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Significant Scots
James I


JAMES I., king of Scots, and illustrious both in political and literary history, was born at Dunfermline in the year 1394. He was the third son of Robert III., king of Scots, (whose father, Robert II., was the first sovereign of the Stuart family,) by his consort Annabella. or Annaple Drummond, daughter of Sir John Drummond of Stobhall, ancestor of the noble family of Perth. It appears that John Stuart, for such was the real name of Robert III., had married Annaple Drummond at a period antecedent to the year 1358; as in 1357, he and his wife received a charter of the earldom of Athol from David II. The unusual period of thirty-seven years at least, must thus have elapsed between the marriage of the parents and the birth of their distinguished son. Their eldest child, David, born in 1373, and created duke of Rothesay, was starved to death by his uncle the duke of Albany in 1402; a second son, John, died in infancy. The inheritance of the crown was thus opened upon prince James at the age of eight years, but under circumstances which rendered the prospect less agreeable than dangerous. The imbecility of Robert III. had permitted the reins of government to be assumed by his brother the duke of Albany, who meditated a transference of the sovereignty to his own family, and scrupled at no measures which might promise to aid him in his object. There was the greatest reason to apprehend that prince James, as well as his elder brother the duke of Rothesay, would be removed by some foul means, through the machinations of Albany; after which, the existence of the king’s female children would present but a trifling obstacle to his assuming the rights of heir presumptive.

The education of prince James was early confided to Wardlaw, bishop of St Andrews, the learned and excellent prelate, who, in founding the university in his metropolitan city, became the originator of that valuable class of institutions in Scotland. Sinclair, earl of Orkney, and Sir David Fleming of Cumbernauld, were among the barons who superintended the instruction of the prince in martial and athletic exercises. For the express purpose of saving him from the flings of his uncle, it was resolved by the king, in 1405, to send him to the court of Charles VI. of France, where he might at once be safer in person, and receive a superior education to what could be obtained in his own country. With this view the young prince was privately conducted to East Lothian, and embarked on board a vessel at the isle of the Bass, along with the earl of Orkney and a small party of friends. It would appear that he thus escaped his uncle by a very narrow chance, as Sir David Fleming, in returning from the place of embarkation, was set upon at Long-Hermandstone by the retainers of that wicked personage, and cruelly slain.

James pursued his voyage towards France, till, cruising along the coast of Norfolk, his vessel was seized by a squadron of armed merchantmen, commanded by John Jolyff, and belonging to the port of Clay. Though this event took place in the time of a truce between the two countries, (April 12, 1405,) Henry IV. of England reconciled his conscience to the detention of the prince, for which, indeed, it is highly probable he had made some arrangements previously with the duke of Albany, his faithful ally, and the imitator of his conduct. When the earl of Orkney presented a remonstrance against such an unjustifiable act, asserting that the education of the prince was the sole object of his voyage to France, he turned it off with a jest, to the effect, that he was as well acquainted with the French language, and could teach it as well as the king of France, [It will be recollected that French was the common language of the court of England, and of all legal and public business, till the age following that of Henry IV.] so that the prince would lose nothing by remaining where he was. He soon showed, however, the value which he attached to the possession of the prince’s person, by shutting him up in the castle of Pevensey in Sussex. The aged king of Scotland sank under this new calamity; and, dying April 4, 1406, left the nominal sovereignty to his captive son, but the real power of the state to his flagitious brother, the duke of Albany, who assumed the title of governor.

Having no design against the mind of his captive, Henry furnished him in a liberal manner with the means of continuing his education. Sir John Pelham, the constable of Pevensey castle, and one of the most distinguished knights of the age, was appointed his governor; and masters were provided for instructing him in various accomplishments and branches of knowledge. To quote the words of Mr Tytler, [Lives of Scottish Worthies, ii. 263.] "In all athletic and manly exercises, in the use of his weapons, in his skill in horsemanship, his speed in running, his strength and dexterity as a wrestler, his firm and fair aim as a joister and tourneyer, the young king is allowed by all contemporary writers to have arrived at a pitch of excellence which left most of his own age far behind him; and as he advanced to maturity, his figure, although not so tall as to be majestic or imposing, was, from its make, peculiarly adapted for excellence in such accomplishments. His chest was broad and full, his arms somewhat long and muscular, his flanks thin and spare, and his limbs beautifully formed; so as to combine elegance and lightness with strength. In throwing the hammer, and propelling, or, to use the Scottish phrase, ‘putting’ the stone, and in skill in archery, we have the testimony of an ancient chronicle, that none in his own dominions could surpass him. * * * To skill in warlike exercises, every youthful candidate for honour and for knighthood was expected to unite a variety of more pacific and elegant accomplishments, which were intended to render him a delightful companion in the hall, as the others were calculated to make him a formidable enemy in the field. The science of music, both instrumental and vocal; the composition and recitation of ballads, roundelays, and other minor pieces of poetry; an acquaintance with the romances and the writings of the popular poets of the times—were all essential branches in the system of education which was then adopted in the castle of any feudal chief; and from Pelham, who had himself been brought up as the squire of the duke of Lancaster, we may be confident that the Scottish king received every advantage which could be conferred by skilful instructors, and by the most ample opportunities of cultivation and improvement. Such lessons and exhibitions, however, might have been thrown away upon many, but James had been born with those natural capacities which fitted him to excel in them. He possessed a fine and correct musical ear; a voice which was rich, flexible, and sufficiently powerful for chamber music; and an enthusiastic delight in the art, which, unless controlled by strong good sense, and a feeling of the higher destinies to which he was called, might have led to a dangerous devotion to it. * * Cut off for a long and tedious period from his crown and his people, James could afford to spend many hours each day in the cultivation of accomplishments to which, under other circumstances, it would have been criminal to have given up so much of his time. And this will easily account for that high musical excellence to which he undoubtedly attained, and will explain the great variety of instruments upon which he performed. * * He was acquainted with the Latin language, as far, at least, as was permitted by the rude and barbarous condition in which it existed previous to the revival of letters. In theology, oratory, and grammar—in the civil and canon laws, he was instructed by the best masters; and an acquaintance with Norman-French was necessarily acquired at a court where it was still currently spoken and highly cultivated. Devoted, however, as he was to these pursuits, James appears to have given his mind with a still stronger bias to the study of English poetry, choosing Chaucer and Gower for his masters in the art, and entering with the utmost ardour into the great object of the first of these illustrious men—the improvement of the English language, the production of easy and natural rhymes, and the refinement of poetical numbers from the rude compositions which had preceded him."

