Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell

Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell was Commendator of Kelso Abbey and Coldingham Priory, a Privy Counsellor and Lord High Admiral of Scotland. Like his stepfather, Archibald Douglas, Parson of Douglas, he was a notorious conspirator, who died in disgrace. Francis was the first cousin of King James VI of Scotland. Francis's maternal uncle James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell was the chief suspect in the murder of James VI's father Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.


Francis Stewart was a son of John Stewart, Prior of Coldingham, who was an illegitimate child of James V of Scotland by his mistress Elizabeth Carmichael. Francis' mother was Jane Hepburn, Mistress of Caithness, Lady Morham, sister of James Hepburn, 1st Duke of Orkney and 4th Earl of Bothwell. Francis is said to have been born in his mother's tower house at Morham. In 1565 Mary Queen of Scots gave Francis a set of red serge bed curtains.

Commendator, earl, and student

Regardless of his youth, in December 1564 he was made Lord Badenoch and Enzie, and in 1566 he was appointed Commendator of Culross Abbey. He was, before 1568, Commendator of Kelso Abbey in Roxburghshire, which position he had exchanged with John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane in place of the offer of Coldingham Priory which Maitland then held until his forfeiture in 1570. Some historians give Sir Alexander Home as Maitland's successor; he in fact declined to accept his appointment, and Priory charters record Francis Stewart as the next Commendator. Francis was succeeded as Prior of Coldingham by his second son, John.
On 10 January 1568 Francis was confirmed in the lands and baronies formerly held by the Earls of Bothwell. These included; Hailes, Yester, Dunsyre, Morham, Crichton, Wilton, Bothwell and many others in the sheriffdoms of Edinburgh, Roxburgh, Lanark, Dumfries, and Berwick, and the Stewartries of Annandale and Kirkcudbright.
Francis was 'belted' as earl Bothwell by his cousin, James VI, in the Great Hall of Stirling Castle on 27 November 1577, in the presence of his guardian, James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, four days before his marriage to Margaret Douglas, formerly Lady Buccleuch and daughter of the Earl of Angus in Holyrood Abbey. Francis studied at the University of St Andrews before travelling in 1578 to the Universities of Paris and Rouen. Recalled to Scotland by the king, he landed at Newhaven in June 1582.

Military affairs

On 29 May 1583, the King, against the advice of Gowrie and the other Lords of the 'Ruthven Raid', who had controlled him for the past nine months, left Edinburgh, progressing first to Linlithgow Palace, accompanied by the Earls of Mar, Angus, Bothwell, and Marischal. At Linlithgow, Bothwell played football with the Earl Marischal. Bothwell knocked him over, then he kicked Bothwell on the leg. They decided to fight a duel the next day, but the Earl of Angus and the king, James VI, reconciled them. After this, Bothwell returned to Crichton.
Bothwell quarreled David Home of Manderston at Linlithgow Palace in November 1583, and killed him in 1584, and 23 October 1584 wrote from Crichton Castle to Sir Patrick Vans of Barnbarroch asking him to meet him at Dalkeith and support him at his trial in Edinburgh.
On 13 May 1585, Bothwell, with others, was commissioned to assist the Warden of the Scottish Marches dealing with rebels. In June 1586 Bothwell was one of three Commissioners appointed by James VI to conclude a military alliance pact between the English and Scottish Crowns, which was formally concluded on 5 July. He quarrelled with William Stewart of Monkton and then they fought on Blackfriar's Wynd. Bothwell stabbed him with his rapier, and Stewart tried to hide in a cellar, where Bothwell's men "stobbed him with whingers till he was despatched".
The following year Bothwell and other nobles felt that the beheading of James VI's mother Queen Mary, should result in an invasion of England, a course of action the king disagreed with. Bothwell was warded for a time in Edinburgh Castle for his activities in trying to advance this course of action.
On 10 May 1587 Bothwell and other nobles protested their innocence over a raid on Stirling Castle in November 1585. The king accepted their oaths and declared them to be his "honest and true servants".
Francis, Earl Bothwell swore an obligation in Council on 8 July 1587, as Keeper of Liddesdale, to keep the peace there, and on 29 July he was made a full member of the Privy Council of Scotland - a body he had been attending since at least 1582.
One of the honours he received with his earldom was that of Lord High Admiral of Scotland, and on 1 August 1588, he was ordered "to attend upon his awne charge of admirallitie" in order to resist the Spanish Armada.
He remained active at sea, and on 12 November of the same year Frederick Freis, master of the Swedish ship Unicorn brought an action in the Scottish Privy Council against the Earl Bothwell for the seizure of his ship. The Council ordered Bothwell to restore the ship to Freis within 24 hours.
Bothwell was imprisoned in Holyrood Palace in May 1589, and called to James VI who was in the garden for his release. The king ignored him, and he was transfrred to Blackness Castle and Tantallon Castle. Bothwell was so angry that he beat his wife or any of his servants who came near him. I n 1589 an English pirate called Captain Coupland stole one of Bothwell's ships or barques, and sold its cannon at Bridlington and Great Yarmouth.

