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The Story of Edinburgh Castle
Chapter IV. The Black Dinner

EDINBURGH, which had the characteristics of a frontier town, was as yet a small burgh, even a village. The houses were mostly thatched with straw, and so could be easily repaired after having been burnt by the invaders from over the border. But the Castle, owing to its strength and the convenience of the Abbey, remained the chief residence of the kings, and there they held their parliaments and their courts of justice (and injustice sometimes). Another reason for the importance of the Castle was that the country round was fertile and provided ample food-stuffs for those within the fortress.

With the accession of Robert II, the first of the Stuarts, a new era began in the history of Edinburgh. Daniel Wilson says : u From this time may be dated its standing as the chief burgh of Scotland, though it did not assume the full benefits arising from such a position till the second James ascended the throne.” The relations of England and Scotland were more like an armistice in time of war than any approach to actual peace, so it was impossible for anything resembling national progress to be made.

In 1383 King Robert II held his Court in the Castle, and received there the ambassador of Charles VI of France, with whom he renewed the league entered into with his predecessor. So intimate was the intercourse maintained between the two nations that the manners of the people and the architecture of the buildings were each based on the French model. The next year we find the capital with its Castle again in the hands of the English. 1 he Scots under the Earls of Douglas and March began the war with great success, but the Duke of Lancaster at the head of “ an army almost innumerable,” crossed the border and headed straight for the capital, which was spared from destruction owing to the hospitality the Duke enjoyed there when an exile from the English Court. This kindness the Scots paid no heed to, and they followed and attacked him on his retreat into England.

In return, the following year he laid the town in ashes, and amongst others the first building of St. Giles’ Church was entirely destroyed.

At the close of 1390 Robert III succeeded to the throne, and again we find the ambassadors of Charles VI at the Scottish Court, where they were treated with great hospitality. They witnessed in the Castle the signing and sealing of the treaty of mutual aid and defence against the English which had been arranged and drafted by his father. Not long after this ceremony, in 1400, Henry IV of England, renewed the old claim of Edward to the right of superiority over Scotland, and in letters to the Scottish King and his nobles demanded that homage should be paid to him at a meeting which he appointed to be held in the Castle.

Henry kept to his word, and we find him with a numerous army before the Castle previous to the day he had appointed. From the fortress the Duke of Rothsay despatched a messenger with a challenge to meet him where he pleased, with a hundred nobles on either side to settle the quarrel in that way. But u King Henry was in no humour to forego the advantages he already possessed at the head of a more numerous army than Scotland could raise; and so contenting himself with a verbal equivocation in reply to this knightly challenge, he sat down with his numerous host before the Castle, till (with the usual consequences of the Scottish reception of such invaders) cold and rain and absolute dearth of provisions compelled him to raise the inglorious siege and hastily recross the border, without doing any notable injury either in his progress or retreat.

Together with Holyrood, the Castle was the residence of the aged Robert, never a strong King, neither a bad one, and his once beautiful Queen Annabella Drummond. The Queen was one of the Drummonds of Stobhall, a family famed for the loveliness of feature and complexion of their women, and, as Holinshed states, she was married rather for her singular beauty “than for anie benefit that might grow to the Commonwealth from her alliance; nevertheless she had great domestic virtues and her prudence in counsel was commendable.

Upon the death of Robert in 1420, James succeeded to the throne. He, however, was a prisoner in Windsor Castle, where he had been confined for nineteen years, having been captured at sea when quite a boy by the English. Towards the sum demanded as a ransom for his release, Edinburgh contributed 50,000 merks, which shows that the town was gaining in prosperity.

James I was the royal poet and “belonged,” says Washington Irving, u to one of the most brilliant eras of our literary history, and establishes the claims of his country to a participation in its primitive honours.” In one of the stanzas of his long poem called 7"he Ktngis Quhair [or Book], which he wrote during his imprisonment at Windsor, James describes the circumstances of the attachment he formed to Lady Jane Beaufort, who subsequently became his Queen. The verse describing her rich attire may be considered as an accurate description of the female costume of that day:

Off hir array the form gif I sail write,
Foward hir goldin haire and rich atyre
In fret-wise couchit was with perllts quhite
And grete balas lemyng as the fyre,
With mony ane emeraut and faire saphire;
And on hir hede a chaplet fresch of hewe,
Off plumys partit rede, and quhite, and blewe.