Thus passed years of restraint, unmarked by any other incident than removal from one place of captivity to another, till the death of Henry IV. in 1414. On the very day after this event, the "gallant" Henry V. ordered his royal prisoner to be removed to close confinement in the Tower. In general, however, the restraint imposed upon the young king was not inconsistent with his enjoyment of the pleasures of life, among which one of the most agreeable must have been the intercourse which he was allowed to hold with his Scottish friends. It is the opinion of Mr Tytler, that the policy of the English kings in this matter was much regulated by the terror in which they held a mysterious person residing at the Scottish court, under the designation of king Richard, and who was the object of perpetual conspiracies among the enemies of the house of Lancaster. It is at least highly probable that Albany kept up that personage as a kind of bug-bear, to induce the English monarch to keep a close guard over his nephew.

The duke of Albany died in 1419, and was succeeded as governor by his eldest son Murdoch, who was as weak as his father had been energetic and ambitious. About the same time, a large party of Scottish knights and their retainers proceeded, under the command of the earl of Buchan, second son of Albany, to assist the French king in repelling the efforts which Henry V. of England was making to gain the sovereignty of France. In the hope, perhaps, of gaining his deliverance, James was persuaded by king Henry to accompany him to France, and to join with him in taking the opposite side to that which was assumed by this party of his subjects. But of this part of his life no clear account is preserved; only the consideration which he attained with the English king is amply proved by his acting (1422) as chief mourner at his funeral. This, however, was an event which he had little reason to regret, as it opened a prospect of his obtaining his liberty, a circumstance which would scarcely have taken place during the life of Henry; or, at least, while that prince lived, James could not look forward to any definite period for the termination of his captivity.

The duke of Bedford, who was appointed protector of England on the death of Henry, adopting a wiser policy with regard to Scotland than that monarch had pursued, offered to deliver up the Scottish king on payment of a ransom of forty thousand pounds, to be paid within six years by half yearly payments, and that hostages should be given for the faithful liquidation of the debt. The English, disavowing the term ransom as derogatory, in this instance, to the national character and dignity, alleged that the pecuniary consideration was demanded as payment of the king’s maintenance while in England; but as Henry V. allowed only £700 a-year for this purpose, and the term of James’s captivity was about nineteen years, giving thus an amount of something more than £13,000 altogether, it is pretty evident that they did not intend to be losers by the transaction—though, as the money was never paid, they certainly were not gainers. After a good deal of delay, and much discussion on both sides, the arrangement for the liberation of the king was finally adjusted by the Scottish commissioners, who proceeded to London for that purpose, on the 9th of March, 1423; and amongst other securities for the stipulated sum, tendered that of the burghs of Edinburgh, Perth, Dundee, and Aberdeen. Previously to his leaving England, James married Joanna, daughter of the duchess of Clarence, niece of Richard II. To this lady the Scottish monarch had been long attached. Her beauty had inspired his muse, and was the frequent theme of his song. Amongst the poems attributed to the royal poet, there is one, entitled "A Sang on Absence," beginning " Sen that the eyne that worlds my weilfair," in which he bewails, in strains breathing the warmest and most ardent attachment, the absence of his mistress; and in the still more elaborate production of the "King’s Quair," he thus speaks of her:—

"Of hir array, the form gif I sall write
Toward her goldin haire and rich atyre
In fret wise couchit with perlis white;
And grete balas lemyng as the fire,
With many ane emerant and sapphire;
And on hir hide a chaplet fresh of hewe
Of plumys partit rede, and white, and blue."

In this beautiful poem the enamoured king describes himself as having first fallen in love with his future queen, as she was walking in the gardens under the tower at Windsor in which he was confined.

