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James I of Scotland

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James I
King James I
16th-century portrait of James
King of Scots
Reign4 April 1406 – 21 February 1437
Coronation21 May 1424
PredecessorRobert III
SuccessorJames II
Bornpossibly 25 July 1394[1][2]
Dunfermline Abbey, Fife, Scotland
Died21 February 1437 (aged around 42)[3][4]
Blackfriars, Perth, Scotland
(m. 1424)
IssueMargaret, Dauphine of France
Isabella, Duchess of Brittany
Eleanor, Archduchess of Austria
Mary, Countess of Buchan
Joan, Countess of Morton
Alexander, Duke of Rothesay
James II, King of Scots
Annabella, Countess of Huntly
FatherRobert III of Scotland
MotherAnnabella Drummond
ReligionRoman Catholic
  • 1405 – 6
    During winter, decision made to send James to France for safe-keeping[5]
  • 1406
    Fled Scotland for France around the middle of March 1406 but captured at sea on 22 March and taken prisoner of the English King Henry IV[6]
  • 1406 – 1413
    Provided with good education by Henry IV[7]
  • 1413 – 15

    Henry IV died on 20 March 1413.[8]

    Henry V had different attitude towards James and regarded him as a prisoner and held him at the Tower of London and at Windsor Castle[9]
  • 1420 – 1422
    By this time, Henry now regarded James as a guest at court and took him on campaigns to France until Henry's death[10]
  • 1423
    In August the council agreed that negotiations between Scotland and England should begin for James's release[11]
  • 1424
    James married Joan Beaufort in February; released from captivity and is crowned at Scone Abbey, 21 May[1]
  • 1425
    James destroyed his near relatives, the Albany Stewarts, and forfeited their lands[12]
  • 1425 – 1427
    James got Parliament's agreement to restrict the influence of the Church and the prelacy[13]
  • 1428 – 1431
    James attempted to bring the Lordship of the Isles under direct control of the Crown by force failed
  • 1429
    By this time, James had stopped all ransom payments[14]
  • 1436
    James led an unsuccessful attack against the English enclave at Roxburgh Castle which drew much criticism[15]
  • 1437

    James murdered in his chambers in the Greyfriars monastery in Perth by men acting for his uncle, Walter, Earl of Atholl, on 20 February.

    Atholl arrested, tried and executed on 26 March[16]

James I (late July 1394 – 21 February 1437) was King of Scots from 1406 until his assassination in 1437. The youngest of three sons, he was born in Dunfermline Abbey to King Robert III and his wife Annabella Drummond. His older brother David, Duke of Rothesay, died under suspicious circumstances while being detained by their uncle, Robert, Duke of Albany. His other brother, Robert, died young. Fears for James's safety grew through the winter of 1405/6 and plans were made to send him to France. In February 1406, James was forced to take refuge in the castle of the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth after his escort was attacked by supporters of Archibald, 4th Earl of Douglas. He remained there until mid-March, when he boarded a vessel bound for France. On 22 March English pirates captured the ship and delivered the prince to Henry IV of England. The ailing Robert III died on 4 April and the 11-year-old James, now the uncrowned King of Scots, would not regain his freedom for another eighteen years.

James was educated well at the English Court, where he developed a respect for English methods of governance and for Henry V. The Scottish king, apparently willingly, joined Henry in his military campaigns in France between 1420 and 1421. His cousin, Murdoch Stewart, Albany's son, who had been an English prisoner since 1402, was traded for Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, in 1416. James had married Joan Beaufort, daughter of the Earl of Somerset, in February 1424, just before his release in April. The king's re-entry into Scottish affairs was not altogether popular since he had fought on behalf of Henry V in France and at times against Scottish forces. Noble families were now faced with paying increased taxes to cover the ransom payments, but would also have to provide family hostages as security. James, who excelled in sporting activities and appreciated literature and music, also held a strong desire to impose law and order on his subjects, although he applied it selectively at times.

