The Affairs of the Earl of Bothwell

A Translation from the French by Pascale Jooste

Mary, Queen of Scots Home Page

The following narrative of the events preceding Bothwell's flight from Scotland, was completed on 5 January 1568 while Bothwell was in the Castle of Copenhagen. Originally written in French under the title "Les Affaires du Conte de Boduel", it was intended to procure his release. There exists another document called "Confession" allegedly written by Bothwell on his death bed, but this was probably written much later on Mary's behalf to secure her release. As will also be remembered, Bothwell died insane in extremely dire conditions. (The original text is available from the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. Also, see note below. )

In order that the King of Denmark and the Council of his Realm may better and more clearly understand the malice and treachery of my accusers named below: I have, as concisely as possible, included and truthfully exposed the reason for the unrest and upheavals which ensued, of which they only are the chief authors and instigators, from the year 1559 until today.

I have similarly exposed their lies, and the great wrong and harm they have done to me, which I can and want to claim as genuine as, may it please God, each and everyone will be able to see and understand for themselves.

Copenhagen, on the Eve of the Epiphany, MDLXVIII

Below are the names of the main Leaders and Instigators of all this unrest and sedition.

The Earls of Moray

Lord Lindsay
The Secretary Lethington
The Registrar
The Lord Justice Clerk

Those who joined the abovementioned Lords during the last upheavals.

Lords Home
The Provost of Edinburgh
Sir James Balfour

The abovementioned Lords, weary of the obedience and loyalty that they owed their superior, engaged in manoeuvres and secret gatherings all over the Realm, in order to stir up the common people and facilitate their enterprises; and in order to more easily persuade them that the cause was just and worthy, they used the pretext that they wanted to preserve Religion, and thus the conspiracy in which they entered against their Queen (I pass on many other issues and charges of which they are guilty) began with the siege of the town of Leith, and continued with their efforts, as much against Her Majesty than the Lords of her Council and her other loyal subjects who were in the said town. Similarly they chased into their houses those who were on the fields, and who did not want to join them, and harmed them in the worst possible manner by ransacking their houses and fortresses: and they did much wrong to several wealthy people across the Realm, notwithstanding the fact that the Queen, with the ordinary nobility and her other subjects, had previously resolved to reform the religion and put it back in good order, without any pressure on her part at all. Nevertheless, not content with that, they pursued their malicious deliberations, and with a view to giving rise to further riots, they gave free access to the English, our old enemies, allying themselves to, and secretly plotting with them against the Queen and those belonging to her Realm, and they once again besieged the town of Leith (before which they had previously been forced to lift the siege) in order to oust the French, who were guarding the said town against our said enemies. The most Christian King shortly before had married the young Queen of Scotland, which was the reason why the ordinary nobility and other subjects of the said Realm promised her certain things, even by means of letters which they sent to her Majesty in France through their Ambassadors, offering her their loyal obedience as every good subject is bound to: But I do not know the reason which motivated them to do so.

Second Sedition
The reason for and start of their hatred and annoyance against me

However, (because of the aid which they received from England) the said town was returned by the agreement reached between her said Majesty and the Queen of England, which agreement was negotiated by their Ambassadors and according to which it was ordered that all the old hatred and resentment on both sides be extinguished. Nevertheless, their hearts were so embittered, that they had those who had previously offended them and harmed them during the said siege hunted down, especially myself, who (of which I am unworthy) had been elected Lieutenant-General to the Queen my lady, in order to attend to matters of war, and during which time I did my best, within my rights as soldier, to capture several Scots and Englishmen, and behaved impeccably in all matters as duty commended it. I also seized on the Borders a certain sum of deniers sent from England for the remuneration and upkeep of their soldiers.

The Queen returns to Scotland from France

Not long after the town of Leith had been returned, and the French gone back to France, the most Christian King died. Then, the Queen on the advice of her friends and at the request of her loyal subjects, decided to return to her Realm. This she did in order to maintain and strengthen the said alliance and agreement, and also in acknowledgment of the loyal services rendered to her in her absence by her said subjects. She rewarded me much more generously and honourably than I deserved; which so displeased my enemies that with their devious inventions and deceit, they managed to overturn the remarkable benevolence and goodwill which the Queen bestowed upon me. Similarly, they had the Earls of Arran and Huntly ousted; and all this, because the said Earl of Arran was a close relative of her Majesty, and was eligible to succeed to the throne; as for the Earl of Huntly and myself, because we might hinder their designs.

Subtle moves and practices to succeed to the crown

The leader of this sedition was the Earl of Moray, bastard brother of her said Majesty, former canon and prior of St Andrews, who considered that our demise would be most advantageous to him, and that once we were defeated he would easily attain the goal to which he aspired, which was to be the second person in the Realm, and bargained that the Queen, the ordinary nobility and all the other subjects and generally all the Scottish Estates, would unanimously consent to him inheriting the crown, along with his issue or his close relatives, should the Queen die without an heir.
To better tinge his insolence, he spread the rumour that the Earl of Arran and I (who some time beforehand had made up over a quarrel we had had) had decided to kill him and other Lords of the Council. Also, that I intended to abduct the Queen and take her to one of my properties, which seemed the most secure.

