Matthew, 4th Earl of Lennox spent most of his early years in France. He left Scotland in 1526 at the age of ten after his father had been killed by James Hamilton of Finnart, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Arran. There was rivalry enough between the Hamiltons and the Lennox Stuarts, who competed in their claims to be heirs to the Stewarts on the Scottish throne. The murder of his father left Matthew at loggerheads with the Hamiltons and particularly with James, 2nd Earl of Arran, who became Regent for the infant Mary Queen of Scots, a position generally reserved for the heir to the throne. Yet Arran’s legitimacy was being questioned on what seems to have been political grounds. If upheld, the Lennox Stuarts were rightfully the heirs.
The young Lennox was brought up in France by the junior branch of the Stuart family, the Seigneurs d’Aubigny, who made a successful living there as mercenaries. Yet he was determined to find an opportunity to return to Scotland to restore his family’s status. By now, the Scottish Government was divided between those, who sought an alliance with England and those favouring France. As a member of the English camp, Arran promoted the marriage of the infant Mary Queen of Scots to Henry VIII’s son, Prince Edward. Those supporting the Auld Alliance with France backed the Queen Dowager, Mary of Guise, who wanted her daughter to marry a suitable French Prince. When Henry VIII threatened to invade Scotland, the French offered protection, if the infant Queen would marry the Dauphin Francis, son of Henry II. Although there was concern within the Scottish Government that a French alliance would result in Scotland being subsumed under France, Henry VIII overplayed his hand, and the Scots realised that they needed French assistance.
The initial French plan was to send the Queen Dowager’s brother, the Duke of Guise, to Scotland with a sufficient force to distract the English from a proposed invasion of the Continent. In the end, in early 1543, they sent Lennox, now a naturalised Frenchman, to escort Mary back with him to France. After slipping the English fleet, he reached Scottish soil and went straight to Linlithgow to see the Queen Dowager. The first step in thwarting an English marriage was to arrange the release of Cardinal Bethune, who was being held by Arran, as he controlled the Catholic Church purse strings. George 4th Lord Seton, who was holding him at Blackness, was soon persuaded to release him. The Queen Dowager also managed to remove Mary from Arran’s direct control at Linlithgow to Stirling Castle from where, when the moment was right, she could be moved to Dumbarton and a ship to France.
Lennox then revealed his personal agenda, which was to replace Arran as Regent. He made a proposal to marry the Queen Dowager, but she turned him down, not wanting to be linked to any one faction, and Arran continued to have Henry VIII’s support. Although Bethune had no respect for Arran, he was nervous of a French alliance, which might subsume Scotland under French control, weakening the authority of both the Scottish church and nobility. When he gained joint control of the Regency with Arran, Lennox was left out in the cold.
Needing t0 try another tack, Lennox went to London. Having supported Henry VII at Bosworth Field, the Lennox Stuarts were traditional allies of the Tudors, and Lennox now sought to marry Henry’s niece, the beautiful but headstrong Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of the Earl of Angus. Henry was attracted by linking the two Scottish families with traditional English affiliations, but also hoped that Lennox would help to control Lady Margaret’s strongly Catholic leanings. In May 1544, Lennox was given command of an English expedition designed to take control of Mary and to bring her to England. He was promised the Scottish Regency on a successful outcome. For once, Arran offered concerted opposition and Lennox’s forces were forced back. Lennox had personally led a naval expedition up the west coast. He had sought support from a number of Scottish lairds, who still had children held as hostages in England after the disaster of Solway Moss two years earlier. While at Dumbarton some of the lairds took the opportunity to defect, and Lennox ordered that eleven child hostages should be slaughtered. This gained for him the undying enmity of the Scottish nobility. In July, he returned to London to marry Lady Margaret at a wedding attended by Henry and Queen Catherine Parr. As a wedding gift, Henry provided them with the Templenewsam Estates in Yorkshire. But he required Lennox to cede to him his claim to the Scottish Crown.
