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date: 16 August 2022

Stewart, Henry, duke of Albany [known as Lord Darnley]free


Stewart, Henry, duke of Albany [known as Lord Darnley]free

  • Elaine Finnie Greig

Henry Stewart, duke of Albany [Lord Darnley] (1545/66–1567)

by Hans Eworth, 1563 [right, with his brother Charles Stewart, later earl of Lennox]

The Royal Collection © 2004 HM Queen Elizabeth II

Stewart, Henry, duke of Albany [known as Lord Darnley] (1545/6–1567), second consort of Mary, queen of Scots, was born at Temple Newsam, Yorkshire, the second but elder surviving son of Matthew Stewart, thirteenth or fourth earl of Lennox (1516–1571), and his wife, Lady Margaret Douglas (1515–1578), daughter of Archibald Douglas, sixth earl of Angus, and his wife, Margaret Tudor, widow of James IV, king of Scots. He is traditionally said to have been born on 7 December 1545, shortly after the death of his infant older brother, also Henry, but it is possible that he was born a little later. He was known lifelong and continues commonly to be referred to by his father's subsidiary title Lord Darnley.

Angling for a throne

Darnley's early life was spent at Temple Newsam and Settrington, both in Yorkshire. His title came from the barony of Darnley in Renfrewshire, an early possession of the Lennox Stewart family. Through his parents he had claims to both the Scottish and English thrones, being descended from both James II of Scotland and Henry VII of England, and parental ambition ensured that he was brought up conscious of his status and his inheritance. He was educated at home, 'well instructed from his youth in all honest and comely exercises' (Memoirs of His Own Life, 134). He was an elegant dancer, and accomplished in singing and in playing the lute; physically he was strong and athletic, a good horseman with a knowledge of weapons and a passion for hunting and hawking; academically he appears to have been an average student for the time, learning Latin and growing up familiar with the Scots, English, and French languages, under the instruction of his tutors John Elder and Arthur Lallart.

Darnley's father had been declared guilty of treason for his part in the ‘rough wooing’, and his Scottish estates were forfeited in 1545. Lennox was keen to recover his estates, and in the process to bring his son to the attention of Mary, queen of Scots (1542–1587). On the death of King Henri II of France in 1559, Darnley was sent by his parents to congratulate Mary and her husband, François II, on their accession, travelling incognito with John Elder, as a safe passage would not have been granted by Queen Elizabeth. The English ambassador, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, reported that 'a young gentleman, an Englishman or a Scottishman, who has no beard' was received with great distinction (W. Fraser, The Lennox, 1.469). It is possible—the sources conflict—that Darnley crossed the channel again after the death of François in December 1560 to offer condolences. He had another motive for making such journeys: to obtain the restoration of the Lennox estates. This was refused while Mary remained in France, and after her return to Scotland Arthur Lallart was sent to speak to her on the same subject.

All this intrigue did not go unnoticed at the English court and the family were arrested at Settrington in December 1561 and taken to London, but Darnley managed to escape en route, the rumour, though not confirmed, being that he had been 'conveyed to France' (CSP Scot., 1547–63, 616). Pardoned in early 1563, the family's fortunes soon improved. Elizabeth, under pressure to name a successor and preferring to keep everyone guessing, now showed favour to Darnley and his mother, inviting them to stay at court. She also wrote to Mary on 16 June 1563, asking her to consider the matter of the forfeited Lennox estates. In July 1564 Darnley was sent to welcome Diego Guzmán de Silva, the new Spanish ambassador, and to conduct him to his first audience with Elizabeth. By the autumn of 1564 Mary had agreed to Elizabeth's request to permit Lennox to return to Scotland, and on 9 October 1564 he was 'restored to his lands, heritage and good name, by open proclamation made at the Mercat Cross of the burgh of Edinburgh' (Thomson, 78).

Marriage to Queen Mary

In January 1565 Elizabeth finally permitted Darnley to go to Scotland, to be infefted with his father in their Scottish estates. Many theories have been offered concerning the reasoning, if any, behind this action. Was this a myopic decision, the result of a complete failure to predict the likely outcome, or was it, as some contemporaries suggested, a calculated move? Elizabeth's timing has been called an 'interesting enigma' (A. Fraser, Mary Queen of Scots, 1970, 265), but as the relevant papers for these events are conveniently missing it seems unlikely that the question will ever be solved. It certainly seems strange that Elizabeth and her advisers overlooked the potential consequences, especially as rumours had been rife since as early as February 1562, when there had been speculation about a possible marriage between Mary and Darnley. On 29 September 1564 Elizabeth herself had drawn the attention of Sir James Melville, the Scottish ambassador, to 'yonder long lad', as she described Darnley, at a time when the protracted negotiations between the two countries over proposals for the marriage of Mary to the earl of Leicester were foundering.