Our imprisonment

Thanks to such false accusations, it was ordered that we be thrown in a narrow jail of Edinburgh Castle, no matter how much we demanded to be heard in this matter, and protested that the due process of law should be followed as in any other such case; which was declined.

The Earl of Huntly captured and killed

The Earl of Huntly, who had been charged with the same deed, unaware of their intentions, was caught off guard as he went about the country, and secretly murdered by the said Earl of Moray. The Earl of Huntly’s son was also apprehended, brought to justice and condemned, and all their properties and goods forfeited to the crown.
When I heard about this dreadful murder and unfair pursuit, I thought of a way of finding out the truth about the Queen’s will toward me, and thus I was told that she was well aware that I had been accused through hatred and malice; but that however, she could in no way help me as she had no authority herself, but that I should do the best I could.

My release and her cause  

I become Captain of the Scottish Guard

I am sent back to Scotland instead of France

This answer was the reason why I endeavoured to escape from jail and, once free, decided to travel to France by sea; but the storm and gales pushed me towards England, where the Queen of England demonstrated the greatest amicability, as strangely did also some of her loyal subjects, far beyond my expectations, considering that during the war, I had done irreparable damage to the borders and those who lived there. I then left England to pursue my goal of going to France, after receiving certain letters from the Queen of Scotland, which she had sent to me in England, for the most Christian King and the Lords of his Council, so that I may enjoy the status with which the nobility of my country is honoured over there, thanks to the content of the old contract agreed between the two said realms of France and Scotland. Being thus equipped, I received letters from the Queen of Scotland in which she ordered me to return to Scotland for the reasons which follow.

The Queen of Scotland marries a young Prince named Henry Stuart

When the Queen discovered their wily and malicious designs, desirous to sort out and enforce law and order in her Realm for the benefit and relief of her subjects, she decided to marry a young Prince of her blood, who had gone over to Scotland from England for that purpose, hoping (as stands to reason) that nobody would hinder it, but which the said rebels nevertheless tried their best to do because they wished above all things that the Queen remained childless, for the previously mentioned reasons; and also because they could not suffer that anyone else apart from them had authority in the Realm, and anticipated that they would be deprived of this by the said marriage.

Third Sedition and the designs of my enemies

For that reason, after consorting with each other, they decided to kill the said Prince and summoned their friends and allies to this effect. Thus, shortly after the wedding celebrations of the said Queen and the said Prince, the said conspirators decided to abduct the said Queen and keep her prisoner, as they later did with malice, contrary to their faithful promises, and the conditions to which they had agreed; as will become clear in what follows.

The conspirators are driven out

As I had returned from France in the meantime, she put me in charge of a certain number of soldiers, her loyal subjects, and of my own friends, with whom I endeavoured to chase the said Earl of Moray out of the Realm of Scotland into England, which I succeeded in doing; in the meantime, all the estates were convened to ascertain and decide which goods could be forfeited to the crown.

Fourth Sedition for the death of Sir David

Some of the said Earl of Moray’s accomplices, who were following the Queen’s court, in order to prevent the sentence stirred troubles anew, by the perpetration of the murder of an Italian, Sir David, which murder took place in the Queen’s chamber at Edinburgh Castle during her supper, where none of his guards were to be found, not even the Queen’s; and if (to avoid the danger) a few Lords and I had not passed through a window behind the said dwelling, we would not have received better treatment, especially that they had thus agreed amongst themselves, or at least been forced to approve of such an evil and loathsome deed.

The Earl of Morton, Lord Lindsay, Lord Ruthven and others

The said murder thus perpetrated following the advice and instance of the said Earl of Moray’s accomplices, the latter returned from England, hoping to take over the government and hold the Queen prisoner, whom they had already previously incarcerated in her own home named the Holy Cross.

