Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hepburn, Francis Stewart
HEPBURN, FRANCIS STEWART, fifth Earl of Bothwell (d. 1624), was the eldest son of John Stewart, prior of Coldingham, one of the illegitimate children of James V, and brother of the regent Moray. Bothwell's mother was Lady Jane Hepburn, only daughter of the third earl, and sister of James, the fourth earl [q. v.] On 29 July 1576—it being wrongly supposed that his uncle the fourth earl, a captive in Denmark, was then dead—he was created Earl of Bothwell, and appointed to many of his uncle's offices, including those of lord high admiral of Scotland, sheriff of Edinburgh and within the county of Haddington, and sheriff of the county of Berwick and balliary of Lauderdale. Bothwell attended the parliament held in Morton's interest at Stirling on 15 July 1578, and was one of those who bore the royal robe in the procession to and from the great hall (Moysie, Memoirs, p. 12). His support of Morton [see Douglas, James (d. 1581)] is possibly traceable as much to his relationship to the regent Moray as to the fact that he had married Lady Margaret Douglas, eldest daughter of Morton's near relative, David, seventh earl of Angus, and widow of Sir Walter Scott of Buccleugh. It was perhaps to escape being involved too closely in Morton's fortunes that he went to the continent about 1580. He was presumably there when his wife, on 15 Dec. 1580, presented a petition in reference to great ‘spuilzes’ committed against her by the borderers (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iii. 335). A second petition to a like effect was presented 3 Feb. 1581–2 (ib. p. 441). On 4 April 1580–1 his mother petitioned the privy council (1) for an assurance that her own property might be duly transmitted to her son; and that (2) ‘her said sone, now in his absence,’ might retain all the ‘qualities appertenit of befoir to the Erlis Borthuile’ (ib. p. 371). The fall of Morton had perhaps rendered Bothwell's position somewhat insecure. The king granted the petition. After the execution of Morton (2 June 1581), Bothwell landed at Newhaven, near Leith, on 26 July (Moysie, Memoirs, p. 37; or 27th according to Calderwood, iii. 634), on his way from France.
Immediately after landing Bothwell had an interview with some of the leading ministers of Edinburgh, by whom he was ‘well informed of the estate both of the Kirk and country’ (ib. iii. 634). He undertook to represent their interests at court. As the nephew of the regent Moray he was regarded by many ministers as the hereditary champion of their cause. It was in this rôle, for which he was peculiarly unfitted, that he persisted in posing before them. He resembled the fourth Earl of Bothwell in his dissolute and lawless conduct, although he lacked his virile strength; and his indecorous acts rendered his relations to the kirk singularly grotesque. The king regarded him with a curious mixture of partiality and dislike, the latter doubtless created by fear, and soon predominating. Gradually the king became possessed of the idea that Bothwell's ultimate aim was to be his rival: that, in his intrigues with the kirk, he was following in the footsteps of the regent Moray, and seeking to injure the prerogatives of the crown. There were misunderstandings on both sides; but probably, had each fully gauged the intentions of the other, their relations would not have been materially improved. As it was, Bothwell became the ‘stormy petrel of politics,’ the only character in which he could have obtained any support from the nobility. There is no evidence that he intended any serious revolutionary movement. His ‘incursions and alarms’ only aimed at inducing the king to come to terms with him after their alienation.
For some time after his arrival from France Bothwell enjoyed the king's special friendship. After his interview with the ministers of Edinburgh he proceeded, on 29 June 1582, to the king at Perth, where, according to Moysie, he ‘was heartily welcomed’ (Memoirs, p. 37). At this period Lennox and Arran, the king's favourites, thought to make Bothwell their subservient tool. According to Calderwood, they foresaw that Bothwell might be induced by his wife's influence to favour the Douglases, and they sought to sow discord between them by raising slanders against her (History, iii. 634). But they failed to win Bothwell. Although he took no active part in the protestant conspiracy against Lennox and Arran of 22 Aug., known as the Raid of Ruthven, his name was attached to the band, and he associated on intimate terms with its principal members. Meanwhile, under the new protestant régime, he exercised considerable influence in the king's counsels. It was chiefly through his persuasion—‘for nothing,’ says Calderwood, ‘of importance which might serve for furtherance of the Lord's cause was obtained without his procurement’ (iii. 649)—that the king consented to sign the proclamation ‘touching the liberty of the assembly of the kirk and free preaching of the word.’ He also appeared before the assembly of October, and ‘professed that he would live and die in the reformed religion professed within this realm’ (ib. iii. 689).