Outlaw and exile

Bothwell, with others, including the Earl of Huntly, was charged with treason for engaging in an armed uprising and plotting to seize the king at Holyroodhouse. He surrendered himself on 11 May 1589 and their trial took place on 24 May. All were found guilty, but sentences were deferred for the king's consideration.
In January 1591 he was reported to have bought the Isle of May and to be building a house near Kelso not far from the English border. This may refer to the repair of Moss Tower at Eckford.

Witchcraft accusations

Bothwell was arrested on witchcraft accusations on 15 April 1591. Charged with trying to arrange the king's death through sorcery, he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle on 15 April 1591.These allegations arose through the events of the marriage of James VI to Anne of Denmark in September 1589. She had been expected to sail from Denmark but was prevented by storms three times. The Danish admiral Peder Munk attributed the storms to witchcraft. The same weather caused an accident in the river Forth drowning Jane Kennedy who James had appointed to be chief of Anne's ladies-in-waiting. James then asked Bothwell, as Admiral of Scotland, to prepare a fleet to fetch Anne. Bothwell's estimate of the costs involved was high and James decided to raise funds and make the voyage himself.
Bothwell remained in Scotland and was given a share of the government. Subsequently, in November 1590 those accused of witchcraft in North Berwick were tortured and made confessions about causing the storms by magic. The historian Christina Larner proposed that the character of the witch hunt with the "demonic pact" which featured in the confessions was influenced by Danish practice. In July 1590 a number of so-called witches had been arrested in Denmark including Anna Koldings for causing the storms. One of the Scottish accused, Agnes Sampson, according to James Melville of Halhill, claimed the devil had shown her a picture of James VI saying he should be "consumed at the instance of a noble man Francis Erle Bodowell." Another, Ritchie Graham, confessed and insisted he had conspired with the earl, leading to his arrest in April 1591.