Their false pretext to tinge the said murder

4000 men

The Earl of Moray driven out for the second time

Declaration by the King of Scotland concerning the letters and permission which the murderers claimed having received from his Majesty

The hatred which they developed against the King because of his declaration



To excuse the said murder, they said that they had acted under the express order of their King and even had his letters (bearing the Seal) to prove it.
Having left the dwelling of the said Queen safely, we mustered our best friends, her Majesty’s loyal subjects, in order to release her and the King her husband from the captivity in which they were detained, which we did partly with industry and partly with force. The next day their Majesties set off together for Edinburgh with a good number of people, and chased the said Earl of Moray and his accomplices so vehemently, that they were forced to leave the country. The Queen, most outraged by this assassination bore them a great hatred, as did the nobility and the rest of her subjects, but the King hated them even more. For as soon as he arrived in the said city, he promptly issued a proclamation that everything which the murderers (who had killed Sir David) had said about his Majesty was lies. Further, he gave all the officials of the Estates and subjects of the said Realm the express order that they were to diligently uncover and imprison those who had taken part in the said deed alongside the murderers whoever they may be, and have them sentenced to death. And that if someone was found to have helped them in any way, they were to be subjected to corporal punishment. Furthermore, those who faithfully obeyed the said order would be generously rewarded. To serve as an example, he had four of those present at the said murder hanged, two of whom were executed on the square.
When some of the friends of those who were in exile saw the serious punishment which the said King was imposing, they did not fail to warn the others, who as a consequence developed such a hatred of the King, that they strove to find a way of avenging themselves against his Majesty, because he had publicly denied the order and the letters which they claimed he had given them; and they were well aware that during his lifetime, they could never safely live in Scotland, but always in fear of their life, property and honour, as many others knew too.

The subtleties they used to achieve their aims

Some time later, in order to facilitate the achievement of their malicious designs, they promised to forget what had happened in the past, and by showing themselves to be true friends, would compensate those they had previously offended and hated. And by such demonstrations and fine words, they appealed to those who were in a position to help them regain the favour of the Queen and, among that of the other Lords, they also sought my help for that purpose. I did what I could, under the pressure of their requests, as they relied heavily on me due to the favour which her Majesty bestowed upon me and the access I had to her. This I had only acquired thanks to the loyal duty with which I served not only during the wars of Madam, her late mother’s time but also her own, risking my life on several occasions and at my great expense, for which she has very generously rewarded me not only with presents but also with the additional responsibilities with which she honoured me.

My decision

After I had procured them their pardon and they were allowed to accompany the court, I decided to rest and lead a peaceful life after suffering in prison and exile, and to think no more of revenge and feuds.

Their shiftiness

But those to whom such a pardon had been granted, as they followed the court displayed such obedience and goodwill towards everyone, that all the Lords and gentlemen of the Realm were rejoicing, especially as former feuds had abated within the said court. Nevertheless, they continued to persevere in their malicious designs, seeking day and night a way of bringing about the death of the said King.
Shortly after, the King fell ill with small-pox, and took to his bed in a house called Kirk’of Field (for fear of the harm it may cause to the Queen’s health and that of the child) until he was cured, with the mutual consent of the Queen and the Lords of her Council, who wished to preserve both their health.

Fifth Sedition

Death of the King

Then the traitors, finding the moment so appropriate, carried a quantity of gun powder to where the King was, which they placed under his bed, and then set fire to it so that he was ejected and killed. This was done at the home of Sir James Balfour, on whom the Queen had conferred a benefit and also given the governorship of Edinburgh Castle, with all its treasures, jewels, silverware, clothes and furniture, because it was the most powerful position of the Realm.

Testimony concerning my whereabouts when the King was betrayed

On the same night as this event, a few Lords of her Council were staying at the Queen’s home, called the Holy Rood, as they usually are, and I was residing in the circumference, normally the seat of the guard, a body of fifty men. I was lying in bed, by my first Princess, sister of the Earl of Huntly, when her brothers came to me in the morning to inform me of the King’s death, which displeased me greatly, as it did several other Lords.

Thorough investigation carried out by myself and the Earl of Huntly at the behest of the Queen and the Lords of her Council

Their manoeuvres to turn others into suspects

The said Earl of Huntly voiced the opinion that a meeting should be convened immediately to discuss the means of catching the traitors who had committed the said deed. The Queen, who was greatly distressed and chagrined, and the said Lords of the Council then ordered us to muster soldiers to carry out a thorough investigation and capture the said traitors. This we did, and finding ourselves at the house where the King lay dead, we firstly recovered his body and had it guarded with due honour, and then we found a barrel (or vat) in which the powder had been stored, which we kept after examining its markings.
Enraged we apprehended certain people suspected of the deed and held them in custody, upon which they gave us their testimony concerning their whereabouts at the time the murder was committed. Nevertheless, I continued to investigate the matter with diligence so as to get to the bottom of things, for I was not to know that I would be accused; some of the Lords of the Council, fearing that the Queen and I would have them investigated, joined forces and ganged up against the Queen and ourselves to defeat us. However, they did their best to use every subtlety and deceit in their power, posting their letters and placards at night at the tolbooth, on church doors, and throughout the streets and crossroads, so as to get me and my friends suspected of the said deed.

My urgent pleadings for my case to be heard

When I found out that I was being blamed and accused by such devices of having committed such a crime of which I and all my followers were innocent (as God is my witness), I begged the Queen and Gentlemen of the Council to allow me to be brought to trial; and that, if after a thorough examination I was found guilty, I should be punished accordingly for such a heinous crime; but if I was found innocent (as I really am), then let the rumours and blame be silenced, and let me be given my due and the day of my appearance be set.

