Chapter X: 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. 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 Baugé 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).
On March 28, 1424, James I was released, on a ransom of £40,000, 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. 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.
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