The silhouettes of two people watching a performance of Spotlight on Mary. The action is projected onto a castle wall. On the left hand side, a man with a sword sits at a table in front of a huge green tapestry featuring two gold unicorns. On the right, two men in 16th-century dress converse beneath a chandelier.

When a meeting between Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was arranged in February 1565, the couple were not strangers. Mary had met Darnley once or twice before. As a boy, he had visited the French court where she grew up.

The venue for the reunion was Wemyss Castle, East Wemyss. This location was some distance from regular royal haunts, perhaps to avoid court gossip. Love and marriage were most definitely on the agenda.

‘The properest and best proportioned long man’

Mary, 22, was tall, rich, powerful and famously beautiful. She was the reigning queen of Scotland, the dowager queen of France and the aspiring queen of England. She had been widowed for more than four years and was in need of an heir – not to mention a bit of passion in her life.

A portrait of Mary Queen of Scots. She is young, wearing an ornate red dress with a white collar. She is wearing a necklace containing a black crucifix.

Darnley, 19, was vain, ambitious, arrogant and louche, with a reputation for sexual impropriety. On the plus side, he was tall, elegant, strikingly handsome and rather good at playing the lute. Mary considered him ‘the properest and best proportioned long man that she had seen’.

Darnley had also been admired by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, during his years at the English court. More importantly, he was directly descended from King Henry VII of England, as was Mary herself.

A portrait of a young Lord Darnley. He is dressed in a black and gold outfit with a black hat. he has short red hair and is wearing a sword at his waist.

Their collective gene pool secured their Tudor credentials – and their son James would eventually succeed to the English throne.

A fiery love affair

The courtship that began in Wemyss that day soon turned into a fiery love affair. Mary even nursed Darnley when he fell ill (possibly with syphilis). They married in Edinburgh a few months later, on 29 July 1565.

But the marriage soon proved disastrous. Darnley was nominally a Catholic, which alarmed Scotland’s Protestant lords. Elizabeth too was uneasy about the match.

Darnley’s childish behaviour and naked ambition soon irked Mary and her court. Before long, her enchantment with him waned. He conspired against her, notably in the murder of her secretary, David Riccio, in her private chambers at Holyroodhouse.

Their stormy relationship was played out at many places, including several Historic Scotland properties.

A son – and a plot

They spent a night at Huntingtower Castle during the Chaseabout Raid of September 1565, when the royal couple enjoyed their finest hour, jointly leading an army against Protestant rebels.

In June 1566, Mary gave birth to their only child, the future James VI and I in Edinburgh Castle. Darnley was not present to witness his son’s arrival.

At Hermitage Castle in October 1566, Mary visited the wounded Earl of Bothwell, almost certainly on state business, though this was later produced as evidence of adultery. (She would later marry Bothwell.)

An exterior view of Craigmillar Castle. Snow is on the ground. Some footprints or animal tracks lead through the snow towards the castle.

In November and December of 1566 Mary moved to Craigmillar Castle (pictured above) to recuperate from a life-threatening illness. It was here that Mary’s entourage plotted against Darnley.

At Stirling Castle in December 1566, Darnley skulked in the shadows while his son Prince James was baptised, amid lavish festivities. Bothwell wore a fine suit of clothes bought for him by Mary.

A murderous end

By February 1567, Mary was a widow again. Darnley had been murdered and her reign was beginning to unravel.

This November, join us at Craigmillar Castle to follow this tale of desire, intrigue and deception to its violent and murderous end.

A man looks on as a huge blue and gold pattern is projected onto an exterior wall of Craigmillar Castle.

Our expert historians have worked with the creative geniuses at Double Take to create an unforgettable evening full of breath-taking projections, absorbing drama and immersive sound. This is not to be missed! Get you tickets now.


About Author

Andrew Burnet

Andrew Burnet works in the Interpretation Unit at Historic Environment Scotland and was the main author of Mary Was Here, about the travels of Mary Queen of Scots. His epic poem for children about Picts and Vikings has yet to find a publisher.