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James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray lived from 1531 to 23 January 1570. A half brother of Mary Queen of Scots, he was a convert to Protestantism who variously supported and opposed her, before eventually, while acting as Regent to the infant James VI, defeating her in battle and forcing her into exile and imprisonment in England. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
James Stewart was the illegitimate son of James V of Scotland and Lady Margaret Erskine, daughter of John Erskine, 4th Earl of Mar. During Mary Queen of Scots' childhood years in France, James became an early convert to Protestantism. He then joined with the Protestant lords opposing the efforts of Mary's mother, Marie de Guise, who as Regent of Scotland sought to preserve the Catholic status quo, using French troops against both the English and internal Scottish dissent.
When Mary Queen of Scots returned from France in 1561, James Stewart became her chief adviser, and the following year she made him the 1st Earl of Moray. In 1562 he led Mary's forces to put down a rebellion by the 4th Earl of Huntly: and in the same year married Agnes Keith, daughter of William Keith, 4th Earl Marischal.
In 1565 James Stewart strongly opposed the marriage between Mary and Lord Darnley. When the marriage went ahead anyway, Stewart raised a rebellion against Mary in Ayrshire. On 26 August 1565, Mary led an army out of Edinburgh to put down the rebellion, pursuing the rebels over much of southern Scotland in what became known as the Chaseabout Raid. James Stewart escaped and sought sanctuary in Queen Elizabeth I's England, a country with which he had been trying to negotiate closer links.
Stewart was among those who plotted a coup attempt against the now heavily pregnant Mary in March 1566, the first step of which was the murder of her Private Secretary, David Rizzio. The coup was defeated after Mary turned Lord Darnley against the other consiprators, and he helped her to safety at Dunbar Castle under the protection of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell.
Mary's ruthless suppression of the conspirators against her overlooked Stewart, partly because he was in England at the time, and partly because his involvement remained unknown to her. As a result he was able to returning to Scotland in 1566, being pardoned by Mary for his rebellion following her marriage to Darnley. By luck or design, he happened to be in France when Lord Darnley was murdered, and during the period of uproar that followed Mary's marriage to the Earl of Bothwell culminating in Mary's forced abdication in favour of her infant son James VI.
James Stewart returned to Scotland to be appointed Regent to the young James VI. When Mary later escaped from Lochleven Castle and attempted to regain power, it was James Stewart who led the forces that defeated her at the Battle of Langside on 13 May 1568, leading to her ill-judged flight to, and imprisonment in, England.
James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray ruled Scotland as a very effective Regent for James VI until 23 January 1570. During a visit to Linlithgow he was assassinated by James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, a supporter of Mary. In death he wrote one last small footnote in history: his was the first ever recorded assassination by a firearm anywhere in the world. James Stewart was buried at St Giles Kirk in Edinburgh.