No such danger had ever threatened Elizabeth as this, but again she could "trust to Fortune." Mary had staked all on her union with Darnley, and yet only a few months had passed since her wedding day when men saw that she "hated the King." The boy turned out a dissolute, insolent husband; and Mary's scornful refusal of his claim of the "crown matrimonial," a refusal which Darnley attributed to Rizzio's counsels, drove his jealousy to madness. At the very moment when the Queen revealed the extent of her schemes by her dismissal of the English ambassador, the young King, followed by his kindred the Douglases, burst into her chamber, dragged Rizzio from her presence, and stabbed him brutally in an outer chamber. The darker features of Mary's character were now to develope themselves. Darnley, keen as was her thirst for vengeance on him, was needful to the triumph of her political aims. She masked her hatred beneath a show of affection, which succeeded in severing the wretched boy from his fellow-conspirators, and in gaining his help in an escape to Dunbar. Once free, she marched in triumph on Edinburgh at the head of eight thousand men under the Earl of Bothwell, while Morton, Ruthven, and Lindesay fled in terror over the border.
With wise dissimulation, however, she fell back on her system of religious toleration. But her intrigues with the English Catholics were never interrupted, and her Court was full of refugees from the northern counties. "Your actions," Elizabeth wrote in a sudden break of fierce candour, "are as full of venom as your words are of honey." The birth of her child, the future James the Sixth of Scotland and First of England, doubled Mary's strength. "Your friends are so increased," her ambassador wrote to her from England," that many whole shires are ready to rebel, and their captains named by election of the nobility." The anxiety of the English Parliament which met at this crisis proved that the danger was felt to be real. The Houses saw but one way of providing against it; and they renewed their appeal for the Queen's marriage and for a settlement of the succession. As we have seen, both of these measures involved even greater dangers than they averted; but Elizabeth stood alone in her resistance to them. To settle the succession was at once to draw the sword. The Queen therefore on this point stood firm. The promise to marry, which she gave after a furious burst of anger, she was no doubt resolved to evade as she had evaded it before.
But the quarrel with the Commons which followed on her prohibition of any debate on the succession, a quarrel to which we shall recur at a later time, hit Elizabeth hard. It was " secret foes at home," she told the Commons as their quarrel passed away in a warm reconciliation, "who thought to work me that mischief which never foreign enemies could bring to pass, which is the hatred of my Commons. Do you think that either I am so unmindful of your surety by succession, wherein is all my care, or that I went about to break your liberties? No! it never was my meaning; but to stay you before you fell into the ditch." It was impossible for her however to explain the real reasons for her course, and the dissolution of the Parliament left her face to face with a national discontent added to the ever-deepening peril from without.
One terrible event suddenly struck light through the gathering clouds. Mary had used Darnley as a tool to effect the ruin of his confederates and to further her policy, but since his share in Rizzio's murder she had loathed and avoided him. Ominous words dropped from her lips. "Unless she were freed of him some way," she said, "she had no pleasure to live." Her purpose of vengeance was quickened by her passion for the Earl of Bothwell, the boldest and most unscrupulous of the border nobles. The Earl's desperate temper shrank from no obstacles to a union with the Queen. Divorce would free him from his own wife. Darnley might be struck down by a conspiracy of the lords whom he had deserted and betrayed, and who still looked on him as their bitterest foe. The exiled nobles were recalled; there were dark whispers among the lords. The terrible secret of the deed which followed is still wrapt in a cloud of doubt and mystery which will probably never be wholly dispelled. The Queen's mood seemed suddenly to change. Her hatred to Darnley passed all at once into demonstrations of the old affection.
He had fallen sick with vice and misery, and she visited him on his sick bed, and persuaded him to follow her to Edinburgh. She visited him again in a ruinous and lonely house near the palace, in which he was lodged by her order, kissed him as she bade him farewell, and rode gaily back to a wedding-dance at Holyrood. Two hours after midnight an awful explosion shook the city; and the burghers rushed out from the gates to find the house of Kirk o' Field destroyed, and Darnley's body dead beside the ruins. The murder was undoubtedly the deed of Bothwell. His servant, it was soon known, had stored the powder beneath the King's bed-chamber; and the Earl had watched without the walls till the deed was done. But, in spite of gathering suspicion and of a charge of murder made formally against him by Lord Lennox, no serious steps were taken to investigate the crime; and a rumour that Mary purposed to marry the murderer drove her friends to despair. Her agent in England wrote to her that "if she married that man she would lose the favour of God, her own reputation, and the hearts of all England, Ireland, and Scotland." But every stronghold in the kingdom was soon placed in Bothwell's hands, and this step was the prelude to a trial and acquittal which the overwhelming force of his followers in Edinburgh turned into a bitter mockery.
A shameless suit for his divorce removed the last obstacle to his ambition; and a seizure of the Queen as she rode to Linlithgow was followed by a marriage. In a month more all was over. The horror at such a marriage with a man fresh from her husband's blood drove the whole nation to revolt. Its nobles, Catholic as well as Protestant, gathered in arms at Stirling; and their entrance into Edinburgh roused the capital into insurrection. Mary and the Earl advanced with a fair force to Seton to encounter the Lords; but their men refused to fight, and Bothwell galloped off into lifelong exile, while the Queen was brought back to Edinburgh in a frenzy of despair, tossing back wild words of defiance to the curses of the crowd. From Edinburgh she was carried a prisoner to the fortress of Lochleven; as the price of her life she was forced to resign her crown in favour of her child, and to name her brother, the Earl of Murray, who was now returning from France, as regent. In July the babe was solemnly crowned as James the Sixth.