The Last Testament of the Earl of Bothwell

Transcription by Eileen Santen, Research and Article by Prue Mosman

Mary, Queen of Scots Home Page

In the summer of 1573, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell was moved from captivity in Malmo to close imprisonment at the state prison of Dragsholm. He was reported to be insane and to be having maniacal attacks.

If the Earl of Bothwell was insane, would it be possible for him to dictate a testament and will to witnesses declaring Queen Mary's innocence in regards to the murder of Darnley, and his involvement with other women?

Bothwell is said to have fallen ill at Malmo, before he was moved to Dragsholm. He recovered, but was he sick enough to believe he would die, and so made a will, exonerating Mary from all suspicions and crimes?

It is recorded by historians such as Humphrey Drummond and Robert Gore-Brown that this confession and testament are forgeries. Humphrey Drummond (author of 'The Queen's Man') says this about the testament: "it is now known to be a complete forgery. Even the names of the supposed witnesses are those of people known by that date to be dead" (pg. 163 of The Queen's Man). Robert Gore-Brown (author of Lord Bothwell) has this to say: "If a full length testament ever existed, it quickly disappeared. Reputed abstracts in Scots and French survive to prove it a forgery contrived by some supporter of the Queen who had a little, proverbially dangerous, knowledge of Denmark. In these abstracts the confession is said to have been made when the Earl was 'sick unto death in the Castle of Malmoe'. When he had finished, he 'forgave all the world and was sorrowful for his offences and did receive the sacrament that all the things he spoke were true. And so he died'. It is a pity so edifying a scene is discredited by a genuine death at Dragsholm several years later" (pg. 454 of Lord Bothwell).

The testament and confession bring to mind more questions than answers. If it was true, Bothwell would be admitting to be behind the death of Darnley, that he had had his way with many women, that he meant to do away with the young James VI and many Lords of Scotland once he became King. He also claims he used witchcraft to befriend Mary.

I personally believe the confession and testament to be a forgery. The main reason for this is the fact that it states that Bothwell died at Malmo. This is where Bothwell was kept 'before' he was moved to Dragsholm. The situation of the so-called witnesses also puts the testament into doubt.

There is a question over the so-called witnesses of this testament. As Humphrey Drummond points out, some of these witnesses had passed on 'before' Bothwell had died himself. Robert Gore-Brown notes that whoever forged the testament and confession couldn't have had up to date information on Denmark. The testament states the witnesses to be: Berreis Cowes of Malmy Castle; Otta Braw of Alffenbrowghe Castle; Pieris Braw of Veseull Castle, Mouns.; Gulliam Starne of Sentoftira Castle; Bishop of Skone and four baylyves of the Toune. Gore-Brown translates these as: the Bishop of Scania; the four magistrates of Malmoe; Bjorn Kaas, the govenor; Otto Brahe of Helsingborg; Morgens Gyldenstjerne of Fultofte and two other notabilities.

Whoever wrote this testament obviously was not up to date with their information. It is said that Otto Brahe, who was the father of Tycho Brahe the astronomer, was actually dead by March of 1571. Only nine months after Bothwell had arrived at Malmoe, Gyldenstjerne died in October of 1569. How is it possible that dead people could witness Bothwell dictating his testament and will?

The fact that the testament states that Bothwell won Mary over by magic, also puts a question mark over its validity. Whoever wrote the testament wanted people to believe that Mary was innocent of her connection with Bothwell, that it was not her fault she married him and everything was out of her control. Evidence shows that it was Bothwell's loyalty to her and her mother that brought them together. Bothwell was the only loyal Lord she could count on in times of trouble. Magic had nothing to do with it.

The testament I am showing you has been written by two different hands. This also casts some doubt upon it. Why is there two copies of the same document? Were there multiple copies made and distributed, or were there some made for prosperity reasons? Who wrote them?

Click here to view the original documents: document 1, document 2.


(Two Mss. With this title, differing somewhat in their spelling and handwriting, are now in the library of the University of Edinburgh. How they came into the hands of Drummond is not known but the probability is that he obtained possession of them through some friend who had been in the court of James VI. It would appear from the fact that two other Mss. of the same document, almost indentical with the two in the University Library, are still extant in the British Museum, that numerous copies, all derived of seeing how very much alike all these Mss of Bothwell's so-called testament are, may compare the one printed verbatim in this note with that given by Miss Strickland from the Mss in the British Museum, Letters of Mary Queen of Scots, vol. 1, pp. 304-6. The two Mss now in the library of the University of Edinburgh were recovered, along with some others, in 1875. They had been taken home for some purpose by a former librarian, and he having died suddenly while they were in his possession, they fell into the hands of one of his relations, who, on learning subsequently their nature, restored them to the present librarian, John Small, M.A. - Translator.)

The confessione of the Lord Bothuell, before he dyed, in the presence of 4 Lords of Denmarke uith many uthers in Malmye Castle, under the King of Denmarks jurisdictione; being more at length in the Latine and Danes tongue written. And these be their names, Berreis Cowes of Malmy Castle, Otta Braw of Alffenbrowghe Castle, Pieris Braw of Veseull Castle, Mouns. Gulliam Starne of Sentoftira Castle. With the Bishops of Skone and four Baylyves of the Toune, desyreing him that he would declare his confession, and say nothing but the truth, concerning the King and Queene and childe hir sone.

"Secondly, he did take it upon him with his death, that the Queen did never knou nor consent to the death of the King; but he and his friends by his appointment and devyse; and likuyse divers uther Lords consenting thereunto, which uas not there at that present deide doing. And thes be their names, The Lord Mortoun nou regent, The Lord James, The Erle of Glencairne, The Erle of Argyle, The Lord Robert, The Lord Lethingtoune, The Lord Boyde, The Laird of Grange, The Lord Erle Huntley, The Erle of Crawfourd, The Laird of Buckleuche, The Lord of Pharnyharst (Fernyhurst) uith many others.

"Thirdly, he did confesse, that all the friendship he had at the Queens hands, was by means of witchcraft, and al inventions that belong therto, to make hir to love him : and he did find the means to put his maryed wuif away. He did confesse that after the marriage he did seek all the means possible to destroy the young child : And also he sought all the means he could to destroy many Lords of Scotland, and that by treason.

"Fourthly, he confessed that he had deceived many Gentlewomen both of France and England, uith many other uilde (wild) facts uhich he said uare too long to rehearse, asking God forgiveness therefore : And likuyse did confesse, that he had taken auay too Ladys Daughters out of Denmark into Scotland, and made them both believe he would marry ym, and did defloure yem of the virginitie, and likuyse many Gentlewomen of Scotland.

"Fifthly, he confessed that he had deceived tuo of the Borrou maister's daughters of Hokirks (Lubeck, according to the copy printed by Miss Strickland) with many moe deids in that place; uhich he said uould be too long to declare at length : But these expressed and all his offences he did since his birth, he did aske forgiveness, and did forgive all the uorld, and uas sorrowful for his offences, and did receive the sacrament, that this uas good and true. And therafter dyed.