After the counter-revolution of 27 June 1583, and the king's sudden withdrawal to St. Andrews, the protestant ascendency at court was for a time ended, and Bothwell's influence was greatly diminished. Angus sent for Bothwell to accompany him to St. Andrews; but when within six miles of the town they were met by a herald, forbidding them to come with armed men into the city. They advanced alone, and, though cordially received by the king, were commanded to return home (ib. iii. 715). Nevertheless, Bothwell still retained the royal favour. James was as yet ignorant of his connection with the Ruthven raid. On 28 Nov. a serious brawl occurred between Bothwell and Lord Home [see Home, Alexander, first Earl of Home, d. 1619] in the streets of Edinburgh, and the same evening, ‘after the king had been hanging about his neck’ (ib. iii. 759), he was ordered into ward in the palace of Linlithgow. But this order was countermanded, and he was directed to return to his own house, from which the king sent for him and upbraided him for his connection with the Ruthven raid. Bothwell and the king were never again on the old cordial terms; but in any case Bothwell's position must have been insecure so long as the king was under Arran's influence.
Bothwell was a strenuous supporter of the conspiracy devised by the Master of Gray [see Gray, Patrick, seventh Lord Gray] for the overthrow of Arran in 1585. The dispute between him and Lord Home had been settled by both coming under an obligation in 10,000l. to keep the peace towards each other (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iii. 616, 634), and now the two co-operated in fortifying Kelso, which formed a temporary asylum for the banished lords on their arrival from England (Hist. James Sext, p. 214). It was thence that the insurgents marched suddenly towards Stirling. On their nearing the city Arran fled, and Bothwell was nominally restored to favour. He was one of the commissioners appointed on 19 June of the following year to conclude an offensive and defensive league with England; but on learning the news of the execution of Queen Mary in England (February 1587), he urged the king to undertake an invasion of England to avenge her death. He refused to put on mourning, declaring that the best ‘dule weed’ was a steel coat. Irritated against the Master of Gray on account of his unsuccessful embassy in Mary's behalf, he sided with Sir William Stewart against him, declaring Gray's accusations against Stewart to be false. As the brother of Arran, Sir William was, however, almost necessarily hostile to Bothwell. On 10 July 1588 they had a violent controversy in the king's presence at Holyrood (see Calderwood, iv. 680). On the 30th they met each other with their companies in the High Street, when Stewart, after being stabbed by Bothwell with a rapier, was pursued by Bothwell's followers into a hollow cellar, and there despatched. Stewart's relationship with Arran made him unpopular with the nobles in power, and no notice was taken of the outrage by the king and council. On the following day Bothwell, as lord high admiral, was entrusted with the duty of taking measures to resist the threatened arrival of the Spanish Armada in Scotland. He performed the duty very unwillingly. He had advocated that instead of offering resistance to the Spaniards, advantage should be taken of their arrival to invade England, and avenge the death of the queen. The popish lords, availing themselves of his animosity against England, induced him to join the conspiracy for persuading the king of Spain to despatch a second armada against Elizabeth. To aid the scheme he raised a large force, ostensibly for an expedition to the North Isles, but in reality to co-operate with the Spaniards. He was present with the king when the intercepted letters inculpating Huntly and Errol in the conspiracy were opened. The growth of the influence of the chancellor Maitland, who was now installed as the king's chief favourite, increased his discontent with his position at court. He joined Huntly and Errol, and raised a force to create a diversion during their rising in the north. The rebellion collapsed almost as soon as the king took the field. Two ministers of the kirk, Robert Hepburn and Robert Lindsay (Moysie, Memoirs, p. 76), interceded with the king for Bothwell, and promised to ‘bring him in’ on condition that his ‘life, lands, and goods were saved.’ To this the king agreed, but placed Bothwell under the charge of the captain of the guard. On 20 May 1589 he was examined before a committee of the council, when he denied that he ever intended ‘any practice against the king or religion,’ asserting that his sole reason for collecting a force was a private quarrel between him and the chancellor Maitland (Calderwood, v. 57). He was placed in ward in Tantallon Castle, but with other nobles obtained his release in September ‘to attend upon the arriving of the queen’ from Denmark. The vessels conveying the queen were driven by a storm on the coast of Norway, whereupon the king at first proposed to send Bothwell, as lord high admiral, to bring her home at his own expense. He subsequently resolved, on the ground that Bothwell had already been put to great expense in connection with the marriage, to make the voyage himself (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iv. 428).