To secure his position, James launched pre-emptive attacks on some of his nobles beginning in 1425, with his close kinsmen, the Albany Stewarts, resulting in the execution of Duke Murdoch and his sons. In 1428 James detained Alexander, Lord of the Isles, while attending a parliament in Inverness. Archibald, 5th Earl of Douglas, was arrested in 1431, followed by George, Earl of March, in 1434. The plight of the ransom hostages held in England was ignored and the repayment money was diverted into the construction of Linlithgow Palace and other grandiose schemes. In August 1436, James failed in his siege of the English-held Roxburgh Castle and then faced an ineffective attempt by Sir Robert Graham to arrest him at a general council. James was assassinated at Perth on the night of 20/21 February 1437 in a failed coup by his uncle Walter Stewart, Earl of Atholl. Queen Joan, although wounded, managed to evade the attackers and reached her son, now King James II, in Edinburgh Castle.

Prince and Steward of Scotland

James was probably born in late July 1394 at Dunfermline Abbey, 27 years after the marriage of his parents, Robert III and Annabella Drummond.[2] It was also at Dunfermline under his mother's care that James would have spent most of his early childhood.[17] The prince was seven years old when his mother died in 1401, and a year later his elder brother David, Duke of Rothesay, was probably murdered by their uncle Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, after being held at Albany's Falkland Castle.[18] Prince James, now heir to the throne, was the only impediment to the transfer of the royal line to the Albany Stewarts.[19] In 1402 Albany and his close ally Archibald, 4th Earl of Douglas, were absolved of any involvement in Rothesay's death, clearing the way for Albany's re-appointment as the king's lieutenant.

The lands held in regality by Prince James[20]

Albany rewarded Douglas for his support by allowing him to resume hostilities in England.[21] The Albany and Douglas affinity received a serious reversal in September 1402 when their large army was defeated by the English at Homildon, and numerous prominent nobles and their followers were captured. These included Douglas himself, Albany's son Murdoch, and the earls of Moray, Angus and Orkney. That same year, as well as the death of Rothesay, Alexander Leslie, Earl of Ross and Malcolm Drummond, Lord of Mar, had also died. The void created by these events was inevitably filled by lesser men who had not previously been conspicuously politically active.[22] In the years between 1402 and 1406, the northern earldoms of Ross, Moray and Mar were without adult leadership and with Murdoch Stewart, the justiciar for the territory north of the Forth, a prisoner in England, Albany found himself reluctantly having to form an alliance with his brother Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan and Buchan's son, also called Alexander, to hold back the ambitions of the Lord of the Isles.[23] Douglas's absence from his power base in the Lothians and the Scottish Marches encouraged King Robert's close allies Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and Sir David Fleming of Biggar to take full advantage in becoming the principal political force in that region.[22]

In December 1404 the king granted the royal Stewart lands in the west, in Ayrshire and around the Firth of Clyde, to James in regality, protecting them from outside interference and providing the prince with a territorial centre should the need arise.[24] Yet in 1405, James was under the protection and tutelage of Bishop Henry Wardlaw of St Andrews on the country's east coast. Douglas animosity was intensifying because of the activities of Orkney and Fleming, who continued to expand their involvement in border politics and foreign relations with England.[25] Although a decision to send the young prince to France and out of Albany's reach was taken in the winter of 1405–06, James's departure from Scotland was unplanned.[26] In February 1406 Bishop Wardlaw released James to Orkney and Fleming who, with their large force of Lothian adherents, proceeded into hostile Douglas east Lothian. James's custodians may have been giving a demonstration of royal approval to further their interests in Douglas country.[27] This provoked a fierce response from James Douglas of Balvenie and his supporters who, at a place called Long Hermiston Muir, engaged with and killed Fleming while Orkney and James escaped to the comparative safety of the Bass Rock islet in the Firth of Forth.[17][28] They endured more than a month there before boarding the France-bound Maryenknyght, a ship from Danzig.[29] On 22 March 1406, the ship was seized in an act of piracy by an English vessel part-owned by the MP and royal official Hugh Fenn, which act resulted in James becoming the hostage of King Henry IV of England.[30] Robert III was at Rothesay Castle when he learned of his son's capture and he died soon after, on 4 April 1406, and was buried in the Stewart foundation abbey of Paisley.[31][32]

King in captivity

James, now the uncrowned King of Scots, began what proved to be his 18-year period as a hostage while, at the same time, Albany transitioned from his position of lieutenant to that of governor.

