Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley (2003)







"With a story like this one, who needs James Gandolfini? Alison Weir's [book] provides enough sure-fire ratings grabbers to keep TV producers pitching for a month of prime-time Sundays. But while Ms Weir does not stint on the sensational details, she is above all a historian and researcher. She thinks like a forensics expert." (The Wall Street Journal)

"It is to Alison Weir's credit that she lays out the evidence fully and fairly enough to keep us guessing to the end which side she is on... Mary is very well drawn... Weir tells the famous story gripplingly with clarity and pace.' (Ann Wroe, Waterstone's Books Quarterly

"Weir provides a most plausible answer to the conundrum of the killing." (The Daily Mail, Critic`s Choice)

"Alison Weir is the female Ackroyd… She manages to equal, if not better, his knack of making history sexy…[She] is to be commended for bringing genuinely new facts to the surface... Weir strikes a nice balance, offering genuine historical advance with a hint of mischief." (Manchester Evening News)

"Alison Weir's account has a narrative sweep... Gripping." (The Scotsman)

"The case she makes in Mary`s defence is likely to carry readers along with her." (The Spectator)

"[A] thorough and compelling biography… Weir's great strengths lie in knowing which sources to choose, and her proper scepticism in sorting propaganda from truth; the result is a complex mixture of politics and personalities, liberating Mary from her previous incarnation as a scheming whore." (The Glasgow Herald)

"This is a well researched and balanced reading... Weir is good on conjuring the possibilities of a particular historical moment... The result is a thoughtful, informed and eminently readable history." (Alan Stewart, BBC History Magazine)

"Weir gives the readers an engrossing historical whodunit combined with a richly textured portrait of an age… The story is riveting." (Scotland on Sunday)

"Alison Weir not only provides a solution to the riddle, but in the process paints a vivid picture of one of Britain`s most remarkable historical heroines." (F Magazine)

"Weir has strengthened the case for exonerating the Queen… Valuable, conscientious and thoughtful." (Miranda Seymour, The Sunday Times)

"Her book is as dramatic as witnessing at first hand the most riveting court case." (Booklist)

"Weir brings alive an age of intrigue, excitement and murder… Her thoroughly researched, gripping and vivid narrative breathes new life into this historical whodunit… A wonderful portrait of a murder mystery." (Lancashire Evening Post)

"This detailed book never loses sight of the very human story of passion and betrayal…This is a riveting read." (Worcester Evening News)

"Weir won gleeful praise for her earlier biographies, and this highly readable and handsome tome will delight equally." (Caledonia Magazine)

"…this great volume." (The Lady)

"Her cautious conclusions provide a valuable check to wilder speculations." (The Observer)

"Weir shatters some long-held misconceptions." (Chicago Tribune)

"Weir goes to great lengths to isolate the clues and marshal them into a convincing indictment. No stone is left unturned in her investigation, and her book is as dramatic as witnessing first-hand the most riveting court case." (Booklist, boxed and starred review)

"Weir is relentless at unpicking the ulterior motives of those whose testimony we must rely on." (Boston Globe Online)

"All the elements of a juicy murder mystery are within these pages... She has earned herself high marks for research." (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

"Weir brings her narrative gifts to this tangled web of treachery. This detailed book never loses sight of the very human story of passion and betrayal. As a vivid reassessment of Scotland's greatest historical mystery, this is a riveting read." (Living History)

"Readable and enthralling narrative history at its best." (Alice McLaren, Editor, World Books)

"Recommended... Weir skilfully analyses the politics and religious tensions of the time... She adeptly makes her case." (Library Journal)

"My favourite historian. Readable and challenging even when she is writing about an obnoxious woman like Mary. I'm impressed by an intellect that can assimilate such a wealth of material and turn it into a cohesive narrative." (Terry Deary, The Week)

Random House UK Newsletter, 2003

Once again, I have the pleasure of writing for the Newsletter, which comes to you at this time to coincide with the publication of my new book, Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley. A year ago, in my last Newsletter, I explained how this book came about as a result of my research for Elizabeth the Queen, and how difficult a task I had set myself. The question of Mary, Queen of Scots' involvement in the murder of her husband in 1567 has excited furious controversy for nearly 450 years, and it is fair to say that, for every piece of evidence in Mary's favour, there is a contrasting argument against her. Most of the source material was written by her enemies after her deposition, and is therefore prejudiced and biased in favour of justifying her removal from power. Finally, there are many other people, notably the Earl of Bothwell, to whom suspicion has been attached.
   When investigating a mystery like this, it is vital to familiarize oneself intimately with the source material and to understand the motives and political or religious bias of whoever wrote it. My method is to amass as much evidence as possible, and then collate it into a strict   chronological framework - the plan for this book ran to 103 pages and took two months to complete. It is astonishing to see what becomes clear
as a result of this approach. Furthermore, it is essential to ignore the romantic myths and uninformed suppositions that have become part  of  Queen Mary's legend over the centuries, which are still quoted as facts.
   The actual writing of the book took seven months, and during the course of it we moved from Surrey to Scotland and I then undertook two publicity tours to promote the paperback of Henry VIII: King and Court.  I was  also involved with several events for English Heritage. You can imagine, therefore, how manic last year was, and why I was not able to reply in great detail to the many kind people who took the trouble to write to me while I was working to meet my deadline.
   When I began writing about the Darnley murder, having completed my research and drawn up the plan, I had evolved a seemingly credible solution to the mystery. However, as my work progressed and I came to analyse the source material in depth, it became clear to me that my theory was almost certainly flawed, and that the very opposite was more likely to have been the truth. After that, everything fell more or less into place, and I believe that I have now credibly identified who murdered Darnley. You will notice that I'm not giving anything away - if you want to find out whether I think Mary was guilty or not, I'm afraid you'll just have to read the book!
   One of my events for English Heritage was at a talk on Mary, Queen of Scots, at Carlisle Castle, which was very well attended and which proved to me that Mary still provokes stimulated debate. At the time of writing, I am looking forward to giving a similar talk for English Heritage near Fotheringay, and I will also be undertaking a thirteen-week promotional tour, arranged by my publishers, during which I hope to meet you and hear your own views.
   In 2002 I was guest speaker on several English Heritage themed coach tours to sites of historical interest, and was delighted to meet so many fellow enthusiasts. I will be accompanying several similar tours in 2003, and can recommend them warmly. We all had a very enjoyable time, and I am looking forward to repeating the experience and to meeting more members.
   Due to production difficulties, the Granada Drama TV series on Henry VIII - for which I am the historical adviser - was postponed, but I am delighted to reveal that it will definitely go ahead in 2003, with Ray Winstone starring as the King. I am working closely with the scriptwriter, Peter Morgan, who scripted the highly successful series, 'The Jury', also for Granada. I am also pleased to report that the BBC have again renewed their option for making a drama series based on my biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
   Life is a little calmer now, we have settled down in Scotland, and I have already done a great deal of research on my next book, Isabella, the She-Wolf of France, which I am due to deliver to my publishers in the summer of 2004. In my spare time - I do have some now - I've been busy updating my research on royal and aristocratic family trees, reorganizing my huge collection of royal pictures, which I began back in 1965, and enjoying the wonderful amenities that Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders have to offer.
   Once again, I should like to thank those of you who have bought my books, attended my events, or written to me. I do appreciate your support, your creative comments, and even the occasional criticism, which I do take very seriously, and which, I hope, helps me to become a better writer. Thanks go also to all who have sent me information, photographs, and ideas for forthcoming books, and above all to those who just wrote and said how much they enjoyed reading the books. I was so touched that you took the trouble to tell me so.


The murder of Lord Darnley is the most celebrated mystery in Scottish history; it has been endlessly recounted by numerous historians and writers, and the question that has most exercised all of them is this: was Mary, Queen of Scots the instigator of, or a party to, the murder of her husband? That is the question I aim to answer in this book.
   The circumstantial evidence against Mary is weighty, but it is not conclusive. Furthermore, there are other suspects. However, most writers focus upon Mary because she was a young and beautiful queen whose life had already been touched by tragedy, murder and intrigue. Furthermore, her character is an enigma that has never been solved, and during the four centuries in which she has been the subject of intense scholarly, and popular scrutiny, every aspect cjf her life has become controversial.                                                                              
   My- study of Mary's possible role in Darnley's murder must take into account changing historical perceptions of her over the centuries. After the murder, which led to her enforced abdication and her long imprisonment in England, she became a controversial figure. Scottish Calvinists saw her as an adulteress and murderess, and for political reasons vigorously painted her as such, while Mary's Catholic and loyalist supporters regarded her as a wronged heroine.  As memories of the murder faded, and she became the hope of the Counter-Reformation and the focus for Catholic plots against Elizabeth I, Mary herself consciously fostered a pious image, which culminated in her calculated and dramatic appearance as a martyr for her faith at her execution in 1587. English Protestants, it should be remembered, found her an altogether more sinister figure, and not without reason.
   Yet Mary's dignified courage as she faced the block has had a profound effect on the way in which most of her biographers have since portrayed her; this image has, to a great extent, swept away darker contemporary perceptions of her, and as time passed it helped to enshrine her in romance and legend.


Preliminary U.S, jacket.

