The Looks and Personality of Henry, Lord Darnley

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (King of Scotland, Duke of Albany, Earl of Ross) (1545-1567)

It is generally assumed that Henry, Lord Darnley was extremely good looking, captivating Mary Queen of Scots as soon as she set eyes upon him. He was the son of handsome parents, Matthew Stuart 4th Earl of Lennox, who was closely connected to the Scottish Crown and Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of Princess Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s elder sister. Theirs was an arranged marriage linking together the Scottish and English Royal families, but it was a true love match. Darnley stood 6 ft. 2 ins. with a slim physique (compared to Mary, who was 5ft. 11ins), and was pandered by doting parents. He excelled at sports and music, being strong and athletic with a passion for hunting and hawking, and was trained in all the Royal sports, such as swordplay, shooting, running at the ring (a game for practicing jousting), tennis, golf and pell mell (croquet). He undoubtedly had elegant legs, but facially was somewhat effeminate. He became an expert lutenist, having inherited the lutes of Edward VI, and was a fine singer and dancer.

In 1928 the shape of his skull, found at Holyrood, received minute inspection from Karl Pearson, a distinguished biostatistician, and he compared it to all Darnley’s known portraits. Pearson was able to demonstrate that many of them were designed only to flatter, as he had a somewhat backswept forehead and a broad bridge to his nose which gave him a somewhat ‘ape-like’ appearance. This is borne out by a portrait of him now at Hardwick Hall, which is depicted on the front cover of my book. Pearson concluded:

We must not offhand condemn any man for the shape of his skull, but if ever there was a skull which the man in the street would describe as that of a moron or fool, it must certainly be Darnley’s and his every action confirms such judgement. (Pearson, Biometrika Vol. XX pt1 (July 1928) p. 52)

The skull of Henry, Lord Darnley

His personality failed to live up to his looks. He was insufferably spoilt, and, despite a careful education, he lacked commonsense. He was unable to hold his tongue, was arrogant, idle and, when thwarted, could be petulant and uncouth with a violent temper. He was selfish and vain, spending substantial sums on food and clothing. He was often drunk and promiscuous, being openly homosexual, resulting in him contracting syphilis. He was described as ‘mentally and morally weak, and his imbecility was conjoined with reckless courage … and fatal obstinacy’.

It has been suggested that Mary fell in love with ‘a fantasy of a man’. She very soon realised his shortcomings.

For more information, see Mary Queen of Scots’ Downfall The Life and Murder of Henry Lord Darnley by Robert Stedall, published by Pen and Sword Books Limited, November 2017