It is probable that he lost no time in making his fair enslaver aware of the conquest she had made, and it is also likely that her walks under the tower were not rendered less frequent by the discovery. The splendour of Joanna’s dress, as described in this poem, is very remarkable. She seems to have been covered with jewels, and to have been altogether arrayed in the utmost magnificence; not improbably, in the consciousness of the eyes that were upon her. The result, at all events, shows that the captive prince must have found means sooner or later of communicating with the fair idol of his affections.

The marriage ceremony was performed at the church of St Mary’s Overy in Southwark; the king receiving with his bride as her marriage portion, a discharge for ten thousand pounds of his ransom money!

James was in the thirtieth year of his age when he was restored to his liberty and his kingdom. Proceeding first to Edinburgh, where he celebrated the festival of Easter, he afterwards went on to Scone, accompanied by his queen, where they were both solemnly crowned; Murdoch duke of Albany, as earl of Fife, performing the ceremony of installing the sovereign on the throne.

Immediately after the coronation, James convoked a parliament in Perth, and by the proceedings of that assembly, gave intimation to the kingdom of the commencement of a vigorous reign. Amongst many other wise and judicious ordinations, this national council enacted, that the king’s peace should be firmly held, and no private wars allowed, and that no man should travel with a greater number of retainers than he could maintain; that a sufficient administration of law be appointed throughout the realm; and that no extortion from churchmen or farmers in particular be admitted. James had early been impressed with the necessity of arresting with a vigorous and unsparing hand, the progress of that system of fraud and rapine to which the country had been a prey during the regencies that preceded his accession to the throne; a policy which, perhaps, though both necessary and just, there is some reason to believe he carried too far, or at least prosecuted with a mind not tempered by judicious and humane considerations. When first informed, on his arrival in the kingdom, of the lawlessness which prevailed in it, he is said to have exclaimed, "By the help of God, though I should myself lead the life of a dog, I shall make the key keep the castle, and the bush secure the cow." Than such a resolution as this, nothing could have been wiser or more praiseworthy, and he certainly did all he could, and probably more than he ought, to accomplish the desirable end which the sentiment proposed; but he seems to have been somewhat indiscriminating in his vengeance. This indiscrimination may be only apparent, and may derive its character from the imperfectness of the history of that period; but as we judge of the good by what is upon record, we are bound to judge of the bad by the same rule; and it would be rather a singular mischance, if error and misrepresentation were always and exclusively on the side of the latter. It is, at any rate, certain, that a remarkable humanity, or any remarkable inclination to the side of mercy, were by no means amongst the number of James’s good qualities, numerous though these assuredly were. With the best intentions towards the improvement of his kingdom, and the bettering of the condition of his subjects, James had yet the misfortune to excite, at the commencement of his reign, a very general feeling of dissatisfaction with his government.

This, amongst the aristocracy, proceeded from the severity with which he threatened to visit their offences; and amongst the common people, from his having imposed a tax to pay the ransom money stipulated for his release from captivity. This tax was proposed to be levied at the rate of twelve pennies in the pound on all sorts of produce, on farms and annual rents, cattle and grain, and to continue for two years. The tax was with great difficulty collected the first year, but in the second the popular impatience and dissatisfaction became so general and so marked, that the king thought it advisable to abandon it; and the consequence was, as already remarked, that the debt was never discharged. The reluctance of the nation to pay the price of their prince’s freedom may appear ungenerous, and as implying an indifference towards him personally; but this is not a necessary, nor is it the only conclusion which may be inferred from the circumstance. It is probable that they may have considered the demand of England unreasonable and unjust, and it certainly was both, seeing that James was no prisoner of war, but had been made captive at a time when the two kingdoms were at peace with each other. To make him prisoner, therefore, and make him pay for it too, seems indeed to have been rather a hard case, and such it was probably esteemed by his subjects. The policy which James proposed to adopt, was not limited to the suppression of existing evils or to the prevention of their recurrence in time to come, but extended to the punishing of offences long since committed, and of which, in many instances, though we are told the results, we are left uninformed of the crime. At the outset of his reign he had ordered the arrest of Walter, eldest son of.Murdoch, duke of Albany, the late regent, together with that of Malcolm Fleming of Cumbernauld, and Thomas Boyd of Kilmnarnock; and soon afterwards, taking advantage of the circumstance of a meeting of parliament at Perth, which he had convoked probably for the purpose of bringing them within his reach, he ordered the arrest of Murdoch himself, his second son, Alexander Stewart, the earls of Douglas, Angus, and March, and twenty other gentlemen of note.

