Two Brushes with Death

Mary Queen of Scots and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell

The Jedburgh Justice Court was at last about to take place. At the end of September summonses were issued for loyal subjects to bring arms and food for twenty days to attend the Queen.

Bothwell took three hundred men and went on ahead of the Queen to round up criminals to await her judgement. A feud was currently raging between the Armstrongs of Liddesdale and the Johnstones of Nithsdale, so he imprisoned a bunch of Armstrongs in Hermitage . The next day he went in search of Jock o' the Park, an Elliot of ill-repute. As he approached this man's peel tower home, the Elliott took fright and fled on horseback, Bothwell in hot pursuit. Bothwell soon caught up with him, and Elliot attempted to escape on foot. He was stopped by Bothwell's bullet in his thigh. Bothwell dismounted, but stumbled as he approached the outlaw. Elliot drew his sword and struck Bothwell three times before the Lieutenenat of the Border could retaliate. Despite being injured in his body, head and hand, Bothwell managed two blows to Jock o' the Park's chest, before he passed out. The Elliot put a mile between them before he too collapsed.

Bothwell's followers had by this time caught him up and put him on a sleigh to drag back to Hermitage. They were refused entry - the Armstrongs had escaped their prison and taken control of the castle. Luckily for Bothwell, his neighbour, Robert Elliot of Shaws, suggested a compromise whereby the Armstrongs handed over the keys in return for their freedom.

Jock o' the Park's recovery is attested to by a record of his further law-breaking until 1590. Bothwell's death was reported in London and the Continent - prematurely. However, the wound to his left hand troubled him for many months, and the cut to his forehead left a permanent scar, though it did not lead to the loss of his sight, contrary to the statements of Lamartine in the nineteenth century.

However, as a result of his injuries, there were few offenders to recieve the merciful judgements of the Queen when the Court of Justice opened at Jedburgh on 10th October. Hearing that Bothwell was recovering, Mary therefore decided to make the journey to Hermitage to discuss the Border situation. She would have to ride the best part of 60 miles in a day, as there was no accommodation suitable for women at the fortress. Maitland, Huntly and Moray accompanied her and she arrived just after midday. She authorised Bothwell to hold a Court the next day, and conferred a post for drafting wills on George Sinclair. Hardly stuff to make such an arduous journey worthwhile, but equally unlikely companions for Mary to choose were she wishing to 'display her outrageous lust'. Yeah, George Buchanan again.

Mary Queen of Scots' House, Jedburgh

Whatever the real reasons for this mad dash, the next day, the 16th October, saw Mary afflicted with the pain in her side from which she had been suffering since her confinement. Over the next few days she vomited more than sixty times, and was bringing up blood. At times she lost consciousness, or was blind or unable to speak. A week into her illness she made her confession and recieved the final sacrement. She called the lords to her and spoke her final wishes.

The next day she was moribund, and a day later appeared to be dead, but her physician, Arnault, was able somehow to revive her. It is now thought that she was suffering from a duodenal ulcer.

Bothwell meanwhile was moved to Jedburgh by horse litter on 21st October, so Buchanan's fable about their lascivious goings-on at the Jedburgh House being the cause of Mary's illness are obviously yet more of his pervy imaginings. Whatever, by the end of the month Mary was up and about again, despite a brief visit from Darnley.

On 9th of November Mary and her entourage rode out of Jedburgh and progressed through Kelso, Home Castle, Langton, Wedderburn, Coldingham and Dunbar. Although much delayed, this progress achieved Bothwell's aim of bringing peace to the Border, and Moray's plans were foiled. For the time being.


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