The Casket Letters were eight letters and some sonnets said to have been “written” by Mary, Queen of Scots to James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, between January and April of 1567. These letters and sonnets were produced as evidence against Mary by the Scottish lords who opposed her rule. These letters were also taken to imply that Mary colluded with James Hepburn in the murder of her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.
On 10 February 1567 Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots is found under mysterious circumstances, even though there was an explosion, he was actually found strangled with no burn marks at the Kirk o’ Field in Edinburgh.
James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was the prime suspect, but was “let off” by Scottish Parliament.
I believe because of two major reasons was why Mary ended up marrying her husband’s murderer.
Firstly, James Hepburn actually kidnapped Mary. It might’ve been in a calm manner, but somehow convinced her to go to Dunbar Castle for her safety. However, James Hepburn raped Mary, which for some odd reason back then means she had to marry him.
Secondly, James was able to show to Mary the Ainslie bond, where majority of her nobles signed that James was suitable for a husband to Mary.
Three months after the death of Henry Stuart, Mary married James Hepburn on 15 May 1567.
After Mary’s nobles, majority of those who signed the Ainslie bond, raised an army against the marriage, on 15 June 1567 Mary surrendered at the Battle of Carberry Hill and was imprisoned at Lochleven Castle. On 24 July 1567, Mary abdicated the throne of Scotland. Her infant son was crowned King James VI of Scotland on 29 July 1567, her illegitimate half-brother, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray was made Regent of Scotland.
Not long after the coronation of James VI, James Stewart, who was in London, told Guzman de Silva, Spanish ambassador to England, that he had heard of the finding of a letter in Mary’s own handwriting to James Hepburn, which implicated her in the murder to Henry Stuart. He however did not reveal this to Queen Elizabeth I of England.
At the end of August 1567, Edmund Grindal, Bishop of London, had heard that letters in Mary’s handwriting urging James Hepburn to hurry up with the killing of Henry Stuart had been found in a box of James Hepburn’s papers. Edmund Grindal sent this news to the Reformer Henry Bullinger in Geneva.
It was said, because of the discovery of these letters, was the reason why Mary abdicated from the throne, fearing public knowledge.
On 4 December 1567, James Stewart summoned his Privy Council. They made and signed a statement in preparation for the Parliament to enact Mary’s abdication, which stated the letters demonstrated Mary’s involvement in the murder.
“in so far as by diverse her previe letters writtin and subscrivit with hir awin hand and sent by hir to James erll Boithvile chief executor of the said horrible murthour, …, it is maist certain that sche wes previe, art and part (complicit) and of the actuale devise (plot) and deid of the foir-nemmit murther of her lawful husband the King our sovereign lord’s father”.
On 2 May 1568 Mary, with the aid of George Douglas, brother of Sir William Douglas who is the castle’s owner, escaped Lochleven Castle and made her way to England. I think she did this because she believed that Elizabeth I would help her regain the throne.
Mary’s status was uncertain, as she had been accused of crimes and misrule. Elizabeth I ordered an inquiry into the question of whether Mary should be tried for the murder of Henry Stuart, as accused by the Scottish Lords who had deposed Mary the year before. James Stewart came to England to show Elizabeth the so called “casket letters”.
At a conference in York nearly a year later in October 1568, James Stewart produced the Casket Letters, headed by Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk.
On 7 December 1568, James Stewart also showed the Casket Letters at Westminster. The letters, sonnets, divorce and marriage contract were examined at Hampton Court on 14 December 1568, and the handwriting compared with Mary’s letters to Elizabeth I. The evidence produced by the Scottish Earls, who were now sworn to secrecy by the English Privy council, was perhaps bewildering;
“the whole writings lying altogether upoun the counsel table, the same were showed one after another by hap [chance], as the same did ly on the table, than with any choyse made, as by the natures thereof, if time had so served might have been”.
Elizabeth neither wished to accuse Mary of murder nor acquit her. Mary was unable to have her say during trial as she was refused the right to be present, however, her accusers including her illegitimate half-brother James Stewart, were permitted to be present.
Not only was Mary not allowed to be present during these accusations, but she was also refused access to the letters to review or to study them.
Mary vehemently denied writing them, arguing that her handwriting was not difficult to imitate, insisting they were forgeries. It has been said that Mary Beaton, who was one of the “Four Mary’s”, had written these letters. Mary Beaton’s mother was a mistress to none other than James Hepburn himself.
Yet, as Elizbeth had wished, the inquiry reached the conclusion that nothing was proven. The outcome of the enquiry was to prolong doubts about Mary’s character that Elizabeth used to prevent the Queens meeting.
I don’t believe Mary actually wrote those letters or sonnets. It could be in her writing some of them, but I don’t believe they were sent to James Hepburn. It’s obvious, well to me anyway, that they tried to put Mary in a bad light, especially after her marriage with James Hepburn.
To think, her close friend and confidante Mary Beaton, was also “in on it”, was also quite sad. Mary seems like she couldn’t trust anyone.
If you want to know more about Mary and details before and after the casket letters, part one will be posted on Monday 26/3 and part two on Wednesday 28/3.