On 3 February 1565 Darnley left London. By 12 February he was in Edinburgh, and on 17 February he presented himself to Mary at Wemyss Castle, Fife. Melville reported that 'Her Majesty took well with him, and said that he was the lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen' (Memoirs of His Own Life, 134). After a brief visit to his father at Dunkeld, Darnley returned with Mary and the court to Holyrood on 24 February. The next day he heard John Knox preach, and he danced a galliard with Mary at night. From then on he was constantly in Mary's company.

Marriage to Darnley made perfect dynastic sense: it avoided the uncertainty of a foreign match and promised a monarchy free of England and France, while strengthening the Scottish claim to the English throne. Darnley was also considered indifferent in matters of religion, having been brought up a Catholic but professing the reformed religion when in England. His rise, however, caused a split among the nobility, since by favouring the LennoxDouglas faction it alienated Moray, Maitland, and the Hamiltons, as well as Mary's Guise relations and Elizabeth. Yet it must be acknowledged that whoever Mary chose would not have met with universal approval; in her relations with Darnley, opposition only strengthened her resolve.

Early in April, Darnley took ill with a cold and soon 'mesels came out on him marvellous thick' (CSP Scot., 1563–9, 141). Mary spent much of her time with him, and on 15 May 1565 he was created knight of Tarbolton, Lord Ardmannoch, and earl of Ross, swearing allegiance to Mary. This was tantamount to announcing their engagement. Elizabeth was furious; she sent Darnley's mother to the Tower and confiscated Lennox's English estates. Nevertheless, on 22 July Darnley was created duke of Albany in the abbey of Holyroodhouse and the banns of marriage were called in the parish of Canongate. A proclamation was made at the Mercat Cross on 28 July that government would be in the joint names of the king and queen of Scots, thus giving Darnley equality with, and precedence over, Mary. This was confirmed in the circulation of a silver ryal in the names of Henry and Mary.

On 29 July 1565 the marriage took place by Roman Catholic rites in Mary's private chapel at Holyrood, after which Darnley left Mary to hear the nuptial mass alone. The following day Darnley was proclaimed King Henry at the Mercat Cross. Only his father shouted out, 'God save His Grace'. For Lennox this was the fulfilment of his aspirations. Yet he was Darnley's only real supporter in Scotland; to nearly everyone else the queen's consort was unbearable and had 'an insolent, imperious temper' (W. Fraser, The Lennox 1.480).

Matrimonial rifts

Within a few weeks of the marriage it was becoming clear to Mary that Darnley was arrogant, vain, and unreliable, preferring pleasure to the affairs of state. On 13 October the English ambassador, Thomas Randolph, reported to Cecil that 'Jarres' were already evident between them. The central issue was Mary's refusal to grant Darnley the crown matrimonial: 'He claims the crown matrimonial, and will have it immediately. The Queen tells him that that must be delayed till he be of age, and done by consent of Parliament, which does not satisfy him' (W. Fraser, The Lennox, 1.481). Darnley became increasingly impatient, arguing that François II had received it and therefore so should he. But granting the crown matrimonial could bring about a change of dynasty—in the event of Mary's death, Darnley would reign in his own right and any children of a second marriage would inherit the crown.

In many ways Darnley was too immature to cope with the demands of his position. A product of his parents' ambition, his faults of character had gone unchecked. In his selfish expectation of Mary's attention at all times, he failed to see the importance of her duty to the country, and acted like a spoilt brat. The more he demanded the crown matrimonial, the less likely he was to be granted it. By December Mary's growing disillusionment with him had resulted in the silver ryal being withdrawn from circulation and another issued in the names of Mary and Henry, with the latter now referred to as only the 'queen's husband' (CSP Scot., 1563–9, 247–8). In February 1566 the French ambassador arrived and Darnley was invested with the order of St Michel, the greatest French order of chivalry, but concerning the celebrations which took place after the ceremony, Sir William Drury reported that 'All people say that Darnley is too much addicted to drinking … and gave her such words that she left the place in tears' (Keith, 2.403).

Darnley's resentment was further fuelled by Mary's increasing reliance on other members of her household. By early 1566 his jealousy had focused on Mary's secretary, David Riccio, who was responsible for her French correspondence. As a foreigner and a Catholic Riccio was suspected of being a papal agent; his mistake of basking in his position and his familiarity with Mary also made him the scapegoat for the jealousy of Darnley and other disaffected nobles, such as Morton, Lindsay, and Ruthven. Consequently bonds were signed to support Darnley in his quest for the crown matrimonial and to maintain the protestant religion, while Darnley accepted responsibility for their plans and undertook to protect those involved. His own religious position was apt to fluctuate, and certainly changed several times, perhaps being dictated by a desire to oppose whatever Mary's prevailing policy happened to be. He was Catholic at Christmas 1565, but protestant at the time of the plot against Riccio, as he still was at the end of 1566. Shortly afterwards he was Catholic again, but he was once more apparently aligned with the reformers at the time of his death—he was reported to have sung a metrical psalm on the night of his murder.

