Subject: An Enigmatic Figure
From: Jeffrey Johnstone <>
Date: 3/31/2021, 7:34 PM

An Enigmatic Figure

Francis Stewart, fifth Earl of Bothwell

Dryfe Sands

A Novel of Scotland’s Bitterest Clan Feud

Now available as e-book, paperback and hardcover editions on Amazon

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    Welcome to my latest newsletter! I am delighted to report that Dryfe Sands now has readers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, and Australia.


Francis Stewart, fifth Earl of Bothwell

     Bothwell, did not participate in the Battle of Dryfe Sands, although the Johnstones sought his aid. Bothwell is included in my novel Dryfe Sands because he served as one of the curators (i.e. guardians of the property of a minor) for the young Sir James Johnstone of that Ilk and Dunskellie, Chief of the Johnstones, and Sir James later supported Bothwell in certain of the Earl’s wild adventures. As a very young man, Bothwell married an older woman, Margaret Douglas, the widow of Walter Scott of Buccleuch and thus became stepfather of the "Bold Buccleuch" who was the first cousin of Sir James Johnstone. 

   I first read about Bothwell, around 1970 when I read Jan Westcott’s novel  The Border Lord. Before long I came upon Godfrey Watson’s Bothwell and the Witches and learned that the historical Bothwell was nothing like the attractive, heroic figure portrayed in Westcott’s novel.

   Bothwell was in fact first cousin to King James VI, godson of Mary Queen of Scots, nephew to Queen Mary’s third husband, the fourth Earl of Bothwell, and he even had a plausible claim to the Scottish throne. He held a number of high offices, including High Admiral of Scotland, Member of the Privy Council of Scotland, and Keeper of Liddesdale.  When King James went abroad to bring his new wife, Anne of Denmark, to Scotland, he left the government in Bothwell’s hands. Bothwell was highly educated, well traveled, an accomplished linguist, a duelist, a patron of the arts and many parish churches, and an enthusiastic (if not always sportsmanlike) football (soccer) player.  He  was also arrogant and a bully.

   Bothwell was reputed to be a wizard or warlock. He was accused of being the leader of a coven of witches involved in the notorious North Berwick Witch TrialsDr. Margaret Murray, who studied witch cults, has argued that Bothwell was, in fact, the Devil of North Berwick. The charge against Bothwell was treason for attempting to take the King’s life by witchcraft. Although he was acquitted of that charge, Bothwell’s titles, armorial bearings and property were subsequently forfeited and he became a troublesome rebel who made several daring attempts to capture the King.

   Some writers contend that Bothwell was mentally unstable. Others say he was unfairly punished because he was more popular than the King. Many nobles supported him because they felt that a move against Bothwell was a threat to the nobility in general. Bothwell, himself, shamelessly appealed to any and every political or religious faction that he thought might advance his cause. 

   After his banishment from Scotland, Bothwell fell into poverty and ended his days performing conjuring tricks on the streets of Naples, Italy.

   Several years ago I visited Crichton Castle, south of Edinburgh, and saw the remarkable Italianate courtyard that Bothwell had built into the castle. When I later visited Falkland Palace, I saw the bullet holes believed to have been caused during Bothwell’s Raid of Falkland, which is portrayed in my novel.

    The Historie and Life of King James the Sext, supposedly written by Bothwell’s sidekick, John Colville, contains much material about Bothwell. 



Wikipedia article on Bothwell

Robin G. Macpherson’s doctoral dissertation on Bothwell

Dictionary of National Biography article on Bothwell

Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell - Military Wiki

Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell - The History Jar

Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell - Strange Company

Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell - English Historical Fiction Authors

Jeffrey Johnstone | 62 Babcock Drive, Rochester, NY 14610
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