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Miscarriage at Lochleven

An important event in the life of Mary Stuart while a prisoner

at Lochleven in 1567 has been little investigated, but is crucial in settling
the controversy about her relations with Bothwell before her marriage to
him. The event is recorded by Claude Nau, her French secretary and
closest adviser in the last years of her life, in his Memoirs which were only
discovered and published in 1883. Although he was with her only during
the last eleven years of her life, there is every reason to believe that the de-
tails of earlier events were given to him personally and privately by Mary
herself. He records that some time about the middle of July 1567 Mary
miscarried of twin foetuses. His actual words are (translated from the
French): “On the afternoon of the 24th day of July 1567, the Lords
Lyndsay and Ruthven, accompanied by two notaries and the said Melvil,
came into the Queen’s chamber. She was lying on her bed, in a state of ex-
treme weakness, partly because of the great trouble she was suffering,
partly in consequence of a great flux (the result of an abortion of two chil-
dren, her issue by Bothwell), so that she could move only with great diffi-
culty.” The French for the miscarriage was “avortement de deux enfans”.


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The reason for her “extreme weakness” was her treatment
during the first weeks of her detention at Lochleven. On 16 June she had
been hurried at night, rudely and without ceremony, from Holyrood to
Lochleven Castle and thrown into a room by herself with no clothes but a
nightdress. “In the night privily she was conveyed, and with haste, to the
strong fort of Lochleven; and after a few dayes, being stripped out and
spoyled of all her princely attirement, was clothed with a coarse brown
cassock.” ( Leslie’s “Defence”).

Earlier that same day she had suffered the indignity and
shame of being led away, a common captive, from the confrontation at
Carberry, insulted and spat upon by her enemy’s soldiers and jeered at by
an Edinburgh mob inflamed by the preachers’ invective against her. At
Lochleven she was put under the baleful eye of the insolent and tyrannical
Lady Margaret Douglas, her father’s erstwhile mistress and the mother of
her enemy and half-brother James, Earl of Moray. Closely confined, har-
assed and importuned daily to confess her part in the murder of her hus-
band four months earlier, and bullied incessantly to abdicate her crown, she
was frequently in tears and terrified with fear. Worn out as she was with
deprivation and sickness, it was not surprising that she was in a state of ex-
treme weakness, nor that she would have suffered a sudden miscarriage.
It was while in this state of debility and terror that she was forced to sign
the papers of abdication brought to her by Lyndsay and Ruthven.


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The only other credible mention of this pregnancy was made
by Mary herself to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, the English ambassador,
when he had come to Lochleven at some time in the middle of July to try
to persuade Mary to divorce Bothwell who had fled after Carberry and was
now a fugitive in the Shetlands. Mary refused to do so, giving the follow-
ing reason, as reported by Throckmorton on 18 July in a letter to Elizabeth-
’s secretary Cecil: “I have also persuaded her to renounce Bothwell for her
husband, and to be contented to suffer a divorce to pass
betwixt them; she hath sent me word that she will in no ways consent unto
that, but rather die, grounding herself upon this reason, taking herself to be
seven weeks gone with child; by renouncing Bothwell she would acknow-
ledge herself to be with child of a bastard, and to have forfeited her honour,
which she will not do to die for it.”

Therein is the crux of the matter: her statement that she was “seven weeks
gone with child”. Between the time of that admission to Throckmorton
and the visit on 24th July by Lord Lyndsay and the others , she had the
miscarriage mentioned by Nau, as she was still haemorrhaging and lying
weak in bed when the lords arrived. At the latest that would make the mis-
carriage eight weeks after conception, which would put the time of concep-
tion towards the end of May. She had been married to Bothwell on 15th
May, so she could have conceived immediately after the marriage.


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However, it has been argued by an obstetrician writing in a medical journal
in 1932 that it would have been very difficult to distinguish twin foetuses
at eight weeks’ term particularly in a “great flux of blood”, that they would
be no more than three centimetres in length. He objected to the use by Nau
of the words “deux enfans” in that Mary must have been considerably
more pregnant to have someone describe them as “children”. However, it
must be remembered that Nau got his information from Mary herself, and
any mother suffering a miscarriage, however early, would refer to what she
had lost as “a child”.

There are two other allusions to Mary being pregnant, both

unreliable, but, if true, with important implications. Writing to the Earl of
Leicester on 15th June the Earl of Bedford informs him that “The Queen
is with child.” Wherever the information came from (and it could not
have come from any reliable source) he must have learned of it before
Mary’s surrender at Carberry on 15th June. This would mean, if Mary’s
statement to Throckmorton is true, that she was less than a month pregnant
when Leicester reported the matter. It is clear that this is unlikely as it
would not be possible to be certain at such an early date.


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A further reference to a pregnancy is made by Guzman, the Spanish am-
bassador in London. In a letter to Philip, the King of Spain, on 21st June
he informs him that the Queen is five months pregnant. He himself was
never at Lochleven and must have got the information at second hand and,
like all gossip of this kind, was exaggerated as it went the rounds. It could
quite easily have been invented by one of Mary’s detractors who wanted to
insinuate that she was sexually active with Bothwell while Darnley was
still alive.