The story of Mary Stuart reads like a Shakespearian tragedy; it's not surprising that Hamlet is said to have been partly based on it. It's a dark tale of vicious intrigue, ambition, lust, violence and murder, all surrounded by mystery. At the centre is this enigmatic woman, on whom rivers of ink have been spilt throughout four centuries. Am I going to reveal my conclusions?  No way!  You'll have to read the book to find out what they are!

You can read my article Views of Mary here at A Tudor Writing Circle:


Since last September I have been busy researching my next book, Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley. This is not a new biography of Mary, but an historical whodunnit that poses the question, was Mary Stuart an accessory before the fact to the murder of her second husband, Lord Darnley?
   In the early hours of 10 February 1567, the house in which the convalescent Darnley was staying in Edinburgh was blown up in a terrifying explosion that shook the whole city. But Darnley was not killed in the explosion. His unmarked body was found in a nearby garden, either strangled or suffocated. The gunpowder had been stored in the Queen's bedchamber. Most people believed that the murder had been committed by the Earl of Bothwell, whom Mary was to marry three months later, but there were others who had strong motives for wanting to be rid of Darnley, including Mary herself.
   In my book, I shall be examining the events that led up to Darnley's murder, as well as those that followed it, and will also be formulating in-depth character studies of not only the principals involved, but also a host of lesser mortals. The chief focus of the book is the events of 1565-7, the last two years of Mary's reign, one of the most controversial periods in Scottish history.
   Down the centuries Mary Stuart has been viewed by historians in various ways: as a scheming adulteress and murderess who connived at her own rape and married her husband's assassin; as the innocent victim of unscrupulous and ambitious men; as a successful queen who was overtaken by unfortunate events and tragedy; as a Catholic martyr and near-saint; and as a neurotic, misguided woman who was unsuited to the role to which her birth entitled her. Lord Darnley has enjoyed a consistently bad press, invariably being portrayed as a drunken lecher whose weakness of character led inexorably to his downfall.
   There is evidence, however, to dispute all these theories. When I was researching Elizabeth the Queen, I amassed a considerable amount of material on Mary, Queen of Scots, from both primary and secondary sources, and drew from this the conclusion that she had certainly had foreknowledge of Darnley's murder, because the circumstantial evidence against her was very strong. My editor rightly considered that a biography of Elizabeth I was an inappropriate platform for such a controversial view, and it was toned down for publication. I felt, however, that the extent of Mary's involvement in Darnley's murder needed re-examining with an open mind, and that is how the idea for this new book was born.
   Having now undertaken further research, I am not so sure that my original conclusion was thecorrect  one; in fact my opinion has been changing from week to week as the research has progressed! I am still, however, maintaining an objective stance. For more than four centuries, finer minds than mine have wrestled with this mystery, and no one has as yet arrived at a definitive conclusion. The chief problem is that, for every  piece of evidence for or against Mary, there is a corresponding piece of conflicting evidence.  We cannot safely rely on the notorious Casket Letters as evidence against her, yet nor can we accept her own denial of authorship because she is known to have lied over her authorship of the letter sent to Anthony Babington in 1586 authorising   the assassination of Elizabeth I.
   We may never be able to prove that Mary connived at Darnley's  murder,  but it may  be possible, through careful analysis   of   the   primary   sources and circumstantial   evidence, to construct a convincing case either for or against her, as I did against Richard III in The Princes
in the Tower
, using similar methods.   So far, it appears to me that such a case might well rest on seemingly insignificant snippets of information and the reinterpretation of certain contemporary sources.
   Yes, I am hinting that I am just beginning to evolve a theory, but nothing is set in stone as yet, and I have a great deal of research left to do. As with Richard III, I have no wish to judge an innocent person guilty of murder, only to discover the truth, or approach as near to it as I can. In the meantime, I am thoroughly enjoying the work, as I have long wanted to write about a Scottish subject. My husband is from Edinburgh, I have visited that wonderful city many times during the last thirty years, and I am familiar with many of the places connected with Mary, Queen of Scots. This is therefore a very special project for me, because I am mentally revisiting Scotland as I research, and living the history as usual.
   As for my conclusions, you'll just have to wait until 2003!

Above: Publishers' launch for Scottish booksellers at Borthwick Castle, Scotland, 2003

From The Scotsman, February 2003:

It has remained one of Scotland's most famous murder mysteries that has baffled his­torians for nearly 450 years, but a new book claims to have solved the crime. The body of Lord Darnley, Mary, Queen of Scots' second husband, was found in the early hours of 10 February 1567, after an explosion at his Kirk O'Field house that was felt across Edin­burgh. He was discovered suffo­cated next to his valet in a nearby garden.
   After the breakdown of their marriage and Mary's subse­quent betrothal to the Earl of Bothwell, history has tended to implicate Mary in the murder, but a new book which re-examines evidence of the time argues she was not to blame. Furthermore, Alison Weir, the historian, who has written nine books on figures including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, says she has discovered the identity of Darnley's real killer although she is keeping that under wraps until the publication of her book Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Mur­der of Lord Damley.
   She believes Mary's name was blackened by powerful figures around her and disputes the veracity of the famous "Casket Letters", which were produced by Scottish lords as evidence of her guilt in the murder.
   Speaking at the launch of her book yesterday, at Borthwick Castle, outside Edinburgh, where Mary took refuge with her new husband, the Earl of Bothwell, in 1567, she said: "By the time I'd finished researching the circumstances of Darnley's death, I had com­pletely reversed my theory about Mary's involvement in it. Prior to Darnley's death the evidence suggests that Mary had reconciled herself to him, nursing him through illness and even seeking to protect him from his enemies. At Craigmillar Castle in December 1566, it was strongly suggested to Mary by the Scot­tish lords that she needed to have him got rid of through divorce or death. She ruled them both out as she had decided to make the best of a bad situation.
   "On the night of Darnley's murder we know that Mary was at Holyrood Palace, but histori­ans have often doubted how genuinely upset she was when she heard of the death. I believe she was grief stricken."
   Mrs Weir also pours doubt on the evidence that was subse­quently gathered against Mary. "The Casket Letters, which were supposedly found under Bothwell's bed, which Mary had written to him three months before Darnley's murder, seem to be evidence cobbled together by the lords and we know that two or three were forged and the dates of some of them were switched. Mary was never allowed to see them and they disappeared in 1584, so histo­rians have never had the chance to look at them properly."
   But Dr Fiona Watson, senior lecturer in history at Stirling University, said Mary had much to gain from the demise of her second husband
   "Alison Weir is not the first historian to go back to the sources of the time in an effort to solve this timeless mystery," said Dr Watson, who presented the BBC historical series, 'In Search of Scotland'. "There is no doubt that a lot of powerful figures had a vested interest in blackening Mary's name, but her behaviour with Bothwell was astonishing. It is likely that they conceived twins before their marriage and her grief for the passing of Darnley did not last long. Mary also had a vested inter­est in seeing Darnley dead because he could claim that her son James [later king of Scot­land and England] was not his and therefore not legitimate. Ultimately this will be one of those historical mysteries that will run and run and we will almost certainly never really know what happened to Darnley. Even today, people still remain sharply divided in their
opinions over where they stand on Mary, Queen of Scots, and her role or otherwise is vital to making this judgment. If she did not collude in her husband's murder then she is a tragic victim of circumstances, but if she did then she is a scheming whatever."
   So who did kill Darnley, according to Alison Weir? "It was a revenge killing, but not by Bothwell, who only carried out the explosion," she adds. "But I am not saying who it was until publication."  


Above: Unveiling a portrait said to be of Mary, Queen of Scots at Hever Castle, and with John Guthrie, the owner of the castle. 


Given the portrait type and the fact that the picture is labelled 'Reine d'Angleterre', it is more likely to be an early portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. The sitter bears little resemblance to Mary, Queen of Scots in any of her known portraits, and there are marked similarities between this portrait and several early ones of Elizabeth that depict her in a similar headdress. (Top right: Uffizi Gallery, Florence; bottom left and centre: two versions of the 'Clopton' portrait; bottom right: National Portrait Gallery.)


Promoting Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley. The book tour lasted for thirteen weeks! 


Feature in issue 8 of Waterstone's Books Quarterly magazine, February 2003. The photographs were taken at Edinburgh Castle. The full article appears below.

