Scottish History - the history of Scotland

Ch 11 - JAMES I.

Summary: When James I returned to Scotland from captivity, he brought with him the ideas of English justice and parliament together with a determination to put down the unruly and disruptive Scottish nobility. While he succeeded in imprisoning or killing many of his main Scottish opponents, his unpopularity with the nobility in Scotland made the fate of James I bloody and brutal.

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JAMES I.

On March 28, 1424, James I. was released, on a ransom of 40,000 pounds, and after his marriage with Jane Beaufort, grand-daughter of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III. The story of their wooing (of course in the allegorical manner of the age, and with poetical conventions in place of actual details) is told in James's poem, "The King's Quair," a beautiful composition in the school of Chaucer, of which literary scepticism has vainly tried to rob the royal author. James was the ablest and not the most scrupulous of the Stuarts. His captivity had given him an English education, a belief in order, and in English parliamentary methods, and a fiery determination to put down the oppression of the nobles. "If God gives me but a dog's life," he said, "I will make the key keep the castle and the bracken bush keep the cow." Before his first Parliament, in May 1424, James arrested Murdoch's eldest son, Sir Walter Fleming of Cumbernauld, and the younger Boyd of Kilmarnock. The Parliament left a Committee of the Estates ("The Lords of the Articles") to carry out the royal policy. Taxes for the payment of James's ransom were imposed; to impose them was easy, "passive resistance" was easier; the money was never paid, and James's noble hostages languished in England. He next arrested the old Earl of Lennox, and Sir Robert Graham of the Kincardine family, later his murderer.

These were causes of unpopularity. During a new Parliament (1425) James imprisoned the new Duke of Albany (Murdoch) and his son Alexander, and seized their castles. {57} The Albanys and Lennox were executed; their estates were forfeited; but resentment dogged a king who was too fierce and too hurried a reformer, perhaps too cruel an avenger of his own wrongs.

Our knowledge of the events of his reign is vague; but a king of Scotland could never, with safety, treat any of his nobles as criminals; the whole order was concerned to prevent or avenge severity of justice.

At a Parliament in Inverness (1427) he seized the greatest of the Highland magnates whom he had summoned; they were hanged or imprisoned, and, after resistance, Alastair, the new Lord of the Isles, did penance at Holyrood, before being immured in Tantallon Castle. His cousin, Donald Balloch, defeated Mar at Inverlochy (where Montrose later routed Argyll) (1431). Not long afterwards Donald fled to Ireland, whence a head, said to be his, was sent to James, but Donald lived to fight another day.

Without a standing army to garrison the inaccessible Highlands, the Crown could neither preserve peace in those regions nor promote justice. The system of violent and perfidious punishments merely threw the Celts into the arms of England.

Execution itself was less terrible to the nobles than the forfeiting of their lands and the disinheriting of their families. None the less, James (1425-1427) seized the lands of the late Earl of Lennox, made Malise Graham surrender the earldom of Strathearn in exchange for the barren title of Earl of Menteith, and sent the sufferer as a hostage into England. The Earl of March, son of the Earl who, under Robert III., had gone over to the English cause, was imprisoned and stripped of his ancient domains on the Eastern Border; and James, disinheriting Lord Erskine, annexed the earldom of Mar to the Crown.

In a Parliament at Perth (March 1428) James permitted the minor barons and freeholders to abstain from these costly assemblies on the condition of sending two "wise men" to represent each sheriffdom: a Speaker was to be elected, and the shires were to pay the expenses of the wise men. But the measure was unpopular, and in practice lapsed. Excellent laws were passed, but were not enforced.

In July-November 1428 a marriage was arranged between Margaret the infant daughter of James and the son (later Louis XI.) of the still uncrowned Dauphin, Charles VIII. of France. Charles announced to his subjects early in 1429 that an army of 6000 Scots was to land in France; that James himself, if necessary, would follow; but Jeanne d'Arc declared that there was no help from Scotland, none save from God and herself. She was right: no sooner had she won her victories at Orleans, Jargeau, Pathay, and elsewhere (May-June 1429) than James made a truce with England which enabled Cardinal Beaufort to throw his large force of anti-Hussite crusaders into France, where they secured Normandy. The Scots in France, nevertheless, fought under the Maid in her last successful action, at Lagny (April 1430).

An heir to the Crown, James, was born in October 1430, while the King was at strife with the Pope, and asserting for King and Parliament power over the Provincial Councils of the Church. An interdict was threatened, James menaced the rich and lax religious orders with secular reformation; settled the Carthusians at Perth, to show an example of holy living; and pursued his severities against many of his nobles.

His treatment of the Earl of Strathearn (despoiled and sent as a hostage to England) aroused the wrath of the Earl's uncle, Robert Graham, who bearded James in Parliament, was confiscated, fled across the Highland line, and, on February 20, 1437, aided, it is said by the old Earl of Atholl (a grandson of Robert II. by his second marriage), led a force against the King in the monastery of the Black Friars at Perth, surprised him, and butchered him. The energy of his Queen brought the murderers, and Atholl himself, to die under unspeakable torments.

James's reforms were hurried, violent, and, as a rule, incapable of surviving the anarchy of his son's minority: his new Court of Session, sitting in judgment thrice a-year, was his most fortunate innovation.

Go to chapter 12 - James II.

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