The Earl of Hertford now led to first of three punitive expeditions into Scotland, which became known as the ‘Rough Wooings’ designed to reinforce the marriage of Mary to Prince Edward. This had exactly the opposite effect; Angus was so horrified with the wilful destruction that he withdrew his support for the English. Only Lennox among the Scottish nobility now supported Henry’s cause, and this lost him any future friendship in Scotland. In late 1544, Henry sent him to capture Dumbarton Castle, now held by the Queen Dowager’s French troops. With its almost impregnable fortifications, he failed to regain control, and was soon posted to Ireland. In his absence, he was attainted by the Scottish Parliament for treason. Angus changed the entail of his earldom to heirs male to stop his daughter, now married to Lennox, from inheriting it.
In September 1547, when Hertford led a final round of Rough Wooings, resulting in the defeat of a large army of Scots at Pinkie Cleuch, Lennox led another expedition up the west coast, but to little effect. The Scots were forced into seeking French protection, and Mary became betrothed to the Dauphin Francis, who was now on offer, and travelled to France for her upbringing. The Queen Dowager stayed behind to protect her daughter’s throne helped by a large reinforcement of French troops.
In 1553, ‘Bloody’ Mary Tudor became the English Queen and Catholics, like the Lennoxes, flocked back to court and were showered with gifts. Lady Margaret received two cloth-of-gold gowns. Lennox was given a large pointed diamond, a gold belt set with rubies and diamonds and Edward VI’s best horse. Their son, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, already known to be musical, received Edward VI’s lutes, and three suits of clothing. It was probably at this time that they arranged for a jewelled locket to be made to celebrate their marriage. This Lennox Jewel is now in the Royal Collection. Such was the enthusiasm with which they were received that Lady Margaret had hopes of Darnley being named as Mary Tudor’s heir. Yet when Elizabeth succeeded on Mary Tudor’s death in 1558, the Lennoxes were forced to retire to their Templenewsam Estates.
In 1559, Arran, who was now the Duke of Châtelherault, professed to have become a Reformer, and Lennox, who was in England, lost no time in joining the French party in Scotland in the hope of being recognised as heir presumptive. This resulted in Elizabeth placing him in the Tower of London, where he remained until 1564. Lady Margaret continued to negotiate on his behalf and appears to have come to an understanding with the Guises in France, that if Mary were to die childless, Lennox would inherit the Scottish Crown. She also petitioned Mary in France for the restoration of the Lennox estates in Scotland.
In February 1562/63, Elizabeth had asked Mary to end Lennox’s long exile and to allow him to return to his Scottish estates. Her apparent motive for his rehabilitation was to destabilise the Scottish Government at a time when Mary was negotiating to marry Don Carlos of Spain. It soon became clear that Elizabeth’s objective for repatriating Lennox was not aimed at allowing his son, Henry, Lord Darnley, to come to Scotland as a contender for Mary’s hand, but marriage to her male contender for the English throne would make their combined claim unassailable. As soon as Elizabeth had proposed Lennox’s return, she regretted what she had put in motion, approaching William Maitland and Lord James Stewart Earl of Moray to block the passport that she had so recently requested. They wryly advised Mary, who immediately granted it. On 22 September 1564, Lennox made an impressive entrance into Edinburgh after an absence of nearly twenty years. He rode to Holyrood magnificently attired and supported by twelve velvet-clad horsemen in front and thirty attendants in grey livery behind. Mary received him graciously and, having made her peace with him, offered him some of the best rooms at the Palace. On 16 October, to Moray’s great annoyance, all his estates around Glasgow and the Clyde were restored. When he celebrated Mass with her at the Chapel Royal, he only added to the mistrust for him among other members of the nobility.
Darnley soon gained consent to visit his father in Scotland, and no one doubted that he intended to promote his suit in marriage to Mary. Yet those who knew him doubted whether Mary would favour his boorish, petulant character for long. They did not bargain on her falling hopelessly in love with ‘a fantasy of a man’. Lennox gained support for the marriage from the Catholic Earl of Atholl. Lady Margaret gained the important backing of the Earl of Morton after ceding her claim to the earldom of Angus to his nephew, for whom he acted as guardian. the marriage went ahead despite the opposition of Moray, who headed Mary’s Government and Mary received the Lennox Jewel as a wedding gift from Lady Margaret. Yet Darnley soon fell out with all Mary’s senior advisers by promoting his Catholic credentials. When Moray took up arms against them, Lennox took charge of Mary’s forces, and with help from the Earl of Bothwell, who had recently returned from exile, forced Moray to leave for England.