Windsor Castle, where James I was held prisoner. Drawing from the Album amicorum ('Friendship album') of Michael van Meer. Edinburgh University Library

James was ideally placed to observe Henry's methods of kingship and political control, having probably been admitted into the royal household upon reaching adulthood.[35] James used personal visits from his nobles, coupled with letters to individuals, to maintain his visibility in his kingdom.[36] Henry died in 1413 and his son, Henry V, immediately ended James's comparative freedom by initially holding him in the Tower of London along with the other Scottish prisoners.[35] One of these prisoners was James's cousin, Murdoch Stewart, Albany's son, who had been captured in 1402 at the Battle of Homildon Hill. Initially held apart, from 1413 until Murdoch's release in 1415, they were together in the Tower and at Windsor Castle.[36]

By 1420, James's standing at Henry V's court improved greatly; he ceased to be regarded as a hostage and more of a guest.[10] James's value to Henry became apparent in 1420 when he accompanied the English king to France where his presence was used against the Scots fighting on the Dauphinist side. Following the English success at the siege of Melun, a town southeast of Paris, the contingent of Scots were hanged for treason against their king.[37] James attended Catherine of Valois's coronation on 23 February 1421, and was honoured by sitting immediately on the queen's left at the coronation banquet.[10] In March, Henry began a circuit of the important towns in England as a show of strength, and it was during this tour that James was knighted on Saint George's Day.[10] By July, the two kings were back campaigning in France where James, evidently approving of Henry's methods of kingship, seemed content to endorse the English king's desire for the French crown.[17] Henry appointed the Duke of Bedford and James as the joint commanders of the siege of Dreux on 18 July 1421 and, on 20 August, they received the surrender of the garrison.[38] Henry died of dysentery on 31 August 1422 and, in September, James was part of the escort taking the English king's body back to London.[17]

The regency council of the infant King Henry VI was inclined to have James released as soon as possible. In the early months of 1423, their attempts to resolve the issue met with little response from the Scots, clearly influenced by the Albany Stewarts and adherents.[39] Archibald, Earl of Douglas was an astute and adaptable power in Southern Scotland whose influence even eclipsed that of the Albany Stewarts. Despite his complicity in James's brother's death in Albany's castle in 1402, Douglas was still able to engage with the king. From 1421, Douglas had been in regular contact with James and they formed an alliance that was to prove pivotal in 1423. Although Douglas was the pre-eminent Scottish magnate, his position in the borders and Lothians was jeopardised—not only did he have to forcibly retake Edinburgh Castle from his own designated warden, but was very likely under threat from the Earls of Angus and March.[40] In return for James's endorsement of Douglas's position in the kingdom, the earl was able to deliver his affinity in the cause of the king's homecoming. Also, the relationship between Murdoch—now Duke of Albany following his father's death in 1420—and his own appointee, Bishop William Lauder, seemed to be under strain, perhaps evidence of an influential grouping at odds with Murdoch's stance.[41] Pressure from these advocates for the king almost certainly compelled Murdoch to agree to a general council in August 1423, where it was agreed that a mission should be sent to England to negotiate James's release.[42] James's relationship with the House of Lancaster changed in February 1424 when he married Joan Beaufort, a cousin of Henry VI and the niece of Thomas Beaufort, 1st Duke of Exeter and Henry, Bishop of Winchester.[43] A ransom treaty of £40,000 sterling (less a dowry remittance of 10,000 marks) was agreed at Durham on 28 March 1424, to which James attached his own seal.[17] The king and queen, escorted by English and Scottish nobles, reached Melrose Abbey on 5 April and were met by Albany, who relinquished his governor's seal of office.[44][45]

