That was the reaction of one member of the audience at the production of Bothwell, Prisoner of Malmö.   She’d just witnessed my son Fraser James MacLeod’s performance in the play that debuted in Ystad and Malmö in August.  She was reacting to the tale of James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who was Mary, Queen of Scots’ third husband.  He was incarcerated for five years in Malmöhus, the city’s castle.  (In 1569, when the play is set, Malmö was under Danish rule, only becoming part of Sweden after the 1658 Treaty of Roskilde.)  Bothwell’s is a complicated story that began in his native Scotland, where he rose to be an important lord and supporter of the young queen.  He spent much of his life  fighting his enemies, spending time in various prisons (including the Tower of London) and plotting his own advancement.  He was heavily implicated in the killing of Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley, and indirectly benefitted from the murder of the queen’s Italian favourite, David Rizzio.  Eventually, he schemed his way to the top by marrying the queen (the jury is still out over whether she was forced into the union or it was a love match).  His fall, however, was swift and resulted in his fleeing Scotland for Norway (also part of Denmark at the time).  This was a bad move, as his past caught up with him in the form of a previous wife whom he’d cast aside and who was waiting in the wings to exact revenge. 

That simplifies the story, but you get the gist.  Whether he was as ruthless as MacBeth is debatable, but his tale is just as thrilling.  The idea was mine (I mentioned Bothwell’s Malmöhus experience in my first book, Meet me in Malmö), but it was researched and taken on by my wife, Susan; she and Fraser then dramatised it.  He then turned it into a production for his Front Row Theatre ( and staged it with Swedish actor, Rebecca Tenor.  We were lucky enough to catch the world premiere in the beautiful old Scala cinema/theatre in Ystad – a proud, yet nerve wracking experience!  

Our visit to Sweden wasn’t only for theatrical reasons, as we were also drawn to another royal castle for research purposes.  Kalmar Castle is on the coast opposite the island of Öland which in Bothwell’s time was on the border of Sweden and Denmark.  It’s a three-hour train journey north-west of Malmö and is well worth a visit.  The imperious fortress commands the Öland Sound and was in its day impregnable.  Despite the best efforts of the Danes, its massive walls and four mighty corner towers were never breached.  Under various Swedish Vasa kings, the medieval fortification was transformed into the renaissance palace you can see today.  Kalmar lost its strategic importance after the Treaty of Roskilde, when the map of Sweden was redrawn.  The Danes did, however, succeed in destroying the town that lay beyond the castle walls.  It was re-sited on an adjoining island which was easier to defend.  This ‘new town’, with its cobbled streets and well-preserved 17th and 18th century buildings, now forms the charming centre of today’s city.  Dominant in the central square is the extraordinary baroque cathedral.  This most un-Scandinavian ecclesiastical structure wouldn’t look out of place in France or Italy. 

The reason for Anita’s visit to Kalmar is almost as dark as some of its history.  Some of the villainous characters involved in her investigations wouldn’t look out of place in either Macbeth or Bothwell, Prisoner of Malmö!