At one time, not so very long ago, the concept of 'popular history' was anathema to serious historians and even to some publishers, who often got quite sniffy about it. But that is changing now. History is all around us, and it belongs to us all. Anyone with the right motivation can do research. You only have to look at the numbers of people visiting stately homes and castles to see how widespread the love of history is. My postbag contains letters from school children, grandparents, housewives, peers of the realm, and even prisoners, many of whom have an impressive degree of knowledge of their subject.
   I first became interested in history at the age of 14, when I read a historical novel that drove me to the history books in order to find out the truth. I've learned a lot since then, not least that the truth is often elusive. We can only draw inferences from the known facts, and finding them often means delving through volumes of rather arid records. Historical research, I have found, is rather like detective work: you have to piece together a tale with credible conclusions on the basis of relatively few pieces of evidence. That, however, is what makes history exciting. Once you start research on your subject, it becomes compulsive. You could give two historians the same facts, and both could reach completely opposing viewpoints.
   My purpose in writing my books is to find out the truth. In many cases we will never know the truth, but we can make educated guesses based on the source material available to us. The key is to do as much research as possible in order to build up a picture, not only of the person about whom one is writing, but of the people around them and the world they inhabited. It is often in the minutiae of the lives of human beings that we come to know them best. For each book, I use only about a quarter to a third of the research I have done, but the breadth and complexity of the research gives me the confidence to write authoritatively and sometimes gives me the feeling that I know my subjects as well as if I had met them in the flesh.
   What cannot be taught or quantified in historical writing is passion and enthusiasm. If I can impart just something of my enthusiasm for my subject through my writing, and bring it to life for my readers, then I will have succeeded.
   Why do we love history so much? I think it is partly because we are interested in the human condition and history offers us countless examples of people in unusual or dramatic situations. Kings and queens exert a particular fascination because they lived such exalted and public lives and were often the subjects of high drama. The role of women in history is also of particular interest to me. At one time, history books rarely mentioned women, except as footnotes, but now women are at last being accorded their proper historical importance, even if only in the study of the constraints that once hemmed them about.
   In my time I have written about many women in history, some of whom managed to operate outside those constraints. The subject of my latest book is another woman, Mary, Queen of Scots, but this is no biography: it is a historical whodunnit that examines Mary's role in the murder of her second husband, Lord Darnley, a subject that is almost as controversial today as it was in 1567, when the house in which Darnley was lodging was blown up in a terrifying explosion. Was Mary an accessory to the murder, or was she innocent? Who was responsible for Darnley's death?
   In order to investigate this celebrated mystery, I have consulted numerous works and collated tens of thousands of pieces of evidence into a (hopefully) cohesive narrative. Having done this, I can safely say that no other work on Darnley's murder (and there has been no detailed study since 1967) presents so much in the way of evidence and arguments. As for my conclusion, readers will be interested to know that, even after doing all this research and writing several chapters, I completely changed my views when I came to analyse the origins of the plot against Darnley. Thereafter, thankfully, everything fell into place.
   It may sound rather arrogant to claim that I have solved a murder mystery that scholars have debated for centuries, but I am convinced that no other conclusion could be possible, for it would be based on highly questionable evidence. Once the myths, the religious prejudice, the uninformed suppositions and the romantic legends have been stripped away, one is left only with the contemporary source material. And therein lies the conclusion to the mystery.

From the Daily Mail, January 2003

Mary, Queen of Scots, may have been a victim of the disease responsible for the madness of George III. In a new BBC documentary, historians claim Mary may have suffered from porphyria, the acute, intermittent, hereditary disease responsible for the infa­mous madness of King George.
Porphyria affects the nervous system or the skin. It can cause hallucinations, seizures, anxiety, and paranoia. In the skin it leads to itching, swelling, and sensitivity to the sun. Mindful of the fact Mary was an ancestor of George III, the historians believe she showed the physical and mental symp­toms of the disease during her seven-year reign in Scotland.
   Mary is known to have been very ill after the birth of her son James in June 1566. The historians also believe she showed signs of suffering
after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, the following year. Lady Antonia Fraser, author of Mary, Queen of Scots,\said: 'There is a question whether she didn't have the inherited disease porphyria. In certain periods in her life she would become almost hysterical and broken down.'
   Scottish [sic] historian Alison Weir said: 'We have ambassadors' reports testifying she was ill on several occasions. There is overwhelming evidence she suffered some kind of nervous collapse. It is obvious she wasn't functioning properly.'

From The Sunday Express, June 2002:

It is one of Scotland's most famous murder mysteries and has been dividing historians for nearly 450 years. But now an author claims to have found the answer to one of the country's most enduring unsolved crimes-the killing of Mary Queen of Scots' second husband, Lord Darnley. Respected historian Alison Weir has already spent 18 months researching his death and believes she has the answer to the question which has split academics.
  She describes the book as "a historical whodunnit that takes a fresh look at one of histo­ry's most famous mysteries and asks whether Mary Stuart was an acces­sory to the murder".
   Lord Darnley's body was found in the early hours of February 10, 1567, following an explo­sion at a house in Edinburgh which was felt across the city. His body was found in a nearby garden, without a mark on it, and he is believed to have been suffocated.
   Weir, who has pre­viously written a biography on Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as other historical figures including Queen Elizabeth I and King Henry VIII, said: "Many people believed the murderer was the Earl of Bothwell, whom Mary married three months later. But there were other powerful persons who had strong motives for wanting to be rid of Darnley, including Mary herself. In my book, I will be exam­ining the events that led up to Darnley's murder as well as those that followed it, and looking at the characters and movements of the many indi­viduals involved in the tragedy. The chief focus of the book is the events of 1565-67, the last two years of Mary's reign, and one of the most controversial periods in Scottish history."
   Over the centuries, Mary has been portrayed in differ­ent ways by historians. Some see her as a weak, tragic figure, who was taken advantage of by unscrupulous men, while others view her as a scheming murderer and adulteress. Some experts believe her to have been a Catholic martyr, while many feel she was a neurotic unsuited to sitting on the throne. Darnley, on the other hand, is con­sistently painted as a vicious, drunken lecher.
   Weir has gone to exhaustive lengths to get to the bottom of both their charac­ters - and discover who was behind Darnley's murder. She said: "One of the main problems is that most of the evidence against Mary comes from hostile sources or from powerful people who knew it was in their interests to blacken     her reputation. Another difficulty lies in inter­preting the motives of the var­ious principal players who are variously stated to have acted on principle or out of criminal self-interest. Having collated thousands of pieces of evidence, I venture to say that I now have a solu­tion to this age-old mystery and one, moreover, that reconciles all the conflicting facts."
   The author explained she was keeping the conclusions of her book, Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, to herself - for now. She said: "Readers will have to wait until early next year when the book is published."


From the York Evening Press, March 2003:

On the night of February 10, 1567, a tremendous explosion blew apart Kirk O'Field, the Edinburgh residence of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. The noise was heard as far away as Holyrood Palace, where Mary was attending a wedding masque. People who rushed to the scene found the naked corpses of Darnley and his valet in the garden. Neither had been killed in the blast: instead, they had been strangled.
   But by whom?
   This mystery has remained unsolved for centuries. Many people desired the death of Darnley, and the Queen herself had her own motives for wanting rid of her husband; but did she play a part in his death? That is the question historian Alison Weir sets out to answer in her new book Mary, Queen Of Scots And The Murder Of Lord Darnley.
   On the face of it, says Alison, the circumstantial evidence against Mary was damning. Darnley had had a hand in the murder of David Rizzio, who may well have been her lover. The Queen had talked about annulling her marriage to Darnley. Most damning of all, she had visited Darnley at Kirk O'Field on the day before his murder, then left, despite him begging her to stay. But was she a murderess? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Alison thinks not; merely a pampered political innocent who was unable to cope with the political intrigue, plotting and counter-plotting rife in the Scotland of her day.
   Despite being Queen of Scotland since she was one week old, Mary had been brought up in the luxury of the French court as the intended bride of the French Dauphin, Francis. The pair became king and queen of France in 1558 when Mary was 15; but within two years her husband, a sickly youth, had died.
   The widowed Mary returned to Scotland, which had been through a radical Protestant reformation. So for the Catholic Mary, life was
never going to be easy, says Alison.
   In Scotland, she fell under the spell of Lord Darnley, another Catholic, and, in 1565, against the advice of her own court and of England's
Queen Elizabeth, married him. It was, says Alison, a love match on Mary's part. But within weeks, Darnley had begun to show his true colours: dissolute, arrogant, ambitious and a womaniser - a power-hungry young man using Mary for his own ends who was also "a drunkard and a fornicator who went womanising each night". He and Mary rowed, were reconciled, then rowed again. Somewhere along the way, she became pregnant with the future King James. He may not even have been Darnley's son, however. Mary had formed a close relationship with David Rizzio, an Italian singer and musician who had become her adviser and with whom she was often "privately and alone".
   Darnley plotted with other Scottish lords to get rid of Rizzio. On March 9, 1566, Rizzio, Darnley and others were dining with the Queen when conspirators burst in.
   "Darnley was sitting there with his arm around Mary," says Alison. "He held her during the struggle. Rizzio was stabbed once over the Queen's shoulder. The blade passed so close she could feel the cold steel. Then he was dragged out into an outer chamber and stabbed 56 times."
   Mary was now a virtual prisoner. Darnley, too, was terrified, finding that he was not being treated by his co-conspirators with the deference and respect he had expected. He and Mary slipped out of Holyrood and fled through the night on horseback to Dunbar, 25 miles away. The heavily pregnant Mary was frightened she might lose her baby. Darnley reportedly told her: "Forget this one. We can easily make another."
    Mary raised an army and returned in triumph to Edinburgh. But she was now desperate to be rid of Darnley, and even discussed the possibility of annulling the marriage. "But if the marriage was annulled, her child would be illegitimate," says Alison. "He was her only child. Also, she didn't want to do anything that would affect her honour."
   She soon uncovered evidence, however, that Darnley was plotting against her. He was running out of friends. He had betrayed his co-conspirators in Rizzio's murder, he was distrusted by the Protestant lords of Scotland for being a Catholic, and was detested by Mary. He fled to Glasgow and talked of going into exile in England. That would have been a major embarrassment for the Queen. Mary brought him back to Edinburgh - and he was promptly murdered at Kirk O'Field.
   But was Mary involved? Within three months the Queen had married the Earl of Bothwell, one of the prime suspects in Darnley's murder, fuelling suspicion she had been. But the marriage was perhaps not all it seemed. Alison believes the helpless Queen may have been forced into marriage, perhaps after being raped by the ambitious Bothwell.
   "The day after the wedding she was weeping and threatening suicide," she says. "That's not the action of a woman who has married her lover."
   Within months, Mary had been effectively deposed and Bothwell, his plans coming to nothing, had fled. After being held captive at Lochleven, Mary escaped and fled to England. There, she was imprisoned by Elizabeth for almost 20 years, before being executed for plotting to assassinate the English Queen in 1587.
   Alison believes, however, that she was innocent of Darnley's death. Mary's real ambition throughout, Alison says, was to be recognised as Elizabeth's successor to the throne of England. Being married to Darnley strengthened that claim, since he had an independent claim to the throne.
   "It was very, very unlikely that Mary would have done anything to prejudice her chance of the English succession," she says.
   Her verdict on Mary? "She was very cultivated, quite intelligent, but a political innocent. She had appalling judgement and had to have a strong man to lean on - but her choice of men was disastrous. But I like her better having done the book. I feel sorry for her. It is one of the most tragic stories in history."