On 6 March Randolph wrote to Cecil giving details of an imminent coup, ascribing it to Mary's refusal to grant the crown matrimonial and also to Riccio's having supposedly done Darnley 'the most dishonour that can be to any man' (CSP Scot., 1563–9, 260). Three days later, on the evening of Saturday 9 March, Riccio was brutally murdered in the presence of the pregnant queen. It may have been hoped that she would miscarry, so killing both the child and Mary herself: 'the King would have him taken in her Majesty's presence, and devised the manner himself' (Triphook, 16–18). The conspirators fled to England, sending to Mary as their parting shot the bond of indemnity which fully implicated her husband in Riccio's murder.

Murder at Kirk o'Field

Darnley's conduct was unforgivable and there were rumours at the end of April that a mission had been sent to Rome to seek a divorce. A series of remissions, culminating in the pardon of the Riccio murderers, were seen by Darnley as a threat to himself. Fearing for his own safety, Darnley kept in Mary's favour, joining her at the Easter celebrations and hearing mass every day. He acted like someone who recognized his own limitations and weakness, realizing that he had no support without Mary and would have even less after the birth of their child. Prince James (1566–1625) was born on 19 June 1566. Had Darnley been able to accept his role as the father of the future king he would have been better off. Instead he became increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous. He resolved to 'retire out of the Kingdom beyond the sea' (Keith, 2.455), complained about his loss of status, and wrote to the king of Spain, the pope, the king of France, and the cardinal of Lorraine, trying to undermine Mary's political and religious position.

Towards the end of 1566 Mary met with her lords of council at Craigmillar near Edinburgh to discuss the 'Darnley problem', which showed no signs of resolving itself, forcing those present to seek 'the means that your majesty shall be quit of him without prejudice to your son' (Keith, 3.293). The lords then signed a bond committing themselves to the murder of Darnley. This has not survived but, according to the laird of Ormiston, 'it was thought expedient and most profitable for the commonwealth … that such a young fool and proud tyrant should not reign or bear rule over them … and … that he should be put off, by one way or other' (Pitcairn, 1.512).

Meanwhile the baptism of Prince James took place in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle on 17 December 1566 with full Roman Catholic rites. Darnley, however, refused to attend and, shortly after, left Stirling to join his father in Glasgow. On the way he fell ill and 'blisters broke out, of a bluish colour' (Knox's History, 2.193). On 9 January 1567 Mary sent her own physician, and the same day the earl of Bedford wrote that Darnley was 'full of the smallpox' (CSP for., 1566–8, 103–4), though the disease is more likely to have been syphilis. In spite of his illness rumours were rife, and Mary was told that 'The King, by the assistance of some of our nobility, should take the prince our son and crown him; and being crowned, as his father should take upon him the government' (Keith, 3.293).

Mary herself travelled to Glasgow on 20 January 1567, taking an empty horselitter on which to bring Darnley back to Edinburgh—not to Holyrood, as the prince was there, but to the Old Provost's Lodging at Kirk o'Field, 'a place of good air, where he might best recover his health' (Memoirs of His Own Life, 173). Darnley wrote to his father that his speedy recovery was due to the kindness of Mary: 'I assure you [she] hath all this while and yet doth use herself like a natural and loving wife' (Mahon, 127).

On the night before Darnley was due to return to Holyrood, however, the house at Kirk o'Field was completely destroyed by an explosion. Accounts of what happened on the night of 9–10 February vary, but Darnley had become the victim of one of the greatest unsolved murders in history. The bodies of Darnley and his servant were found under a tree in the garden, with a chair, a dagger, a coat, and a cloak beside them. There was no sign of explosion on the bodies, nor had they been stabbed, shot, strangled, or beaten. They had probably been suffocated, but the full story of events remains a mystery. Neighbours to the house later stated that Darnley had cried out 'O my brothers, have pity on me for the love of him who had mercy on all the world', possibly a vain appeal to his Douglas kinsmen who formed part of the conspiracy against his life (Mumby, 194). On 12 February spices costing £40 were bought for the 'oppinyng and perfuming of the Kingis grace majesteis umquhile bodie' (Compota, 1566–74, 41). Darnley's body was buried in the royal vault of James V in the abbey of Holyrood.