During the king's absence Bothwell was appointed to assist the Duke of Lennox as president of the privy council (ib. p. 425)—a position which did not satisfy his aim of obtaining supreme influence with the king. It was to the kirk's intercession that Bothwell owed his escape from the effects of his association with the catholic nobles; and as a proof of gratitude he ostentatiously made, on 9 Nov., a public repentance in the little kirk before noon, and in the great kirk after noon, promising to ‘prove another man in time coming’ (Calderwood, v. 68). He was already busy with eccentric schemes to improve his position.
In January 1590–1 Agnes and Richie Graham, the former ‘the wise wife of Keith,’ who were burned at Edinburgh for the practice of sorcery, asserted that Bothwell had consulted them about the date of the king's death, and had bribed them to make use of their arts to raise storms during the king's voyage from Denmark. According to Sir James Melville, Bothwell, on learning the charge, surrendered himself for trial, hotly denying the veracity of the devil's ‘sworn witches.’ The author of the ‘History of James Sext’ asserts that Chancellor Maitland instigated the charge, and was so hated by the nobility that they several times refused to assemble for Bothwell's trial (p. 242). The weak point in Bothwell's case was, as he subsequently confessed, that he had consulted the witches, although only (he affirmed) in regard to his own fortunes, without any reference to the king. On the king the accusations of the witches against Bothwell produced a deep impression, and probably strengthened that peculiar dread of him by which the king was haunted. On 21 June Bothwell escaped from the castle to which he had been committed by bribing the master of the watch, a gentleman named Lauder. Shortly after his escape he appeared at the Nether Bow, and promised any man a crown who would bid the chancellor come and take him (Moysie, Memoirs, p. 86). On the 24th he was put to the horn, but as he appeared to possess the sympathy of the greater part of the nobility, all efforts to effect his capture failed. On 6 July certain border lairds swore to pursue him under Lord Home (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iv. 648). But Home himself, ‘to his Majesty's greater contempt,’ joined Bothwell, and the king, resolving to take the field against him in person, ordered a special levy to be raised. On the 4th Bothwell was denuded of all his offices and dignities, and his castles were seized. The king was informed that Bothwell ‘was still a fugitive,’ but on the 7th he desisted from ‘riding towartis the Bordouris at this time’ (ib. p. 668)
In October 1591 Bothwell, enticed, he affirmed, by the chancellor Maitland, reappeared at Leith; but an attempt to capture him on the 18th failed, ‘notwithstanding all the haste the king made,’ and in spite of Bothwell's loss of ‘his best horse called Valentine.’ Emboldened by the king's supineness Bothwell sought on the evening of 27 Dec. to capture Holyrood Palace, where the king and queen, with the chancellor Maitland, were then residing. He had the assistance of about forty southern lairds and others (see list in Calderwood v. 141). Several within the palace knew of the plot. Entrance was gained by a back passage through the Duke of Lennox's stables. Bothwell's principal aim seems to have been the capture of Chancellor Maitland, and, according to Moysie, the intruders passed direct to the chancellor's door (Memoirs, p. 87). Alarmed by the cry of a boy, the chancellor withdrew to his inner chamber, and Bothwell, foiled for the moment, passed, after giving directions for breaking in the door of the apartment, towards the rooms of the king and queen. Failing to gain entry there, he is said to have called for fire. An inroad of the citizens, warned by the sound of the common bell, interrupted him. Overpowered by numbers, the conspirators extinguished the lights, and succeeded in the darkness in making their escape, with the exception of seven or eight, who were executed next morning. On 10 Jan. 1591–2 a proclamation was made against Bothwell, ‘thought to be penned by the king himself’ (Calderwood, v. 144), in which a reward was offered to any that would kill him. Nevertheless he remained unhurt in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, and on the 13th the king was nearly drowned in some boggy ground while riding eastward from Holyrood to apprehend him (ib.)
