One Unsolved Murder Forever Changed The Course Of The British Royal Family

In the middle of 16th-century Edinburgh, a man lies dead in his nightclothes, a dagger by his side. But this is no ordinary murder: the victim is none other than Lord Darnley, King Consort and husband to Mary, Queen of Scots. And the brutal killing will send shockwaves through the monarchy of the British Isles.

A shift in the monarchy

In the years following Darnley’s death, Mary’s grasp on power began to wane; it was the start of a downfall that would ultimately end with her execution. And when her son James took the throne, it signaled a shift in the British monarchy that continues to this day. But who was it that killed the King Consort? And what was their motive for the crime?

Gruesome murder

More than 450 years later, Darnley’s gruesome murder remains unsolved. And while many believe that it was Mary who ordered her husband’s death, the evidence points to a murkier truth. Now, a modern analysis of the crime has hinted at a different culprit, painting this period of British history in an entirely different light. 

Mary, Queen of Scots

When Mary first met Darnley in February 1561 she was mourning the death of her first husband, Francis II of France. The daughter of James V of Scotland, she had inherited her father’s crown when she was just six days old. But when she was a young girl she was sent to live in the country of her betrothed, leaving regents to govern in her stead.

Francis II

In 1558 — when she was still only 17 years old — Mary married Francis, the 15-year-old heir apparent to the French throne. And the following year, his father passed away, making the young couple the new King and Queen. Meanwhile, back in England, Henry VIII’s daughter Elizabeth had taken the crown after the death of her older sister, also called Mary.