The vengeance, however, which gave rise to this proceeding, was followed out only in the case of Albany; at least his punishment only is recorded in the accounts given by our historians of this transaction, while all the others are allowed to drop out of sight without any further notice of them in connexion with that event. Indeed the whole of this period of Scottish history is exceedingly obscure; much of it is confused, inconsistent, and inexplicable, and is therefore indebted almost wholly to conjecture for any interest it possesses, and perhaps no portion of it is more obscure than that which includes the occurrence which has just been alluded to. The king’s vengeance is said to have been

exclusively aimed at Albany. Then, wherefore the arrest of the others? Because, it is said they were the friends of the late regent, and might have defeated the ends of justice had they been left at liberty, or at least might have been troublesome in the event of his condemnation. But how is this to be reconciled with the fact, that several of those arrested with Albany were of the jury that found him guilty on his trial, which took place a few weeks afterwards? All that we certainly know of this matter, is, that Murdoch was committed a close prisoner to Carlaveroc castle, while his duchess, Isabella, shared a similar fate in Tantallon, and that the king immediately after seized upon, and took possession of his castles of Falkland in Fife, and Downs in Menteith; that soon afterwards, Albany, with his two sons, Walter and Alexander, together with the aged earl of Lennox, were brought to trial, condemned to death, and beheaded. The principal offence, so far as is known, for on this point also, there is much obscurity, charged against those unfortunate persons, was their having dilapidated the royal revenues while the king was captive in England. The fate of the two sons of the regent, who were remarkably stout and handsome young men, excited a good deal of commiseration. The moment their sentence was pronounced, they were led out to execution. Their father and Lennox were beheaded on the following day. The scene of this tragedy was a rising ground immediately adjoining Stirling castle.

It is not improbable, that circumstances unknown to us may have warranted this instance of sanguinary severity on the part of the king; but it is unfortunate for his memory, that these circumstances, if they did exist, should be unknown; for as it now stands, he cannot be acquitted of cruelty in this case, as well as some others, otherwise than by alleging, that he was incapable of inflicting an unmerited punishment,— a defence more generous than satisfactory. The parliaments, however, which James convoked, continued remarkable for the wisdom of their decrees, for the number of salutary laws which they enacted, and for the anxiety generally which they discovered for the prosperity of the kingdom. Amongst the most curious of their laws is one which forbids any man who has accused another, from being of the jury on his trial! It is not easy to conceive what were the notions of jurisprudence which permitted the existence of the practice which this statute is meant to put an end to. The allowing the accuser to be one of the jury on the trial of the person he has accused, seems an absurdity and impropriety too palpable and gross to be apologized for, even by the rudeness and barbarity of the times. Another curious statute of this period enacts, that no traveller shall lodge with his friends, but at the common inn. The object of this was to encourage these institutions, only about this time first established in Scotland. They seem, however, very soon to have become popular, as it was shortly afterwards enjoined by act of parliament, that no one should remain in taverns after nine o’clock at night. This of course was meant only to apply to those who resided near the spot, and not to travellers at a distance from their homes.

The subjugation of the Highlands and Isles next occupied the attention of the stern and active monarch. These districts were in the most lawless state, and neither acknowledged the authority of the parliament nor the king. With the view of introducing a better order of things into these savage provinces, and of bringing to condign punishment some of the most turbulent chieftains, James assembled a parliament at Inverness, and specially summoned the heads of the clans to attend it. The summons was obeyed, and about fifty chieftains of various degrees of note and power arrived at Inverness at the appointed time, and were all made prisoners; amongst the rest, Alexander, lord of the Isles. Several of them were instantly beheaded after a summary trial, the others were distributed throughout the different prisons of the kingdom, or kept in ward at the castles of the nobility. The greater part of them were afterwards put to death, and the remainder finally restored to liberty. With a degree of cruelty which the case does not seem to warrant, the countess of Ross, the mother of the lord of the Isles, was made a prisoner along with her son, and was long detained in captivity in the island of Inch Combe in the Firth of Forth. Alexander, after a year’s confinement, was allowed to return to his own country, on condition that he would in future refrain from all acts of violence; his mother in the mean time being held a hostage for his good conduct.

Equally regardless, however, of his promises and the predicament of his parent, he, soon after regaining his liberty, with a large body of followers attacked and burned the town of Inverness. James, to revenge this outrage, instantly collected an army and marched against the perpetrator, whom he overtook in the neighbourhood of Lochaber. A battle ensued, in which the lord of the Isles; who is said to have had an army of ten thousand men under him, was totally defeated. Humbled by this misfortune, Alexander soon after made an attempt to procure a reconciliation with the king, but failing in this, he finally resolved to throw himself upon the mercy of the sovereign. With this view he came privately to Edinburgh, and attired only in his shirt and drawers, he placed himself before the high altar of Holyrood church, and on his knees, in presence of the queen and a number of nobles, presented his naked sword to the king. For this act of humiliation and humble submission, his life was spared; but he was ordered into close confinement in the castle of Tantallon. Some curious and interesting considerations naturally present themselves when contemplating the transactions just spoken of. Amongst these a wonder is excited to find the summons of the king to the fierce, lawless chieftains of the Highlands so readily obeyed. To see them walk so tamely into the trap which was laid for them, when they must have known, from the previous character of the king, that if they once placed themselves within his reach, they might be assured of being subjected to punishment. Supposing, again, that they were deceived as to his intentions, and had no idea that he meant them any personal violence, but were inveigled within his power by faithless assurances; it then becomes matter of astonishment, that in the very midst of their clans, in the heart of their own country, and in the immediate neighbourhood of their inaccessible retreats; the king should have been able, without meeting with any resistance, to take into custody and carry away as prisoners, no fewer than fifty powerful chieftains, and even to put some of them to death upon the spot. This wonder is not lessened by finding that the lord of the Isles himself could bring into the field ten thousand men, while the greater part of the others could muster from five hundred to five thousand each; and it might be thought that, however great was their enmity to each other, they would have made common cause in such a case as this, and have all united in rescuing their chiefs from the hands of him who must have appeared their common enemy; but no such effort was made, and the whole Highlands as it were looked quietly on and permitted their chief men to be carried away into captivity. In the midst of these somewhat inexplicable considerations, however, there is one very evident and remarkable circumstance; this is the great power of the king, which could thus enable him to enforce so sweeping an act of justice in so remote and barbarous a part of his kingdom; and perhaps a more striking instance of the existence of that extraordinary power, and of terror inspired by the royal name, is not to be found in the pages of Scottish history.

