Military Wiki

Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell (c.December 1562 – November 1612) 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 (they were both grandsons of James V of Scotland). Francis's maternal uncle James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell was the chief suspect of having murdered James VI's father Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.


Francis Stewart was a son of John Stewart, Lord Darnley, Prior of Coldingham (d. 1563), 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 (d. 1599), 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.[1]

Commendator, earl, and student

Carved monogram of Admiral Francis Stewart and Margaret Douglas, Crichton Castle

Regardless of his youth, in December 1564 he was made Lord Badenoch and Enzie, and in 1566 he was appointed (nominal) 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 it, 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, Commendator of Coldingham had charter under the Great Seal confirming him and specified heirs 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.[2] Francis was 'belted' 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 and four days before his marriage to Margaret Douglas, formerly Lady Buccleuch and daughter to the 7th Earl of Angus in the Abbey of Holyroodhouse.[3] Francis undertook his initial study at the University of St Andrews before travelling to the continent in 1578, where he studied in the Universities of Paris and Rouen (and, possibly, also in Italy). Recalled to Scotland by the king, he landed at Newhaven in June 1582.

Military affairs

Bothwell had part of Crichton Castle rebuild in a novel style, c. 1585

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, and thence to Falkland Palace. 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.

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, during the usual faction-fighting, 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.

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 the 24 May. All were found guilty, but sentences were deferred for the king's consideration. More seriously, 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, the formal charges being laid before the Privy Council on that day and the 21st. 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 Peter 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, befitting one of King's closest relations. Subsequently, in November 1590 those accused of witchcraft in North Berwick were tortured and made confessions about supernatural causes of the storms. 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, at least in the account of 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, convinced that the Chancellor, John Maitland of Thirlstane, was behind his accusation. He was proclaimed an outlaw three days later. In December he entered Holyroodhouse attempting to seek reconciliation, or as his opponents claimed, trying to assassinate James and Anne.[4] Reports of Bothwell at Morham (his mother's tower house), 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, whereafter the Privy Council of Scotland denounced Ross of Banagowan, 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 of Scotland 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 the 29 and 30 June proclamations were issued for Bothwell's pursuit and the arrest of his accomplices, including 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 had obtained "possession of all his houses and strengths". Several of Bothwell's supporters were, in the meantime, locked up: the Earl Marischal, Lord Home, and Sinclair of Roslin amongst them.

The thirteenth of July saw a further new Warrant 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 issued an Order for 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 1592/3 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. Soon numerous Bothwell supporters also entered the room. The king accepted Bothwell's protestations of loyalty and an agreement for his pardon was reached.[5] (It received the Royal, and other signatures on 14 August). 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 (described by Spottiswoode as "a farce") 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 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, Edinburgh, 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.

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" (meaning Presbyterianism) and openly allied himself in a new confederacy with the Roman Catholic Lords (Huntly, Angus, Errol, et al.) against the king, who now 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 1594/5, the day of the execution of his half-brother, Hercules.[6] 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."[7]

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, who 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.[8]

Marriage and issue

On 1 December 1577, Francis, Earl Bothwell married Margaret (d. 1640), daughter of David Douglas, 7th Earl of Angus, and widow of Sir Walter Scott, of Branxholme & Buccleuch (d. 1574). 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'. (Adv. Man. 35.4.2) They later had, at least, four sons and four daughters.

  • Francis, Lord Stewart, Bothwell and Commendator of Kelso Abbey (b. 1584) - After his father's death, in spite of the attainder, he is occasionally styled 'Earl Bothwell', and Lord Stewart and Bothwell. Upon his marriage to Isobel, daughter of Robert Seton, 1st Earl of Winton, he obtained a rehabilitation under the Great Seal of Scotland, dated at Whitehall, 30 July 1614, but reserving the rights of those who had been granted his father's forfeited lands. (The rehabilitation was not formally ratified by Parliament until 1633). In 1630 he was 'absent from the country'. He finally obtained recovery, by decreet arbitral of Charles I, of part of the family estates, which he then sold to the Winton family. He lived in straitened circumstances, in 1637 petitioning King Charles 1st to be made Printer to the King in Ireland for 51 years. When he died his Testament-Dative was given in by his creditors at Edinburgh on 21 April 1640. His eldest son, generally called Charles (b. 1617), fought in the Civil War, but is said to have died in England after the Battle of Worcester in 1651,[9] and on 26 November 1656, his brother Robert was cited as the heir to their father's debts when the barony of Coldingham was acquired by the Home of Renton family;[10] he, too, appears to have died without issue, and their unmarried sister was regarded as the last of the line.[11][12]
  • John (2nd son), the last Commendator of Coldingham Priory and 1st secular feudal Baron of Coldingham. On 16 June 1622 he transferred the barony to his elder brother, Francis. John was still living in April 1636, and apparently into the 1650s, when he is mentioned by Sir John Scott of Scotstarvet in The Staggering State of the Scottish Statesman,[13] but he seems to have been dead by 1656, when a grandson named Francis was described as his heir in the transaction at Coldingham mentioned above;[14] John Stewart also had a daughter Margaret, married to Sir John Home, Lord Renton, who was the actual beneficiary of the transaction; their descendants are described as the heirs-general of the Earls of Bothwell.[15][16] John Stewart of Coldingham is also identified as the father of Francis Stewart of Coldingham, "grandson of the Earl of Bothwell", who became a trooper in the Scottish Life Guards after the Restoration, gained a captain's commission in the Scots Greys, and commanded the left wing at the Battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679, but who died around 1683.[15][17][18] There seems to be no absolutely definitive evidence to confirm this identification, however, and it is possible that this was the cavalryman son of the titular 6th Earl, who is called "Francis" by Scott of Scotstarvet.[13]
  • Frederick, (3rd son) (b. 1594) mentioned in the Privy Council Registers in 1612 (vol. ix, p. 498).
  • Henry (Harry), (4th son) (b. 1594?) signed many documents with his elder brothers, and who, in 1627, consented to a lease. Possibly twin with Frederick.
  • Elizabeth (b. 1590) (eldest daughter) married James, Master of Cranstoun (appears to have been banished in 1610); they were the parents of William Cranstoun, 3rd Lord Cranstoun.<ref=TSP2 />[19]
  • Helen, married John Macfarlane of that Ilk.
  • Jean (d. after 1624) married Robert Elliot of Redheugh.
  • Margaret, married Allan Cathcart, 5th Lord Cathcart.