With a view to obtaining the intercession of the kirk, Bothwell in April 1592 wrote to the ministers of Edinburgh that his intrigue with the Spaniards was not directed against their religion, but intended solely to avenge the death of Queen Mary; and secondly, that his foolish consultation with witches never touched the king, it being impossible that he could ‘hate where both benefits and blood compelled him to love’ (Letter printed ib. pp. 150–6). Chancellor Maitland, a notorious enemy of the kirk, was, he added, the sole accuser of himself and Home, in the hope that by destroying them he, ‘a puddock stool of a night,’ might take the ‘place of two ancient cedars.’ About 8 April the king, on learning that Bothwell had crossed the Tay at Broughty on his way to Caithness, suddenly left Edinburgh for Dundee. At a meeting of the parliament on 29 May James denounced Bothwell, and asserted that he aspired to the throne, although he was ‘but a bastard, and could claim no title to the crown’ (ib. p. 161). In the same parliament sentence of forfeiture was passed against Bothwell. Bothwell's stay in the north was short. Having learned ‘by secret advertisement of certain counties’ that the king was ‘at quietness at Falkland’ (Hist. of James Sext, p. 250), he surrounded the palace between one and two of the morning of 20 June 1592, but the king being warned by the watch, retired with his attendants to the tower, where he resisted till seven o'clock, when the country people in the neighbourhood flocked to his assistance, and put Bothwell to flight. On 2 July proclamation was made for the raising of a levy for his pursuit (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iv. 762), but nothing was accomplished. On 1 Aug. the lairds of Logie and Burley brought Bothwell secretly to the palace at Dalkeith, in order that he might be suddenly introduced into the king's presence to crave pardon, but the king was forewarned of their intention, and Bothwell was safely conveyed away (Calderwood, v. 173). The Master of Gray also promised to get him ‘into the king's favour,’ but Bothwell feared treachery (ib. p. 190). On 9 Oct. the king headed another fruitless expedition to the borders to apprehend him. Probably Bothwell, when the king retired, followed closely in his wake, for on 3 Nov. the citizens of Edinburgh were summoned suddenly while at dinner by the common bell to search for him. The only result of the quest was the committal of one or two women to the common gaol for receiving him. The king, now at his wits' end, weakly issued a proclamation against introducing Bothwell into his presence. On 20 Nov. the Countess of Bothwell, who on the 17th had intercepted the king at the castle gate of Edinburgh ‘crying for Christ's sake that died on the cross for mercy to her and her spouse,’ was forbidden to enter the king's presence (Reg. P. C. Scotl. v. 23). As she and many of Bothwell's adherents still continued at large about Edinburgh, an order was given on 8 Dec. to the provost and magistrates of Edinburgh to apprehend them (ib. v. 26–7). On 1 Jan. 1592–3 Bothwell caused a placard to be affixed to the cross of Edinburgh and other places, informing the ministers of Edinburgh that his constancy to religion gave them no just cause to abhor him, although a declared rebel (Calderwood, v. 232). This appeal produced no result, and finding no prospect of help he resolved to take refuge on the English side of the border. On learning this the king instructed Sir Robert Melville, who had gone on an embassy to England on 1 June, to persuade Elizabeth to deliver him up. Elizabeth assented. On 21 July sentence of forfeiture was passed against him by parliament, all his property being confiscated, and his arms riven at the cross of Edinburgh. His friends thereupon determined to make a special effort on his behalf. The Duke of Lennox and other noblemen secretly sympathised with him, on account of their jealousy of Maitland. On the evening of the 24th, after assembling their retainers in the neighbourhood of the palace, Bothwell in disguise was introduced into the king's chamber during his temporary absence. On returning the king found Bothwell on his knees, with his drawn sword laid before him, crying with a loud voice for pardon and mercy. The king called out ‘Treason!’ the citizens of Edinburgh hurried in battle array into the inner court; but the king, pacified by the assurances of those in attendance on him, commanded them to retire. Bothwell persisted that he did not come in ‘any manner of hostility, but in plain simplicity.’ To remove the king's manifest terror, he offered to depart immediately and remain in banishment, or in any other part of the country, till his day of trial. The king permitted him to leave, and an act of condonation and remission was passed in his favour (Reg. P. C. Scotl. v. 92–3), but, according to the author of the ‘History of James Sext’ (pp. 272–3), the king remained in ‘perpetual grief of mind,’ affirming that he was virtually the captive of Bothwell and the other noblemen who had abetted him. His suspicions were partly allayed by the intervention of Robert Bowes, the English ambassador, and others, but as his fears subsided he was less inclined to deal leniently with Bothwell. On 14 Aug. he signed an agreement, binding himself to pardon Bothwell and his adherents, and to restore them to their estates and honours, the agreement to be ratified by a parliament to be held in the following November (Calderwood, v. 257–258); but at a convention held at Stirling on 8 Sept. an attempt was made to modify the bargain, it being set forth as a condition of Bothwell's restoration that he should remain beyond seas during the king's pleasure. Matters soon drifted into the old unsatisfactory condition. On the 22nd Bothwell and his supporters were forbidden to come within ten miles of the king, unless sent for, on pain of high treason. He, Atholl, and other nobles assembled notwithstanding in the beginning of October 1593 in arms near Linlithgow, where the king was staying, and on the 22nd he was summoned to appear before the council to answer the charge of high treason (Reg. P. C. Scotl. v. 100), and not appearing, was denounced.
