This drawing vividly depicts the murder of Lord Darnley on 10th February 1567 at Kirk o’ Field, Edinburgh. The manuscript was sent to William Cecil – Queen Elizabeth’s chief advisor – soon after the murder, and serves as a key piece of evidence in this notorious unsolved case.
Henry Stuart, known as Lord Darnley (1545/6–1567), was the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots and father of the future King James VI and I. Soon after the murder, Mary married Lord Bothwell, the chief suspect in the murder. This was part of the reason for Mary’s deposition from the Scottish throne and the accession of her one-year old son James in 1567.
As an international scandal involving a queen who married shockingly soon after her husband’s murder, the case might have been in the minds of the first audiences for Hamlet. As Hamlet says in Act 1, ‘Within a month, / Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears / Had left the flushing in her galled eye’, his mother Gertrude married his uncle Claudius with ‘most wicked speed’ (1.2.153–56); ‘the funeral bak’d meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables’ (1.2.180–81).
Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots – marriage, murder, marriage
Mary and Lord Darnley were first cousins, and both had strong claims to the English and Scottish thrones. But, not long after their marriage in 1565, serious rifts had developed between them. Darnley revealed his tendency towards drink, self-indulgence and violence; and Mary refused to grant him the crown matrimonial, which would have given him equal powers in government.
In the early hours of 10 February 1567, Kirk o’ Field was shaken by blasts of gunpowder, and the bodies of Darnley and his servant were found in a nearby orchard. Soon afterwards, Mary left Edinburgh with Bothwell, and they quickly fell under suspicion. Some believe that they were lovers who conspired in the murder; others claim that Bothwell abducted and raped Mary and that she was innocent in the affair.
Although Bothwell was the chief suspect, he was tried and found not guilty in April 1567. Mary married him in May, only three months after the murder, without completing the formal period of mourning.
Details of the drawing of Kirk o’ Field
- The enlarged top right section shows the half-naked bodies of Lord Darnley and his servant, with a dagger, cloak and chair lying nearby.
- On the left is a close-up image of the ruins after the explosion, labelled as the scene of the murder.
- The lower section shows Darnley’s body being carried away and the funeral of his servant.
- At the top is Darnley’s baby son, James, saying ‘Judge and revenge my cause, O Lord’.
- Full title:
- Bird's-eye view of the 'Kirk o' Field', ruined church and churchyard, showing the scene of the murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley; also shows Darnley's body being borne away and a burial
- Map / Manuscript / View / Illustration / Image
- Usage terms
Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.
- Held by
- National Archives
- Article by:
- Emma Smith
- Tragedies, Power, politics and religion
Emma Smith reads Hamlet as a play obsessed with retrospection, repetition and the theatre of the past.
- Article by:
- Eric Rasmussen
- Shakespeare’s life and world, Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage
Eric Rasmussen explains the complex process of getting married in Shakespeare’s England, and the way this worked for young Will himself. He explores the tension, in Shakespeare’s plays, between the old order, in which fathers chose their daughters’ husbands, and the new order based on mutual love, but still plagued by the threat of infidelity.