The first time I appeared in court and my declaration

My sentence

My adversaries' protests

The Gentlemen of the Council assembled and with them, many of the nobility and the common people, at the location where I was summoned to appear. Among the Gentlemen of the Council and the said nobility who were to try my case were those who follow, and who sided against me: the Earl of Morton, Lord Ruthven, Lord Lindsay, Lord Sempel, the Secretary, the Lord Justice Clerk and the Registrar and after that the charges against me were read and that my adversaries (and chiefly my adversary the Earl of Lennox who had been delayed and did not appear) acknowledged that they had no fair case whatsoever against me, against my bodily person, my property, nor my honour I was, according to the laws and customs of the country, the order of my judges and consent of my parties present, declared innocent, acquitted and discharged of all accusations, which were that I had taken part in the plot and execution of the murder of the King Henry my Lord and Master, for which there was no proof whatsoever, but on the contrary, I proved by the good testimonies which I provided, where I was when this misfortune occurred. After that my enemies and adversaries realised that I had been acquitted and discharged and won my case, they got up and begged me instantly not to pursue them for the unjust complaints they had made against me. But their discourse was as far from their hearts as it was close to their mouths, as I have since then experienced and still do today.

The notices I posted in my just cause

For the second time, as is the custom in the said country and following the rules of war, I had proclaimed by the town crier in Edinburgh and posted notices sealed with my seal on church doors, the tolbooth and other public locations in the following wording: For the defence of my honour and reputation, if there be anyone, noble or base, rich or poor, who wishes to accuse me of open or secret treason, let him come forward so that I may challenge him in personal combat in this just cause; whereupon no man ever answered me.

My sentence ratified by Parliament

Articles published

For the third time, I apologised before a general assembly of three estates, which comprised the common nobility of the country, all the bishops, abbots and priors, and all the main citizens of the Realm, where my whole trial and sentence were reviewed and re-read, all points thoroughly considered, to decide whether my case had been legitimately tried or not, and whether there was not some item or evidence fraudulently presented.
They declared that the due process of the law of the country had been adhered to, and thus I remained acquitted and discharged of all accusations. Furthermore, it was proclaimed by the town crier and in writing that, under pain of death and after the said day, no one was to accuse or slander me or my own people regarding the said matter.
After I had won my case (as already described) came to see me in my abode twenty-eight men of the said Parliament of their own free will, without being requested to; those were twelve Earls, eight bishops and eight Lords; they did me the honour of offering me their alliance and friendship as follows.

The honest offers, alliances and promises made to me by the Lords of Parliament

Firstly, they recognised that I had done my duty in defending my honour in all the things they had wanted to accuse me of, and for this reason they would use their bodies, property, relatives and friends and anything which may depend on it, in order to defend me against those who would from then on pursue me in any way for the said crime. Furthermore, they thanked me each in particular for having behaved so amicably towards them, and gave me this speech: That they could see that the Queen was widowed, and could still have children, having only one young Prince at present. That they would not allow her to marry a foreigner, and that it seemed to them that I was the most worthy in the Realm. This considered, they had decided to do their utmost to bring about this marriage, and they would oppose all those who tried to hinder it.

My wife repudiated

At the same time, they debated how I could legitimately repudiate my first Princess, according to the divine laws of the Church, and the custom of the country, and they convened forthwith.

My wedding to the Queen of Scotland

The Lords of the Council wish me to set off for the borders to enforce law and order

Similarly, they conferred promptly with the Queen on the way in which our marriage could be solemnly celebrated before themselves and the Church assembly. The marriage having been consummated and all conducted in good and due order, they presented me with the government of the Realm so that I may enforce law and order, especially on the English border, where murder, looting and theft were taking place on both sides; this I granted them and left Edinburgh with the Queen who wished to accompany me as far as a castle located seven leagues from the town of Borthwick, where she had decided to stay until my return.

Sixth Sedition

2000 men

The two armies on the field

On the said border, I found the enemies to be so strong that it was impossible for me to turn them away, and I returned forthwith to Borthwick (where the said Queen was) in order to muster larger forces.
Then, the said rebels, my enemies, seeing me in the field with few men, endeavoured to close in on me and kill me. For that reason, I left hastily in order to assemble my friends and loyal subjects of the Queen, which I managed so well that I released the said Queen from the said castle and hounded our enemies, chasing them all the way into Edinburgh, where they were welcomed. The said town and castle abandoned us and surrendered to them.
The Earl of Huntly and the Archbishop of St Andrews, along with several other Lords of the Council who were in the said town of Edinburgh, took up arms as soon as they saw this turnaround to defend and preserve the said town against the said rebels, but they did not succeed because the others were the strongest, and thus they were defeated on that side.
When the said Earl and Archbishop saw that they could put up no resistance against the rebels, to save themselves they voluntarily went to the castle on the condition that they would be allowed to leave when it suited them. But the promise made to them was not kept.
The Queen and I, to release them, left Dunbar Castle with as many soldiers and her Majesty’s loyal subjects as we could muster in so little time, and approached the said Edinburgh by about one German league. The said rebels got out of the town and camped across from us, far out of the firing range of a canon.

