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Aberdour and Inchcolme
Lecture 7


Birth, parentage, and education of the Regent Morton—State of the country—Power of the Douglases, and their traitorous connection with Henry of England—Wily character of Sir George Douglas— Escape of James the Fifth from Falkland, and virtual banishment of the Douglases—Their return on the King’s death—The capture of a wife and an earldom by sapping and mining—The marriage an unhappy one—A Lord of the Congregation—His late developed powers —Becomes Lord High Chancellor—The part he acted in connection with Rizzio’s murder—This tragedy a virtual revolution—His relation to the murder of Darnley—The Queen’s relation to it—Bothwell’s part in it—Disgraceful skirmishing between Morton and Kirkcaldy of Grange—Morton becomes Regent—Character of his government— Knox’s warning—Charges brought against him, and his defence— Resigns the Regency—His residence at Aberdour—Is tempted to grasp power again—Is imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, then in Dumbarton Castle—Brought to trial, condemned, and beheaded.

In fulfilment of a promise made in my first lecture, I am now to lay before you a sketch of the life of the Regent Morton. There is perhaps no character of equal prominence in Scottish history, who has gathered around him fewer admirers than the subject of our sketch. The Regent Moray has his devoted admirers as well as his fierce detractors; but cold aversion and sullen dislike seem to be the all but universal feelings that close in around the grave of Morton. We certainly do not appear as the apologist either of the man or the politician, whose life and times we are to attempt to sketch in hurried outline. Of some of the features of his character, and some of the lines of his policy, we shall claim the right to speak in accents of undisguised scorn. But we venture to think we shall adduce evidence which will go to prove that some of his public actions have been exhibited in an unfair light, and that the closing scenes especially of his eventful career have been concealed or distorted, even by some who profess to have weighed historical evidence with a steady hand. It can, of course, be only the leading events of such a lengthened and stirring career that can reasonably be expected to be compressed within the compass of a single lecture. And, to lighten the subject somewhat, we must occasionally turn our eyes away from the man, and mark the complexion of his times.

James Douglas, who afterwards became Earl of Morton and Regent of Scotland, was the second son of Sir George Douglas, the brother of Archibald, sixth Earl of Angus. There thus ran in his veins the blood of a family whose daring and intrepidity have passed into a proverb,—a family whose name, strangely enough, is connected in the earliest stages of its history with the mitre and the pastoral staff; but speedily linked itself, in a more enduring way, with the helmet and the lance; and is more or less associated with almost every great struggle in Scottish history. Powerful throughout almost their entire career, the family of Douglas had never so much influence as about the time when the subject of our sketch appeared on the scene. It has been a matter of considerable dispute in what year this scion of the house of Douglas was born. Nor. should it be said that the question is of little moment. An important element is wanting, in following the career of a man of eminence, when we are at sea regarding his age. It helps us to form a juster estimate of his powers when we know at what period of life he appeared on the stage of public affairs, and at what age his career ended. We are happily able to settle the controversy regarding the year in which the future Regent was born. The information is to be found in a little-known letter from the pen of King James the Sixth, exempting Morton from further attendance on assemblies, conventions, and warlike concourses ; and one of the reasons urged for his exemption is stated as follows:— 'As als be reassoun of his greit aige, being now past three scoir ane zeiris.’ As the letter in which these words occur is dated March 1577, we may, with almost absolute certainty, conclude that Morton was born in the year 1516, three years after the fatal contest at Flodden.

At no period in the history of Scotland did the Douglases enjoy so much power as during the minority of James the Fifth, the son of the brave but infatuated King who fell at Flodden. The marriage of the Earl of Angus, the uncle of the subject of our sketch, with the widow of King James the Fourth, and sister of Henry the Eighth of England, gave the family of Douglas immense influence in Scotland, and formed a strong link between them and the English Court—a link that proved too strong for their fidelity to their sovereign and their devotion to their country. Henry readily adopted, and vigorously carried out, the policy, which his father had inaugurated, of keeping a number of well-paid spies in Scotland, who were, generally, the professed subjects of the Scottish King. Some of the Scottish nobility, to their shame be it said, did not hesitate to accept Henry’s bribes; and none held out their hands more greedily for English gold than the Earl of Angus and Sir George Douglas—the father of the future Regent. After a great many moves and counter-moves on the political .chessboard, it came about that the young King was virtually a puppet in the hands of the Douglases. Almost every office in the State came to be filled either by members of that family or their retainers ; and the Earl of Angus was king in almost everything but the name. The young sovereign was too conscious of his ability, and too high-spirited, to continue as a puppet, or a prisoner, in the hands of a mere faction. And his skilfully-planned and cleverly-executed escape from Falkland Palace in the grey morning, when, with Jocky Hart his groom following him, he galloped to Stirling, when Douglas of Pathhead, the captain of the royal guard, thought him fast asleep,—this awoke the Douglases to the discovery that the royal bird had escaped out of their net, and that their power was, for a time at least, at an end in Scotland. They who, only the day before, had wielded almost regal authority, discovered, ere the day signalised by that famous ride was over, that they durst not come within six miles of the Court, on pain of treason. And in a short time the chief members of the faction—Angus, Sir George Douglas, and his son James, now a lad of twelve—were fugitives in England.

Sir George was a man of considerable ability, but wily and tortuous to a remarkable degree. He possessed the unenviable tact of being able to persuade his neighbours that he was travelling eastwards, while all the time he was actually going westwards ; and, like the crab, he had the power of reversing his movements without even seeming to turn round. The policy of the whole of the Douglases at this time, it must be confessed, was of the most unpatriotic character. Angus had actually sold himself to King Henry of England, engaging, as the original paper, still in existence, proves, ‘ to make unto Henry the oath of allegiance, to recognise him as supreme lord of Scotland, as his prince and sovereign.’ This policy became disgracefully prevalent with the Scottish nobles in the time of James the Fifth; the temptation, as is well known, coming to them in the fascinating shape of English gold. Some of our Scottish nobles, no doubt, kept themselves free from such disgraceful proceedings ; but, up to the time when Henry’s death put an end to these intrigues, it may safely be said that, if the patriotism of the middle classes and the peasantry had not been firm and unyielding, Scotland would in all probability have become a mere province of England.