Personal rule

First acts

Entrance and only remaining part of Scone Abbey

Throughout the 15th century, Scottish kings suffered from a lack of crown revenue and James's reign was no exception. The Albany regency had also been constrained, with Duke Robert being owed his fees of governorship.[46] For the nobility, royal patronage ceased entirely following James's capture; irregular forms of political favours emerged, with Albany allowing nobles such as the earl of Douglas and his brother James to remove funds from the customs.[47] It was against this backdrop that James's coronation took place at Scone on 21 May 1424. The coronation parliament of the Three Estates witnessed the king perform a knighthood ceremony for eighteen prominent nobles including Alexander Stewart, Murdoch's son- an event probably intended to foster loyalty to the crown within the political community.[48] Called primarily to discuss issues surrounding the finance of the ransom payments, the parliament heard James underline his position and authority as monarch. He ensured the passing of legislation designed to substantially improve crown income by revoking the patronage of royal predecessors and guardians. The earls of Douglas and Mar were immediately affected by this when their ability to remove large sums from the customs was blocked.[49] Despite this, James was still dependent on the nobility—especially Douglas—for its support, and initially adopted a less confrontational stance.[17] The early exception to this was Walter Stewart, Albany's son. Walter was the heir to the earldom of Lennox, and had been in open revolt against his father in 1423 for not giving way to his younger brother Alexander for this title. He also disagreed with his father's acquiescence to the return of James to Scotland.[50] James had Walter arrested on 13 May 1424 and imprisoned on the Bass Rock— this was probably in Murdoch's interests as well as James's.[51] It is probable that the king felt unable to move against the rest of the Albany Stewarts, while Murdoch's brother, John Stewart, Earl of Buchan, and Archibald, 4th Earl of Douglas, were fighting the English on the Dauphinist cause in France.[52] Buchan, a leader with an international reputation, commanded the large Scottish army, but both he and Douglas fell at the Battle of Verneuil in August 1424 and the Scottish army was routed. The loss of his brother and the large fighting force left Murdoch politically exposed.[50][53]

A ruthless and acquisitive king

Douglas's death at Verneuil would weaken the position of his son Archibald, the fifth earl. On 12 October 1424, the king and Archibald met at Melrose Abbey, ostensibly to agree the appointment of John Fogo, a monk of Melrose, to the abbacy.[54] The meeting may also have been intended as an official acceptance of Douglas, but it signaled a change in the Black Douglas predominance vis-a-vis the crown and other nobles. Important Douglas allies died in France and some of their heirs realigned with rival nobles through blood ties, while at the same time Douglas experienced a loosening of allegiances in the Lothians and, with the loss of his command over Edinburgh Castle, this all served to improve James's position.[55] James continued to retain Black Douglas support, allowing him to begin a campaign of political alienation of Albany and his family. The king's rancour, directed at Duke Murdoch, had its roots in the past—Duke Robert was responsible for his brother David's death. Moreover, neither Robert nor Murdoch exerted themselves in negotiating James's release and must have left the king with the suspicion that they held aspirations for the throne themselves. [56] Buchan's lands did not fall to the Albany Stewarts but were forfeited to the crown, Albany's father-in-law, Duncan, Earl of Lennox, was imprisoned, and in December, the duke's main ally, Alexander Stewart, 1st Earl of Mar, settled his differences with the king.[17] An acrimonious sitting of parliament in March 1425 precipitated the arrest of Murdoch, Isabella, his wife, and his son Alexander—of Albany's other sons, Walter was already in prison and James, his youngest, also known as James the Fat, escaped into the Lennox.[50]

James the Fat led the men of Lennox and Argyll in open rebellion against the crown, and this may have been what the king needed to bring a charge of treason against the Albany Stewarts.[57] Murdoch, his sons Walter and Alexander, and Duncan, Earl of Lennox were in Stirling Castle for their trial on 18 May at a specially convened parliament. An assize of seven earls and fourteen lesser nobles was appointed to hear the evidence that linked the prisoners to the rebellion in the Lennox. The four men were condemned, Walter on 24 May and the others on 25 May and immediately beheaded in 'front of the castle'.[58] James demonstrated a ruthless and avaricious side to his nature in the destruction of his close family, the Albany Stewarts, that yielded the three forfeited earldoms of Fife, Menteith and Lennox.[59] An inquiry set up by James in 1424 into the dispersal of crown estates since the reign of Robert I exposed legal defects in a number of transactions where the earldoms of Mar, March and Strathearn, together with the Black Douglas lordships of Selkirk and Wigtown, were found to be problematic. Strathearn and March were forfeited in 1427 and 1435, respectively.[60] Mar was forfeited in 1435 on the earl's death without an heir, which also meant that the lordships of Garioch and Badenoch reverted to the crown.[61] James sought to boost his income further through taxation and succeeded in getting parliament to pass legislation in 1424 for a tax to go towards paying off the ransom—£26,000 was raised but James sent only £12,000 to England.[62] By 1429, James stopped the ransom payments completely and used the remainder of the taxation income on cannons and luxury goods from Flanders.[14] Following a fire in the castle of Linlithgow in 1425, funds were also diverted to the building of Linlithgow Palace, which continued until James's death in 1437, and absorbed an estimated one-tenth of royal income.[63][64]