They declare the reasons which motivated them to take up arms

Shortly after there arrived a gentleman sent by them, who presented us the main reasons why they had come here, printed as follows. Firstly, to free the Queen from the captivity in which I held her, and also, to avenge the death of the King, as I described above, of which I and my men were accused.
I answered their first point by saying that I did not hold the Queen against her will, but loved and honoured her with the humility that she deserved, and for which I referred them to herself.

I accepted to confront Lord Lindsay in personal combat

Secondly, I continued to deny that I had taken part in or consented to the death of his said Majesty. And albeit I had previously been clearly and sufficient absolved, I declared once again that, if there be any honourable gentleman of irreproachable lineage, who wished to accuse me of such a deed, I was ready on the spot to defend my honour and my life, between the two armies, in accordance with the notices which I had had published in Edinburgh earlier, and the ancient customs of war.
Whereupon a reply was made that there was one, named Lord Lindsay, who was ready to meet me in the field, which the Queen and the Lords who accompanied her did not find reasonable for the following reasons: the said Lord Lindsay was not of close enough kinship to compare himself to me, nor of noble enough rank or birth, especially that I was the worthy husband of the Queen.
Nevertheless, I insisted and persuaded the Queen and all the others with numerous reasons in support of my righteous cause, to finally consent to the personal combat, as described above.

He who challenged me to personal combat is nowhere to be found

Shortly after, I went to the spot where the personal combat was to take place to wait for my enemy, and where I remained until late that night, but he did not show himself nor did he show any sign of wanting to appear, as I will prove (when the need arises) with the backing of a thousand gentlemen, with my life at stake. As night was falling, I prepared to fight them and organised my harquebusiers, ready to march against them, as they did on their side.

The Queen's answer in relation to the captivity in which they considered she was held

The Queen negotiates with the rebels

The advice I gave the Queen not to trust their fine words

A guarantee is requested for the Queen


The Queen seeing me and her loyal subjects on one side and the rebels on the other ready to join us, Lord of Grange (who was one of the best warriors on the other side) reminded her the reason why all these people were gathered there, which was to deliver her Majesty from the abject servitude in which I held her, which she openly denied before all those present.
And thus, as we were preparing to charge against each other, she searching for any way to prevent a bloodshed, went up to them accompanied by the said Lord of Grange, in order to discuss and decide the matter calmly. So confident was she that she could go to them safely, without danger of treason nor anyone daring to capture her, that she asked me not to come forward with my soldiers. Whereupon I asked her to reflect on what she wanted to do, and not to perish through her own kindness, for I knew only too well their treacherous hearts, and that if she did not consent to their demands, they would take her prisoner and rob her of her authority without good cause. And so I begged her to retreat to Dunbar and leave us to fight for her righteous cause, in conformity with the desire we had to honour and serve her, and the affection which we bore the public good and the peace of our nation. However, seeing that it was impossible for me to change her mind, nor make her listen to any remonstrance, I asked her to negotiate a safe-conduct with certain conditions that I would put forward to them. The said Lord of Grange, who had come as their messenger, gave us his word in their names.

A false guarantee is given to the Queen

For let it be understood that the said Lord of Grange made out that he had been sent for the sole purpose, at the request of all the others as a whole, of offering the Queen, as their superior, genuine loyalty, and of giving her their assurance of a safe-conduct to come and go before them, and that each and everyone of them, according to their rank and dignity, wished nothing more than to show her (after God) all due honour and obedience in everything it pleased her Majesty to order them. Once everything had been granted under the promise that it would be inviolably adhered to and honoured by the two armies, in the presence of the nobility and the community there present, she asked me to return to Dunbar with my army, where she would shortly come to find me or at least, send for news.
Thus I took leave of her as she had requested me to do, leaning on the faith and promise which they had given her in word and in letters…printed. All this considered, each can openly acknowledge that their intention was, had always been and still is, to unjustly encroach on the authority and power of the Queen, their natural Princess, and under this pretext (she divested of her authority) administer her Realm and make the law everywhere.

The Queen is taken prisoner

She is led to Edinburgh

To Lochleven

This done, I took leave of the Queen and she went towards them, who suddenly subjugated her under their guard. They took her first to Edinburgh Castle where she stayed only one night. The following day they took her to another castle located on a small island named Lochleven, to make sure that she would not be able to warn me or receive word from me, and also for fear that I would attempt to release her from the said castle.