The parliament of James, directed evidently by the spirit of the monarch, continued from time to time to enact the most salutary laws. In 1427, it was decreed, that a fine of ten pounds should be imposed upon burgesses who, being summoned, should refuse to attend parliament, without showing satisfactory cause for their absence; and in the same year several acts were passed for the punishment of murder and felony. The first of these acts, however, was repealed in the following year, by introducing a new feature into the legislature of the kingdom. The attendance of small barons or freeholders in parliament was dispensed with, on condition that each shire sent two commissioners, whose expenses were to be paid by the freeholders. Another singular decree was also passed this year, enjoining the successors and heirs of prelates and barons to take an oath of fidelity to the queen. This was an unusual proceeding, but not an unwise one, as it was evidently a provision for the event of the king’s death, should it happen during the minority of his heir and successor. It did so happen; and though history is silent on the subject, there is reason to believe that the queen enjoyed the advantage which the act intended to secure to her.

In the year 1428, James wisely strengthened the Scottish alliance with France, by betrothing his eldest daughter, Margaret, but yet in her infancy, to the dauphin, afterwards Louis XI., also at this time a mere child. This contract, however, was not carried into effect until the year 1436, when the dauphin had attained his thirteenth year, and his bride her twelfth. The marriage eventually proved an exceedingly unhappy one. The husband of the Scottish princess was a man of the worst dispositions, and unfortunately there were others about him no less remarkable for their bad qualities. One of these, Jamet de Villy, impressed him, by tales which were afterwards proven to be false, with a suspicion of the dauphiness’s fidelity. Though innocent, the unhappy princess was so deeply affected by the infamous accusations which were brought against her, that she took to bed, and soon after died of a broken heart, exclaiming before she expired, "Ah! Jamet, Jamet, you have gained your purpose;" such mild but affecting expressions being all that her hard fate and the malice of her enemies could elicit from the dying princess. Jamet was afterwards proven, in a legal investigation which took place into the cause of the death of Margaret, to be a "scoundrel" and "common liar." The death of this princess took place nine years after the marriage, and seven after the death of her father; who, had he been alive, would not, it is probable, have permitted the treatment of his daughter to have passed without some token of his resentment.

The short remaining portion of James’s life, either from the defectiveness of the records of that period, or because they really did not occur, presents us with few events of any great importance. Amongst those worthy of any notice, are, a commercial league of one hundred years, entered into between Scotland and Flanders; the passing of a sumptuary law, forbidding any one but lords and knights, their eldest sons and heirs, from wearing silks and furs; a decree declaring all Scotsmen traitors who travel into England without the king’s leave. Another enjoined all barons and lords having lands on the western or northern seas, particularly those opposite to the islands, to furnish a certain number of galleys, according to their tenures; an injunction which was but little attended to. In 1431, James renewed the treaty of peace with England, then just expiring, for five years. In this year also, a desperate encounter took place at Inverlochy, between Donald Balloch, and the earls of Mar and Caithness, in which the former was victorious. The earl of Caithness, with sixteen squires of his family, fell in this sanguinary engagement. Another conflict, still more deadly, took place about the same time in Strathnavern, between Angus Duff chief of the Mackays of that district, and Angus Moray. There were twelve hundred men on either side, and it is said, that on the termination of the fight there were scarcely nine left alive.