As the Douglases continued in England, from the time of their virtual banishment till the death of James the Fifth, in 1542, there can be no doubt that James Douglas was educated principally in England ; and he spent his early years at the Court of Henry the Eighth. It is rarely the case that we are favoured with the particulars of the education of men of that period, unless, indeed, they were destined for one of the learned professions, which we have no reason to believe was ever dreamt of in young Douglas’s case. And thus it happens that almost the only item of information we have of the education of the future Regent, is that, in addition to the knowledge he derived from books, he had the advantage of travelling in foreign lands. Italy is specially mentioned as the scene of his wanderings; and it may be, to some extent, to this fact that we have to trace his early efforts to spread the cause of the Reformation in Scotland. The surest way to become acquainted with the malarious influence of Popery was to survey it at headquarters. The visit of Luther to Rome was an important epoch in his history; and although the future Regent was, in all probability, more opposed to Popery on political than religious grounds, his visit to the seven-hilled city had, no doubt, its own influence in forming his views on the great struggle then going on throughout Europe.

On the return of the Douglases to Scotland, in 1542, Sir George, the acknowledged leader of the faction, began, in' his own most approved fashion, to work for King Henry— with boldness when he might safely avow his intentions, but with great secrecy and cunning when concealment was necessary. And, in these artifices, James Douglas had the most thorough culture, under the hand of his accomplished father. The impatience of Henry, however, wrought the ruin of his own schemes. Not contented with trying to secure a matrimonial alliance, by the espousal of his son— afterwards Edward the Sixth—with the Princess Mary of Scotland, he openly declared himself Lord Paramount of Scotland, claimed the custody of the infant Princess as a matter of right, and found fault with the Douglases because they had not delivered the fortresses of Scotland up to him. When these claims were made known, they roused the indignation of every leal-hearted Scotchman; and called into existence a national party, who resolved to defend the liberties of their country at all hazards. It would have awakened a still deeper feeling of indignation, had it been known that Sir George and his party actually engaged, in the event of greater treachery being impossible, to deliver up to Henry all the country south of the Forth. This was not the best education for the future statesman; and, in judging of his career, it should never be forgotten that he was nursed and trained in the midst of a band of unprincipled Scotchmen, who, for selfish ends, had apostatised from the noble traditions of their country, inseparably linked with the names of Wallace and Bruce. In only one direction does the influence of Henry seem to have told for good on James Douglas. At the English Court he was inspired with right feelings in reference to Reformation principles. Henry’s views were, no doubt, strongly tinged with selfishness and, while he had a hearty dislike to the rule of the Pope, he had no great disinclination to constitute himself a quasiPope in his own dominions. In spite of all this, however, it is undoubtedly to the freer air Douglas breathed at the English Court, that we are to trace the fact, that, in the early part of his career, he wrought almost as vigorously for the spread of the Reformation in Scotland, as he did for less worthy ends, sought after by English policy.

Among the first enterprises engaged in by James Douglas, on his return to Scotland, was the very important, although rather unwarlike one, of getting a wife. James, the third Earl of Morton, had three daughters, but no son to succeed to his title and estates. Of these daughters, Lady Margaret, the eldest, was married to the Earl of Arran, and Lady Beatrix, the next eldest, to Lord Maxwell. The youngest daughter, Lady Elizabeth, was still unmarried. How to win the hand of Lady Elizabeth, and, by marrying her, the youngest of the three daughters, to succeed to the title and estates of her father, seems to have been the somewhat difficult problem which James Douglas and his wily father, Sir George, set themselves to solve; and it is creditable to their policy and perseverance, at least, that they succeeded. The story of their procedure has never, so far as I am aware, been told before. Let me narrate it as shortly as possible. No new light can, I fear, be cast on the story of the wooing ; but this is perhaps little to be regretted, as it was probably less interesting as it actually took place, than as imagination can so easily paint it. But as regards the other part of the plan, and what, with all deference to the strength and purity of young Douglas’s affection, we may venture to call the scarcely less important part—the acquisition of the title and estates—some rather interesting information can be given.

James the Fifth bore no great good-will to any of the Douglases ; and indeed few, if any, of them gave him much reason to love them. The third Earl of Morton, who was married to Lady Katharine Stewart, a natural daughter of King James the Fourth, was no exception to the rule. And as the King, although he did not much like the Earl, had conceived a strong affection for his estates, he did not think it beneath his dignity to try to get them out of the Earl’s hands. His mode of procedure was somewhat singular. He ordered the Earl to betake himself to the north of Scotland, and reside at Inverness during his sovereign’s pleasure. For any one to be banished thus, from home and its comforts, to what was then so wild and inhospitable a region, was far from pleasant. But for the Earl, who was now advanced in years, Lame, and the prey of divers diseases, to be exiled in this fashion, and that in the depth of winter, was little short of sentence of death being passed on him. No effort that he could make to get a relaxation of the King’s decree was of any avail; and he set out despairingly on his journey northwards. When he had travelled as far as Brechin, the King, who was in the neighbourhood, sent a message to him, urging him to execute a deed of resignation of his earldom and lands, in the hands of Robert Douglas of Lochleven. This the Earl at first positively refused to do; but, after tasting the bitterness of exile, he did execute such a deed, and was allowed to return home. The conveyance of the honours and property of the earldom to Robert Douglas was, however, merely a feint on the King’s part, as evidence existed to show that he meant to keep the lion’s share of the prey to himself. And the execution of the deed, on the Earl’s part, was evidently the result of fear, and not the act of his own free will. All this shows how much the royal prerogative was sometimes abused in what some are pleased still to call ‘the good old times.’ The Earl had returned to his home, and was at leisure repenting what he had done in haste, in the matter of the resignation of his earldom and lands, when the future Regent and his father laid siege to Lady Elizabeth and the earldom—the former being thought not quite a perfect possession without the latter. The odds seemed greatly against them ; but what will brave men not attempt when ladies and earldoms are in the question? So when James Douglas was saying sweet things to Lady Elizabeth, Sir George and the Earl were, we may conclude, discussing secularities; and a paction was made between them, to the effect that, if Sir George procured the reduction of the infeftment of Sir Robert Douglas of Lochleven, in the lordship of Morton, and laid down a sum of two thousand pounds—Scots money, of course,—the Earl would immediately ‘cause' his daughter, Lady Elizabeth, to contract marriage with James Douglas, and, moreover, make the title and lands over to them in conjunct-infeftment. It would almost require a lecture by itself to tell what skill and determination were brought to bear on the difficult task; and by what an ameunt of sapping and mining, and advancing from outer to inner parallels, Lady Elizabeth and the earldom were at length taken—for taken they both were. The deed of resignation was annulled; Sir George’s money, we may presume, was paid down; and Lady Elizabeth was married to James Douglas. The problem was solved, and the husband of the third daughter became, in course of time, the Earl of Morton.