Francis broke out of the castle on 22 June 1591, while the king was away at the wedding of Lilias Murray and John Grant of Freuchie at Tullibardine, and headed south. He was convinced that the Chancellor, John Maitland of Thirlestane, was behind his accusation. He was proclaimed an outlaw three days later. He was thought to be in Leith on 18 October, where his wife was staying, and the king hunted for him. James Sandilands captured his servant Robert Scott and Valentine, the earl's best horse, but the earl could not be found. In December he entered Holyroodhouse attempting to seek reconciliation, or as his opponents claimed, trying to assassinate James and Anne. The twins Patrick and John Schaw were killed trying to defend the king. Some of his supporters were captured, including David Cunningham of Robertland, and some sentenced to death. Anne of Denmark pleaded with James VI for their lives, especially for John Naysmyth.
Reports of Bothwell at Morham, and Coldingham, resulted in the King again leading a party eastwards out of Holyroodhouse on 13 January 1591/2 to apprehend him. However the King's horse threw him into a pool of water, from which a local yeoman had to rescue him "by the necke", and the chase was abandoned. In early 1592, Bothwell addressed a letter to the clergy of Edinburgh, indignantly disowning the witchcraft charges. On 7 April the King again went in pursuit of Bothwell, crossing the Forth to travel north, Bothwell having been heard of in Dundee, and the Privy Council of Scotland denounced Ross of Balnagown, the Master of Gray and his brother Robert, and others, for assisting Bothwell.
When the Parliament of Scotland met on 5 June 1592 for the first time after nearly five years and the Privy Council was reconstituted, a Proclamation was issued denuding Bothwell of honours, titles, and lands. On 28 June, between one and two o'clock in the morning, Bothwell, leading 300 others, attempted to capture Falkland Palace and the king. Forewarned, the king and queen and his immediate courtiers withdrew to the tower and locked it from within. On 29 and 30 June proclamations were issued for Bothwell's pursuit and the arrest of his accomplices, including James Scott of Balwearie, Martine of Cardone, and Lumsden of Airdrie.
Certain Borders lairds were ordered in June to assemble for his pursuit and were joined by the King himself on 6 July. They did not find the fugitive and the pursuit was finally abandoned on 7 August, but the Crown obtained possession of all his houses and strengths. Several of Bothwell's supporters were locked up including the Earl Marischal, Lord Home, Sinclair of Roslin and John Wemyss of Logie.
On 13 July 1592 a new Warrant was issued against Bothwell's supporters in the Borders, including Walter Scott of Harden and Dryhope and John Pennycuik of that Ilk. On 14 September, the Privy Council ordered an armed muster to attend the King into Teviotdale in pursuit of Bothwell's supporters. The king left Edinburgh for Dalkeith on 9 October and thereafter proceeded to Jedburgh. However little or nothing was achieved in the expedition. October saw a new round of Cautions issued by the Privy Council to supposed supporters of Bothwell.
On 20 November 1592, the Countess of Bothwell was forbidden by Decree to be in the King's presence and "none allowed to contenance her". A warrant was subsequently issued by the Edinburgh magistrates for her arrest, with numerous other "adherents of Bothwell still lingering about the town". In January 1593 Bothwell was in the north of England where he had a good reception, which much annoyed James VI. On 7 June he asked Queen Elizabeth I to ensure Bothwell's return to Scotland.


