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Thursday, January 06, 2011

WHO'DA THUNK IT?

I’ll tell you the best Scottish joke in history; Mary Stewart (AKA Queen of Scots), and her husband, Lord Darnley (AKA Henry Stewart), produced a child who became the King of England. That may not seem like a great gag, but you have to remember that she was a fool and he was an idiot and Scotland in the 16th century was the Cleveland of Europe; their kid becoming King of England was a real life "Beverly Hillbillies".
Mary was a big girl, close to six feet tall, which in the 16th century made her a freak of nature, sort of like a sunny day in Scotland. She was a granddaughter of Robert the Bruce, and Henry VIII of England wanted her as a daughter-in law. But instead Mary’s mother sent her off to France, where the girl married the future King of France instead. That poor boy died of an ear infection a year after the was promoted to King, and a year later, on August 19, 1561, the 18 year old widow Mary returned to Scotland.
Unlike Queen Elizabeth to her south, Mary bowed under the pressure that she should wed. But the slub she chose in 1565 was her own cousin, Henry Stewart, the Lord of Darnley. Sir Walter Scott, a man who knew something about romance, described Darnley as “…remarkably tall and handsome…but unhappily destitute of sagacity, prudence…(and) extremely violent in his passions.” Another observer sketched Darnley as “shallow, vain, weak, indolent, selfish, arrogant, vindictive and irremediably spoiled.” And those were his good features. What was not to like about a guy like that?
So why did Mary marry this slub? Well, he was one of the few men in Scotland she could look up to, by a good two inches, they say. And you know what they say about a man with big hands and  feet. In any case, Lord Darnley did fulfill his role as a royal sperm donor. Mary became pregnant with a son. But I suspect that Mary chose Darnley mostly because Queen Elizabeth wanted her to marry somebody else. Mary was always competing with Elizabeth, and she was always losing. And boy did she lose this one. It is a bad idea to choose any mate just because they aren’t somebody else, even if they do have big feet..
That point was driven home for Mary a year later when, during a Saturday night card game, Darnley and a few thugs broke into the Queen’s chambers and murdered one of her favorite’s, a little Italian poet named Rizzio, right in front of the 5 months pregnant Mary. When they were finished turning Rizzio into sausage,  Darnley told Mary, “I beg your pardon.” Somehow that failed to convince Mary to give him more power; woman. Can't rule with them, can't rule without them. Disappointed with his experiment in playing court politics, Darnley returned to his primary occupation of providing employment for every prostitute in Edinburgh and Glasgow. This task provided him with many hours of diversion and amusement along with a vicious case of syphilis.
You can develop syphilitic ulcers on your genitals within three weeks of being infected, and about two months later it develops into the secondary form, with a red rash on your torso, arms and legs, including the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet, accompanied by fever, sore throat, general malaise, weight loss, hair loss and a headache. Darnley suffered from all of those delightful symptoms, and ended up in a Glasgow room, confined to bed and feeling very sorry for himself.
But when she heard about his condition, Mary did something rather curious; instead of gloating, she journeyed to Glascow, and nursed Darnley until he was well enough to be brought back to Edinburgh. She even put him up in a little country house called Kirk O’Field right near her favorite church, where she visited his second floor room almost daily, washed his sores and read to him from the bible. Now why would she do that?
It was pretty clear by this time that she despised the schmuck, and she had not said a kind word about him since the Italian sausage-making incident. Either she was a saint or she had a plan. Well, you know what they say about the Scots- they feel badly when they feel good because they are certain they’re going to feel worse the very second they feel better. These people are pessimists supreme. And this time pessimism about Lord Darnley's health seemed called for.
In the middle of the night of February 13, 1567, the little house next to the church blew sky high. Ba-Boom!. The little house was demolished. The rubble caught fire. And while the neighbors were pouring water on the rubble, what should they discover but the body of Lord Darnley (and his servant’s body) lying in the courtyard of the little house. He was dressed in his nightshirt, and as d-e-a-d, dead as a doornail. But he had no wounds from the explosion, just a bruise around his throat. The autopsy confirmed he had been strangled.
Interviews with the surviving servants revealed that Darnley had heard men moving about in the rooms below him, rooms normally used by Mary when she stayed over. The servants had lowered Darnley in a chair to the ground, intending upon escaping into the night. Unfortunately Darnley had landed right in amongst the assassins who, instead of waiting for the fuse to reach the kegs of gunpowder stacked in the ground floor rooms, strangled the syphilitic slub and disappeared into the night before the explosion. The only question left was who did it?
There was no shortage of suspects. There were Darnley’s allies in the murder of Rizzio. Killing Darnley prevented him from spreading their names around. And then there the men to whom Mary had turned after the murder of Rizzio. They were just as rich and power hungry as Darnley was, but smarter. Killing Darnley made Mary an available widow again. And then there was Mary, herself
Mary was supposed to be staying with her husband that night. Instead, luckily for her, at the last minute she had decided to attend a wedding. Of course, that might have been an alibi. And few would have blamed her, if she had wanted to choke the life out of Darnley, or even blow him up. After all, it was possible Darnley and his buddies had intended upon killing Mary the same night he had murdered Rizzio, or maybe he just wanted her to miscarry their son. This slub was a big baby, and probably saw the child in Mary's belly as competition. Either way, you could sympathize with the lady, if she had wanted to kill her arrogant, unfaithful, diseased and idiot slub of a husband. But did she do it?
We will never know. Forty days after Darnley’s death, the new man in Mary’s life, Lord Bothwell, conducted a tradition Highland Scottish wedding. He kidnapped the Queen, dragged her off to Dunbar Castle and raped her. Mazal Tov!
A month after this ‘wedding’ Mary was forced to surrender her crown, and the nobles who may or may not have helped murder Lord Darnley, ran Scotland in her infant son’s name. Bothwell died years later, insane, in a Danish prison, and Mary escaped south of the boarder to England, where Elizabeth had her locked up in one castle after another for the next 19 years.
Finally, in 1587 Elizabeth got tired of feeding her poor Scottish relation and condemned her to death. It is alleged that it took from two to four blows to separate Mary’s head from her body, which was another joke, since the lady had done nothing but lose her head since she had set foot back in Scotland. But while the audience was still chuckling over this, Elizabeth died in 1603, and James, product of the most mismatched coupling since Lott dined with is family, became the King of England. 
Who’d a thunk it?
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