Before turning to matters of a public kind, with which we have chiefly to concern ourselves in the sequel of this lecture, I may say that the marriage brought about in this particular fashion did not turn out a happy one for poor Lady Elizabeth. The glimpses we get of the domestic life she led in Tantallon Castle are few, but very sad. The whole of her children—and they were no fewer than ten— died in infancy, and she herself became insane. James Douglas did not prove a good husband.

In the early stages of the Reformation movement, the Earl of Morton—for such was the title of James Douglas after 1553—took a leading part. He was one of the original Lords of the Congregation in 1557; and in the following year he joined in a spirited remonstrance to the Queen-Dowager, against the barbarous murder of Walter Mill, for holding reforming views. It has been noticed, however, that for a considerable time Morton was very chary of taking a decided part against the Queen-Regent. One writer accounts for this on the supposition that he had received many substantial favours from her, and that he was always much moved by that particular kind of gratitude which consists in a lively apprehension of future favours. We are far from supposing that he did not largely share in that by no means uncommon virtue. But even this restraint was not likely to hold him long after this period, as the Queen-Regent was near the end of her career. It must be confessed, however, that Morton’s character, even at this time, gave but little promise of his future eminence. From whatever cause it may have arisen, there was little of that promptness of decision, tenacity of purpose, and determined energy in bringing about what he had resolved on, that so highly distinguished him in his later career. In fact it was not till he was more than forty years of age that these characteristics appeared in any considerable degree.

Sir Ralph Sadler’s description of him at this time, as ‘a simple and fearful (timorous) man,’ looks more like an ironical description of him than one to be taken in a literal sense. And yet the English Ambassador had ample opportunities of knowing him.

Let me now briefly sketch the leading incidents of Morton’s public career, passing lightly over those that are better known, or on which I can throw no new light, and entering more into detail regarding scenes that are less generally known, or in connection with which investigation has brought new facts to light. Morton may be said to have passed from comparative obscurity to a position of commanding influence almost at a bound. In May 1559 we find him acting as one of the Commissioners for the settlement of affairs by the treaty of Upsettlington. In the following year, after the famous reforming Parliament, we see him associated with Maitland of Lethington and the Earl of Glencairn in a mission to England, to inform Queen Elizabeth of what had been done on that memorable occasion. It was not, however, till Queen Mary returned from France that he was in a position to show fully what his powers actually were. Immediately after her return, he was sworn one of the members of her Privy Council; and in 1563 he was raised to the exalted position of Lord High Chancellor. The qualifications he displayed in the lower offices he had filled must have been of no ordinary kind, to secure such rapid advancement to the very highest. How greatly to be deplored, then, is it, that the memory of such great, though late-developed powers, should bear the marks of blood, that never can be washed out! You are, of course, all familiar with the history of the murder of Rizzio, in its leading lines, at least. On no ground of law, either human or divine, can that act be justified. It is well, however, to bear in mind the exact circumstances in which the tragedy took place. David Rizzio was an Italian, who came to this country in the train of the Ambassador of Savoy, and took service under Queen Mary as a player in her musical band. In course of time, however, he began to act as secretary to the Queen; and he seems to have risen into favour with her, very much in proportion as Darnley fell into disfavour. Nothing could have been more imprudent, on the part of the Queen, than to elevate such a man to the position of a counsellor. It had the worst effect on the foreigner himself. Flattered by the attention of the sovereign, he began to ape a style which put that of many of the nobility quite into the shade, and even aroused the jealousy of Darnley. The most influential of Scotland’s nobles found it the easiest way to advance their suits at Court to make presents to the Italian fiddler; and it was believed that the Queen intended to raise him to the dignity of a peer of the realm. By many he was suspected of being an emissary of the Pope’s; and there is good reason for believing that this surmise was a perfectly correct one. We may be quite sure that ‘Signor Davie,’ as he was called, being a foreigner and a Papist, was not the man to counsel the Queen wisely, in reference to the league, which is known in history as the ‘Holy Union,’ but which was, in fact, an unholy alliance, on the part of the Catholic powers, to quench the Protestant cause in blood. It was well known, at the time, that Rizzio had strongly urged the Queen not to extend her pardon to the banished Lords, at the head of whom was her own step-brother, the Earl of Moray. It is not so generally known, however, that the Italian musician was himself a man of dark and bloody designs, and that, when assassination fell to his lot, it was only what he had planned for others. It is related by Calderwood, one of the most trustworthy of our historians, that Rizzio advised the Queen to cut off some of her nobles, as a terror to the rest; and that a band of assassins came from Italy for this purpose— reaching this country by way of Flanders, to escape suspicion. Things were gradually assuming a most portentous aspect. The Parliament was about to meet, and it was well known what the measures were, that the Queen, under the guidance of Signor Davie, was resolved to carry. The first was the forfeiture of the banished Lords; and the second was the restoration of Popery as the religion of the State, and the putting down of Protestantism with a high hand. It was in these circumstances that the plot against Rizzio was hatched. Parliament assembled on Thursday, the 4th of March 1566. The Statute of treason and forfeiture, against Moray and his companions in exile, was prepared; and on the following Tuesday the Act was to be passed. A nice bill of fare indeed, fitted to please the taste of emissaries of the Pope, and enemies of their country’s freedom ! But that Act, I need hardly tell you, was not passed; the Protestant religion was not put down; and Popery was not reestablished. The event which arrested this whole catalogue of wicked and bloody acts was an act itself wicked and bloody, only in a less degree—the murder of Rizzio. It was Saturday evening, about seven o’clock, and night was closing in, when the Earl of Morton and Lord Lindsay, with a hundred and fifty men, bearing torches and weapons, marched into the court of the Palace of Holyrood, and seized the gates. The Queen was at supper in a little parlour which entered from her bedchamber. With her was a small company, consisting of the Countess of Argyle, a half-sister of the Queen’s, who made a point of living separate from her husband, the Commendator of Holyrood; Beaton, the Master of her Household; Erskine, captain of the guard; and Rizzio. When the company was at supper, Darnley, ascending from the apartment below by a secret stair, entered the parlour, followed by Lord Ruthven, George Douglas, natural son of the Earl of Angus, and Ker of Faudonside. Rizzio was dragged into the adjoining apartment, amidst the cries of the Queen and her attendants, and there despatched with daggers. The other inmates of the Palace, hearing the affray, made an effort to reach the Queen’s apartments; but Morton had his guards too well posted to allow of any interference. And thus died David Rizzio. The mode of his death, and all its accompaniments, were barbarous 3 although it was but an instance of the plotter of the violent death of others meeting his own in a similar way. With whom lay the blame of it? There can be no doubt that the plot originated with Darnley. And there can be as little doubt that Morton was in Darnley’s counsel, in as far as bringing Rizzio to punishment for his misdeeds was concerned 3 but his advice to Darnley was to bring the culprit to public trial, not doubting that sufficient evidence would be found for condemning him. This did not suit Darnley’s views, and there can be no doubt that he got Morton to agree to a more summary mode of procedure—the design apparently being to hang Rizzio at the Cross. There is, however, no evidence to show that Morton sanctioned the brutality of poniarding Rizzio, almost in the presence of the Queen. In any fair view of the matter, however, it leaves a black stain on Morton’s memory.