From the Edinburgh Evening News, April 2003:

As murder mysteries go, this one had all the classic ingredients: royalty, conspiracy, suspicious bloody death and an ending full of suspense and intrigue.
But now, 450 years after the bloody deed was committed, a killer who managed to conceal his identity and commit the "perfect murder" can now be named - by an author who has carried out a painstaking detective journey back in time.
   Alison Weir set out to discover who killed Lord Henry Damley, the drunken playboy who became the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, and whose murder in 1567 set in motion the deadly chain of events which eventually gave her English enemies an excuse to remove her royal head. His killing had intrigued historians down the centuries, uncertain as to whether the Earl of Bothwell, Mary's third husband, really was the murderer and exactly what role the Scottish Queen may have played in Damley's death. Now the truth - as Weir sees it, at least -can finally be revealed. Lord Darnley was killed not by Bothwell but by a member of his own family, she says. And the man who held down Lord Damley and smothered him in cold blood, was his own cousin, Archibald Douglas.
   Of course, the name may not mean very much to most people familiar with the tale. But to historian Weir, he is the final link in a mystery that has occupied her thoughts for more than two years of detailed research for her new book, Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley.
   "There are many different accepted versions of how Damley was killed, but Bothwell is generally seen as the chief conspirator, as he was ambitious and wanted to marry Mary, but there were many other people on the scene," she explains.
   Her research, she says, would have provided the smoking-gun evidence to convict Douglas for the slaying - whilst exonerating the Queen and her followers.
Had that finger of guilt been pointed at Douglas 450 years ago, perhaps history would have been very different. For it was Darnley's murder and Mary's marriage to the main suspect, Bothwell, that led to her fall from grace in Scotland and a chain of events ending in her execution in 1587.
   Today the scene of the crime is unrecognisable from how it must have appeared four centuries ago. In 1567 it was an orchard. Now, says Weir, it is probably the basement of an Old Town shop.
   Darnley's body was found in the orchard, but not until three hours after his nearby lodgings had been blown apart in an explosion. For the best part of 450 years, the belief has been that Damley died in the explosion, his lifeless body thrown into the orchard by the force of the blast. It was a deed widely attributed to Bothwell, the Queen and her loyal supporters - all eager to be rid of the syphilitic Damley.
   "We know Damley was killed at around 2am on February 10, 1567," says Weir. "And that the house that he was convalescing in after a bad attack of syphilis was Kirk O' Field on the comer of South Bridge and South College Street. We also know that his body was found three hours after the explosion in a garden about 60 paces from the house. The thing is, there was not a mark on his body, although a post-mortem later showed there were internal injuries," adds Weir. "Lying beside him was his valet. He didn't have a mark on his body either; so it is very unlikely that they both died in the explosion."
   A chair, a rope and a dagger were found beside the two bodies - items which Weir says indicate that, on hearing a disturbance at Kirk O'Field, Damley had tried to escape from an upstairs window using the rope and chair to break his fall.
   "I believe his internal injuries were sustained in a fall from that window. Then, as they tried to escape, they were murdered."
   Over the years, there have been numerous theories about how Darnley died. Some claimed the explosion killed him. One suggestion was that he was killed in Kirk O'Field before being dumped in the orchard. Another was that he was smothered. Weir goes with the latter.
   "It looks very much as if he was smothered, but smothered outside the house, because we have the testimony of an independent witness who lived in nearby cottages. She claimed that she heard a man's voice crying: "Pity me, kinsmen, for the sake of Him who pitied all the world,' before the explosion. I believe that voice was probably Darnley pleading for his life shortly before he was suffocated. I can't say conclusively, I but I do know that he didn't die of fright." Weir believes there were at least two groups of conspirators at Kirk O'Field on that night - the last night Darnley was to stay there before returning to the security of HoIyrood. When one plan - to blow up the house failed to result in Darnley's death, it was sheer chance that a second group brought Bothwell in because they realised that, in doing so, they could get rid of a hated noble in the process, by framing him for the murder while keeping themselves out of it.
   "Ultimately, they hoped the scandal might even bring Mary herself down. As a master plan, it was absolutely devious. What they didn't realise was that the Douglases were also involved in a plot to kill Darnley. And it was one of them - a leading member of the clan and Damley's own cousin, Archibald Douglas - who actually killed him with his own hands. He was waiting in the garden where, with the help of another member of the Douglas clan, who held Darnley down, he suffocated him."
   And what of Mary's role? Weir claims the Queen of Scots knew nothing of the plots and, in fact, had been planning a reconciliation with her husband.
   But how much really is true, how much can be proved, and how much is pure speculation may never be fully known. And on the 450-year-old question: "Just who killed Lord Darnley?" the jury may well be out forever.

From The Daily Mail, April 2003:

Murder and mayhem have seldom been conspicuous by their absence in the history of the House of Stuart. Perhaps the most scandalous incident in a long litany of out­rage was the murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, King of Scots.
   Nowadays he is universally referred to as Lord Darnley, which would have dis­pleased the proud young buck immensely. At the time of his death, however, he was a king, albeit still uncrowned. It was a coronation destined never to take place.
   In the early hours of the morning of Monday, February 10, 1567, a massive explosion rent the air above Kirk O'Field, by the Flodden Wall in the south of the city of Edinburgh. The Old Provost's Lodging, where Darnley was staying, was completely destroyed.
   Miraculously, at least one and perhaps as many as three servants survived. The blackened figure of Thomas Nelson, one of Darnley's men, must have made a strange sight, swaying on top of the Flodden Wall and crying for help. He had somehow been thrown clear by the blast and had suffered only superficial injuries.
   But despite frantic searches amid the rubble, of Darnley and his valet, William Taylor, there was no sign. At 5 am, three hours after the explosion, their bodies were found - in the south garden and orchard some 60-80 yards from the house. Both the 20-year-old Darnley and Tay­lor were almost naked, wearing only short nightshirts. Neither body had so much as a mark upon it. There were two crucial questions. What exactly had hap­pened? And, more importantly, who had caused it to happen? The answers to these questions, almost 450 years later, form the raison d'etre of this book.
   Alison Weir is a noted historian and biogra­pher who has already produced books on Elizabeth I, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the six wives of Henry VIII. It comes as little surprise that she has now turned her attention to a historical whodunnit involving that most tragic and infuriating of queens, Mary Stuart.
   Mary has received a particularly bad press over the murder of her second hus­band and the father of her only son, the future James VI and I, mostly because it was written by her enemies, men with a vested interest in blackening her char­acter and whitewashing their own.
   Miss Weir makes plain her belief in Mary's innocence. She had also been due to stay at Kirk O'Field on the fateful night. It was only at the last moment that she decided to remain at Holyrood. She main­tained ever afterward that she herself had also been the target of the plot.
   Mary was not, however, completely unaware of the existence of a plot to do away with Darnley. James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell and subsequently her third husband, had previously asked her to sanction Darnley's death, which she had refused to do.
   After the event, a commission of inquiry was set up but failed to produce the perpetrators. There may have been a reason for this. As Claude Nau, who later became Mary's secretary, wrote: 'Diligent inquiries were made about the murder on all sides, especially by those who were its authors.'
   This last gives the clue. Darnley was not short of powerful enemies. A weak, vain, arrogant young man, he was a devout Catholic and had a strong claim to the crown of England on the death of Elizabeth I, in a direct line back to Henry VII. None of this was acceptable to Scot­land's powerful Protestant Lords of the Congregation.
   The author's main suspects rank among the most powerful men in the kingdom: James Stewart, Earl of Moray, the Queen's half-brother and Regent of Scot­land; James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton and Chancellor of Scotland; Sir William Maitland of Lethington, Secretary of State for Scotland, and, of course, Bothwell, a powerful noble and a man who would be king. Such men would not do the dirty deed themselves, although the impetuous Bothwell was probably pre­sent in the vicinity of Kirk O'Field at the time of the explosion. He was also, in all likelihood, set up as a scapegoat by Moray, Morton and Maitland. Remember Darnley was not killed in the explosion. His body was discovered well away from the house, with not a mark upon it.
   Miss Weir provides a most plausible answer to the conundrum of the killing. In how many ways, after all, can you mur­der a man quickly and apparently unmarked?
   Fittingly, perhaps, almost all the lead­ing suspects and their lackeys were themselves to die violent deaths, under the executioner's axe, by the assassin's hand or rotting in a foreign dungeon. But the ultimate irony is that the man Miss Weir names as the killer was acquitted of the crime and died in his bed. The author is strident in her conclusions. Her defence of Mary Stuart is vigorous, her verdict certain.
   'No court of law would today convict Mary. That she was the object of an extended campaign of character assassination is beyond doubt. Further­more, since so much of the evidence of her enemies has been discredited, doubt must be cast on the rest. 'Mary paid a high price for the ambi­tions of others: she paid for it in the loss of her throne, the long years of captivity, separation and alienation from her only living child, and her own violent death. In the circumstances, she must be regarded as one of the most wronged women in history.' That'll be a Not Proven, then.

