Mystery of the Month: Who Killed Lord Darnley? – Mystery Guides
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Mystery of the Month: Who Killed Lord Darnley?

An explosion. A dagger. A body. In this Tudor Whodunnit we ask – who killed Lord Darnley, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots?

In the early hours of 10 th February, 1567, an explosion rocked Kirk O’Field House, just outside of Edinburgh. Witnesses described a blast so strong it left the house, a former church turned hunting lodge, in ruins. The house was located around a ten minute walk from Holyrood House, the residence of Mary, Queen of Scots. And the occupant of the house on that fateful night was none other than her husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.

The partially clothed bodies of Darnley and his servant were found in a nearby orchard. A chair was found close by, and a dagger. Their bodies showed signs of strangulation, but no other injuries – indicating they couldn’t have been in the building at the time of the explosion.

So what happened to Lord Darnley, and who killed him?

Who was Lord Darnley?

Lord Darnley, was the first husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. Their marriage was a love match, but soon turned sour – Darnley wasn’t happy playing second fiddle to his royal wife and soon tried to assert his control over her, and the throne. He even arranged the brutal murder of Mary’s secretary, David Rizzio, in front of her when she was 6 months pregnant. Mary never forgave Darnley – and their relationship never recovered. The Scottish lords also felt Darnley was growing too powerful – many people had a motive for wanting him out of the picture.

Murder of Lord Rizzio
Source: British Library

What happened on the night of the murder?

Mary had visited Darnley, who was staying at Kirk O’Field House, on the day of the murder, but left that evening to attend the wedding of one of her ladies-in-waiting. At around 2am, a massive explosion - so strong it was heard throughout Edinburgh – destroyed the house. Witnesses found the bodies of Lord Darnley and his servant outside the house. They appeared to have fled the house in their nightwear, and been strangled in a nearby orchard. But whose dagger was found nearby? And why was there a chair next to the bodies?

Mary, Queen of Scots
Source: British Library

The Suspects

Darnley himself! One theory suggests that Darnley himself planted the gunpowder in order to kill Mary – but his plan backfired when she, or one of her allies, found out!

Scottish nobles – many people, including the powerful Earl of Bothwell, felt Darnley was becoming too power-hungry – could one of them have arranged the murder?

Darnley’s former allies – many of his former friends felt Rizzio’s murder was a step too far.

Mary! The Queen was conveniently away on the night of the murder – did she arrange it to get rid of her problematic husband? 

The Aftermath

Less than three months later Mary married the Earl of Bothwell – a risky move, since he was a chief suspect in her husband’s murder! Many people believed Bothwell had kidnapped Mary – others said her closeness to him before Darnley’s murder was highly suspicious! Mary’s reign didn’t survive the scandal – Scotland descended into civil war, and Mary was deposed in favour of her baby son, James VI. Bothwell escaped but Mary was imprisoned, eventually fleeing to London and throwing herself on the mercy of her cousin, Elizabeth I. Unfortunately Elizabeth wasn’t in a merciful mood, keeping Mary under house arrest for 19 years until finally having her executed for treason.

Execution of Mary Queen of Scots
Source: British Library

The mystery of Lord Darnley’s death has baffled historical sleuths for centuries - so over to you! Who do you think killed the troublesome lord?

For more Scottish mysteries check out our Edinburgh Mystery Guide...and keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming Glasgow Guide!