Scottish History - the history of Scotland

Ch 10 - EARLY STEWART KINGS: ROBERT II. (1371-1390)

Summary: The Stewarts were the most famous of the families that ruled Scotland. This chapter tells of their early days.

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EARLY STEWART KINGS: ROBERT II. (1371-1390)

Robert II. was crowned at Scone on March 26, 1371. He was elderly, jovial, pacific, and had little to fear from England when the deaths of Edward III. and the Black Prince left the crown to the infant Richard II. There was fighting against isolated English castles within the Scottish border, to amuse the warlike Douglases and Percies, and there were truces, irregular and ill kept. In 1384 great English and Scottish raids were made, and gentlemen of France, who came over for sport, were scurvily entertained, and (1385) saw more plundering than honest fighting under James, Earl of Douglas, who merely showed them an army that, under Richard II., burned Melrose Abbey and fired Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee. Edinburgh was a town of 400 houses. Richard insisted that not more than a third of his huge force should be English Borderers, who had no idea of hitting their Scottish neighbours, fathers-in-law and brothers-in-law, too hard. The one famous fight, that of Otterburn (August 15, 1388), was a great and joyous passage of arms by moonlight. The Douglas fell, the Percy was led captive away; the survivors gained advancement in renown and the hearty applause of the chivalrous chronicler, Froissart. The oldest ballads extant on this affair were current in 1550, and show traces of the reading of Froissart and the English chroniclers.

In 1390 died Robert II. Only his youth was glorious. The reign of his son, Robert III. (crowned August 14, 1390), was that of a weakling who let power fall into the hands of his brother, the Duke of Albany, or his son David, Duke of Rothesay, who held the reins after the Parliament (a Parliament that bitterly blamed the Government) of January 1399. (With these two princes the title of Duke first appears in Scotland.)

The follies of young David alienated all: he broke his betrothal to the daughter of the Earl of March; March retired to England, becoming the man of Henry IV.; and though Rothesay wedded the daughter of the Earl of Douglas, he was arrested by Albany and Douglas and was starved to death (or died of dysentery) in Falkland Castle (1402). The Highlanders had been in anarchy throughout the reign; their blood was let in the great clan duel of thirty against thirty, on the Inch of Perth, in 1396. Probably clans Cameron and Chattan were the combatants.

On Rothesay's death Albany was Governor, while Douglas was taken prisoner in the great Border defeat of Homildon Hill, not far from Flodden. But then (1403) came the alliance of Douglas with Percy; Percy's quarrel with Henry IV. and their defeat; and Hotspur's death, Douglas's capture at Shrewsbury. Between Shakespeare, in "Henry IV.," and Scott, in 'The Fair Maid of Perth,' the most notable events in the reign of Robert III. are immortalised. The King's last misfortune was the capture by the English at sea, on the way to France, of his son James in February-March 1406. {52} On April 4, 1406, Robert went to his rest, one of the most unhappy of the fated princes of his line.

THE REGENCY OF ALBANY.

The Regency of Albany, uncle of the captured James, lasted for fourteen years, ending with his death in 1420. He occasionally negotiated for his king's release, but more successfully for that of his son Murdoch. That James suspected Albany's ambition, and was irritated by his conduct, appears in his letters, written in Scots, to Albany and to Douglas, released in 1408, and now free in Scotland. The letters are of 1416.

The most important points to note during James's English captivity are the lawlessness and oppression which prevailed in Scotland, and the beginning of Lollard heresies, nascent Protestantism, nascent Socialism, even "free love." The Parliament of 1399, which had inveighed against the laxity of Government under Robert II., also demanded the extirpation of heresies, in accordance with the Coronation Oath. One Resby, a heretical English priest, was arraigned and burned at Perth in 1407, under Laurence of Lindores, the Dominican Inquisitor into heresies, who himself was active in promoting Scotland's oldest University, St Andrews. The foundation was by Henry Wardlaw, Bishop of St Andrews, by virtue of a bull from the anti-pope Benedict XIII., of February 1414. Lollard ideas were not suppressed; the chronicler, Bower, speaks of their existence in 1445; they sprang from envy of the wealth, and indignation against the corruptions of the clergy, and the embers of Lollardism in Kyle were not cold when, under James V., the flame of the Reformation was rekindled.

The Celtic North, never quiet, made its last united effort in 1411, when Donald, Lord of the Isles, who was in touch with the English Government, claimed the earldom of Ross, in right of his wife, as against the Earl of Buchan, a son of Albany; mustered all the wild clans of the west and the isles at Ardtornish Castle on the Sound of Mull; marched through Ross to Dingwall; defeated the great northern clan of Mackay, and was hurrying to sack Aberdeen when he was met by Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar, the gentry of the northern Lowlands, mounted knights, and the burgesses of the towns, some eighteen miles from Aberdeen, at Harlaw. There was a pitched battle with great slaughter, but the Celts had no cavalry, and the end was that Donald withdrew to his fastnesses. The event is commemorated by an old literary ballad, and in Elspeth's ballad in Scott's novel, 'The Antiquary.'

In the year of Albany's death, at a great age (1420), in compliance with the prayer of Charles VII. of France, the Earl of Buchan, Archibald, Douglas's eldest son, and Sir John Stewart of Derneley, led a force of some 7000 to 10,000 men to war for France. Henry V. then compelled the captive James I. to join him, and (1421) at Bauge Bridge the Scots, with the famed La Hire, routed the army of Henry's brother, the Duke of Clarence, who, with 2000 of the English, fell in the action. The victory was fruitless; at Crevant (1423) the Scots were defeated; at Verneuil (1424) they were almost exterminated. None the less the remnant, with fresh levies, continued to war for their old ally, and, under Sir Hugh Kennedy and others, suffered at Rouvray (February 1429), and were with the victorious French at Orleans (May 1429) under the leadership of Jeanne d'Arc. The combination of Scots and French, at the last push, always saved the independence of both kingdoms.

The character of Albany, who, under his father, Robert III., and during the captivity of James I., ruled Scotland so long, is enigmatic. He is well spoken of by the contemporary Wyntoun, author of a chronicle in rhyme; and in the Latin of Wyntoun's continuator, Bower. He kept on friendly terms with the Douglases, he was popular in so far as he was averse to imposing taxation; and perhaps the anarchy and oppression which preceded the return of James I. to Scotland were due not to the weakness of Albany but to that of his son and successor, Murdoch, and to the iniquities of Murdoch's sons.

The death of Henry V. (1422) and the ambition of Cardinal Beaufort, determined to wed his niece Jane Beaufort to a crowned king, may have been among the motives which led the English Government (their own king, Henry VI., being a child) to set free the royal captive (1424).

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