The Council convenes to discuss the Queen's deliverance

Seeing that the long treacherous manoeuvres succeeded in such fashion, we met up with the Lords named below and the ordinary nobility. Firstly in the West and then in the North, considering all ways in which we could bring about her deliverance.


The Duke of Châtelherault

Earls Bishops Lords
The Earls of Huntly The Archbishop of St Andrews The Lords Herries
  of Argyle The Archbishop of Glasgow   Seton
of Crawford The Bishops of Dunkeld   Oliphant
of Errol   of Aberdeen   Boyd
of Marischal   of Moray   Borthwick
of Eglinton   of Ross   Gray
of Cassillis   of Dunblane   Ogilvie
of Rothes   of Galloway   Glamis
of Montrose   of Argyle   Hay
of Caithness   of Brechin   Somerville
of Sutherland   of the Isles   Drummond
of Monteith The Abbots   Lovat
      of Arbroath   Saltoun
      of Dunfermline   Forbes
      of Kilwinning   Elphinstone
      of Melrose   Fleming
      of Deer   Livingston
      of Kinross  
      of Glenluce  
      of Crosraguel  

We all agreed to wait a little and not to pursue them in too much haste, as enraged as they were, they would be wary that we wanted to free the Queen whom they held captive, and whose life would have been in great danger if we had put them under pressure.

The Council concluded that I should go to France via Denmark

However, the unanimous decision was reached by all those present, and by the letters and seals ratified by those who could not be present at the time, that I should make my way to France, through the Kingdom of Denmark, where I could acquire all things necessary for my enterprise, and to send soldiers to Scotland by sea as well as by land; and also to acquaint the King of Denmark with my complaints and the full facts, believing that this would incite the said King to give me his good advice, assistance, aid and favour, and in order to obtain it more easily, I had to put myself at his service and offer all that was in my power: and they were confident that the Queen would approve. However, to be on the safe side, I endeavoured to obtain her opinion which was, that she thought that the Lords had given me very good advice, and asked me to carry it all out as diligently as possible.

I embark in the North of Scotland

I reach the island of Orkney

I went ashore in Shetland

Thus I embarked somewhere in the North of Scotland, as mentioned above, having decided to follow this advice. And passing by the Orkney and Shetland Islands I stopped there staying only two days, but I went ashore in Shetland, where I encountered some ships from Bremen and Hamburg, and negotiated with the Boatswains what I would give them per month as long as they would serve me, as I could not in such haste and under such pressure, acquire the ships I wanted, apart from small vessels, which I then managed to find.
The conditions agreed with the man from Bremen, named Gerhard Hemlin, were these: That I would give him a monthly rent of fifty solid crowns for as long as he would serve me; and if, during the said service, his ship perished or if I wanted to appropriate it, I would give him a rent of (xvi…thall), and for his artillery, one hundred solid crowns, as is apparent from the contracts which were exchanged between us two. The same conditions applied to the one from Hamburg; but some of my enemies found out that I was ashore at the house of the Receiver, and separated my ships as I will explain.

My enemies pursue me with four ships

The above named rebels had gathered four well armed ships and fitted out with soldiers and artillery, whose leaders were the said Lord of Grange and Tullibardine, who at the break of dawn entered a harbour of the said island called Bressay Sound, where four of my vessels were moored; and as the boatswains caught sight of them, my Captains and soldiers being ashore, they cut loose the towropes of their ships and moved to another harbour to the north of the said country, called Unst.

Our fight at sea

My great mast snapped

I reach the coast of Norway

However, their main ship, which was pursuing us, was closely observing one of my vessels which had the slowest sail and to which they gave chase. My ship went ahead while the other followed behind. But it so happened that the enemy ship (which was chasing my slow one) and my own hit an open rock concealed under the sea, so that their said ship, which was the better one and served as flagship, remained there while mine, although somewhat damaged, escaped. When I heard that my enemies intended to go ashore and pursue my people, I embarked suddenly with them at the said harbour of Unst, where my intention was not to stay but only to confront my said enemies, but these three ships caught me so much by surprise and exerted such pressure (as they had previously done), that I could not put up any resistance and was obliged to set sail, and ordered one of my ships (the one in which was the remainder of my silverware, clothes and furniture which I had brought from Edinburgh Castle) to go to another harbour called Scalloway, and there to convene with the said Hamburgers, and catch up with me on my way to Denmark, as had been previously decided, and as he had promised the rest of my people whom I had left behind in the said island. The said rebels pursued me with such intensity that we fought for three whole hours and by a strike of the canon, they snapped the great mast of my best ship. At the same moment, a storm coming from the south-west broke out, which was of such strength that I could not continue my said journey, and was pushed towards the Norwegian coast, where I had to repair my vessels and replenish their supplies as, due to my hurried departure these had not been properly provisioned.
The day after I left Shetland, I arrived somewhere on the coast of Norway called Karmesund, where I was taken to a ship from Rostock, which had been following us that night, to lead us in daylight to the said harbour, because my pilots did not know it: which he did and lent us his ship to carry one of our towropes ashore.
In the meantime arrived Christen Aalborg, the Captain of one of the King of Denmark’s ships named The Bear, and asked us where we were coming from and where we wanted to go; to which the boatswain of my ship answered that we were Scottish gentlemen wishing to go to Denmark to serve his Majesty. I ordered that he be honoured according to the customs at sea and the jurisdiction of foreign Princes.