Relations with the church

James asserted his authority not only over the nobility but also upon the Church and lamented that King David I's benevolence towards the Church proved costly to his successors and that he was 'a sair sanct to the croun'.[65] James also considered that the monastic institutions in particular needed improvement and that they should return to being strictly ordered communities. Part of James's solution was to create an assembly of overseeing abbots and followed this up by establishing a Carthusian priory at Perth to provide other religious houses with an example of internal conduct.[66] He also sought to influence church attitudes to his policies by having his own clerics appointed to the bishoprics of Dunblane, Dunkeld, Glasgow and Moray.[67] In March 1425, James's parliament directed that all bishops must instruct their clerics to offer up prayers for the king and his family; a year later, parliament toughened up this edict, insisting that the prayers be given at every mass, under the sanction of a fine and severe rebuke.[68] This same parliament legislated that every person in Scotland should 'be governed under the king's laws and statutes of this realm only'. From this, laws were enacted in 1426 to restrict the actions of prelates whether it was to regulate their need to travel to the Roman Curia or their ability to purchase additional ecclesiastical positions while there.[69] In James's parliament of July 1427, it is evident that the statute being enacted had the purpose of reducing the powers of church jurisdiction.[70]

On 25 July 1431, the general council of the Church convened in Basel, but its initial full meeting did not take place until 14 December l, by which time Pope Eugenius and the council were in complete disagreement. It was the council and not the pope who requested that James send representatives of the Scottish church, and it is known that two delegates—Abbot Thomas Livingston of Dundrenanan and John de Winchester, canon of Moray and a servant of the king—were in attendance in November and December 1432.[71] In 1433 James, this time in response to a summons by the pope, appointed two bishops, two abbots and four dignitaries to attend the council. Twenty-eight Scottish ecclesiastics attended at intervals from 1434 to 1437, but the majority of the higher ranking churchmen sent proxy attendees; Bishops John Cameron of Glasgow and John de Crannach of Brechin, however, attended in person, as did Abbot Patrick Wotherspoon of Holyrood.[72] Even in the midst of the Basel general council, Pope Eugenius instructed his legate, Bishop Antonio Altan of Urbino, to meet with James to raise the issue of the king's controversial anti-barratry laws of 1426.[73][74] The Bishop of Urbino arrived in Scotland in December 1436 and, apparently, a reconciliation between James and the papal legate had taken place by the middle of February 1437, but the events of 21 February, when James was assassinated, prevented the legate from completing his commission.[75]

Highland problem

In July 1428, the king convened a general council at Perth aimed at obtaining finance for an expedition to the Highlands against the semi-autonomous Lord of the Isles. The council initially resisted granting James the funds—even with royal support from the powerful Earls of Mar and Atholl—but eventually gave in to the king's wishes. Although it seemed that an all-out attack on the Gaels of the north was not the king's intention, James had resolved to use a degree of force to strengthen royal authority.[76] He told the assembly:[77]

I shall go and see whether they have fulfilled the required service; I shall go I say and I will not return while they default. I will chain them so that they are unable to stand and lie beneath my feet.

The leaders of the Gaelic kindreds in the north and west were summoned by James ostensibly to a sitting of parliament in

The king's need for allies in the west and north led him to soften his approach towards the Lord of the Isles and, hoping that Alexander would now become a loyal servant of the crown, he was given his freedom. Alexander, probably under pressure from his close kinsmen Donald Balloch, John Mór's son, and Alasdair Carrach of Lochaber, led a rebellion attacking the castle and burgh of Inverness in spring 1429.[80] The crisis deepened when a fleet from the Lordship was dispatched to bring James the Fat back from Ulster 'to convey him home that he might be king'. With James's intention to form an alliance with the Ulster O'Donnells of Tyreconnell against the MacDonalds, the English became distrustful of the Scottish king's motives and they themselves tried to bring James the Fat to England.[81] Before he could become an active player, James the Fat died suddenly, releasing James to prepare for decisive action against the Lordship.[82]