Hardly had the deed been done when Darnley denied that he had any share in planning the murder; and in a cowardly way he threw the whole blame of it on his accomplices. Morton and others implicated were thus compelled to flee the country, and seek refuge in England. The effects of the murder of Rizzio, politically considered, were little short of a revolution. The Popish plans of the Queen were laid aside. The banished Lords returned. Even the Earl of Moray once more took part in the government of the country. Mary, however, was only delaying some of her cherished plans, and quietly meditating revenge. Meanwhile the body of the Italian musician was buried beside those of royal rank in the chapel of Holyrood; and Joseph Rizzio, his brother, was advanced to the vacant post.

Through the interest of the Earl of Bothwell, Morton was so far pardoned as to be allowed to return to Scotland again; but he was forbidden to come within seven miles of the Court. This, however, did not prevent him from meeting occasionally several of the nobles who enjoyed Court favour. While at Whittinghame Bothwell made him aware of the Queen’s determination to put Darnley out of the way, and indirectly sought Morton’s aid in the bloody enterprise. The answer to this solicitation was something very different from what we could have wished. Morton said he must first have the Queen’s own handwriting on the subject, and then he would give an answer. If he had acted an honourable part, he would at once have scouted the very idea of such an unhallowed proceeding, by whomsoever proposed. He might have known that, if the Queen was engaged in such a wicked scheme, it was most unlikely that she would commit herself by giving her handwriting on the subject. In point of fact, she never did give Morton the warrant he sought. But the very fact that it was sought shows a mind not yet made up to have done with deeds of lawless bloodshed. This temporising policy of Morton, in connection with the project of murdering Darnley, was what, in the end, cost him his head. He had no active hand in that disgraceful affair; but he knew of the plot, and made no effort to frustrate the designs of the conspirators.

You know the history of that deed of blood. Darnley had deserted the Court, where he found himself of very slight consequence. He went to Glasgow, on a visit to his father, and while there was laid up with small-pox. The Queen went to visit him quite unexpectedly; and, if the contents of the celebrated ‘silver casket’ are to be received in evidence, as we unhesitatingly think they must, there can be no doubt that her unwomanly design was to draw him into the toils of his enemies. She induced him, in an early stage of convalescence, to accompany her to Edinburgh. At first Craigmillar was spoken of as a temporary residence; but afterwards a lodging at the Kirk of Field—near the site now occupied by the University—was selected. There the Queen, who was one of the cleverest and most unscrupulous women of her time, made a pretence of reconciling him to Bothwell, who was at the moment deep in schemes for Darnley’s assassination. A fitting occasion for carrying these schemes out had now arrived; and this, apparently, was all that was wanted. The Earl of Moray had been summoned to St. Andrews, where his wife lay seriously ill, so he was out of the way. The fitting time had come. Bothwell’s minions had the gunpowder carefully placed where it was likely to do its work most effectively. The day chosen for the perpetration of the crime was Sabbath. The Queen had been in Darnley’s lodging, at Kirk of Field, during the evening, and had been more lavish in tokens of affection than she had been for a long time. But she suddenly recollected that she had forgotten an important engagement. Sebastian, one of her foreign musicians, had that day been married at the Palace; and it troubled the Queen’s conscience when she remembered that, Sabbath-day as it was, she had not kept her promise to dance at his wedding. This neglect of duty must be repaired. So she bids Darnley an affectionate 'good-bye,’ whispering, at the same time, the remark that it was just about a year since Rizzio was murdered. This, no doubt, must have sounded strangely in the sick man’s ears; but the Queen’s farewell text was made very plain before morning. Bothwell was one of the party at the marriage of Sebastian and Margaret Carwood, and for a time he gaily took part in the festivities. But he quietly slipped out of the chamber to engage in work of a different kind. Changing his apparel, he hastened to the Kirk of Field, and saw that nothing was wanting to insure certainty and despatch in the deed of blood. Two hours after midnight the whole town was aroused by a fearful explosion, that seemed to shake every house to its foundation. The report came from the direction of the Kirk of Field, and thither the startled inhabitants eagerly rushed to ascertain what had happened. The house in which Darnley lodged was blown to pieces, and his dead body, and that of his page, were found lying at a little distance from the ruins. Bothwell had hurried back to the Palace by a different route, and had scarcely time to retire to rest when the whole Palace was in an uproar. With well-dissembled surprise he inquired what was the cause of all the stir; and he did not forget to cry ‘Treason!’ when told of the explosion and the death of Darnley. Mary, too, seemed horror-stricken, and kept her chamber for the greater part of a day. She was, however, so far recovered from the shock she had received, and the grief attendant on it, as to be able, in less than a fortnight, to enjoy a game at archery with her husband’s murderer; and three months afterwards she married him! Let the curtain drop on one of the most heartless and horrible crimes that ever stained the annals of Scotland.