The reason why I did not want to disclose my identity at first

Captain Aalborg asked to see my passports (or letters) to find out what we had on board. But because my equipment was such, as it still is today, namely empty and devoid of all things necessary to someone in my position, due to the fact that I had left one of my vessels, which I awaited from one moment to the next, I did not want to reveal who I was before I had recovered it, nor even go ashore before reaching Denmark, however I sent him one of my gentlemen to make him understand that due to the intense pursuit carried out against me in Scotland, I had had no time to take the certificate nor the letters which he requested, and that she who was supposed to release them was detained under close guard. He then asked if there was anyone who spoke several languages, who would come with him and converse for a while, which request I fulfilled.
He asked the boatswain of my ship and several others of my men to go aboard his ship in order to replenish our ships’ supplies and acquire other necessary things, giving us to understand that a ship had arrived in the said harbour, which contained what we needed. However, having them all aboard, he detained them that night with fine words, and then called the farmers in the area to rescue the ships of the King of Denmark, because there were some pirates and Freibeuters [buccaneers] (he maintained) whom he wanted to capture, according to the order he had received from the said King, his master. However, he gave no hint to my said men who were with him on his said ship, but led them to believe that he would only take them to Bergen to recover the things which were necessary to them. There were on the King’s said ship far fewer men in comparison to mine.

Letters of engagement by Captain Aalborg which he breached

Moreover, he asked me to allow my men to go aboard his ship, to the number of eighty, not because of any bad opinion or suspicion he had of us, but only for the benefit of the goods, which could not be recovered at the said place for the money; and he gave us his word of honour that he would let us each return to our respective ship and leave whenever we deemed fit (to which effect he gave us a written engagement sealed with his seal) and furthermore, that we would have a safe-conduct to go without delay where we wished; however, he did not honour any of these points.
After we had entirely satisfied his request, he separated my men who numbered almost one hundred and forty, and failed to his word and honour, for a reason which we ignored, as we had never offended his Majesty, nor displeased any of his subjects, nor even breached the laws of his waters, nor taken the value of one penny without paying for it. So I declared who I was and where I wanted to go; nevertheless he continued to hold me prisoner like the others against all my hopes; for if I had known this, I would not have behaved in the manner I thought most proper towards him and his entourage, for I was twice as strong as he was.

Arrival in Bergen

Once arrived in Bergen, I asked Erich Rosenkrantz to help me find, for my money, fresh vessels, to row me along the coast (especially that I was seasick) so that I may reach Denmark, and would he give me a passport for that purpose. In the meantime, I sometimes stayed at the castle and sometimes aboard the ship with some of my men during one month, and I walked several times in the space of twenty days, through the town, wherever I pleased; even if I had felt guilty of some misdeed, I would have been free to go wherever I wanted. But I thank this good Sir Erich Rosenkrantz for the trust he placed in me.

I was deprived of my men, then sent to Denmark with 4 or  5 of my own people

My vessel which was supposed to follow me, having reached the coast of Norway, turns straight back

After having waited a long time for my passport, without which I did not want to leave, I was informed by some town councillors, that Erich Rosenkrantz and the said councillors had ordered that I should follow the ships of the said King to Denmark, without allowing my men to follow, except four of five, and they dismissed the others telling them to return to Scotland or wherever else they wished to go.
When the vessel which I had sent to Shetland to fetch the men I had left behind (in which were my goods, my silverware, clothes and jewels) as mentioned above, and which was sailing along the coast of Norway, heard that I was detained and my men sent home, it turned back: so that not only have I been detained and arrested, here as elsewhere, for almost four and a half months, against all my hopes, thinking that I had come to my friends, although I had not been provided with a passport there where I am being blamed and unfairly accused by my enemies, but also deprived of all things necessary to someone in my position: which however, I consider far less than the contumelies and indignities which I have endured in this prison, especially that I am detained without good cause, and prevented from attending to my business pertaining to certain Realms, with certain Princes and Lords, for the deliverance of the Queen my Princess, and, as it seems to me, to our infamy, harm and ruin, by those from whom I would have hoped for help and assistance.

