2 June 1581 – James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton

James Douglas 4th Earl of MortonWho could have seen it? That James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton would be executed by the very contraption he purchased.

Douglas was once a powerful Scot, if not the most powerful, as he was Regent to a very young James VI. The king was way too young for the Scottish throne having been made monarch in infancy, so Douglas literally babysat the throne as the fourth regent for roughly eight years, while James grew up.

Plots sicken

Why not James’s parents you may be thinking? Well his dad, Lord Darnley, was murdered (more of him later) and James’s mum, Mary Queen of Scots had previously been ousted thanks largely to her unpopular marriage choice to the slimy Earl of Bothwell. She was currently languishing in Fotheringhay Castle at Elizabeth’s pleasure – after all, the English queen couldn’t have risked having her cousin at large, as this would have surely encouraged yet another plot to overthrow her.

Thankfully, Douglas was pretty good at his job – not least because he had the backing of Elizabeth I. Yet, as was the order of the day, he made enemies along the way, mainly due to the fact that he was greedy. He managed to annoy the Church, having commandeered lands. And then there was other religious unrest. The Presbyterians were on his back too, but ultimately it was one of James I’s dad’s relatives who really stuck a spanner in proceedings.

Rod to get Stewart’s own back

Esmé Stewart, nephew to the now murdered Lord Darnley, came over from France wanting to get his own back on his uncle’s murderer. He vengefully dredged up Darley’s death and accused Douglas of killing him. That was all the ammunition his enemies needed. They latched on to this unsavoury and salacious supposition that Douglas had killed Lord Darnley and really ran with it.

Douglas admitted that Bothwell had let him in on the plan but he denied any involvement. Needless to say, that was the rod for Douglas’s back – it taken as an admission of guilt and he was sentenced to death.

Chop and change

The penalty was originally to be hanging, drawing and quartering, but a benevolent 14-year-old James VI actually stepped in to ‘reduce’ the sentence to beheading – the sentence reserved for royalty. And so James Douglas found himself beneath the very same, crude contraption he’d actually commissioned from the makers in Halifax and he was able to test-drive his purchase first-hand, when he was detached from his head on this day in 1581.

Also on this day

2 June 1903 – Gustav Rau and Willem Schmidt

Stuff you may have missed over the weekend

Karl Adolf Eichmann
Mary Dyer
Ronald Clark O’Bryan
Waltheof II, Earl of Northumbria
Herbert Rowse Armstrong

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