The change in the king's policy is partly explained by the recall of Maitland, on whom alone the king could depend for co-operation against Bothwell. It being rumoured in March 1593–4 that Bothwell was assembling his friends and dependents, a proclamation was issued on the 27th for a levy of forces for his pursuit if need be (ib. p. 137), and on 2 April a second proclamation was issued for a muster at Stirling against him (ib. p. 138). Bothwell suddenly appeared with a powerful force in the neighbourhood of Leith. He proclaimed that he came to offer assistance against the Spaniards, whose landing, he said, was expected in a few days. His real object was to make a demonstration of his strength for the encouragement of his friends, and in the hope of bringing the king to terms. The king advanced against him from Edinburgh, and he retired slowly—‘as if none had come forth to pursue’—by the back of Arthur's Seat towards Dalkeith. On being charged by Lord Home's horse he had the best of the encounter, and it was supposed that he might, had he chosen, have captured the town. The king ‘came riding into Edinburgh at full gallop with little honour’ (Calderwood, v. 297). Bothwell retired leisurely to Dalkeith, and thence to the borders. He sought refuge in England, but was forced to leave by command of Elizabeth. He had to choose between delivering himself up and joining the northern earls. In September he sent a letter to the ministers of Edinburgh, describing his friendliness and destitution, promising to adhere to his religion, and offering to put off his appointment for a conference with the catholic earls till the ministers had discussed measures for his relief (ib. v. 347). He was soon in the north under the protection of Huntly and Errol. On 25 Sept. he ‘cast into the kirkyard’ a letter to the ministers announcing his alliance with Huntly, but offering to do them any service in his power (ib.) On 23 Jan. 1594–5 Scot of Balwearie delivered up the treasonable correspondence into which Bothwell had entered in August with Huntly and the catholic earls (Reg. P. C. Scotl. v. 205). Huntly declined to surrender him, although offered a full pardon. But Bothwell's case was now desperate. His association with the catholic earls proved fatal. The king demanded his excommunication by the kirk, and although Bothwell wrote to the clergy of Edinburgh offering to receive their correction for whatever offence he had committed, he was on 18 Feb. excommunicated by the presbytery of Edinburgh at the king's command. Bothwell passed northward to Caithness, where he continued to lurk till the month of April. The king sought to bribe an acquaintance of Bothwell, Francis Tennant, a merchant of Edinburgh, to betray him, but Tennant as soon as he reached Bothwell revealed the king's purpose (Hist. of James Sext, p. 344). Tennant supplied him with a ship to convey him to Newhaven in Normandy, and in spite of James's demand for his surrender he was permitted to remain in France (ib. p. 345). Some months afterwards he removed to Spain, and finally went to Italy, where he spent his later years. He died in extreme poverty at Naples in 1624. The bulk of Bothwell's estates, including the lordship of Crichton and Liddesdale, came into the possession of his stepson, Sir Walter Scott of Buccleugh, while Lord Home obtained the priory of Coldingham, and Ker of Cessford the abbacy of Kelso. He had three sons and three daughters. The eldest son Francis obtained a rehabilitation under the great seal 30 July 1614, which was ratified by parliament 28 June 1633, but the title was never restored. John, the second son, was prior of Coldingham, and got the houses and baronies belonging to that priory united into a barony in 1621. Henry, the third son, also obtained a part of the lordship of Coldingham in 1621. Of the three daughters, Elizabeth married James, second son of William, first lord Cranstoun; Margaret married Alan, fifth lord Cathcart; and Helen married Macfarlane of Macfarlane.
[Hist. of James the Sext (Bannatyne Club); Moysie's Memoirs (Bannatyne Club); Robert Birrel's Diary in Dalyell's Fragments of Scottish History; Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, vols. iii–v.; Pitcairn's Criminal Trials; Cal. State Papers relating to Scotland; Cal. State Papers, For. Ser., Reign of Elizabeth; Histories of Calderwood, Spotiswood, and Burton; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), i. 232–233.]