The revolution which took place after Mary’s marriage with Bothwell brought Morton back again into power. He was restored to the office of Lord High Chancellor, and made High Admiral of Scotland. And as a set-off against many instances of avarice recorded of him, it should not be forgotten that, when it became necessary to fit out a small fleet for the capture of Bothwell, who had turned pirate, and pursued that congenial calling among the northern isles, Morton supplied the needed means when the national treasury had run dry.

We must dismiss, in a few sentences, the notices of Morton which history gives us, from the period of Mary’s abdication down till the time when he became Regent. The Earl of Moray during his regency found an able and faithful coadjutor in Morton ; and when the ‘ Good Regent ’ fell by the assassin’s hand, and the Earl of Lennox succeeded to the regency, Morton was in reality the head of the great Protestant party in the State. Indeed, throughout the whole time of the civil war that distracted the country, till Mary’s adherents were utterly vanquished, he held the most conspicuous place among the supporters of the boy King. In the daring attack on the Regent Lennox at Stirling, planned by Kirkcaldy of Grange, and carried out under the command of the Earl of Huntly, Morton was taken prisoner by the Laird of Buccleuch. But a number of the invading party found the shops of Stirling too tempting a prey; and the Earl of Mar, sallying forth from the Castle, turned the tide in favour of the captured nobles, although Lennox received his death-blow in the fray.

During the regency of the Earl of Mar, the skirmishing that went on between Morton and Kirkcaldy of Grange— the latter of whom held the Castle of Edinburgh in the Queen’s interest—assumed a character that must be strongly reprobated. Take a single instance. Morton intended to give a grand banquet to a number of his friends at Dalkeith, on the occasion of the marriage of Lady Elizabeth Douglas to Lord Maxwell; and great stores of wine, venison, and other dainties were on their way from Perth for the occasion. Some bird of the air had whispered into Kirkcaldy’s ear what was going on ; and the question arose in his mind, whether it could not be so arranged that the feast might come off in Edinburgh Castle instead of Dalkeith. The thing seemed to him to be at least worthy of a trial. A party of horsemen was detached for the inglorious service; and Morton’s venison and wine were made prisoners of war, without the slightest prospect of ever being released. This was indeed, without a figure, war to the knife, accompanied with a great shedding of claret. The Douglas blood was up at the affront, and a party was sent to burn Kirkcaldy’s house of Grange, with all the stores of grain belonging to it. Kirkcaldy retaliated by burning the town of Dalkeith, and various other barbarous measures were resorted to on both sides to keep up the savage play. One has but to conceive of such proceedings taking place in the present day, to feel how much progress our country has made. It is not to be forgotten, however, that intestine broils ever awaken the worst passions of a people.

On the death of the Earl of Mar, it was evident to the whole nation that there was but one man to whom they could look as his successor, and that was the Earl of Morton. In November 1572 he accordingly became Regent. He did not reach this high honour till he was in the fifty-sixth year of his age. Several reasons conspired to interpose delay. His connection with the murder of Rizzio, no doubt, lowered him in the eyes even of many who thought the Italian could well be spared in Scotland. A lawless proceeding such as that was not the best recommendation for the regency. In addition to this, many suspected Morton of having a hand in the assassination of Darnley—a suspicion which his own temporising policy, and his earlier connection with a deed of blood, almost compelled people to cherish. Then Lennox was the grandfather of the young King, and naturally stepped into the post of honour before Morton. It may fairly be questioned, however, whether he would not have been preferred to the regency on the death of Lennox, had not his own antecedents, and those of his family, been of a questionable kind, and still fresh in the memory of his countrymen. Not only did he reach the honour late, but during the time he held it—and it was for a period of eight years—it cannot be said that he commended himself strongly to his countrymen. We cannot, however, go the length some have done in condemnation of his rule. And, as will appear ere long, we must most emphatically condemn the severe judgments that have been passed on him in connection with the closing scenes of his life. One historian declares that he had all the faults, some of the talents, and none of the good qualities of the Regent Moray while another asserts that he was ‘a venal judge, a cruel unrelenting soldier, a hypocrite in religion, and a profligate in private lifeand that it would be ‘ difficult to find a single virtue to relieve the dark monotony of his vices.’ This severe judgment is that of Patrick Fraser Tytler. We honestly believe it to be ungenerous, harsh, and not in keeping with well-authenticated facts. That many faults characterised Morton, both in his public and private life, is beyond a doubt—faults the tendency of which was to hinder the- progress of law and order, as well as religion. But sweeping condemnations, like that which we have just quoted, are seldom just.

