It happened today - May 15, 2016

Would you marry Mary Queen of Scots? Even if you managed to remember that she wasn’t Elizabeth I’s older sister “Bloody” Mary but her cousin once removed and that rather than being an ineffective Catholic tyrant she was an ineffective semi-Catholic would-be tyrant. The answer is still no, right?

Wrong. At least if you’re the 4th Earl of Bothwell, James Gordon. Mary already had a husband when he first met her, the King of France in fact. But he died when she was nineteen (they had been married when she was sixteen after being betrothed when she was five, having become Queen of Scotland at six days old). Her mother-in-law, a Medici, became regent and Mary wisely bailed.

Wisely kind of ran out on the ship back to Scotland, where she married her first cousin Lord Darnley. But the marriage was unhappy. So unhappy that six years later, in 1567, his house exploded and he was found dead in the garden. Bothwell was widely suspected of doing or arranging the deed (as Darnley had in turn arranged the murder of Mary’s private secretary who, many thought, was the father of the child nominally conceived by Mary and Darnley). But Bothwell was acquitted and promptly married the queen, after divorcing his existing, second wife on rather contrived grounds that may have included her not wanting her house to explode and be found dead in the garden.

For some reason this marriage bothered people. The post-explosion one, I mean. Within a month an uprising had captured Mary and forced Bothwell to flee. Just over a month later Mary had to abdicate in favour of her infant son James VI (later James I of England) whose turbulent family history may partly explain his own deplorable character. Bothwell fled to Denmark, ran into his jilted first wife (d’oh) Anna Throndsen, was imprisoned at her behest in the dreadful Dragsholm Castle, and died insane, perhaps from having been chained to the same pillar for ten years, wearing a groove in the floor as he paced and contemplated his wretched lack of judgement or possibly blamed it all on somebody else.

I’m all for ambition, within limits. It must be ambition for legitimate ends, reached by legitimate means. I’m pretty sure marrying Mary Queen of Scots fails the first test, and in Bothwell’s case it definitely failed the second. And while the kind of intrigues swirling round the Scottish court tended to mean that people came to bad ends whether they thoroughly deserved them or sort of didn’t, he absolutely got what he had coming.

So although it’s unlikely to arise, a friendly piece of advice. Don’t marry Mary Queen of Scots even if you know who she was. In fact especially if you do.