When James returned to Scotland to enter upon the cares of royalty he resided for some time in Perth. Owing to his politic plans for the pacification of the Highland clans it was necessary to have frequent

42 assemblies of Parliament there; but in 1430 he came to reside at the Castle of Edinburgh, attended by his Queen Jane and the Court. The Lord of the Isles, who had been in rebellion against the resolute measures of the King, came privately to Edinburgh, and when James and the Queen were at divine service at Holy-rood, he prostrated himself on his knees and holding the point of his sword in his own hand presented the hilt to the King, intimating that he put his life at his Majesty’s mercy.

At the Queen’s request his life was spared and he was imprisoned for only a short space of time in Tantallon Castle, to be released, by the leniency of James, with many other prisoners, on the occasion of the Queen giving birth to two sons in the royal Palace within the Castle walls. One of these infants, Alexander, died ; the other, James, lived to ascend the throne. The Lord of the Isles is said to have been chosen by his Majesty to be sponsor for the royal infants at the christening.

James I exercised himself in making stringent laws, one of which required the magistrates of the royal burgh to have in readiness seven or eight ladders twenty feet in length, three or four saws, and six or more cleeks of iron “to draw down timber and ruiffes that are fired.” Another law compelled visitors to live at the ‘hostillaries’ and not with their friends, so as to encourage the trade of the former. There were also laws in regard to dress that forbade any person who possessed not more than 200 merks of yearly rent to wear silks or fur, and commanded that wives and their daughters should dress according to their station with short curches on their heads with small hoods and as to their gowns, “that na woman weare mer-trickes nor letteis nor tailes unfit in length, nor furred under but on the Halie-daie.” Also it was enjoined that no labourers were to wear anything on workdays but grey and white, and the curches of their wives to be of their own making and not to exceed in cost uof xl pennyes the elne.

On February 21, 1438, James I, the poet, statesman, and soldier, fell under the daggers of his rebellious subjects in the Blackfriars Monastery at Perth, in the presence of his Queen, in whose arms, indeed, he was left to die.

The news spread sorrow and indignation all over Scotland and within less than forty days those responsible for the horrible crime had been brought to the Castle of Edinburgh for trial in the great hall. The less important of the conspirators were at once handed over to the hangman, but the titled leaders were dealt with in quite a different way, being made to suffer tortures which had been specially devised to satisfy the revenge of the embittered Queen rather than the indignation of the people.

The Earl of Atholl was elevated on a pillar at the Cross, and in the gaze of the citizens was crowned with a red-hot chaplet. The next day he was dragged


on a hurdle through the High Street, where he was at length beheaded. His head was exposed on a pole at the Cross, and his body quartered and sent to the four chief towns. Robert Graham also, one of the most active of the regicides, suffered in the same way.

The assassination of James I exposed the kingdom to the evils of a long minority. The administration of the late King had been highly resented by his nobles, and his death was viewed with secret satisfaction. It had been the aim of James to reduce within constitutional limits the ponderous pretensions of the nobility, who saw the property of the Crown which they had appropriated, torn from their grasp.

During the minority of the new King, who was only five years old at his accession, and the feeble government of a Regency, they undid all that the late monarch had accomplished, and vied with each other to humble the Crown and restore their own splendour, to which at that time there seems to have been no check.

The Queen, after avenging the death of her husband, hastened back to Edinburgh from the north with the young King and found shelter within the walls of the Castle. The governor, Sir William Crichton, was a friend of the late King, and as master of the household the Queen placed in him implicit trust, and feeling tree from immediate danger she awaited the approaching meeting of the estates. Parliament assembled at the Castle on March 20, 1438, and adopted immediate measures for the coronation of the young King. He was conducted in procession from the Castle to the Abbey of Holy rood, and before a great concourse of nobility, clergy, and representatives of the burgh, and amid the great rejoicings of the people, he was crowned King James II of Scotland. During his minority his care was entrusted to the Queen-Mother (with an annual allowance of 4000 merks), while Crichton was appointed Chancellor of the Kingdom and had the general administration of affairs. It was not long before he usurped the office of the Queen-Mother as custodian of the King.

The appointment of Archibald, the fifth Earl of Douglas, as Lieutenant-General of the kingdom, was a concession to the pride of the nobles and a guarantee for the protection of their privileges, as both Livingstone and Crichton had been elevated by James I from an inferior class.

The house of Douglas again flourished, and had risen to a height of power which rivalled even that of the Crown; indeed, the Earl had attained the state of an independent monarch, meeting the measures of the Chancellor with haughty defiance which threatened the kingdom with civil war. Both Crichton and Livingstone viewed with suspicion and a certain amount of fear the increasing power of the Earl, who in turn looked on them with scorn as his inferiors.