Let us glance at the more noticeable features of his regency. It gives one a greater interest in Morton’s career, to know that, about the time when he was preferred to this place of honour and influence, he had two solemn warnings given him, which ought to have made him careful how he wielded such great power. The first of these warnings came from man, the Mentor being no less a personage than Knox; a man to whom Scotland owes a perpetual debt of gratitude, for the civil as well as the religious liberty bequeathed to her. The incident to which I refer comes to us with the stamp of the Regent’s own authority impressed on it. When the Reformer was on his death-bed, Morton went to see him. And among the first questions put to him by the dying man was this, whether he knew anything beforehand of Darnley’s projected murder. Morton denied any such knowledge of it. Whereupon Knox said to him, ‘Well, God hath beautified you with many benefits, which He hath not given to every man as He hath given you: riches, wisdom, and friends; and now He is to prefer you to the government of this realm. And therefore, in the name of God, I charge you to use all these benefits aright, and better in times to come than you have done in times by-past; first to God’s glory, to the furtherance of the Evangel, to the maintenance of the Kirk of God and His ministry; next for the weal of the King, his realm, and true subjects. If so you shall do, God shall bless and honour you; but if you do it not, God shall spoil you of these benefits, and your end shall be ignominy and shame.’

These were wise and solemn words for Morton to listen to from dying lips, when he was on the eve of attaining his highest earthly preferment.

The other warning came in the form of a dangerous illness, just when he was appointed to the regency. For several years he had been subject to attacks of sickness; but at this time many of his friends thought he was laid on a bed from which he would never rise again. We cannot affirm that any considerable impression was made on Morton by these events, either of which, by itself, would have tended to make a wise man better.

The first great effort of Morton, as Regent, was in conjunction with troops furnished by the Queen of England, to reduce the holders of Edinburgh Castle to subjection. This effort was made in a most determined way, and was crowned with complete success. The brave but infatuated Kirkcaldy of Grange not only despised a solemn warning, given him by Knox, but when an offer was made to him, through the English Ambassador, of a free pardon from Morton if he would only surrender, he scornfully rejected it, and, by the continuance of the siege, wantonly inflicted great suffering on the inhabitants of the city. The Castle was stormed, and its holders obliged to capitulate, and the brave soldier, Kirkcaldy, died an unsoldier-like death on the gibbet.

After this last stronghold of the Queen’s faction had been subdued, Morton betook himself to the quelling of the Borders—always a turbulent part of the sovereign’s dominions in the olden time. This being completed, the Regent set himself to the task of establishing order throughout the country generally. After a long period of civil broils, it might have been anticipated that there would be a good deal to do in this way. And what Morton undertook he did with a firm hand. But somehow he left the impression on the minds of many, that he had selfish ends in view in what he did. It was, generally speaking, his peculiar mode of dealing out punishment, to make offenders suffer in purse rather than person; and men were not slack to say that this mode was preferred because it was more lucrative than any other. And yet he had a most ample fortune of his own, and had no need to apply State spoils to personal ends. In a letter to his relative, Douglas of Lochleven, which is to be found among the Morton Papers, he defends himself against the common complaint that he was avaricious, by saying that he refused to pay all and sundry out of the State coffers, according to their own estimate of the value of their services, and that, in this way, the outcry against him had arisen. But there was the evidence of systematic extortion and greed, in more spheres than one. Not only were estates confiscated, and the confiscation commuted into gold and silver, and fines imposed on all who ate butcher-meat in Lent, but the very benefices of the Church did not escape his hand. Bishops of a mild amiable type were appointed, who agreed to accept office on the condition of paying into the hands of the Regent, and other patrons, the chief portion of their emoluments. In addition to this, in many cases, three or four parishes were thrown into one, so that a single minister might do the whole work on one stipend, allowing the patrons to pocket the remainder; and in almost every instance in which this wretched plan was carried out, the spiritual interests of the people were uncared for. The injury done to the Church, in the matter of her temporalities, was, however, not the only wrong she suffered at the hands of the Regent Morton. He invaded her spiritual liberties to such an extent as to create feelings of the gravest anxiety in the minds of her best friends, and thus a strong reaction against the Regent was brought about. There were not wanting, too, instances of petty spite and cruelty in the administration of his government, which were altogether unworthy of one occupying the exalted position he held. In short, in hardly any respect can the regency of the Earl of Morton be held up as worthy of imitation. The great mass of the people, and the ministers of religion, considered him an enemy of the Church; the nobles and landed proprietors cried out against his rapacity and tyranny; his personal friends charged him with avarice; and the young King, now twelve years old, began to be impatient of the restraint under which the Regent held him.

It was in the midst of such unpropitious circumstances as these that Morton resigned the regency, in the beginning of the year 1577. It is but fair that we should allow him to speak in his own defence at this juncture. The Laird of Lochleven was one of those personal friends to whom we have alluded as charging Morton with the crime of avarice. In reply to this charge Morton says, in a letter of date 4th March 1577, found among the printed papers of the family: ‘ As touching our offence to God, we mean not to excuse it, but to submit us to His mercy. For ambition, surely we think none can justly accuse us; for, in our private estate we could, and can, live as well contented as any of our degree in Scotland, without further aspiring. The bearing of the charge of the government of the realm, indeed, must lead us, or any other that shall occupy that place, not simply to respect ourself, but his Majesty’s room, which we supply. And therein not transcending the bounds of measure, as we trust it shall not be found we have done, it ought not to be attributed to any ambition in us. For how soon as ever his Majesty shall think himself ready and able for his own government, none shall more willingly agree, and advance the same, nor I; since I think never to set my face against him, whose honour, safety, and preservation has been so dear unto me. Nor I will never believe to find otherwise, at his hand, than favour, although all the unfriends I have in the earth were about him to persuade him to the contrary.’ It is almost impossible to read these words, addressed to a private friend, without thinking that some of the charges preferred against Morton have been exaggerated. We would be far from defending him, in a single one of the crimes of which he has been proved guilty; but sometimes the tide of censure sets in so full and strong against a man, that it looks almost as if it had become fashionable to run him down. Even the demission of the regency is accounted for, by some historians, as an action done ‘in the pet,’ as if that were not a most unlikely way of explaining the action of such a brave, stern, lion-like man as Morton undoubtedly was. His resignation of the regency—the result, we have no doubt, of a careful estimate of the forces arrayed against him—was accepted, and a discharge, by the Privy Council, was granted him on the 12th of March 1577, which was followed by an obligation, on the part of the leading nobility, to ratify its terms. In this discharge the difficulties attending the government of the country, at the time Morton became Regent, are fully admitted. The success attending his efforts to bring the country into a state of peace and order is also acknowledged, as well as the great expenses he had personally incurred in some of these enterprises. And the Regent gets the solemn assurance, that for no alleged fault in his government, be it what it may, shall he be accused or condemned.