From the Nottingham Evening Post, April 2003:

Alison Weir is due in Nottingham next week to discuss her new biography of Mary Queen of Scots. Not bad for a writer who was once told she wasn't good enough to study history at school. John Brunton meets her.

Murder, explosions - and a beautiful, doomed heroine. It's the kind of story that gripped a 14-year-old schoolgirl and led her to write her first book. That work - a study of knne Boleyn - remains unpublished. But Alison Weir was hooked on history and writing. Today she is one of Britain's leading historical writers and the author of several books. Her latest, Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, follows Mary's alleged plot to kill her husband and her own death at the hands of Elizabeth I.
   That much we already know about Mary; where Weir breaks new ground is her forensically detailed research.
   "I wanted to look at all the evidence afresh and see what conclusions I could draw," says the writer, as we talk in a pub near King's Cross Station, where she has just arrived from Edinburgh. Alison is 5ft 6in, with shoulder-length dark-red hair. Given that writing is a singular task, some authors are aloof, even stand-offish. Not so Alison. She's direct, colouring the conversation with all sorts of historical facts.       :
   There was another impetus for writing about Mary, Queen of Scots. Her husband, Rankin, is Scottish. Not long ago they both moved from London to the countryside near Edinburgh with their two children, John and Katherine, and Alison's mother, who is also her secretary.
   On Wednesday, Alison, who is in her early 50s, will be at Waterstones in Bridlesmith Gate in Nottingham to give an evening talk.
   Right now history is big. Last year, historical titles outsold cookery books for the first time. And the Tudors are responsible for a fair share of that interest. A couple of weeks ago marked the 400th anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth I, and there are a number of books about her on the market, including several by Alison herself. The Six Wives of Henry VIII looked at Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn, and her early childhood, while Children of England: The Heirs of Henry VIII took the story further, into Elizabeth's teen years and the dangers she encountered at the time. More recently Alison cemented her position as a leading authority on the Tudors with Elizabeth the Queen.
   But for a future writer of highly-regarded history books, things didn't start well. Born in London, Alison went the much-respected City of London Girls School. But her teachers refused her a place on the A-level history course because her O-level grade wasn't good enough. I studied British Economic History. It was all about trade unions, factory acts and all that sort of thing. I wanted to know about the people. When they talked about the people who lived in those growing industrial cities in the early Victorian years, I'd wake up and listen. The rest of the time I was hopelessly bored" Alison devised her own historical projects and set her own research, which were nothing to do with the exam work she should have concentrated on.
   In the event, she took A-levels in art and English literature at school, and taught herself the A-level history course, gaining an excellent grade after just five months' study. The period was the Middle Ages, with which she was more at home. Afterwards she went to  what was then the North-West London Polytechnic, where she studied education, a discipline which would become useful later. It wasn't long after leaving school that she met Rankin. He was running a photographic shop in central London and both had gone to a dance at the old Kensington Town Hall. They married when she was 21.
   Before the family moved to Scotland they had. been living in Surrey, where Alison returned to teaching, with the purpose of turning part of their house into a private school for John, who sufferers from dyspraxiam and others like him with special needs. The school was backed by Sutton Council, and Alison taught for a number of years before John returned to mainstream education.
   Incredibly, she still found time to write. "Writing," she says, "is therapy. I go back into another world."
   She recalls it all started as a 14-year-old. Off school with an illness, she picked up a book called Henry's Golden Queen, about Katherine of Aragon. "I became absolutely hooked. It wasn't just the history, it was the sex. I'm sure it's all pretty tame now, but at the age I was I thought this was the best thing since sliced bread."
   She then wrote her first book, 'A Study in Splendour', about the Tudors, and one about Anne Boleyn; both remain unpublished. But they started Alison collecting the historical data that later came to be used in her first published book, Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy and another marvelously detailed yet lucid book, Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses.
   Elizabeth the Queen remains one of Alison's best-selling works, perhaps because its publication coincided with the release of the acclaimed 1998 film 'Elizabeth', starring the Australian-born actress Cate Blanchett. But by then Alison was already something of a veteran. Three of her books, including one on the Princes in the Tower, were already on the shelves, and that year her study of Elizabeth was joined by a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
   The research for one book, however, was still garhering dust in one of Alison's desk drawers. In the early 80s, publishers turned down a biography of one Lady Diana Spencer that drew on her family's colourful, often lurid, history and close links to the monarchy. Diana was soon to marry Prince Charles and the rest, as they say, is history. "They told me Lady Diana would only be of passing interest," she says.
   Nine published books later, Alison can afford to laugh off that early disappointment. Today, the decades of research and writing that started when she was still at school has paid handsome rewards. "The truth of it is that in the beginning I would gladly have seen my books printed without receiving any money," she says. "But what it has done for me is bought us a nice detached house, not expensive by London standards, but there's plenty of room. I have been able to move my parents up, and I have bought a flat for Kate in Edinburgh. I also bought a people carrier for the family. I make a habit of working more or less to a daily routine. The morning session is from 10am-1pm, then 2-5 in the afternoon and 7-9 at night. I try to do at least two of these three sessions a day. But I still do all the cooking, clean the house and do the washing and ironing."
   Right now, Alison is awaiting reaction to Mary Queen of Scots. At 510 pages, it is her weightiest work and an astonishingly detailed study that focuses on events in Edinburgh on 10 February 1567, when Mary's husband, Lord Darnley, was murdered in a mysterious explosion. Darnley, the second of Mary's three husbands, was the father of their son, James VI of Scots, and future king of England, the first of the Stuarts. Historians have long argued that Mary herself had a role in Darnley's death since, after less than two years of marriage, she is said to have come to hate her vain, degenerate husband with a passion.
   Alison's own conclusions can be found in her book.
   Her mind is already tuned to her next two books. One will be on the many women in the life of Charles II. "That will be the bawdiest book I've written, she says. The other is about Isabella, daughter of Philip IV of France, who, with her lover Roger Mortimer, was arrested by her son, Edward III, at Nottingham Castle in 1330, giving rise to the story of Mortimer's Hole.
   Even though it's late afternoon by now, I leave Alison as she heads off to the Public Records Office to carry out more research. History, after all, doesn't stand still.


Author Alison Weir was asked which ten question she would pose to historical figures. We also asked her to imagine their honest answers.

To Elizabeth I:
Were you really the Virgin Queen?
Yes, of course.
Mary Queen of Scots: Did you have a hand in the murder of your husband, Lord Darnley?
Richard Ill: Did you order the murder of the Princes in the Tower?
Henry VIII: Which of your wives did you really love the most?
I would like to say Jane Seymour, who gave me a son (Edward VI), but if I was being truthful I would have to say Anne Boleyn, whom I truly loved for seven years, until she betrayed me.
Katherine Howard (one of Henry's wives): Did you commit adultery with Thomas Culpepper? 
Henry VII: Did you ever find out the truth about the Princes in the Tower, and where they were buried?
We never found the bodies, but there is littte doubt the usurper Richard (III) killed them.                                         
Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II: Is it true that you had affairs with your uncle, Raymond of Antioch, and your future father-in-law, Geoffrey of Anjou?
King John: Were you the murderer of Arthur of Brittany, your rival for the throne?
Also to King John: Did you really lose your treasure in the Wash?
To Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (favourite of -Elizabeth I): Were you responsible for the murder of your wife, Amy Robsart?