Darnley was unlamented. For political reasons he was not popular, and his unstable temperament alienated all but his own father, who, overlooking his obvious shortcomings, called him an 'innocent lamb' (Mahon, 127). In recent biographies he has tended to be judged in relation to Mary, always a more alluring figure. He has been called 'quixotic' (Lynch, 14), with a 'charming exterior, which … gave no hint of the maggots which lay inside' (A. Fraser, Mary Queen of Scots, 1970, 270). He was 'morally and intellectually worthless' (Donaldson, Scotland, 120), a man who 'might have been the ideal husband if only he had had the brain to match his birth' (Donaldson, Mary, Queen of Scots, 80). Even his own biographer calls him 'a figure of unfulfilled promise' (Bingham, 201). Unfulfilled in his own lifetime, certainly, yet it should be recognized that his son became King James VI, and on the death of Elizabeth united the kingdoms of Scotland and England under one crown; from him, all subsequent British monarchs have descended. Darnley's legacy has far outlived him.


  • CSP Scot., 1547–69
  • Memoirs of his own life by Sir James Melville of Halhill, ed. T. Thomson, Bannatyne Club, 18 (1827)
  • R. Keith, History of the affairs of church and state in Scotland from the beginning of the Reformation to the year 1568, ed. J. P. Lawson and C. J. Lyon, Spottiswoode Society, 1 (1844)
  • T. Thomson, ed., A diurnal of remarkable occurrents that have passed within the country of Scotland, Bannatyne Club, 43 (1833)
  • CSP for., May–December 1562, 1566–8
  • W. Fraser, The Lennox, 2 vols. (1874)
  • F. A. Mumby, The fall of Mary Stuart: a narrative in contemporary letters (1921)
  • R. H. Mahon, Mary, queen of Scots: a study of the Lennox narrative (1924)
  • C. Bingham, Darnley: a life of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, pbk edn (1997)
  • M. Lynch, ed., Mary Stuart, queen in three kingdoms (1988)
  • CSP Spain, 1558–67
  • Lord Herries [John Maxwell], Historical memoirs of the reign of Mary queen of Scots, ed. R. Pitcairn, Abbotsford Club, 6 (1836)
  • [R. Triphook], ed., Miscellanea antiqua Anglicana, or, A select collection of curious tracts, illustrative of … the English nation (1816)
  • G. Donaldson, Scotland: James V to James VII (1965), vol. 3 of The Edinburgh history of Scotland (1965–75)
  • G. Donaldson, Mary, queen of Scots (1974)
  • R. Pitcairn, ed., Ancient criminal trials in Scotland, 7 pts in 3, Bannatyne Club, 42 (1833)
  • John Knox's History of the Reformation in Scotland, ed. W. C. Dickinson, 2 vols. (1949)
  • D. H. Fleming, Mary, queen of Scots (1898)
  • Reg. PCS, 1st ser.
  • T. Dickson, J. B. Paul, and C. T. McInnes, eds., Compota thesaurariorum regum Scotorum / Accounts of the lord high treasurer of Scotland, 13 vols. (1877–1978)


  • BL, letter to Queen Mary Tudor
  • BL, letter to the earl of Leicester, Add. MS 19401, 101
  • BL, letter to Charles IX of France, Egerton MS 2805, 7


  • H. Eworth, oils on panel, 1555, Scot. NPG
  • alabaster effigy on Lady Margaret Lennox's monument, 1560–1565, Westminster Abbey; electrotype, NPG
  • attrib. H. Eworth, tempera, 1562 (with his younger brother Charles), Royal Collection
  • H. Eworth, double portrait, oils on panel, 1563, Royal Collection [see illus.]
  • miniature, 1565, Mauritshuis, The Hague
  • oils, 1565 (with Mary, queen of Scots), Hardwick Old Hall, Derbyshire
  • silver medal, 1565 (after unknown artist); electrotype replica, Scot. NPG
  • engraving, 1566, BM
  • Seton Armorial, 1566 (with Mary, queen of Scots), NL Scot.
  • drawings, 1567, TNA: PRO
  • L. de Vogelaare, group portrait, oils, 1568 (The Memorial of Lord Darnley), Royal Collection
  • R. Elstrack, line engraving, 1600–40, BM, NPG
  • D. Allan, pencil and grey ink drawing (copy), Scot. NPG
  • line engraving, NPG
  • oils (as a boy), Hardwick Old Hall, Derbyshire
  • oils on panel, Scot. NPG
  • oils on panel (copy), Scot. NPG
  • plaster cast (after effigy on Lady Margaret Lennox's monument in Westminster Abbey), Scot. NPG
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British Library, London
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Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
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British Museum, London
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J. Bain, W. K. Boyd, & others, eds., , 13 vols. in 14 (1898–1969)
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G. A. Bergenroth, P. De Gayangos, & others, eds., , 13 vols., PRO (1862–1954); M. A. S. Hume, ed., , 4 vols., PRO (1892–9); repr. (1971)
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J. H. Burton & others, eds., (1877–1970)
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National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
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National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
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National Portrait Gallery, London