Bothwell was formally attainted by Act of Parliament, dated 21 July 1593. However, on Tuesday, 24 July, the Earl had been smuggled into Holyroodhouse and forced himself at last into the King's presence, in his bedchamber. It was said that Bothwell hid behind the tapestry or hangings until the best moment. Soon numerous Bothwell supporters also entered the room. The king accepted Bothwell's protestations of loyalty and an agreement for his pardon was reached.. So, just five days after his forfeiture, Bothwell and his accomplices received a blanket Act of Remission and Condonation.
On Friday, 10 August, a formal trial of Bothwell was entered into on the old witchcraft charges in order to deal with them once and for all. Bothwell made speeches and other argument on his own behalf. He was acquitted. The English ambassador Robert Bowes described how on 15 August 1593 James VI and the Earl of Bothwell enjoyed a particularly Scottish form of banquet involving "small provisions of delicates having spice Confectionery|meat and wines, of no great matter or value" at the Shore of Leith before the king embarked in a ferry boat for Kinghorn and Falkland Palace.
The King, however, was not yet finished, and when the Convention of Estates met at Stirling on 7 September he conspired with those opposed to Bothwell to recall his pardon and Royal messengers went to meet Bothwell on the 11th, at Linlithgow, with the news that the king proposed to modify his blanket pardon, and added a condition that Bothwell would have to go into exile.
It was thought at first that Bothwell had not taken this badly and would comply, but feeling betrayed he soon returned to his old ways and in the first days of October his partisans, the Earls of Atholl, Montrose, and Gowrie, had been seen in arms in the vicinity of Linlithgow. It is not clear whether Bothwell was with them. However a warrant was issued against Bothwell, and others, on 11 October. Failing to appear they were denounced rebels on the 25th.
The Privy Council issued a Proclamation for a muster at Stirling for the pursuit of Bothwell on 2 April 1594, following a collision between the King's forces and Bothwell's in the fields between Edinburgh and Leith, near Arthur's Seat, called in some books The Raid of Leith. There was not much bloodshed, the king remaining at the Burgh Muir, with Bothwell retiring to Dalkeith en route again to the Scottish Borders. Many thought had Bothwell pressed home he would have been the victor and had a warm welcome from the citizens of Edinburgh, as his Protestant cause was gaining popularity.
In May 1594 Bothwell was in Northumberland and he heard that Jacob Kroger had stolen jewels from Anne of Denmark. Bothwell found Kroger at Edward Delaval's house near North Shields and took some of the jewels, hoping to use them to bargain his way back into the king's favour. The Bailiff of Shields preventing him taking Kroger and his companion Guillaume Martyn back to Scotland. In August Joachim von Bassewitz, the ambassador of the Duke of Mecklenburg,, offered to speak with the English ambassador Robert Bowes on Bothwell's behalf, but Bowes declined.
As a result of his poverty and lack of support, Bothwell had no option left to him but to change religious sides. A new Privy Council proclamation against him, dated 30 September 1594, states that he had "thrown off the cloik of religioun" and openly allied himself in a new confederacy against the king with the Roman Catholic Lords Huntly, Angus, Errol, and others. The king proceeded north against them. The confederacy collapsed and Huntly and Errol agreed to go abroad.

Exile and death

The king's pardon being revoked, another formal sentence of treason was proclaimed against Bothwell on 18 February 1595, the day of the execution of his half-brother, Hercules Stewart. Hercules supported his brother, but was captured with another by John Colville and William Hume, who promised them their lives, but they were then hanged, in spite of much popular sympathy, at the Market Place of Edinburgh."
Till April 1595 Bothwell continued to lurk about Caithness and Orkney but eventually embarked for France landing at Newhaven in Normandy. James VI upon hearing this sent a special messenger to the King of France asking for Bothwell to be banished from France, but the request was declined. After several months Bothwell left for Spain. Between 1598 and 1600 it was rumoured he visited London from Gravelines or Dieppe. James VI heard he was in London with John Colville in August 1598 but did not believe it. Walter Raleigh advised Robert Cecil that Elizabeth should detain Bothwell. Raleigh wrote that Bothwell "will ever be the canker of her estate and safety."
Bothwell lived in poverty in Naples where he died in November 1612. The English ambassador in Venice, Dudley Carleton, reported that Bothwell died at Naples after hearing news of the death of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, whom he had hoped would restore his fortune. The Spanish Viceroy of Naples, Pedro Fernández de Castro y Andrade arranged a lavish funeral for the Scottish earl.

Marriage and family

On 1 December 1577, Francis, Earl Bothwell married Margaret Douglas, daughter of David Douglas, 7th Earl of Angus, and widow of Sir Walter Scott of Branxholme & Buccleuch. Initially, after a brief honeymoon, the new earl was not permitted to come within twenty miles of his new wife 'for reassone of his youngnes'.
James VI made a proclamation against Margaret Douglas for her support of her husband in November 1592. She was said to be "a griter mellair", to have had more involvement in her husband's treasons, "than became a woman".
They had at least four sons and four daughters:
Francis Stewart is depicted as a major character in the plays Jamie the Saxt by Robert McLellan, and The Burning by Stewart Conn. Both plays deal with the period of his conflict, as outlaw and rebel, with King James VI in the early 1590s.