and a mummified body, believed to be Bothwell's, could still be viewed in a church near Dragsholm until it was buried at the request of Bothwell's descendents in the 1980s.