  1. Robertson, Joseph, ed., Inventaires de la Royne Descosse, (1863), 160
  2. Charter witnesses were: John, Archbishop of St Andrews, James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, Lord Chancellor of Scotland, William Keith, 4th Earl Marischal, John Maitland, Commendator of Coldingham Priory, Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland, Mr James MacGill of Nether Rankeillour, Clerk of the Rolls, Register and Council, and John Bellenden of Auchnole & Broughton, Knt., Lord Justice Clerk. National Archives of Scotland GD224/890/21; see on-line catalogue.
  3. National Library of Scotland, Adv. Mss. 35.4.2
  4. Cowan, Edward, J., 'Darker vision of the Scottish renaissance', in Renaissance & Reformation in Scotland, SAP (1983), pp. 125-131 citing Christina Larner, in Smith ed., Reign of James VI, (1973), pp. 74-90, and Margaret Murray, 'Devil of North Berwick', SHR, vol. 24 (1918), pp. 318-20
  5. Calendar State Papers Domestic 1591-1594", London (1867), pp.368-9
  6. On their relationship, Sir James Balfour Paul commented: "Hercules Stewart of Whitelaw, sometimes called 'frater' of Francis, Earl of Bothwell, but on 26 February 1593/94 expressly called 'brother natural.' "
  7. HMC, Manuscripts of the Marquis of Salisbury at Hatfield House, vol. 10 (1904), pp. 40, 61, 72, 440: CSP Scotland, vol. 13 part 1 (1969), pp. 257, 260, 263
  8. Birch, Thomas, ed., Court and Times of James I, vol.1 (1848), p.220
  9. Balfour Paul, Sir James, The Scots Peerage, Edinburgh, 1905, vol.2:173
  10. Historic Manuscripts Commission, The Manuscripts of Colonel David Milne Home of Wedderburn Castle, N.B., HMSO, London, 1902: 203-4
  11. Paul, Sir James Balfour Paul, The Scots Peerage, Edinburgh, 1905, vol.2:173
  12. Maitland of Lethington, Sir Richard, The History of the House of Seytoun to the Year 1559, with the Continuation by Alexander Viscount Kingston, to 1687, Glasgow, 1829:60
  13. 13.0 13.1 Scott of Scotstarvet, Sir John, The Staggering State of the Scots Statesman, For one hundred Years, viz. From 1550 to 1650, Ruddiman & Company, Edinburgh, 1754: 155
  14. Historic Manuscripts Commission, The Manuscripts of Colonel David Milne Home of Wedderburn Castle, N.B., HMSO, London, 1902: 204
  15. 15.0 15.1 Paul, Sir James Balfour Paul, The Scots Peerage, Edinburgh, 1905, vol.2:172
  16. Burke, Sir Bernard, A Genealogical History of the Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages of the British Empire, Harrison, London, 1866: 510
  17. Swift, Jonathan, ed., The Memoirs of Captain John Creichton, From His Own Materials, Hunt & Clarke, London, 1827: 26-7, 30-33, 54.
  18. Dalton, Charles, The Scots Army, 1660-1688, with Memoirs of the Commanders-in-Chief, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1909: 106-108, 122
  19. Anderson, William, The Scottish Nation, Edinburgh, 1867 edition, vol.3: 697
  • The Peerage of Scotland, &c., published by Peter Brown, Edinburgh, 1834, p. 174.
  • The Royal Families of England Scotland and Wales, with their descendants etc., by John and John Bernard Burke, London, 1848, volume 1, pedigree CXXXIX.
  • The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, edited by David Masson, LL.D., vols. IV & V, 1585–1592, 1592–1599, Edinburgh, 1881/1882, see index for two columns of Bothwell references in both editions.
  • Scottish Kings, a Revised Chronology of Scottish History, 1005 - 1625 by Sir Archibald H. Dunbar, Bart., Edinburgh, 1899, p. 239.
  • The Scots' Peerage by Sir James Balfour Paul, Edinburgh, 1905, vol. ii, p. 169-171.
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
James Hepburn
Earl Bothwell
1587 – 1612
Succeeded by

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).