The Queen to the great disappointment of herself and party found that her son, in the custody of the Chancellor, was beyond her control. Crichton refused to allow him to leave Edinburgh ; but under the pretence of great friendship to Crichton and a longing desire to see her son, she gained full permission to visit the King and to take up her abode also in the Castle. At length, having lulled all suspicion, she made out that she wished to go on a pilgrimage to the White Kirk of Brechin, and bade farewell to the Chancellor overnight, commending her son to his care. She left the Castle at early dawn in 1439 with two chests, borne on horses, containing her wardrobe \ but in one of them she had cleverly concealed the young King amongst her linen. Getting safely to Leith, she set sail thence for Stirling Castle, at that time commanded by the Regent Livingstone, who received her and the King with joy and unfurled the Royal standard. Livingstone took immediate steps to raise an army of the Queen’s friends and his own followers, and laid siege to the Chancellor in his stronghold at Edinburgh, to compel him either to resign his office or to recognize the rights of the Queen-Mother as guardian. Driven to despair, Crichton resolved at last to endeavour to enlist the sympathy of Douglas, and sent a message to the Earl offering him his constant friendship in return for his assistance} but Douglas rejected the overture and declared that both Crichton and Livingstone were “a pair of mischievous traitors whom it became not the honourable state of noblemen to help,” and finished hv expressing his desire for their speedy destruction. The wily Chancellor, thus scornfully repulsed by Douglas, secured a two days’ truce, and the rival statesmen met before the gates of the Castle, each being attended by a group of his own followers. Crichton urged a speedy reconciliation as a safeguard against their common enemy ; terms were eventually made, and the Chancellor delivered the keys into the King’s own hand, whereupon Livingstone entered the Castle in triumph.

A number of banquets followed, during which the rivals vied with each other in expressions of friendship. Jane, the Queen-Mother, though ostensibly restored, on the reconciliation of the statesmen, to her office as guardian of the King, found herself so jealously watched by Livingstone, that dreading the dangers of her defenceless position, she contracted a second marriage with Sir James Stewart, commonly called ‘the Black Knight of Lorn,’ a man of high rank and approved valour. To the ambitious designs of Livingstone, the marriage of the Queen was eminently favourable, as, by placing her under tutelage, she was thus disqualified, by the laws of Scotland, from taking any part in the administration. Her husband was the friend of the Douglases \ and the governor, alarmed at this accession of power to that great family, resolved to take advantage of the marriage to consolidate his own authority. His measures were speedily taken and partook largely of his characteristic craft and cunning. Sir James Stewart, then residing at Stirling, was seized and thrown into prison, on pretence that he had conspired against the state; and scarcely had the Queen received intelligence of the fate of her husband, when, by orders of Livingstone, her own private apartments were entered, and herself hurried to confinement on a similar charge, after a brave and unsuccessful resistance by her servants. These arbitrary acts were immediately followed by a convention at Stirling—composed entirely of persons in the interests of the governor. Before this assembly the unhappy Queen was conducted, trembling for her own and her husband’s safety; and there she surrendered, by solemn deed, the person of her son into the hands of Sir Alexander Livingstone, resigning at the same time the royal residence of Stirling Castle and the annual allowance made to her by Parliament as Queen-Mother. The deed of transference having been solemnly ratified, the Queen and her husband were set at liberty, while the young King was delivered to Livingstone, who forthwith retained him in a kind of honourable captivity. By the proceedings of the Stirling convention, the influence of Livingstone became paramount in the state; and Crichton, who had calculated on an equitable division of power, saw, with surprise and dismay, the functions of government monopolized by his rival. He determined, therefore, with all speed to restore the balance, and his measures were taken with great cunning, and were attended with complete success. Having consulted with his friends, and secured their co-operation, he rode on a dark night, with a hundred chosen men, to the Park of Stirling, where he placed his followers in small parties, to avoid suspicion and discovery. Fortunately for the success of his enterprise, Livingstone was at this time absent. At the break of day the King left the Castle, as was his custom, to enjoy the pastime of hunting, attended by a small body of horsemen, and found himself suddenly surrounded by groups of armed men, who hailed him with every demonstration of loyalty. At the same time Crichton advanced, and kneeling before him, protested his devotion to his person, condemned the ungenerous captivity to which the jealousy and ambition of Livingstone had consigned him, and offered the services of himself and his friends in securing to him immediate freedom from a state of undignified restriction. The young monarch, in spite of the opposition of his retinue, lent a willing ear to the solicitations of Crichton, hastened with him to Edinburgh, and made his entrance into that city, accompanied by an additional escort of 4000 men, before Livingstone had received any intelligence of his movements. The escape of the King and the treachery of Crichton filled Livingstone with mingled rage and fear. However, he curbed his temper and hastening to Edinburgh he sent a message to Crichton deploring their alienation, and expressed his willingness to submit their disputes to the arbitration of mutual friends. I hey accordingly met, with the Bishops of Aberdeen and Moray, in the Church of St. Giles, and sealed their reconciliation by mutual concessions. The young King was restored to the custody of Livingstone, and Crichton resumed, with increased power, his office of Chancellor.