Soon after his resignation of the Regency, Morton retired for a time to his castle of Aberdour, where he spent his time chiefly in husbandry and gardening. It would have been well for him, turned of sixty as he now was, had he been contented with the seclusion of this retreat, whose harshest sounds were the song of the Dour, as it tripped along the base of the castle ramparts, and the ripple of the tide along the beautiful shore of the Whitesands Bay —a retreat around which nature had spread her fairest scenes; on either hand a winding shore, indented by innumerable bays; undulating fields and waving woods behind, and the burnished Firth in front, leading the eye away to the blue Pentlands. But the experience of unlimited rule is, to some minds, like the taste of human blood to the tiger; it creates an irrepressible thirst for more. Morton’s rest in his old baronial keep seemed only to minister to his desire for State occupation, and the luxury of feeling the reins of power in his hands again. In an evil hour he left this retreat, and speedily succeeded in grasping almost as much influence, in his private capacity, as he had ever possessed as Regent. Virtually the master of Stirling Castle, he was also, nearly to as great an extent, master of his youthful sovereign again; and in the exercise of his reconquered power, he gave little indication of having learned to wield it with greater mercy or prudence. In his determined efforts to subdue the Hamilton faction, he wellnigh kindled anew the flames of civil war in the land. Into the details of these struggles we have not time to enter, nor indeed have we the desire. Tales of violence and blood have nothing attractive in them, and we envy not the mind that willingly lingers over them.

The time was now at hand when Morton was to discover, to his cost, that he had too highly rated the regard of his sovereign, too lightly estimated the power of his growing enemies, and too slightly considered the certainty with which evil deeds are followed by merited punishment, even in this world. A strange rumour had arisen, that he had determined to seize the person of the young King, and carry him off to Dalkeith. The origin of this rumour is probably to be found in the plots of Morton’s enemies. The King gave some heed to it, however, or at least he pretended to do so. He had gone out on a hunting expedition, but all at once he interdicted the sport, and galloped back to Stirling Castle. Morton, when charged with the design, stoutly denied it, and courted inquiry. We strongly suspect that this was little better than a mere pretence, on the part of Morton’s enemies, to get him within their toils. The King ordered him to be at Stirling on the 4th of April. Tytler does not seem to have been aware of this fact, for he gravely informs us that fear was caused by the rumour that Morton was on his way to Stirling. When a man is summoned, by royal authority, to be at a given place on a given day, it should excite no surprise when it is reported that he is coming. The truth seems to be, that at this time Morton’s death was what was eagerly sought by some of the hangers-on at Court, and Morton himself seems to have suspected something of the kind. Writing from Aberdour, on the 27th of March 1580, he tells his friend, the Laird of Lochleven, that the King had enjoined him to be at Stirling on the 4th of April. He assures the Laird, further, that he means to do all he can to induce the King and his Council to bring those to trial who had raised the rumour that he intended to surprise him and carry him off. He begs his friend to be at Stirling on that day, that he may have the benefit of his advice and concurrence. And he adds, ‘If any such thing be alleged, you shall find me honest in thought, word, and deed, whenever that matter comes to trial.’ That cloud blew past, but the shadows of a dark and stormy night were gathering around Morton.

There was at this time in King James’s Court a favourite who was prepared to go any length in the way of accusing the ex-Regent. This was Captain James Stewart, a son of Lord Ochiltree. By him Morton was openly accused of having had a chief part in the conspiracy against Darnley’s life ; and he declared that he was ready to make the accusation good, on the Earl being brought to trial. Morton coolly replied that he feared no trial, and that, when he had proved his innocence, it would be for the King to decide what the punishment of those should be who had sent Stewart to accuse him. He was then imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, but soon afterwards was removed to the Castle of Dumbarton, which was under the charge of his great enemy, Lennox. And, in spite of all the efforts of Queen Elizabeth and her ambassadors, it became most evident that his death had been resolved on as a stroke of State policy. Morton himself speedily became convinced that he had now got into the enemy’s toils, and that he would not be allowed to escape with his life. And it is an instructive fact that, in the breathing-time granted him ere he was brought to trial, he betook himself to reading the Bible—a more profitable exercise than looking for aid to the earthly prince whose regard for him he had so much over-estimated. He began at the beginning of the old Book, and expressed the hope that he might be permitted to read the whole of it. But his enemies were in too great haste to permit of this, and he only reached the history of Samuel. One would like to know what the thoughts of the veteran warrior and statesman were as he turned over the leaves of the Inspired Record. The wish can fortunately be gratified, for he has himself told what he found in the time-honoured volume, which so many neglect in the day when all goes well outwardly, but which few can afford entirely to disregard in the day of calamity, or in prospect of death. ‘I see there,’ said this man of strife and bloodshed, about to engage in warfare of a sterner kind, ‘I see there that the mercies of God are wonderful; and He always inclined to have pity on His own people of Israel. For therein it appeareth that howbeit He punished the people of Israel when they sinned, yet how soon they turned to Him, He was merciful to them; and when they sinned again, yet He punished them, and so oft as they repented, He was merciful again. And therefore I am assured, howbeit I have oft offended against my Lord God, yet He will be merciful to me also.’

