IT was 452 years ago today that Scotland’s most infamous officially unsolved murder took place in Edinburgh. The chief victim was the second most important person in the Kingdom of Scotland, the King Consort Henry Stuart – we’ll use the spelling associated with his wife – the Lord Darnley, the Duke of Albany and Earl of Ross, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots.

He was also a possible successor to the crown of England, as well as father to the then infant James Stuart who did indeed become King of Scots and later King of England and Ireland. His manservant was murdered alongside Darnley, but nobody remembers William Taylor these days.

The facts of the murder are indisputable: as the second son of the fourth Earl of Lennox and his wife Margaret Douglas, the latter being the granddaughter of King Henry VII of England, Darnley was cousin to Mary, Queen of Scots.

He moved to Scotland in February, 1565, and immediately the Queen conceived a passion for a very tall – he was three or four inches taller than Mary who was herself 5ft 11 ins – and handsome 19-year-old. The Queen told her courtier James Melville that “he was the lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen.”

The whirlwind romance led to their marriage on July 29, 1565. It did not start well – aware of the power of the Protestant lords who surrounded the devoutly Catholic Mary, Darnley denied his own faith and refused to attend their nuptial mass.

Only when married did Mary become aware of Darnley’s true nature – vain, arrogant, adulterous and often drunk.

She duly refused him the Crown Matrimonial and their relationship deteriorated, although she did become pregnant by him.

The Protestant Lords were nothing more than jumped-up thugs, gangsters who wanted control of Mary and her throne so they could impose their will and complete, as they saw it, the Reformation, though really this religious revolution was their excuse for selfadvancement.

Mary had a Catholic Italian secretary, David Rizzio (more likely Riccio) and Darnley became convinced that Mary was having an affair with him. He then conspired with the Lords such as the Earl of Morton, Lord Ruthven and on March 9, 1566, Rizzio was murdered by Ruthven and his band of assailants, stabbed to death in front of the Queen.

In effect it was an attempted coup d’etat. Darnley denied all knowledge and was reconciled to the Queen in time for the birth of their son James on June 19, 1566. Darnley returned to his scandalous ways, however, and with the addition of the Earl of Bothwell, the selfappointed champion of Mary, the Lords plotted to kill him. What Mary knew or didn’t know remains uncertain. The role of English agents provocateurs such as Elizabeth I’s spymaster, Lord Cecil, is also uncertain.

Mary herself fetched an ill Darnley – syphilis or smallpox was reported – from his bolthole in Glasgow, and installed him in the house known as St Marys-in-the-field, later called Kirk o’ Field, just outside the walls of Edinburgh where Chambers Street is now. Mary herself cared for him but on the evening of February 9, 1567, she left to attend the wedding party of one of her French servants, Bastian Pagez.

At 2am on February 10 the house was blown to smithereens by an estimated 200lbs of gunpowder.

The bodies of Darnley and Taylor were found in an adjacent orchard. They had apparently been strangled.

Mary and Bothwell fled the city and this was taken as an indication of guilt, although the Queen was seen to be in deep shock. On March 24, she allowed Darnley’s father Lennox to bring a bill charging Bothwell with the murder.

The trial was a travesty. Bothwell was the most powerful soldier in the land with a huge personal army and he used it to make Edinburgh virtually a no-go area for his opponents. Lennox turned away and without an accuser the “trial” on April 12 collapsed.

A captain in Bothwell’s pay, William Blackadder, had been one of the first people on the site of Kirk o’Field after the explosion. Probably entirely innocent of the regicide, Blackadder was executed after a show trial, in which as the official records show, he was “Convict and Fyllit be ane Assyse of airt and pairt of the crewill, odious, treasonable, and abominable Slaughter of the King’s father.” Three other junior attendants were also executed. We do not even know their names.

One other person was executed for his part in the murder – the Earl of Morton who had been a regent for the young King James was brought to trial in 1581 and having confessed to being “art and part” associated with the murderers, the chief of whom he testified to be Bothwell, he was executed by having his head cut off by the Maiden, a forerunner of the guillotine. Morton himself had approved its use for capital crimes.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh held a symposium to discuss the murder in Jedburgh Town Hall on September 24, 2015. The intriguing theory was advanced that the target of the explosion was Mary herself, and the forensic experts at the event concluded that on the evidence, a jury could not be asked to convict anyone of the murder of Darnley and Taylor.