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James Hepburn, 1st Duke of Orkney (c. 1534 – 14 April 1578), better known by his inherited title as 4th Earl of Bothwell, was Hereditary Lord High Admiral of Scotland. He is best known for his association with and subsequent marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots, as her third husband.

Early life

He was the son of the Patrick Hepburn, 3rd Earl of Bothwell and Agnes Sinclair (d.1572), daughter of Henry Sinclair, 3rd Lord Sinclair, and was styled Lord Hailes from birth. He succeeded his father as 4th Earl of Bothwell in 1556.

Admiral and Casanova

As Lord High Admiral of Scotland, Bothwell sailed around Europe. During a visit to Copenhagen around 1559, he fell in love with Anna Tronds, a Norwegian noblewoman whose father, Kristoffer Trondson (Rustung), a famous Norwegian admiral, was serving as Danish Royal Consul. After their engagement, Anna left with Bothwell, and in Flanders, he announced that he was out of money. He asked Anna to sell all her possessions, which she did, and she went to visit her family in Denmark to ask for more money. Anna's sister, Margaret, married John Stuart, 4th Earl of Atholl. Anna was unhappy and apparently given to complaining about Bothwell. Bothwell's treatment of Anna Rustung played a part in his downfall.

Queen Mary I

Bothwell appears to have met Queen Mary I when he visited the Frenchmarker Court in the autumn of 1560, after he left Anna Rustung in Flanders. He was kindly received by the Queen and her husband, King Francis II, and, as he himself put it: "The Queen recompensed me more liberally and honourably than I had deserved" — receiving 600 Crowns and the post and salary of gentleman of the French King's Chamber. He visited France again in the spring of 1561, and by 5 July was back in Paris for the third time — this time accompanied by the Bishop of Orkney and the Earl of Eglinton. By August, the widowed Queen was on her way back to Scotland in a French galley, some of the organisation dealt with by Bothwell in his naval capacity.


Bothwell appears to have been not much more than a troublesome noble at court following the Queen's return. His open quarrel with the Earl of Arran and the Hamiltons, who accused him of intriguing against the Crown, caused some degree of anguish to the Queen, and although the Earl of Arran was eventually declared mad, Bothwell was nevertheless imprisoned in Edinburgh Castlemarker without trial in 1562. Later that year, while the Queen was in the Highlands, he escaped.

Royal friendship

In February 1566, Bothwell married Lady Jean Gordon, Countess of Bothwell, daughter of George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly. Mary attended the wedding. The marriage lasted just over a year.

The Queen and Bothwell were by now very close. Upon hearing that he had been seriously wounded and was likely to die, she rode all the way through the hills and forests of the Borders to be with him at Hermitage Castlemarker only a few weeks after giving birth to her son. However, historian Antonia Fraser asserts that Queen Mary was already on her way to visit Bothwell on matters of state, before she heard about his illness and that therefore this visit is not evidence they were already lovers at the time of his accident.

Darnley's murder

Bothwell and his wife divorced on the grounds of his alleged adultery with her servant, Bessie Crawford, on 7 May 1567, three months after the death of Mary's second husband, Henry Stuart, (better known under his childhood title of Lord Darnley). Bothwell was one of those accused of his murder. Sir William Drury reported to Sir William Cecil, Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth I of Englandmarker, that "the judgement of the people" was that Mary would marry Bothwell.

However, in the meantime the Stewart family, particularly his father, the Earl of Lennox, were agitating for vengeance and upon his petition, the Privy Council began proceedings against Bothwell on 12 April 1567. Drury reported that the Queen was in continuous ill-health "for the most part either melancholy or sickly". On the appointed day Bothwell rode magnificently down the Canongatemarker, with the Earl of Morton and Sir William Maitland of Lethington flanking him, and his Hepburns trotting behind. The trial lasted from noon till seven in the evening. Bothwell was acquitted.

The next Wednesday, the Queen rode to Parliament, with Bothwell carrying the Sceptre, where the proceedings of Bothwell's trial were officially declared to be just according to the law of the land. On Saturday 19 April no less than eight Bishops, nine Earls, and seven Lords of Parliament put their signatures to what became known as the Ainslie Bond, a manifesto declaring that Mary should marry a native-born subject, and handed it to Bothwell.

The Great Abduction

On Wednesday 24 April, while Mary was on the road from Linlithgow Palacemarker to Edinburgh, Bothwell suddenly appeared with 800 men. He assured her that danger awaited her in Edinburgh, and told her that he proposed to take her to his castle at Dunbarmarker, out of harm's way. She agreed to accompany him and arrived at Dunbar at midnight. Mary was taken prisoner by Bothwell and violently raped by him to secure marriage to her and the crown. On 12 May the Queen created him Duke of Orkney, and he married Mary in the Great Hall at Holyrood on 15 May 1567, eight days after his divorce was decreed. Within three days, Sir William Drury wrote to London that although the manner of things appeared to be forcible, it was known to be otherwise.


The marriage divided the country into two camps, and on 16 June, the Lords opposed to Mary and Bothwell signed a Bond denouncing them. A showdown between the two opposing sides followed at Carberry Hill on 15 June 1567, from which Bothwell fled, after one final embrace, never to be seen again by Mary. In December that year, Bothwell's titles and estates were forfeited by Act of Parliament for treason.

Anna's revenge

He escaped from Scotland and travelled to Scandinavia in the hope of raising an army to put Mary back on the throne. Unfortunately he was caught off the coast of Norway (then ruled by Denmark) without proper papers, and was escorted to the port of Bergen. This was the native home of Anna Rustung. Anna raised a complaint against Bothwell, which was enforced by her powerful family; her cousin Erik Rosenkrantz, a high-level official in Norway, remanded Bothwell to a local prison whilst Anna sued him for abandonment and return of her dowry. Reports of the court case are impressive, with Anna having been described as wearing a majestic red dress and impressive jewels. Anna must have had a soft spot in her heart for Bothwell, as he persuaded her to take custody of his ship, as compensation. Bothwell would have been released, but the King of Denmark, Frederick, had heard that the English crown were seeking Bothwell for the alleged murder of King Henry and decided to take him into custody in Denmark.

Later life

King Frederick II of Denmark at first treated Bothwell with respect but later sent him to the notorious Dragsholm Castlemarker, Denmarkmarker, where he was held in what was said to be appalling conditions. A pillar to which he was chained can still be seen, with a circular groove in the floor around the pillar where Bothwell purportedly remained for the last ten years of his life and where he died. His mummified body could supposedly be seen in Fårevejle, in the church near the castle, until a few decades ago. However, the identity of the body has never been conclusively proven.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles

  • Lord Hailes (c. 1535 – September 1556)
  • The Earl of Bothwell (September 1556 – 12 May 1567)
  • The Duke of Orkney (12 May 1567 – 29 December 1567)
  • James Hepburn (29 December 1567 – 14 April 1578)


  • The Royal Families of England Scotland and Wales, with their descendants, etc., by John and John Bernard Burke, London, 1848, volume 2, pedigree XII.
  • Scottish Kings, a Revised Chronology of Scottish History, 1005–1625, by Sir Archibald H. Dunbar, Bart., Edinburgh, 1899, p. 256.
  • Lines of Succession, by Jiri Louda & Michael Maclagan, London, 1981.
  • Mary Queen of Scots, by Antonia Fraser, 13th reprint, London, 1989, ISBN 0-297-17773-7.

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