When he was brought to Edinburgh and put to trial, the very complexion of the jury panneled in his case told him, and assured every intelligent eye-witness, that there was no chance of escape for him, whatever the evidence in his favour might be. So many of his open and bitter enemies were among his judges, that, as he himself expressed it, ‘it made little matter to them whether he were as innocent as St. Stephen, or as false as Judas.’ A great many crimes were laid to his charge—according to one account, no fewer than nineteen,—but many of them were frivolous, and in the end, by the King’s order, they were all departed from, with the exception of concealing the plot to murder Darnley. It must be regarded as an item in the proof of Morton’s penitence, that he did not conceal the fact that he knew of the conspiracy formed against the unhappy Darnley. This admission was eagerly laid hold of by the assize, who brought in a verdict of guilty, as art and part in concealing the intended murder. Morton could not help expressing astonishment at such a verdict; denying as he did all art and part in the murder, of the knowledge of which he confessed concealment. He was sentenced to be beheaded, drawn, and quartered—which was commuted to simple decapitation. He retired to his quarters, where he supped and retired to rest, sleeping till three o’clock in the morning, when he rose and spent three or four hours in writing to the King. What he had written was taken to the King by some of the ministers who waited on Morton, but the boy sovereign refused even to look at what was sent him in such affecting circumstances. Calderwood says, ‘He ranged up and down the floor of his chamber, clanking with his finger and his thowme.’ And yet the King, whose boyish heart had so soon forgotten to pity, was he, regarding whom Morton had so lately written, ‘ Nor will I ever believe to find otherwise, at his hand, than favour, although all the unfriends I have in the earth were about him to persuade him to the contrary.’

During the solemn day that was ushered in in this unpromising manner, Morton opened his mind freely to Mr. John Durieand Mr. Walter Balcanquall, two of the ministers who attended him. He declared, sorrowfully, that all the honours, riches, friends, pleasures, and whatsoever he had possessed in the world were but vanity. He made the most solemn asseveration that, although he knew of the intended murder of the King, he dared not reveal it. It was unnecessary for him to reveal it to the Queen, he said, for she it was who planned it; and he could not reveal it to Darnley himself, because he was so childish that he could conceal nothing from the Queen; and thus the mention of it might have cost Morton his life. He gave the most absolute denial to the charge that had been brought against him, in connection with the poisoning of the Earl of Athole, the conspiracy against Lennox, and the enterprise for seizing Stirling Castle and laying hold on the person of the youthful King. He declared that, if he had injured the interests of the Kirk, it was through lack of knowledge, and that he had of late resolved to amend some of his mistakes in that respect. He acknowledged many sins in private life, and thanked God, who, in the late troubles that had befallen him, had given him space to repent of his sins. He besought the ministers to continue with him, and lay before him such arguments as would keep his soul in view of God’s mercy, and would tend to remove the natural fear of death. This shows how far from correct Tytler’s statement is, that Morton, while exhibiting all the outwards marks of repentance, showed a calm contempt of death. The calmness we grant; but it is surely absurd to charge a man with contempt of death who seeks arguments to keep down the natural fear of it. And the facts, that the ministers who waited on Morton were solicited by himself to do so, and that they were asked to help him with such arguments as have been alluded to, effectually dispose of Hill Burton’s statement that the ministers were there in the character of ‘inquisitors,’ and that they ‘harassed’ him with questions on points of conscience and conduct. There was one truth which, more than any other, seemed to comfort him within sight of the scaffold; that, namely, which shows how, in point of justice, God will not, and cannot, exact the penalty from the believer which He has already exacted from his Great Substitute. When this was stated to him, he exclaimed, ‘Truly, that is very good!’

In exercises such as these the morning and noon of his last day on earth were spent. Unexpectedly, however, the keeper of the prison appeared, and asked him to come to the scaffold. At this he seemed to be taken aback, and said, ‘Seeing they have troubled me overmuch this day with worldly things, I supposed they should have given me this one night to have advised ripely with my God.’ But the keeper replied, ‘All things are ready now, my Lord, and I think they will not stay.’ His reply was, ‘I am ready also, I thank my God.’ After prayer and a short address on the scaffold, in which he repeated, in substance, what has just been related, he bade good-bye to his friends, and assured his enemies of his pardon; and then met death with the mingled heroism of a Roman and the faith of a Christian. With his hands unbound, he laid his neck under the polished axe of the ‘Maiden’—a species of guillotine. He then uttered the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! Into Thy hands, Lord, I commit my spirit! Lord Jesus, receive my soul!’ And thus he prayed till the axe fell, and the quivering lips became silent in death.

Thus died the Regent Morton, in the sixty-fifth year of his age—never so great as at his death! A sense of desolation and dreariness comes over the heart as we think what, with his great powers, he might have been, had the views and feelings of his last days pervaded his whole career; and then reflect how very late they came—too late to make his influence for good much felt. For the sad truth is that not very many regard such instances of late repentance as sincere; and even those who would not venture to call such professions insincere, will still hold that a man’s true influence takes its character from the unmistakable tenor of his life, rather than from statements uttered at the approach of death. Much to be envied, then, are they whose lives are every day, and all throughout, telling for good. And unhappy they whose avowed principles are never fairly seen in action, whose plans for good are all far away in the future, and whose professed religious views have no unmistakable influence on their lives—who only awake, like the Regent Morton, near life’s close, to find their past career a grand mistake; or, what is perhaps a more common case still, never awake to a worthy conception of what life ought to be, till it has come to an end!

In his Introduction to The Epitaphs and Inscriptions in Greyfriars Churchyard, David Laing has the following notice of the Regent Morton: ‘The year before the death of Buchanan, James, Earl of Morton, was beheaded, on the second of June 1581, at the Cross of Edinburgh, by the axe of The Maiden (which he himself, it is commonly but erroneously said, caused make after the pattern which he had seen in Halifax, Yorkshire), which, falling upon his neck, put an end to his life. Hume of Godscroft adds, “His body was carried to the Tolbooth, and buried secretly in the night in the Grayfriars. His head was affixed on the gate of the city.” It is creditable to the young King and the Lords of Privy Council, that, in the following year, a warrant was issued to take down the Earl's head. His head remained on the Tolbooth till 9th December 1582.'


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