From The Press and Journal, Scotland, April 2003:

It is probably one of the greatest murder mysteries of all time. And ever since the body of Henry Darnley, 21-year-old husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, was found dead, following an explosion at Edinburgh's Kirk o'Field on February 10, 1567, there have been various names in the frame.
Was Mary the instigator of, or party to, the murder of her husband?
   The circumstantial evidence is weighty, but not conclusive, says Alison Weir who has just published Mary, Queen of Scots ,and the Murder of Lord Darnley amidst a barrage of publicity. For over four centuries, controversy has raged over who murdered Darnley and how he died. Many thought then, and still think now, that Qeen Mary was an accessory to the murder of her husband, for she certainly had sufficient motives for getting rid of him. But so did several other people, including most of the Scottish nobility. And Darnley himself, incredible as it may seem, was not above suspicion.
   This is not the first time that Weir has delved into the dark secrets and scandals irrounding ancient monarchs. She has written nine books in alI, bringing fresh perspectives to historical figures such as Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Princes in the Tower and Elizabeth. Weir, who lives in Peebles with her husband and two children, began reading history books at the age of 14, and by the time she was 15 had written a three-volume compendium of facts on the Tudors as well as a biography of Anne Boleyn. At school, she found history lessons, which were centred on the Industrial Revolution, boring and, though she passed her GCE, she was told her grade was not good enough to study history at an advanced level. This was a great disappoint­ment as the subject would have been the Tudors, a subject she already knew a great deal about.
   Weir went to teacher training college, with a view to teaching history, though eventually ran a specialist school for children who could not cope in mainstream schools. Her first published book was Britain's Royal Families in 1989 - the rest, as they say, is history.
   She is currently working on her next book, Isabella, the She- Wolf of France, but will also be busy this year in her capacity as historical adviser
on 'Henry VIII', which stars Ray Winstone as the King.
   She is not a revisionist historian - "I do not start with a theory and then try to fit the facts around it" - but draws her conclusions from the known facts and, where possible, verifies facts from reliable sources only. She has been told her books read like novels and believes this may be because, when she writes, she feels she is really there.
   "On occasion, I have been so moved by the events I have been describing that I have felt like crying."
   And she has never been too proud to admit her first impressions have been wrong. When she began writing about the Darnley mystery, she
believed she had evolved a credible solution to the mystery. "However, as my work progressed, and I came to analyse the source material in
depth, it became clear to me that my theory was incorrect and that the very opposite was more likely to have been the truth. After that, everything fell  more or less into place, and I believe that I have now credibly identified who murdered Darnley."
   And the villain is? Unsurprisingly, Weir isn't telling - you'll have to read the book to find out.

From The Bath Chronicle, May 2003:

An audience in Bath has been brought up to date with work on solving an historical mystery.
   Controversy and intrigue have surrounded the death of Lord Darnley, second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, for centuries. Author Alison Weir now claims to have found new evidence about the 400-year-old saga. Speaking to a packed audi­ence at the Theatre Royal's Ustinov Studio, Ms Weir read passages from her latest book, Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley.
   In the historical whodun­nit, she describes how Lord Darnley's lodging was rocked by a massive explosion on a bitterly cold night in Edin­burgh in February 1567, which sparked one of the greatest murder mysteries in history. The key victim was the peer himself, but mystery sur­rounded who killed him and what was the motive. The Queen had sufficient reason for wanting to get rid of him but several other people did too,  including most of  the Scottish nobility.
   Ms Weir was not giving too much away to people who had nol read the book. She says she feels more sympathy towards Mary than she did when she started to write it.
   Ms Weir wrote her first book - a biography of Anne Boleyn - at the tender age of 15. Commenting on her unstuffy approach to popular history, she explained: "What I want to bring forth in my books is the people and the minutiae, the details, of their everyday life. If you focus on character as much as you can, and if you bring to life all the things around these people - the places they lived in and how they lived their lives on a day-to-day basis - if you bring out all the detail, then I think you bring history to life much more."
(by Sheena Broadhead Chronicle correspondent)

From the Windsor and Eton Express, June 2003:

Best-selling author Alison Weir was a teenager when she read her first historical novel, a highly-coloured piece by Lozania Prole about Katherine of Aragon.
Amazed by the heady mixture of sex and violence, she turned to historical reference books to discover if it was all true - and found it was. The rest, quite literally was history. This set the pattern for a lifelong passion for history and a burning desire to dig out the truth behind the myths.
  Before she wrote a word, Alison spent 22 years on historical research. She has studied in exhaustive depth royal and aristocratic family trees, the subject of one of her earliest books, Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy, and started her huge collection of royal pictures in 1965. She still does all her own picture research. Now she is one of the best-known writers of carefully-researched, accessible historical books, leading the way in the new wave of popular interest in history in print and on screen.
   On Thursday she returned to Methvens bookshop in Windsor to whet the interest of readers in her latest book, Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley
   She first became interested in Mary when writing her book about Elizabeth I. Her findings about Mary were so contentious that her editors cut them out of the book.
   "I thought, there's a book here," Alison told the Express, and started trying to unravel the facts behind the contradictory theories of Mary's Involvement in the murder of her second husband. She worked systematically, drawing up a huge chronological table of events, based on contemporary sources and historiography, until after two months she had produced a 103-page plan.
   "It's astonishing what becomes clear this way," she said. "You get a new angle on events, where people were or were not at particular times. But even then I still didn't know where I was going. I could have written two books, one giving evidence of her guilt and one of her innocence."
   She found that much of the evidence was flawed - three-quarters of the material was written by Mary's enemies - and during the process of stripping away religious and political prejudices and romantic myths, Alison completely changed her original conclusion. Her verdict - well, you will have to read the book.
   During the seven months she took to write her latest book, she moved from Surrey to Edinburgh - a daunting enough experience without a book on her hands
- and found to her surprise that suspicion of the Catholic Queen Mary still lingers among the Presbyterian Scots.
   Her clear, readable style owes a lot to her experience as a special needs teacher, fleshing out the bare bones of history to capture the children's interest.
Now she has started on the first of her latest three-book contract, Isabella, the She-Wolf of France, returning to the medieval period. The others are about John of Gaunt and Charles II's women - an earlier subject, Lucrezia Borgia, had to be jettisoned because someone was already writing about her.




On the night of 10th February, 1567, a resounding explosion blew up a house at Kirk o' Field in Edinburgh, the residence of Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. The noise awoke many citizens and could be heard as far away as Holyrood Palace, where Queen Mary was attending a wedding masque. Those arriving upon the scene of devastation found, in the garden, the nude corpses of Darnley and his valet. Neither had died in the explosion, for both bodies were unmarked. It looked as if they had been murdered and the house destroyed in an attempt to obliterate the evidence.

Darnley was not a popular king-consort. The son of the Earl of Lennox by Margaret Douglas, niece of Henry VIII, he was regarded by many as having a valid claim to the English throne. For this reason, Elizabeth I opposed his family's plan to marry him to Mary Stuart, who herself claimed to be the rightful Queen of England. The union of two such powerful claimants would render Elizabeth's throne even more insecure than it already was.
   Suddenly, in 1565, Elizabeth changed her mind and allowed Darnley to go to Scotland. He was then twenty, and despite his outward good looks and charm, his weak and vicious nature was beginning to manifest itself. It is likely that Elizabeth hoped that marriage to a man such as he would undermine Mary's prestige; in other words, if she gave Mary enough rope, she would hang herself. If this was so, Mary fell into the trap. A passionate woman who was led by her heart rather than her head, she quickly became infatuated with the handsome Darnley and married him in what she believed was defiance of Elizabeth's wishes.

She was soon to regret her hastiness. Within weeks, the marriage was on the rocks, with Mary realising to her dismay what her new husband was really like, and Darnley alienating not only the Queen but also the volatile Scottish lords by his overbearing behaviour and insistence on being granted the full privileges of kingship, which had hitherto been denied him. The situation only grew worse during the ensuing months, with Mary turning to her Italian secretary, David Rizzio, for companionship, and Darnley concluding that she was betraying her marriage vows.

Despite the rift between the royal couple, Mary became pregnant. In 1566, the Scots lords, who were as resentful as Darnley of Rizzio's influence, persuaded Darnley to join them in a plot to assassinate the favourite; in return, they would secure for him full regal powers, while Mary, if she did not die in childbirth, would be kept in close confinement. Darnley, who could not see that the lords wished to be rid of him also, went along with the plan, and was among the armed men who broke into Mary's private chamber at Holyrood Palace, as she sat at supper with Rizzio, and dragged him away, he clinging to the Queen's skirts and begging her to save him. In the outer stairway, he was stabbed over fifty times.

Despite the shock and being six months pregnant, Mary was able to persuade Darnley that he had been used by the treacherous lords, whose real target was himself. Together, they escaped, and with Darnley's support Mary was able to re-establish her authority as queen. But although she bore a healthy son, James, relations between her and her husband remained difficult, and it was obvious that their marriage had broken down.
   In the winter of 1566-7, Darnley fell ill with what is thought to have been syphilis, and in December took himself off to stay with his father in Glasgow. Mary was already coming under the influence of the powerful Earl of Bothwell, and during that same month she was present at a meeting of Bothwell and other Scots lords in Craigmillar Castle. It was probably during this conference that these lords plotted the murder of Darnley. There is no direct evidence that Mary was privy to this, and she did warn them that nothing was to be done to stain her honour and conscience.
   Soon afterwards, Mary persuaded Darnley to leave Glasgow and come to stay with her at Kirk o' Field, where the air was healthful, and where she could nurse him back to health. Playing the part of a solicitous wife, she appeared to be doing her best to restore good relations between them. Yet although she annmounced her intention of spending the night of 10th February 1567 at Kirk o' Field, at the last minute she remembered that she had promised to attend a wedding masque at Holyrood.
   After Darnley's murder, the finger of public suspicion pointed with justification at Bothwell, and at Mary. Of all those who had hated Darnley, the one who stood to gain most from his death was herself, for it extricated her from a disastrous marriage and left her free to make a new alliance. Moreover, she had for some time been discussing with her advisers ways of ridding herself of her unwanted husband, and her behaviour after his death was anything but reassuring. Both Queen Elizabeth of England and Queen Catherine de'Medici of France begged Mary to exonerate herself from complicity in the murder, and warned her that she would lose their friendship if she failed to do so.

