Francis Stewart, 1st Earl of Bothwell

Francis Stewart, 1st Earl of Bothwell

Francis Stewart, Earl Bothwell (b. c December 1562 - d. April 1612, Naples), 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 son to John Stewart, Lord Darnley, Prior of Coldingham (d.1563), an illegitimate child of James V of Scotland by his mistress Elizabeth Carmichael. John Stewart's wife was Jane Hepburn, Mistress of Caithness, Lady Morham (d.1599) sister to James Hepburn, the fourth Earl Bothwell. Francis is said to have been born in his mother's tower house at Morham.

A charter under the "Great Seal", dated at Edinburgh, January 10, 1568, confirmed to Francis Stewart, Commendator of Kelso Abbey, elder son of deceased John Stewart, Commendator of Coldingham Priory, and specified heirs, of the lands and baronies formerly held by the Earls of Bothwell: 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. Witnesses were: John, Archbishop of St Andrews, James Douglas, 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 Rankeillor Nether, Clerk of the Rolls, Register and Council, and John Bellenden of Auchnole & Broughton, Knt.,Lord Justice Clerk. (National Archives of Scotland GD224/890/21).

Francis was 'belted' earl Bothwell by his cousin, James VI, in the Great Hall of Stirling Castle on 27th November 1577, in the presence of his guardian, James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, Regent and four days before his marriage to Margaret Douglas, formerly Lady Buccleuch in the Abbey of Holyroodhouse. (Adv. Man. 35.4.2)


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.


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

On May 29, 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 May 13, 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 July 5.

The following year Bothwell and other nobles felt that the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots should result in an invasion of England, a course of action the king disagreed with. He was warded for a time in Edinburgh Castle for his activities in trying to advance this course of action.

On May 10, 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 July 8 1587, as Keeper of Liddesdale, to keep the peace there, and on July 29 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 August 1, 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 November 12 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.

In a letter to the Lord Treasurer and Sir Francis Walsingham dated February 7, 1589 there is a reference to a Scottish Duke who has "departed to the marriage in Fife of the laird of Bass (George Lauder of The Bass), where Francis Stewart, Earl Bothwell is also supposed to be." It is added that as a result of this event Edinburgh "is left with few (Privy) Counsellors."


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 and had surrendered himself on May 11, 1589. Their trial took place on the 24th. All were found guilty, but sentences were deferred for the king's consideration.

More seriously, Bothwell was arrested on witchcraft accusations - of trying to arrange the king's death through sorcery - on April 15, 1591, and warded in Edinburgh Castle, formal charges being laid before the Privy Council on that day and the 21st. (In early 1592, in a letter addressed to the Clergy of Edinburgh, Bothwell indignantly disowned these charges).

He broke out of the castle and a formal Proclamation as an outlaw was made aganst him. 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 the January 13, 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. On April 7 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.

On June 5, 1592, Parliament finally met after nearly 5 years, and the Privy Council of Scotland was reconstitued. A Proclamation was issued on that day denuding Bothwell of his honours, titles, and lands. On June 28, between one and two o'clock in the morning, Bothwell, leading 300 others, subsequently 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 29th and 30th Proclamations were issued for Bothwell's pursuit and the apprehending 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 July 6. They did not find the fugitive and the pursuit was finally abandoned on August 7, 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.

July 13 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 September 14 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 October 9 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 November 20, 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 June 7 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 July 24, 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. (It received the Royal, and other signatures on August 14). So, just five days after his forfeiture, Bothwell and his accomplices received a blanket Act of Remission and Condonation.

On Friday August 10 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 September 7 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 October 11. 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 April 2, 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 September 30, 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 February 18, 1594/5, the day of the execution of his half-brother, Hercules. Sir James Balfour Paul commented: "Hercules Stewart of Whitelaw, sometimes called 'frater' of Francis, Earl of Bothwell, but on February 26, 1593/94 expressly called 'brother natural'. He 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 the Orkneys 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, and thence to Naples where he lived in poverty, and died.

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, 30th 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 straightened 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 April 21, 1640. His son Robert inherited his father's debts and after a long struggle with them, lost the barony of Coldingham on November 26, 1656, to the Home of Renton family. [ Historic Manuscripts Commission, "The Manuscripts of Colonel David Milne Home of Wedderburn Castle, N.B.", HMSO, London, 1902: 203-4]

* John (2nd son), the last Commendator of Coldingham Priory and 1st secular feudal Baron of Coldingham. On June 16, 1622 he transferred the barony to his elder brother, Francis. John and his son Francis were still living in April 1636 but John was dead by August 1658. [ Historic Manuscripts Commission, "The Manuscripts of Colonel David Milne Home of Wedderburn Castle, N.B.", HMSO, London, 1902: 204]
* 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
* Helen, married John Macfarlane of that Ilk.
* Jean (d. after 1624) married Robert Elliot of Redheugh.
* Margaret, married Allan Cathcart, 5th Lord Cathcart. [ Paul, Sir James Balfour Paul, "The Scots Peerage", Edinburgh, 1905, vol.2:172] the parents of William Cranstoun, 3rd Lord Cranstoun [ 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, p239.
*"The Scots' Peerage" by Sir James Balfour Paul, Edinburgh, 1905, vol. ii, p.169-171.

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