So, was Mary mistaken about how far gone she was, or was
she deliberately lying? We must go back to a previous event, the date and
circumstances of which are also crucial to a determination of the truth,
namely the abduction of Mary by Bothwell on 24th April. Mary had been
intercepted by Bothwell and a large troop of his Borderers on her way back
from Stirling where she had been visiting her son. He had taken her by
force along with several of her attendants to his castle at Dunbar and kept
her prisoner there for over a week. There, according to several accounts,
he had forced her to have sexual intercourse with him. Even the Protestant
lords declared on June 12th that during the Queen’s imprisonment at Dun-
bar “the said Erll seducit by unlesum wayis our said Soverane to an unhon-
est marriage with himself.” On July 21st they wrote: “Our Soverane


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Lady was led captive, and by feare, force, and, as mony conjecture may be
weil suspected, other extraordinary and mair unlauchfull meanys, com-
pelled to become bedfellow of another wyve’s husband.” These “mair un-
lauchfull meanys” could refer to Bothwell’s notorious dabbling in the
black arts and love potions, what might be called nowadays drug-induced
sexual assault, or date-rape.

Melville, in his Memoirs writes: “And the Queen could not

but marry him, seeing he had ravished her and lain with her against her
will.” Mary herself, in her instructions to the Bishop of Dunblane in May
1567 to go to France and explain the circumstances leading up to her hasty
marriage writes…”so ceased he never till by persuasion and importune
suit, accompanied nonetheless with force, he has finally driven us to end
the work begun at such time and in such form as he thought might best
serve his turn, wherein we cannot dissemble that he has used us otherwise
than we would have wished….”

So, as seems likely, Bothwell forced Mary to have sexual in-

tercourse with him during her enforced detention at Dunbar . This would
help to explain Mary’s agreement to a hasty marriage, fearing that she
might be already pregnant. If the rape, or seduction, took place on or soon
after their arrival at Dunbar on 24th April and Mary conceived then, that
would make her about twelve weeks pregnant at the time of the miscar-
riage and the aborted foetuses more recognisable as such.


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But the question remains: how do we explain Mary’s com-
ment to Throckmorton that she was seven weeks gone with child on 18th
July? The usual way that a woman determines the date of conception is by
reference to her last period. This would indicate that Mary thought she had
missed one period, but it was possible, in the enfeebled physical state she
was in, that her bodily functions were out of order and that she was unable
accurately to determine how far she was gone with child. Mary’s enemies,
eager to find any indication that she had had an adulterous relationship
with Bothwell, argued that the foetuses were at least five months de-
veloped (which would make “deux enfans” more acceptable to them) and
had been conceived during a sexual relationship with Bothwell just after
the death of Darnley. They could not use that pregnancy as an argument
for a relationship with Bothwell while Darnley was alive (though they be-
lieved it and would like to have proclaimed it), because Mary could then
have claimed that Darnley was the father.

So, Mary was either mistaken in the belief that she was seven
weeks pregnant and was actually eleven or twelve weeks gone, or she was
lying to conceal the fact that she had committed adultery with Bothwell. If
the former, conception would have taken place during her detention at
Dunbar and would explain her desire for an immediate marriage. It would
also explain her almost suicidal depression and unhappiness from the very
day of the marriage.


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If we accept the latter explanation, that she was lying, then
she had conceived during a sexual relationship with Bothwell in February
or March. The argument against this charge is that they had little oppor-
tunity to be together clandestinely (despite Buchanan’s libellous claims)
and what we know of Mary’s unsullied reputation up until then. Also, the
watchful attention of the women of Lochleven, two of whom slept in her
bedroom to keep an eye on her, would have easily detected and reported a
suspicious swelling of Mary’s belly, as they reported every other sign of
physical ailment. As Mary said in a letter to her mother-in-law, Catherine
de Medicis: “I am so closely watched that I have no leisure except while
they are at their meals, or when they sleep, that I get up, for their daughters
sleep with me.”

Like most other controversies concerning “the daughter of

debate”, we shall never know the truth, but the most likely explanation is
that Mary became pregnant during her ravishment by Bothwell at Dunbar
in April and that she had a miscarriage of twins in July.

There is one other reference to the obstetric history of Mary at

Lochleven which is given no credence nowadays but was believed by sev-
eral historians in the nineteenth century. That is, that Mary gave birth to a
daughter in February 1568 before her escape from the island, that the fath-
er was George Douglas, one of the Lady of Lochleven’s


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sons, and that the child was smuggled abroad to become a nun in a con-
vent in France. This unlikely event is regarded now as mere gossip and
tittle-tattle. If Mary had miscarried in July she could not have given birth
in February the following year. Also, that such a thing could have taken
place and not be reported by the ever-watchful women is impossible to
credit, nor did Mary herself ever refer to a daughter, not even at the end of
her life when she was making provision for all her attendants and servants.
The story was made into a romantic fiction by Charlotte Yonge in her nov-
el “Unknown to History”.

By her three husbands Mary had but one child, James. This
baby James, the son of Darnley her second husband, was being crowned
King of Scotland at Stirling at the same time as Mary was miscarrying at
Lochleven of two other children by her third husband Bothwell. Mary Stu-
art’s own fate was not to be decided for twenty more years, after a brief
glimpse of freedom and another nine prisons.


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