James, in the mean time, proceeded with his system of hostility to the nobles, availing himself of every opportunity which presented itself of humbling them, and of lessening their power. He threw into prison his own nephews, the earl of Douglas, and Sir John Kennedy, and procured the forfeiture of the estates of the earl of March. The reasons for the first act of severity are now unknown. That for the second was that the earl of March’s father had been engaged in rebellion against the kingdom during the regency of Albany. The policy of James in arraying himself against his nobles, and maintaining an attitude of hostility towards them during his reign, seems of very questionable propriety, to say nothing of the apparent character of unmerited severity which it assumes in many instances. He no doubt found on his arrival in the kingdom, many crimes to punish amongst that class, and much feudal tyranny to suppress; but it is not very evident that his success would have been less, or the object which he aimed at less surely accomplished, had he done this with a more lenient hand. By making the nobles his friends in place of his enemies, he would assuredly have established and maintained the peace of the kingdom still more effectually than he did. They were men, rude as they were, who would have yielded a submission to a personal affection for their prince, which they would, and did refuse to his authority as a ruler. James erred in aiming at governing by fear, when he should have governed by love. A splendid proof of his error in this particular is presented in the conduct of his great grandson, James IV. who pursued a directly opposite course with regard to his nobles, and with results infinitely more favourable to the best interests of the kingdom. Only one event now of any moment occurs until the premature death of James; this is the siege of Roxburgh. To revenge an attempt which had been made by the English to intercept his daughter on her way to France, he raised an army of, it has been computed, two hundred thousand men, and marching into England, besieged the castle of Roxburgh; but after spending fifteen days before that stronghold, and expending nearly all the missive arms in the kingdom, he was compelled to abandon the siege, and to return with his army without having effected any thing at all commensurate with the extent of his preparations, or the prodigious force which accompanied him. The melancholy catastrophe in which his existence terminated was now fast approaching,—the result of his own harsh conduct and unforgiving disposition.

The nobles, wearied out with his oppressions, seem latterly to have been restrained only by a want of unanimity amongst themselves from revenging the injuries they had sustained at his hands, or by a want of individual resolution to strike the fatal blow. At length one appeared who possessed the courage necessary, for the performance of this desperate deed. This person was Sir Robert Graham, uncle to the earl of Strathern. He also had been imprisoned by James, and was therefore his enemy on personal as well as general grounds.

At this crisis of the dissatisfaction of the nobles, Graham offered, in a meeting of the latter, to state their grievances to the king, and to demand the redress of these grievances, provided those who then heard him would second him in so doing. The lords accepted his offer, and pledged themselves to support him. Accordingly, in the very next parliament Graham rose up, and having advanced to where the king was seated, laid his hand upon his shoulder, and said, "I arrest you in the name of all the three estates of your realm here assembled in parliament, for as your people have sworn to obey you, so are you constrained by an equal oath to govern by law, and not to wrong your subjects, but in justice to maintain and defend them." Then turning round to the assembled lords, "Is it not thus as I say?" he exclaimed;—but the appeal remained unanswered. Either awed by the royal presence, or thinking that Graham had gone too far, the lords meanly declined to afford him the support which they had promised him. That Graham had done a rash thing, and had said more than his colleagues meant he should have said, is scarcely an apology for their deserting him as they did in the hour of trial. They ought at least to have afforded him some countenance, and to have acknowledged so much of his reproof as they were willing should have been administered; and there is little doubt that a very large portion of its spirit was theirs also, although they seem to have lacked the courage to avow it. Graham was instantly ordered into confinement, and was soon after deprived of all his possessions and estates, and banished the kingdom. Brooding over his misfortunes, and breathing vengeance against him who was the cause of them, the daring exile retired to the remotest parts of the Highlands, and there arranged and perfected his plans of revenge. He first wrote letters to the king, renouncing his allegiance and defying his wrath, up-braiding him with being the ruin of himself, his wife, and his children, and concluded with declaring that he would put him to death with his own hand, if opportunity should offer. The answer to these threats and defiances was a proclamation which the king immediately issued, promising three thousand demies of gold, of the value of half an English noble each, to any one who should bring in Graham dead or alive.

The king’s proclamation, however, was attended with no effect. The object of it not only remained in safety in his retreat, but proceeded to mature the schemes of vengeance which he meditated against his sovereign. He opened a correspondence with several of the nobility, in which he unfolded the treason which he designed, and offered to assassinate the king with his own hand.

The general dislike which was entertained for James, and which was by no means confined to the aristocracy, for his exactions had rendered his government obnoxious also to the common people, soon procured for Graham a powerful co-operation; and the result was, that a regular and deep-laid conspiracy, and which included even some of the king’s most familiar domestics, was speedily formed. In the mean time, the king, unconscious of the fate which was about to overtake him, had removed with his court to Perth to celebrate the festival of Christmas. While on his way thither, according to popular tradition, he was accosted by a soothsayer, who forewarned him of the disaster which was to happen him. "My lord king," she said, for it was a prophetess who spoke, "if ye pass this water," (the Forth) "ye shall never return again alive." The king is said to have been much struck by the oracular intimation, and not the less so that he had read in some prophecy a short while before, that in that year a king of Scotland should be slain. The monarch, however, did not himself deign on this occasion to interrogate the soothsayer as to what she meant, but deputed the task to one of the knights, whom he desired to turn aside and hold some conversation with her. This gentleman soon after rejoined the king, and representing the prophetess as a foolish inebriated woman, recommended to his majesty to pay no attention to what she had said. Accordingly no further notice seems to have been taken of the circumstance. The royal party crossed the water and arrived in safety at Perth; the king, with his family and domestics, taking up his residence at the Dominicans’ or Blackfriars’ monastery. The conspirators, in the mean time, fully informed of his motions, had so far completed their arrangements as to have fixed the night on which he should be assassinated. This was, according to some authorities, the night of the second Wednesday of lent, or the 27th day of February; by others, the first Wednesday of lent, or between the twentieth or twenty-first of that month, in the year 1437: and the latter is deemed the more accurate date. James spent the earlier part of the evening in playing chess with one of his knights, whom, for his remarkable devotion to the fair sex he humorously nicknamed the King of Love. The king was in high spirits during the progress of the game, and indulged in a number of jokes at the expense of his brother king; but the dark hints which he had had of his fate, seemed, as it were in spite of himself, to have made an impression upon him, and were always present to him even in his merriest moods, and it was evidently under this feeling that he said—more in earnest than in joke, though he endeavoured to give it the latter character—to his antagonist in the game, "Sir King of Love, it is not long since I read a prophecy which foretold that in this year a king should be slain in this land, and ye know well, sir, that there are no kings in this realm but you and I. I therefore advise you to look carefully to your own safety, for I give you warning that I shall see that mine is sufficiently provided for." Shortly after this a number of lords and knights thronged into the king’s chamber, and the mirth, pastime, and joke went on with increased vigour. In the midst of the revelry, however, the king received another warning of his approaching fate. "My lord," said one of his favourite squires, tempted probably by the light tone of the conversation which was going forward, "I have dreamed that Sir Robert Graham should have slain you." The earl of Orkney, who was present, rebuked the squire for the impropriety of his speech, but the king, differently affected, said that he himself had dreamed a terrible dream on the very night of which his attendant spoke.

