Regent Moray

James Stewart, Regent Moray, (1531-1570)

James Stewart was one of the many illegitimate children of James V. His mother, Lady Margaret Erskine, was one of the King’s favourite mistresses.  As the half brother of Mary Queen of Scots, he attended her marriage with the Dauphin of France in 1558.  Mary returned to Scotland after the death of her husband, by then King Francois II of France in 1560, to assume her role as Queen of Scots. James Stewart became one of the Queen’s advisors and was created the 1st Earl of Moray. Difficulties arose immediately for the Queen who had been brought up as a Catholic at a time when Scotland was adopting Protestantism under the leadership of John Knox. The Earl of Moray, who was one of the Protestant leaders, advised the Queen ‘for the love of God do not press matters of religion not for any man’s advice on earth’. The Queen was prepared to recognise the Protestant Church provided that she could continue to practice Catholicism in private.  

Alas her ill-advised marriage to the Catholic Lord Darnley in 1565 reactivated the religious differences and divided the country.  After the murder of Darnley in 1567 and the Queen’s even more ill-advised marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, Mary was forced to abdicate on 29 July 1567 and was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle.  Her infant son, fathered by Darnley, was crowned James VI in Stirling Castle at the age of thirteen months and the Earl of Moray was appointed Regent.  

Mary escaped from Loch Leven Castle in 1568 and civil wars broke out in Scotland between the Marian supporters of Mary and the Loyalists who sided with the infant King.  Inevitably the Earl of Moray as Regent became the leader of the Loyalists in opposition to his half sister Mary.  At the Battle of Langside in 1568 Moray’s army supported by the experienced soldier, Kirkaldy of Grange, defeated the Marian’s.  Mary was forced to flee to England where she was imprisoned for eighteen years until her execution in 1587.

Mary retained some staunch supporters while she was in exile and on 23 January 1570 James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, sought revenge for her defeat by assassinating Regent Moray with a firearm as he was passing through Linlithgow.  The popular Moray had a splendid funeral at St Giles on 14 February 1570.  Seven earls and lords carried his body into the Cathedral.  His friend, John Knox, preached the service which is said to have moved a congregation of 3000 people to tears.  He was buried in a tomb in the Cathedral in what became known as Moray’s Aisle.  The interesting history of this tomb is described in the section on St Giles Cathedral.  There were three Regents for the young King after Moray all coming to untimely ends.  The last, and the most effective, was the Earl of Morton, who succeeded in quelling the civil war which had divided Scotland after Queen Mary’s exile. He was executed in 1581 by his enemies, allegedly for his part in the murder of Darnley.  The execution was carried out by the maiden, Scotland’s answer to the guillotine, which Morton is said to have been responsible for introducing to Scotland.

The Maiden