Although Mary reacted to the murder with shock and declared that the killers would be caught and punished, she lifted no finger against Bothwell, the man bruited most likely to have done the deed. Those who were questioned were interrogated in secret and under threat of torture, so that their depositions were immediately suspect. When Darnley's father forced the reluctant Mary to agree to a private prosecution of Bothwell, he and his supporters were so intimidated by Bothwell's henchmen that he was too fearful to attend, and the Earl was acquitted.
Public suspicion deepened when, three months after the murder, Bothwell abducted Mary and raped her - with her consent, it was said. Their marriage followed soon afterwards, but it was a union that the Scottish lords and people were not pepared to tolerate. After being defeated at Carberry Hill, Mary was forced to abdicate in favour of her son James, and Bothwell fled to Denmark, where he was later held in prison until his death.
   The rest of Mary's story is well-known. She escaped to England after a year in captivity, throwing herself on Elizabeth's mercy. But instead of helping her to regain her throne, Elizabeth kept her under house arrest and declared that she - a virgin queen with a reputation to protect - could not receive Mary until she had been cleared of her husband's murder. In 1568, Elizabeth ordered a public inquiry into Darnley's death, at which the Scottish lords produced what would become known as the Casket Letters, a box of documents that, if authentic, proved Mary's foreknowledge of the murder.
   The Casket Letters disappeared in 1584, but ever since 1568, controversy has raged over their authenticity. Although Elizabeth I and the English commissioners made clear their belief that the letters were genuine, the inquiry reached no certain conclusion. Mary and her supporters, were adamant that the letters were forgeries, and Mary continued to protest her innocence during the remaining years of her captivity in England, which ended with her execution in 1587, on a well-founded charge of plotting Elizabeth's death. Since then, her guilt or innocence in relation to the murder of Darnley, and the authenticity of the Casket Letters, have been the subjects of intense argument and speculation down the centuries.


Of all the books I have written, the one I enjoyed researching and writing most was The Princes in the Tower, not only because it was a fascinating historical subject, but also because it was a murder mystery. Since then, I wanted to attempt to solve another royal or historical murder mystery.
   When I was working on Elizabeth the Queen, my research touched upon the life of Mary, Queen of Scots and the murder of Lord Darnley, and I began to wonder why so many modern historians hasten to exonerate Mary from any involvement in her husband's death, especially when it seemed obvious to me, from my extensive researches, that there was substantial circumstantial evidence of her guilt, indicating that she was at least an accomplice in the murder of Lord Darnley; and that there was more to her role in this case than many people would like to think. However, as I was writing a book about Elizabeth, both I and my editor felt it was inappropriate to make it a forum for my controversial views on Mary, and I omitted them entirely.
   I still feel, however, that my research uncovered something crucial, and should like to dig deeper into this mystery. Contemporary historians are generally sympathetic to Mary, so why have I come to believe, on the basis of my research, that she was an accessory both before and after the fact to the murder of Darnley? I had started with no firm views on the matter, and I was not dealing with fantasies but with sources that revealed contemporary evidence and opinions, most of which seemed to me very damning.
   The idea was born, therefore, for me thoroughly to investigate the matter, using the same methods as for The Princes in the Tower. I would look at the circumstances of the marriage of Mary and Darnley, the actions and motives of those who promoted or opposed it, the bias of the surviving source material, the breakdown of the marriage, the known facts concerning the plot against Darnley, Mary's involvement, the murder itself and its immediate aftermath, Mary's reaction, likely culprits, the English inquiry into Mary's complicity, the authenticity of the Casket Letters, and Mary's own protestations of innocence. I would also examine the little-known role of Darnley's parents, who were convinced of Mary's guilt and did everything posible to bring their son's killers to justice; I should add that during the 1970s I did a considerable amount of research (which I still have and intend to update) into the life of Darnley's mother, Margaret Douglas, which sheds much light on this aspect of the murder. I would arrange the evidence within a strictly chronological framework. Finally, I would aim to reach a balanced conclusion, which cannot be predicted at this stage and will not be revealed until the final chapter.

There have, in the past, been many books on this subject, as was the case with The Princes in the Tower, but apart from biographies of Mary and, more recently, Darnley, there has been no recent work on Mary's possible involvement in Darnley's murder. I believe that an exhaustive investigation might produce a new slant on the matter. It was said of The Princes in the Tower that it would not be the final book on the subject, but it might be the best; my aim will be for people to say the same of this book too.

Spring Highlights: Non-Fiction, The Bookseller, 17th January 2003

Weir says that the evidence against Mary is "flawed".

In her latest book, historian Alison Weir attempts to solve a long-running royal murder mystery—the killing of Lord Darnley, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots in an explosion in 1567. Historians are divided on the issue: one line of argument has long been that Mary plotted the murder with James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, whom she married just three months after Darnley's death. Weir says:
   "There are many different percep-tions of Mary—the adulteress, the murderess, the Catholic martyr, even the silly woman. Most historians are now coming round to the idea that Mary was guilty of Darnley's murder. It's a very, very difficult subject. I had a 130-page chronological plan, with thousands and thousands of research entries, and I had got to the stage of thinking I could write two books, one finding her innocent and the other finding her guilty. But it was when I got to the Craigmillar conference in December 1566 that it suddenly dawned on me, that this plot did not originate with Mary. And when you actually analyse the evidence for her guilt, it is highly biased and there is very little independent evidence to corroborate it.
   "At the Craigmillar conference, the Scottish lords Maitland and Murray went to Argyll and Huntly, and then Bothwell, to suggest finding some way of freeing the Queen from her husband—the innuendo of that conversation is reported and corroborated elsewhere, and it is obvious that the plot came from them. So many people were saying that at the time, and in the 1570s and 1580s it was more or less accepted wisdom.
"There is not a shred of con-temporary evidence that Mary killed Darnley—that was all written afterwards. The Casket Letters [purportedly from Mary, containing evidence of her guilt] are very controversial, and in my view they are a mixture of forgeries and manipulations of actual letters Mary had written.
   "The poor woman had the most dreadful life if you think about it. She was married to Darnley, who treated her abominably, and used her as a stepping stone to his own ambitions. He wouldn't have stopped at murdering her—she herself believed that, and I think she was right. Then after the murder of Darnley, Bothwell raped Mary with a purpose, because she refused to marry him. If you see the Hollywood film Mary of Scotland, with Katharine Hepburn as Mary, she has a great love affair with Bothwell. Many historians would say she concurred in the marriage. But once Bothwell raped her she did not have much choice, because her throne was precarious enough and she couldn't risk the scandal of an illicit pregnancy.
   "Another aspect that hasn't been stated strongly enough is Mary's physical and mental state after Darnley's murder. If you analyse her behaviour and the medical evidence during the three months between his death and her marriage to Bothwell, you see that here is a woman on the brink, more or less over the edge in fact. She says in one of her letters in effect that she can't cope with anything. The day after the wedding to Bothwell, she's seen to be crying. Is this an adulteress who murdered her husband to marry her lover? It doesn't sound like it.
   "The trouble is, people start with their own agenda. They have a theory and make the facts fit it. But I think you must start with the facts. Given that three-quarters of the evidence against Mary comes from her enemies, people who had a vested interest in discrediting her, I couldn't go down the route of finding her guilty."

From the Brentford Gazette, March 2004:

Exhaustive research is the reason why Alison Weir's historical books are such big sellers, says Fred Hammerton as he speaks to the author ahead of her Essex Book Festival appearance.

Best-selling historian Alison Weir sounds if she's all of a dither. She's in the process of moving house from Peebles in a sparsely populated area of the Scottish Borders to Surrey. It might seem unlikely that the author would want to leave such apparently idyllic surroundings for the frenetic South but she wants to be nearer her family and more activity.
   Activity is something Alison obviously thrives on; considering the amount of research she undertakes on each of her books, her output is prolific. But when she finishes a book - she has had nine published - she "can't wait to get back to it". Her latest, Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, involved 18 months of research and then six months on the word processor.
   Some authors employ researchers. Not so Alison. She loves turning up those fine details that consistently mark her writing. She is anxious not to miss anything which could enhance her work. When she needs help however she seeks out experience. James Cullen, for instance gave her advice on explosives for her latest work. I expected that he would be someone involved with the Royal Logistics Corps, better known as bomb disposal. But no. It was far closer to home. Mr Cullen is her stepfather who has a close knowledge of the subject. Alison wanted to know what damage might be caused to two bodies blown from a building.
   The answer helped her as she researched the night of 10th February 1567, when an explosion wrecked the Edinburgh home of Mary, Queen of Scots' second husband, Lord Darnley. The naked bodies of Darnley and his valet were discovered in the garden. Both had been evidently murdered and the house blown up in an attempt to destroy evidence.
   Alison admits to having had certain views about Mary's involvement in the murders, but a third of the way through her writing she admits to changing her mind.
   In just eight weeks, Mary, Queen of Scots sold 25,000 copies; excellent for a historical work. In all, there are around a quarter of a million words in the 600-page paperback.
   Alison explains that the last book on Lord Darnley's murder was published in 1966.
   If Alison can surpass her investigative detail in future works, the reviewers will have themselves to surpass their descriptive language as they compose their reviews. "A monumental piece of historical detective work" was used by one Sunday newspaper.
   Conscientious work is always revealed in print. There are those who may not agree with the author's findings, but there will not be many who can find fault with a book which satiates a greedy reader with so many characters and such detail.
  In the Prologue, Alison writes of Lord Darnley's murder: "I believe that it is indeed possible to unravel what actually happened on that long ago night in Edinburgh and to point the finger at who was responsible."
   There's no rest for the author. She is now working on Isabella, She Wolf Of France, to be published next year.