In the mean time, the night wore on, and all still remained quiet in and around the monastery but at this very moment, Graham, with three hundred fierce Highlanders, was lurking in the neighbourhood, waiting the midnight hour to break in upon the ill-fated monarch. The mirth and pastime in the king’s chamber continued until supper was served, probably about nine o’clock at night. As the hour of this repast approached, however, all retired excepting the earl of Athol and Robert Stuart, the king’s nephew, and one of his greatest favourites, considerations which could not bind him to the unfortunate monarch, for he too was one of the conspirators, and did more than any one of them to facilitate the murderous intentions of his colleagues, by destroying the fastenings of the king’s chamber door. After supper the amusements of the previous part of the evening were resumed, and chess, music, singing, and the reading of romances, wiled away the next two or three hours. On this fatal evening another circumstance occurred, which might have aroused the suspicions of the king, if he had not been most unaccountably insensible to the frequent hints and indirect intimations which he had received of some imminent peril hanging over him. The same woman who had accosted him before crossing the firth again appeared, and knocking at his chamber door at a late hour of the night, sought to be admitted to the presence of the king. "Tell him," she said to the usher who came forth from the apartment when she knocked, "that I am the same woman who not long ago desired to speak with him when he was about to cross the sea, and that I have something to say to him." The usher immediately conveyed the message to the king, but he being wholly engrossed by the game in which he was at the instant engaged, merely ordered her to return on the morrow. "Well," replied the disappointed soothsayer, as she at the first interview affected to be, "ye shall all of you repent that I was not permitted just now to speak to the king." The usher laughing at what he conceived to be the expressions of a fool, ordered the woman to begone, and she obeyed. The night was now wearing late, and the king, having put an end to the evening’s amusements, called for the parting cup. This drunk, the party broke up, and James retired to his bed-chamber, where he found the queen and her ladies amusing themselves with cheerful conversation. The king, now in his night-gown and slippers, placed himself before the fire, and joined in the badinage which was going forward. At this moment the king was suddenly startled by a great noise at the outside of his chamber door, or rather in the passage which led to it. The sounds were those of a crowd of armed men pressing hurriedly forward. There was a loud clattering and jingling of arms and armour, accompanied by the gleaming of torches. The king seems to have instantly apprehended danger, a feeling which either he had communicated to the ladies in the apartment, or they had of themselves conceived, for they immediately rushed to the door with the view of securing it, but they found all the fastenings destroyed, and a bar which should have been there removed.

This being intimated to the king, he called out to the ladies to hold fast the door as well as they could, until he could find something wherewith to defend himself; and he flew to the window of the apartment and endeavoured to wrench away one of the iron staunchions for this purpose, but the bar resisted all his efforts. In this moment of horror and despair, the unhappy monarch next seized the tongs, which lay by the fireside, and by their means, and with some desperate efforts of personal strength, he tore up a portion of the floor, and instantly descending through the aperture into a mean receptacle which was underneath the chamber, drew the boards down after him to their original position. In the mean time the ladies had contrived to keep out the conspirators, and, in this effort, it is said, Catharine Douglas had one of her arms broken, by having thrust it into the wall in place of the bar which had been removed. The assassins, however, at length forced their way into the apartment; and here a piteous scene now ensued. The queen stood in the middle of the floor, bereft of speech and of all power of motion by her terror, while her ladies, several of whom were severely hurt and wounded, filled the apartment with the most lamentable cries and shrieks.