  Second Letter of the Earl James of Bothwell to the King of Denmark

As it is not permitted to me to speak in person to his Majesty nor to these Gentlemen of his Council, to inform them of the reason why I decided to come to this Realm, I am obliged to put in writing, what I had hoped to declare face to face with his Majesty, and I ask the good Sir Peter Oxe, grand master [Lord High Steward] of the said Realm, to present this letter to his said Majesty. Firstly: great upheaval and discord have taken place in Scotland, as much between the Magistrates* as the common people of the said Realm, because some of the said Magistrates have, under the cover of religion sought their own advancement, wishing in the future, by the use of such illegitimate and false pretexts, to subjugate the Realm under their power and authority. And for this reason, the said Realm is divided in two parts. Whereupon, the Queen and I having considered and acknowledged, that we could not appease them nor forcefully put an end to it without infinite calamity and great bloodshed, we endeavoured to tackle and ward off such misfortunes and inconvenience with gentleness. And to this effect, the Queen asked for the engagement and safe-conduct from our adversaries to enable her to go to them freely and to confer and come to a mutually satisfactory agreement, which would firstly serve a perfect union and concord of her subjects, and the utility and benefit of the Realm.
For this reason, our said adversaries and their accomplices, made promises to the Queen, Madam Marie, and gave her their engagement and inviolable safe-conduct, which they then contravened and breached, and when the said Queen went to meet them, they held her prisoner and took her to Lochleven Castle, where she remains today: (as it is more thoroughly explained in the letter which I wrote in my defence), which I wish to be delivered to his Majesty so that he may become acquainted with the intention and final will of the said Queen and of the Gentlemen of her Council, as follows.
Firstly, that I should ask his Majesty of Denmark, as ally and confederate of the Queen, for his aid, favour and assistance, as much by the supply of soldiers than ships to release her from the captivity in which she is held.
To cover the expenses which might arise, I am to offer to his said Majesty to return the Islands of Orkney and Shetland as free, without hindrance, to the crown of Denmark and Norway, as they were some time ago.
Moreover, so that his Majesty and the Gentlemen of his Council may be better assured of what is mentioned above (as is mentioned in the letter which I wrote in my defence, and also briefly contained in the latter), I beg his Majesty to please himself in drawing up a document with as narrow conditions, for the said Islands of Orkney and Shetland, as his said Majesty and the Councillors of the Realm of Denmark will consider fit for their greater security; and I promise in good faith that the said document will be sealed by the Queen, by myself and by the Council of the Realm of Scotland, and signed by each of us of our own hand. Whereupon I beg his said Majesty to honour me with an answer so that I may fulfil the promise which I made the Queen of Scotland and the Council of the Realm, at their own express behest, and also that they may know what they may hope for in their extreme pain and necessity. From Malmö, the 13th January 1568.

*Throughout the text, Bothwell uses the word nobles or nobility but then suddenly changes to "Magistrates" in this second letter. I have kept the original word in this translation, as Bothwell must have had his own reasons for using it.


I received these instructions at Malmö Castle on the 13th January of the year 1568 from Sir James of Bothwell, Earl of Bothwell, Duke of the Islands of Orkney, Husband of the Queen of Scotland, etc.; and I presented it in Helsingborg to Sir Peter Oxe, in the presence of Jehan Fris, Chancellor, on the 16th of January. Whereupon I received their own answer at Copenhagen Castle; the xxi of the said month.

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After the above text is a note by the person who collated the different parts of the volume which contains the latter. This note reads:


“The complete title of the manuscript, from which the preceding extract is taken and which constitutes its beginning, is the following:

Les Affaires du Conte de Boduel, l’an 1568 nec non Caroli Dantzaei, Galliarum Regis Legati, Literae ab anno 1575 ad annum 1586 ad Regem, Reginam Proceresque Galliae datae, durante Legatione in Dania.

 (Then by another hand)

 Quibus adjunctae sunt variae Principum et Illustrium virorum ad Dantzaeum Literae.

At the top of the page, above the name of Bothwell, is written by the same hand the following other comment: Historia de vita et exitu Jacobi Heburni Buthuelia Comitis plenius descripta extat apud  Buchananum Historiae Scoticae, Lib, xvii, xviii, et xix. Item apud Thuanum Histor. Lib. Xl.

Bothwell’s Memoirs only occupy sixteen sheets of the volume (which contains over two hundred). It is written fairly neatly, although with a lot of abbreviations which made deciphering difficult. Every now and then, there are additions and corrections by another hand and very illegible. The author always talks about himself using the first person (I), and this circumstance leaves us to presume that Bothwell, after having had his manuscript tidied up, re-read it and added these corrections himself, especially since the manuscript came from Denmark.

The undersigned has carefully collated the copy requested by Professor Rask, with the original manuscript, which is currently at the Library of Drottningholm, leisure castle of His Majesty the King of Sweden and Norway. Stockholm, the 5th of July 1828.

P A Walmark
Royal Librarian and Adviser of the Chancery"