On this day in history : 23rd January 1570 – The murder of James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray – in what is thought to be the first assassination carried out using a firearm….

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James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray – Hans Eworth – Roy Strong, The English Icon, 1969 p.94 – Public domain

Moray was the illegitimate son of King James V of Scotland – who had many illegitimate children but Moray was perhaps the most prominent…. He was born around 1531 – his mother, Lady Margaret Erskine, was the favourite mistress of the King….

At the time it was not unusual for Peerage titles to be granted to the illegitimate offspring of Royalty…. However, Moray’s title was not bestowed upon him by his father – but rather by his half-sister, Mary Queen of Scots…. When Mary came to the throne in 1561 Moray became her advisor and she made him Earl of Moray….

At first the two got on well – but then tension began to grow between them…. Mary was a devout Catholic, whereas Moray supported the Scottish Reformation…. Things became even more strained when Mary remarried….

Mary’s first husband, Francis II of France, whom she had married in 1558 at the age of 15, had died in 1560…. Five years later Mary was to meet, for the first time, her cousin Henry Stuart – Lord Darnley…. It was love at first sight – and after a whirlwind romance the couple were married at Hollywood Palace – she was 23 and he was 19…. Being first cousins meant the marriage strengthened their claims on both the English and Scottish thrones…. However, not everyone was happy about the union…. Darnley’s mother, Queen Elizabeth I of England was furious, both English and Scottish Protestants were angered and of course Moray was none too pleased either….

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Mary with her second husband, Lord Darnley – Public domain

Moray had tried to prevent the marriage – he had gathered some 1,200 supporters together and marched on Edinburgh with a view to staging an armed rebellion – ‘The Chaseabout Raid’…. Unfortunately for Moray the people of Edinburgh refused to support him and it soon became obvious Moray and his men would be defeated – so they fled to England…. Only Queen Elizabeth I refused to help them and so for a while Moray became an outlaw….

Meanwhile the honeymoon period for Mary and Darnley was soon over…. Mary was pregnant within the first two months with the future King James VI and quickly discovered her new husband was not the man she thought he was…. He may have had the looks but Darnley was not of pleasant character…. He liked the good life – drank too much and was a womaniser…. He was arrogant, vain, jealous and quick-tempered…. He soon became a hated man in Scotland….

On the 9th of February 1567 Darnley was found dead outside a lodging house near the Kirk O’Field…. A large quantity of gun powder had been used to cause a massive explosion which had torn the building apart…. Darnley was discovered outside in his nightgown – it looked like he had been strangled…. Nearby two servants also lay dead….there was a chair and a length of rope present….

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1567 drawing of Kirk O’Field after the murder of Darnley – Public domain

Some believed Mary to be involved; she had certainly visited Darnley the night before…. Trapped in an unhappy marriage – but being Catholic unable to divorce – she had a motive…. Also suspected was James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell – who was arrested and tried for the murder, only to be acquitted due to lack of evidence…. Mary married Bothwell just over three months later, on the 15th of May 1567….

Moray returned to Scotland and was pardoned by Mary; although no suspicion could be placed upon him for Darnley’s murder he would no doubt have been pleased…. When Mary married Bothwell to keep his head low Moray disappeared to France….

After Mary’s abdication from the throne in 1567 and her imprisonment, Moray returned to Edinburgh…. He was appointed Regent of Scotland, to take care of affairs until Mary’s infant son was old enough to take over….

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James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, Regent of Scotland – Public domain

Mary managed to escape from her prison and mounted an attempt to regain the Scottish throne…. Moray was determined to prevent this from happening…. A series of battles were to happen – at the Battle of Langside Mary’s supporters were defeated by Moray’s men – earning him the name of ‘The Good Regent’…. Moray continued to defend the throne, leading a military campaign – ‘The Raid of Dumfries’ – where he seized control of establishments belonging to the supporters of Mary….and many more surrendered to his forces….

But Moray had made many enemies….among them the Hamilton family, long-standing supporters of Mary…. He was at Edinburgh Castle, making plans for an attack on Dumbarton Castle, a stronghold controlled by Mary’s supporters…. Near to Edinburgh Castle lived Archbishop Hamilton, in the town of Linlithgow…. The Archbishop’s house offered excellent views of the streets of the town….

On the 23rd of January 1570 James Hamilton, the Archbishop’s nephew, visited the house – he was waiting for somebody…. Moray had been warned that he was in danger and that the streets of Linlithgow were unsafe for him – but the warnings went unheeded…. As Moray walked past the Archbishop’s house Hamilton shot him in the stomach – he died the following day…. Firearms had not been around that long and were still a rarity…. It is quite likely Moray’s assassination was the very first of its kind….

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James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh in the act of assassinating the Earl of Moray at Linlithgow – G. Cattermole – Leitch Ritchie, Scot and Scotland, 1835 – Public domain

Hamilton had an escape plan and managed to get away – he fled the country and was never caught…. His uncle, the Archbishop, however – was hanged for his part in the murder….

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