“Earl Bothwell”


A tale of the woes of Scotland. David [Riccio], the Queen's servant, is murdered with twelve daggers. King and Queen quarrel over this. Bothwell takes the king and hangs him. This produces such anger that the Queen flees to England


Henry Lord Darnley was Mary Stuart's cousin (and heir if she remained childless), and after their marriage he was addressed as King. Darnley is thus the "king" of this ballad and Mary Stuart the Queen. The Queen of England is, of course, Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603). Mary Stuart was Elizabeth's heir.

(A spelling note: The Scottish spelling of Mary's name was "Stewart." Since, however, she spent much of her youth in France, she used the French spelling "Stuart.") - RBW

Historical references

  • 1542 - Mary Stewart, at the age of eight days, becomes Queen of Scotland. She later becomes Queen of France by virtue of her marriage to the French King Francis III.
  • 1560 - Death of Francis III. Mary eventually returns to Scotland to rule it directly for the first time
  • 1566 - Murder of David Riccio (falsely called "Lord David), secretary to Mary Stewart (rumour had it that he was her lover, but there is no evidence of this)
  • 1567 - Murder of Henry, Lord Darnley, Mary's husband (he was in a house which blew up, but from the state of his body it appears that he was dead before the explosion). Mary Stewart soon after (forcibly?) married to James Hepburn, the fourth Earl of Bothwell (here called "Bodwell"). She was deposed not long after
  • 1568 - Mary escapes to England
  • 1578 - Death of Bothwell
  • 1587 - Execution of Mary Stewart by Elizabeth I of England


  1. Child 174, "Earl Bothwell" (1 text)
  2. Percy/Wheatley II, pp. 213-218, "The Murder of the King of Scots" (1 text)
  3. Roud #4004
  4. BI, C174


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1765 (Percy)