One of the ruffians on entering inflicted a severe wound on the queen, and would have killed her outright, but for the interference of one of the sons of Sir Robert Graham, who, perceiving the dastard about to repeat the blow, exclaimed, "What would ye do to the queen? for shame of yourself, she is but a woman; let us go and seek the king." The conspirators, who were all armed with swords, daggers, axes, and other weapons, now proceeded to search for the king. They examined all the beds, presses, and other probable places of concealment, overturned forms and chairs, but to no purpose; the king could not be found, nor could they conceive how he had escaped them. The conspirators, baulked in their pursuit, dispersed themselves throughout the different apartments to extend their search. This creating a silence in the apartment immediately above the king, the unfortunate monarch conceived the conspirators had entirely withdrawn, and in his impatience to get out of his disagreeable situation, called out to the ladies to bring him sheets for that purpose. In the attempt which immediately followed to raise him up by these means, Elizabeth Douglas, another of the queen’s waiting-maids, fell into the hole in which the king was concealed. At this moment, Thomas Chambers, one of the assassins, and who was also one of the king’s domestics, entered the apartment, and perceiving the opening in the floor, he immediately proceeded towards it, and looking down into the cellar, with the assistance of his torch discovered the king.

On descrying the object of his search, Chambers exultingly called out to his companions, "Sirs, the bride is found for whom we sought, and for whom we have caroled here all night." The joyful tidings instantly brought a crowd of the conspirators to the spot, and amongst the rest, Sir John Hall, who, with a large knife in his hand, hastily descended to the king’s hiding-place. The latter, however, who was a man of great personal strength, instantly seized the assassin and threw him down at his feet; and his brother, who followed, shared the same treatment—the king holding them both by their throats, and with such a powerful grasp, that they bore marks of the violence for a month afterwards. The unfortunate monarch now endeavoured to wrest their knives from the assassins, and in the attempt had his hands severely cut and mangled.

Sir Robert Graham, who had hitherto been merely looking on, now seeing that the Halls could not accomplish the murder of the king, also descended, and with a drawn sword in his hand. Unable to cope with them all, and exhausted with the fearful struggle which he had maintained with the two assassins, weaponless and disabled in his hands, the king implored Graham for mercy. "Cruel tyrant," replied the regicide, "thou hadst never mercy on thy kindred nor on others who fell within thy power, and therefore, thou shalt have no mercy from me." "Then I beseech thee, for the salvation of my soul, that thou wilt permit me to have a confessor," said the miserable prince. "Thou shalt have no confessor but the sword," replied Graham, thrusting his victim through the body with his weapon. The king fell, but the stroke was not instantly fatal. He continued in the most piteous tones to supplicate mercy from his murderer, offering him half his kingdom if he would but spare his life. The heart-rending appeals of the hapless monarch shook even Graham’s resolution, and he was about to desist from doing him further injury, when his intentions being perceived by the conspirators from above, they called out to him that if he did not complete the deed, he should himself suffer death at their hands. Urged on by this threat, the three assassins again attacked the king, and finally despatched him, having inflicted sixteen deadly wounds on his chest, besides others on different parts of his body. As if every circumstance which could facilitate his death had conspired to secure that event, it happened that the king, some days before he was murdered, had directed that an aperture in the place where he had concealed himself, and by which he might have escaped, should be built up, as the balls with which he played at tennis in the court yard were apt to be lost in it. After completing the murder of the king, the assassins sought for the queen, whom, dreading her vengeance, they proposed to put also to death; but she had escaped. A rumour of the tragical scene that was enacting at the monastery having spread through the town, great numbers of the citizens and of the king’s servants, with arms and torches hastened to the spot, but too late, to the assistance of the murdered monarch. The conspirators, however, all escaped for the time, excepting one, who was killed by Sir David Dunbar, who had himself three fingers cut off in the contest. This brave knight had alone attacked the flying conspirators, but was overpowered and left disabled.

In less than a month, such was the activity of the queen’s vengeance, all the principal actors in this appalling tragedy were in custody, and were afterwards put to the most horrible deaths. Stuart and Chambers, who were the first taken, were drawn, hanged, and quartered, having been previously lacerated all over with sharp instruments. Graham was carried through the streets of Edinburgh in a cart, in a state of perfect nudity, with his right hand nailed to an upright post, and surrounded with men, who, with sharp hooks and knives, and red hot irons, kept constantly tearing at and burning his miserable body, until he was completely covered with wounds. Having undergone this, he was again thrown into prison, and on the following day brought out to execution. The wretched man had, when released from his tortures, wrapped himself in a coarse woollen Scottish plaid, which adhering to his wounds, caused him much pain in the removal. When this operation was performed, and it was done with no gentle hand, the miserable sufferer fainted, and fell to the ground with the agony. On recovering, which he did not do for nearly a quarter of an hour, he said to those around him, that the rude manner in which the mantle had been removed, had given him greater pain than any he had yet suffered. To increase the horrors of his situation, his son was disembowelled alive before his face.

James I. perished in the forty-fourth year of his age, after an actual reign of thirteen years. His progeny were, a son, his successor, and five daughters. These were, Margaret, married to the dauphin; Isabella, to Francis, duke of Bretagne; Eleanor, to Sigismund, archduke of Austria; Mary, to the count de Boucquan and Jean, to the earl of Angus, afterwards earl of Morton.


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