The reconciliation was thus quickly brought about principally owing to their common hatred of the Earl of Douglas, who, however, shortly after was seized with fever and died at Restalrig on June 26, 1439. His great possessions and titles descended to his son William, the sixth earl, a boy of seventeen years, whose arrogant pretensions soon caused national troubles. Besides openly defying the laws and maintaining a state dangerous to the Throne, it had been conjectured that Douglas had subjected himself even to a graver charge by impugning the title of James II to the Throne, and preferring the claim of his uncle Malise, Earl of Strathearn, who, as the descendant of Euphemia Ross, the second Queen of Robert II, was supposed by some to have a better right to the Crown than its present possessor. Douglas never rode out without a personal following of a thousand horse \ he was believed to have held a court which in brilliance outshone the solemnity of Parliament; and he paid no heed to the commands of his sovereign to appear in the royal presence. His conduct afforded his enemies sufficient ground to give at least the appearance of justice to their subsequent proceedings, and as soon as their plans were matured they took immediate measures to secure his person. Crichton and Livingstone dispatched an invitation in their own names to William Douglas soliciting his presence at a banquet along with his retinue, so that the Earl might cultivate the friendship of the young King; they expressed their admiration for him and their regret at the misunderstanding which had separated them. Douglas easily fell into the snare. The Chancellor met him some twelve miles from the castle of Crichton, at which place he was royally entertained for the night, and next day the whole party rode to Edinburgh, where they were received with open arms. Before entering the town some of his followers, observing that there were too many private messages passing between the wily Crichton and Livingstone, reminded the Earl of the injunction of his father that he and his brother should never go together where there was a shadow of danger, and entreated him to send David home. The good counsel, however, was not followed, and relying on the honour of Crichton and Livingstone, the young nobles rode fearlessly to the Castle, where they were conducted to the apartments of the young monarch, who became speedily attached to them, and they remained a few days enjoying the hospitality of their royal host. At last the hour of tragedy struck; the banquet was prepared in the great hall which occupies the southern side of the quadrangle known as Palace Square \ the brothers were placed at the table beside the King, whilst in the meantime the portcullis at the Castle was lowered. At the close of the entertainment a sable bull’s head, the symbol of death, was placed upon the table. The Douglases, who knew at once what to expect, immediately drew their swords, but were dragged away by an armed band of Crichton’s vassals, with loud cries of treason, to an antechamber, where they underwent a mock trial which was speedily terminated, despite the entreaties of the youthful monarch, with the sentence of death. They were hurried into the court of the Castle and cruelly beheaded. Three days afterward their friend and counsellor Malcolm Fleming of Cumbernauld shared the same fate. This tragic event appears to have taken place in 1441.


In 1753 some workmen who were digging for a foundation to erect a new storehouse found the gold handles and plates of a coffin supposed to have been the one in which the young Earl was buried. Godscroft, the historian of the Douglases, quotes the following rude rhyme:

Edinburgh Castle, Towne and 'Tower.
God grant thou sinke for sinne
 An' that even for the black dinnour
Earle Douglas gat therein.

The earldom of Douglas devolved upon his great-uncle James, Lord of Abercorn, surnamed the Gross, who quietly assumed the title and estates of his nephew without opposition; and the large unentailed property of the late Earl, comprehending Galloway, Wigton, Balveny, Ormond and Annandale, descended to his only sister Margaret, who from her great beauty was commonly called the Fair Maiden of Galloway. The new Earl of Douglas silently matured plans to restore the political influence of his house. James cherished a dislike to those who for years had made him their puppet, and he gained the friendship of Douglas and made him Lieutenant-General of the kingdom as well as a member of the Privy Council. Livingstone remained quietly at Stirling and on the plea of old age surrendered his office as governor into the hands of his eldest son; while Crichton fled from the Court and threw himself into the Castle of Edinburgh, where he proceeded to lay in provisions, and to strengthen the fortifications in the expectation of a siege. The proceedings of Douglas speedily justified the alarm of the Chancellor. Crichton was summoned in the name of the King to appear at Stirling and answer for his many acts of treason against the State; but the proud baron, undismayed by the danger to which he was exposed, and confident in the strength of the fortress, replied only by an incursion into the lands in Lothian belonging to Douglas and his adherent, Sir John Forrester of Corstorphine, which he wasted with fire and sword. In a Parliament subsequently convened at Stirling he was proclaimed a traitor, his estates confiscated, and his friends outlawed.