A short film, 'The Execution of Mary Stuart', directed in 1895 by Thomas Alva Edison, is one of the first moving pictures ever made and depicts Mary’s beheading. It was also one the first films to utilize an intentional jump-cut to create the illusion of a single-shot beheading. The effect was so convincing at the time that many viewers believed that the actress was actually killed.
A British silent film, 'The Loves of Mary, Queen of Scots', was made in 1923 and starred Fay Compton. Basil Rathbone had a small uncredited role. The film itself may no longer exist.  Here is a contemporary review:  'Ideal's scholarly production, "The Loves of Mary, Queen of Scots" is undoubtedly one of the most conscientious historical pictures ever made. Never has Britain's treasury of historical relics been so freely drawn upon as in this superbly mounted picture, which might almost be described as a screen museum of the period. Human interest is by no means lacking, moreover, and in her characterization of the ill-fated Queen, Fay Compton achieves what is undoubtedly one of the best performances her film career.'
The story concerns the murder of Lord Darnley and Mary’s subsequent marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, the man suspected of killing him. It was filmed on location at Stirling Castle in Scotland.

'Mary of Scotland' was released in 1936 by RKO, starring Katharine Hepburn as Mary. Directed by John Ford, it is an adaptation of a 1933 Maxwell Anderson play by Dudley Nichols. Ginger Rogers wanted to play this role and made a convincing screen text, but RKO rejected her request to be cast in the part feeling that the role was not suitable to Miss Rogers image.  The film portrays Mary as something of a wronged martyr and her third husband, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell (Fredric March), as a romantic hero. It is highly regarded by a few critics today, but in its time was a box office flop, making a loss of $165,000. This was Katharine Hepburn's second flop in a row causing her to being labeled "box office poison" in the late 1930s, leading to her move to MGM for her comeback in 'The Philadelphia Story'.

'The Heart of Queen', released in 1940, was a German film about the life and loves of Mary Queen of Scots. It featured Zarah Leander, a Swedish-German actress from the Nazi period, as plays Mary, and made use of the historical story as anti-British propaganda during the Second World War. While awaiting her unjust execution at the hands of the treacherous Queen Elizabeth I, the tragic Mary Stuart reflects at the series of cruel political machinations that set up her path to the scaffold.
In 1969 the TV comedy series  'Monty Python's Flying Circus' featured a skit involving a "BBC radio drama series" entitled "Death of Mary, Queen of Scots". Here is the script:
And now we present the first episode of a new radio drama series, 'The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots.' Part One: The Beginning.
Man's Voice: You are Mary, Queen of Scots?
Woman's Voice: I am!
(sound of violent blows being dealt, things being smashed, awful crunching noises, bones being broken, and other bodily harm being inflicted. All this accompanied by screaming from the woman.)
(Music fades up and out)
Announcer: Episode Two of 'The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots', can be heard on Radio Four almost immediately.
(Music, then the sound of saw cutting, and other violent sounds as before, with the woman screaming. Suddenly it is silent.)
Man's Voice: I think she's dead.
Woman's Voice: No I'm not!
(Sounds of physical harm and screaming start again. Then music fades up and out)

In 1971, in the BBC TV production 'Elizabeth R.', Mary was played by Vivian Pickles. The episode "Horrible Conspiracies" is a generally historically accurate portrayal of Mary during her captivity in England, from her imprisonment at Chartley under the guardianship of Sir Amyas Paulet, through to her trial and execution, and uses many of Mary's own reported words as dialogue. At her execution she appears in a red petticoat (red being the Catholic colour of martyrdom), positioning of her head with her hands on the block, and the two blows and sawing motion it finally took to remove her head. It also shows the executioner unwittingly grasping and pulling away her wig to reveal her grey hair.

'Mary, Queen of Scots' was a 1971 Universal Pictures biographical film. Leading an all-star cast were Vanessa Redgrave as Mary and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I. The screenplay was written by John Hale, and the film directed by Charles Jarrott, both of whom had worked on 'Anne of the Thousand Days'. Like the play Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller and the opera Maria Stuarda by Donizetti, the film takes some liberties with history in order to achieve increased dramatic effect. It depicts two meetings between the queens, although they never met in life. The film was shot at Château de Chenonceau, France, and in Scotland and England. The song in the opening sequence, "Vivre et Mourir", is sung by Redgrave, with lyrics taken from a sonnet written by Mary, Queen of Scots. The New York Times  described the film as "a loveless, passionless costume drama", but the acting of Redgrave and Jackson was widely lauded. 'Mary, Queen of Scots' was nominated several for Academy Awards and received several Golden Globe nominations. It was announced in May 2007 that Scarlett Johansson was to star in a remake, directed by John Curran, but nothing came of this project.

'Gunpowder, Treason and Plot' was a TV miniseries of 2004 loosely based upon the lives of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her son James I . The writer, Jimmy McGovern, told the story behind the Gunpowder Plot in two parts, centred on each monarch. Filmed in Romania with a Scottish crew, the first film dramatizes the relationship between Mary, played by French actress Clémence Poésy, and her third husband, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, played by Kevin McKidd. It’s a lively piece, full of political and religious intrigue and very bloody in parts. Clemence Poesy brings to the character of Mary a naivety and sensuality.

In the Channel 4 miniseries, 'Elizabeth I', broadcast in 2005 and starring Helen Mirren, the first two-hour segment partly centres on the conflict between Mary and Elizabeth. Mary is portrayed by actress Barbara Flynn, and her execution is graphically shown.

In 2007 the film 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age' starred Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth and Samantha Morton as Mary. It shows Elizabeth juggling threats from without – a mad king of Spain determined to restore England to Catholicism – with dangers from within – an assassination plot involving the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots.

'Mary Queen of Scots' is a 2013 Swiss drama film directed by Thomas Imbach. It was screened at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.  The film stars French-Swiss actress Camille Rutherford as Mary, but is not very accurate historically. The cinematography by Rainer Klausmann makes the most of the beautiful landscapes of Switzerland and France.

'Reign' is an American historical fiction television series of 2013 that follows the early years of Mary. The leading roles are played by a combination of Australian, Canadian, and English actors. In 2014 it was renewed for a second season.  This highly fictionalized series follows the life of Mary at French court while she awaits her marriage to the future Francis II. She has to contend with the changing politics and power plays, as well as her burgeoning feelings for Francis and the romantic attentions from his fictional bastard half-brother, Bash. Francis' mother, Catherine de' Medici, is secretly trying to prevent the marriage, following Nostradamus's prediction that it will lead to Francis' death. The series also follows the affairs of Mary's Scottish handmaidens Kenna, Aylee, Lola and Greer, who are loosely based on the four Maries and are searching for husbands of their own at court. Australian actress Adelaide Kane plays Mary. The show deliberately takes liberties with the facts, and has been called "fantasy history", exploring the characters in hypothetical situations. It was designed to be interesting to a contemporary audience, to attract viewers who aren't familiar with history. Among the creative choices is the use of modern music in the show soundtrack, and its costumes. Response to the show has been mixed, with various critics highlighting its focus on romance and teenage drama instead of historical accuracy. USA Today described it as anachronistic and "dumbing down" history for the sake of entertainment.


Queen Mary adopted the French spelling of the name Stewart - Stuart, which was also used by Darnley, so their son, James VI and I, used that form too. 

This book was the most difficult and challenging one that I have written, because of the complexity of the material and the number of possible suspects. It wasn't until I was a third of the way through that I realised which way I was going with the evidence. It is easy to see why people have reached other conclusions, since it is possible to make good cases for both the innocent or guilty theories. In the end, however, it was the quality and nature of the evidence that decided it for me. 

Mary believed she had a legitimate claim to the English throne, but as the law in England then stood, she had no claim at all, since the 1544 Act of Succession had excluded the heirs of her grandmother, Margaret Tudor. Furthermore she was an alien, which also debarred her. Mary lacked foresight. She made two disastrous and fateful decisions that would wreck her life: one was to marry Darnley in the face of all advice, and the other was to flee to England in 1568, again in the face of sound advice. Although she was probably innocent of Darnley`s murder and was wronged in many ways, it can on occasions be hard to feel sympathy for her. She died because she conspired Elizabeth I`s death, and under the Act of Association, passed in the interests of national security, her execution was lawful and necessary, certainly in English eyes. Dying as a Catholic martyr enabled her to reclaim the high moral ground, although there can be no doubt that she was sincere.