With Mary quickly becoming pregnant, Lennox and Darnley spent much time away from Edinburgh apparently hunting, but it is clear that they were plotting a Catholic coup for Darnley to replace Mary on the Scottish throne. Although he was obsessively seeking the Crown Matrimonial, which would allow him to succeed Mary if she should die, she was wary of granting it. Yet the Scottish nobles cynically promised it to him if he would give approval for the murder of her acting Secretary, the Catholic David Riccio, who, they claimed, was receiving more attention from Mary than was proper. They had no intention of honouring this undertaking, but wanted an excuse to incriminate him and by association Mary, so that Moray could be returned to authority. Lennox supported the plan for the murder to take place in Mary’s presence, the shock of which might cause her death in miscarriage, but she did not miscarry and was able to separate Darnley from his fellow conspirators, fleeing with him to the safety of Dunbar.
Although Lennox retired to his estates at Glasgow, he continued to plot on his son’s behalf. At last Mary sought a divorce, but this could not be achieved without prejudicing the legitimacy of her newly born son James. Without involving Mary, the nobles agreed to his murder, leaving the Earl of Bothwell to organise it. As soon as the murder, which took place at Kirk o’ Field, had been undertaken, Lennox demanded that Bothwell should be brought to trial, but that was exactly what the remaining nobles wanted to avoid. Not only were they all implicated, but they were hoping that Mary could be persuaded to marry him, so that it would appear that she was involved with him in a crime of passion. Yet again, the objective was to bring Moray back to authority. This time the plan succeeded; Darnley was murdered; Mary married Bothwell, resulting in her being implicated in a purported crime of passion; and she was deposed from the throne while imprisoned at Lochleven.
Lennox turned to William Cecil, the English Secretary of State, in an attempt to gain justice for his son’s murder, but he lacked evidence of what had happened. He did not realise that Cecil was closely implicated in the murder plan. When Mary escaped to England, the Lennoxes hurried to Court to beg Elizabeth on their knees for justice for their son. Lady Margaret’s face was ‘all swelled and stained with tears’, but Elizabeth lost patience with their vociferous cries for vengeance and sent them away. Although Lennox prepared his Narrative, an embellished version of the crime of passion story, it conflicted with more carefully crafted evidence that was being concocted by the Scottish nobles. Cecil tried to suppress what Lennox had to say by debarring him from the Conferences called to examine what had happened. Yet, in defiance of Elizabeth’s orders, he appeared anyway and, to everyone’s annoyance, submitted ‘in writing, briefly but rudely, some part of such matter as he conceived to be true, for the charging of the Queen of Scots with the murder of his son’. With the English Commissioners looking for a far more cosy solution, they did not find his evidence helpful in adding to the case against her.
In May 1570, Lennox returned north to assist the English in an attempt to recapture Edinburgh Castle, which was being held on Mary’s behalf by William Kirkcaldy of Grange. With Moray having been assassinated, Lady Margaret was pressing Elizabeth to promote Lennox as Regent for his grandson, James. Elizabeth reasoned that she could manipulate Lennox, who relied on his wife to handle all his negotiations with the English Government. He may not have proved politically astute, and Morton to took effective control, but no one doubted his bravery. With Edinburgh Castle well defended, he turned his attention to Dumbarton, which fell to him on 2 April 1571. He now faced a Hamilton inspired rebellion of Mary’s supporters seeking her restoration. On 4 September, having come to Stirling to protect James, he was shot by one of Lord Claud Hamilton’s men. He died of his wounds four hours later, asking, as his last words, to be remembered to his ‘wife Meg’. His bleeding corpse made a lasting impression on his six-year-old grandson.