Kennedy, Bishop of St. Andrews, a prelate of great wisdom and integrity, whose high talents and incorruptible honesty fitted him to be raised to the post, was made Chancellor on the disgrace of Crichton.

Douglas now commenced the siege of Edinburgh Castle, which Crichton stood prepared to defend to the last extremity; after the lapse of nine weeks, however, the besiegers finding that they were making little progress in the reduction of the fortress, entered into negotiations for peace, and the stout old baron capitulated on terms in every way advantageous. His titles, honours, and possessions were restored to him, and at the solicitation of Douglas he was induced to join the administration. Of his less fortunate adherents, some just saved their lives by the forfeiture of their estates, and others, including three members of the Livingstone family, were tried, and lost their heads within the Castle walls.

The death of the Queen-Mother occurred in 1445. Her husband, Sir James Stewart, had calculated that his connexion with the royal family would improve his position ; and on discovering his mistake, and finding himself the victim of suspicion and persecution, he became gradually alienated from his wife, and ultimately treated her with utter neglect. Compelled at last to flee from Scotland, he deprived her even of the slender protection which his presence afforded. Thus abandoned, and pursued by the relentless malice of her enemies, the health of the unhappy princess gave way, and she died in the Castle of Dunbar. It is not exactly known whether she chose the castle as a sanctuary or had been violently carried there by its possessor, Patrick Hepburn, a fierce freebooter; hut the latter idea is not at all unlikely, as Hepburn was a partisan of Douglas.

The King, who was now seventeen years old, began to take an important share in the administration of affairs of state, and his prudence excited the warmest hopes of his friends. In 1449, by an exchange of embassies, he found a suitable bride in the only daughter and heiress of Arnold, Duke of Gueldres. In the following year the engagement was formally concluded at Brussels in the presence of envoys from France. This enabled Crichton not only to renew the ancient league between France and Scotland, but to conclude a treaty of defence between Burgundy and Scotland.

By this time, 1450, the royal capital was assuming a position of importance, and owing to the exposed position of its southern side, it was deemed necessary to enclose this part of the city by a fortified wall to protect the wealth of the citizens from the constant inroads of the English. The wall was consequently built along the south declivity of the ridge on which the old High Street of the town stands, from the


West Bow, which was the principal entrance to the city from the west. It crossed the ridge of the High Street at the Nether Bow, and terminated at the east end of the North Loch. Here was the city built on a hill, defended by an immense fortified wall, and guarded by its Castle perched on a great rock at its western extremity.

About the time when the wall was being built the Scottish Court was preparing for the reception of Mary de Gueldres, “a lady,” says Drummond, "young, beautiful, and of a masculine constitution.” It was decided at a meeting of Parliament that the royal nuptials should be conducted on a scale of grandeur suited to the occasion.

At length, on June 18, 1452, the vessels conveying the bride and her retinue of princes, prelates, and noblemen cast anchor in the Forth. She was met by a tremendous crowd of all classes, and, accompanied by a body-guard of three hundred horsemen, proceeded amidst great rejoicings to Holyrood Palace, where she was received by her future husband. Her beauty and charm of manner soon won the affection of the Scots, who spent a week in wild revelry and entertainment to celebrate the event. The wedding took place in the Abbey with great solemnity and was witnessed by a numerous gathering of princes, prelates and noblemen amid universal joy.

But the Earl of Douglas, jealous of the influence Crichton had already acquired with the Queen, proceeded to revenge his private quarrel, and so violent were the disturbances that ensued that in the beginning of the following year a Parliament was assembled at the Castle to put an end to them.

On Shrove Tuesday, 1452, James invited Douglas to dine at Stirling Castle. After the feast James led his guest into an inner room, where there were only a few privy councillors, and urged him most earnestly to return to his allegiance, assuring him of his pardon and favour if he would do so. The Earl replied with a haughty refusal; whereupon James lost all control of his temper, drew his dagger and stabbed Douglas, exclaiming, “By Heaven, if you will not break the league this shall!” The councillors followed the royal example by stabbing the dying man with their knives and daggers, and the dead body was cast out into an open court and buried on the spot.

In the twenty-fourth year of his reign James was killed at the siege of Roxburgh Castle from the bursting of a cannon of Flemish manufacture, and Scotland was once more exposed to the confusions of a long minority.

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