James I of Scotland (James I of Scotland, Dunfermline Castle, 25 July 1394 – 21 February 1437) was the youngest of the three sons of Robert III of Scotland and his wife Annabella Drummond. By the time he was 8 years old his two older brothers had died, the elder Robert in infancy and the second David Stuart a prisoner of his uncle Robert Stuart, Duke of Albany at Falkland Castle. The Duke of Albany was acquitted by Parliament but Robert III decided in the winter of 1405-1406 to send James to safety in France. In February 1406 the young James, accompanied by noblemen loyal to his father, clashed with followers of Arstibald, 4th Earl of Douglas who forced him to take refuge in the castle of Bass Rock on a small island in the Firth of Forth. James remained on the island until mid-March and decided to depart for France, but was captured on 22 March by English pirates who handed him over to Henry IV of England. When Robert III heard the bad news about his son, he died of grief on 4 April 1406 and the young James remained a prisoner of the English for 18 years.
James I had an excellent education at the English court at the side of the future Henry V of England, joining him in the 1420-1421 campaign in France. James”s cousin Murdoch Stuart who was also a prisoner of the English from 1402 was freed after an exchange with Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Scotland. James married Joanna Beaufort daughter of John Beaufort in February 1424 shortly after his release while returning to Scotland. He was not at first hugely popular with the Scots but became important when news of his participation in Henry V”s campaign against France became known, the Scots with very high taxes raised the astronomical sum of £40,000 for his release. The historian Walter Bauer (1385 – 1449) describes him as a monarch of great gifts and virtues, he was an athletic fellow with a love of music and literature. Unlike his father and grandfather, James I had no mistresses, had many children with his lawful wife Joan and managed to impose law and order on all his subjects.
James I, in order to strengthen his position and his crown, began the persecution of his opponents; his uncle Murdoch Stuart and his two sons were executed on charges of high treason (1425). In 1428 he imprisoned Alexander, lord of Ayla, during a convocation of a parliament at Inverness, arrested Arstibald, 5th Earl of Douglas (1431) and George, Earl of Mars (1434). James ignored paying the high ransom to the English, used the money to build the palaces of Lillithgow and many other magnificent buildings; in August 1436 he failed to capture the English-held castle of Roxburgh, followed by Robert Graham”s attempt to arrest him in the royal council. James I was assassinated in Perth on the night of 20 February 1437 in a conspiracy led by his uncle and former ally Walter Stuart; Queen Joan escaped wounded and joined her son James II at Edinburgh Castle.
James I of Scotland was born in Dunfermline Castle 27 years after his parents” marriage. His upbringing was under the care of his mother with whom he spent most of his time. His mother died when he was 7 years old, the following year his brother David, Duke of Rothesay who was a prisoner of his uncle Robert at Falkland Castle died with many chances of assassination. Prince James became the heir to the throne from the House of Stuart. The Duke of Albany and his loyal ally Arstibald, 4th Earl of Douglas were cleared of the charges of David”s murder resulting in the restoration of their titles, the Earl of Douglas resumed hostilities with England. The alliance of the Dukes of Douglas and Albany was dealt a severe blow after their large army was crushed by the English at the Battle of Homilion Hill in September 1402, a large number of nobles including Murdoch son of the Duke of Albany, the Earls of Moray, Angus and the Orcadian counts were captured by the English. In the same year the Duke of Rothesey, Alexander Leslie, Earl of Ross and Malcolm Drummond Lord of Mar died, the vacancies were filled by subordinate nobles. In the period 1402-1406 the counties of Ross, Moray and Mar were without leadership while Murdoch Stuart was still a prisoner of the English, the Duke of Albany was reluctantly forced to ally himself with his brother Alexander, Earl of Bacan and his son also Alexander to maintain his ambitions in Ayla. Douglas”s absence at his bases in Lothian and Scottish Marche encouraged King Robert”s close allies Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orcadon and David Fleming of Bigar to gain control of the territories.
Heir to the throne
In December 1404 the King granted young James Stuart lands in and around Eyrshire and the Firth of Clyde to protect the young prince and secure his property in case of any eventuality. Young James was placed under the protection and guardianship of Bishop Henry Wardlew of St Andrew”s on the east coast of the country (1405). Douglas”s hostility was made more pronounced by his activities with the earls of Orcadia and Fleming, who were trying to consolidate themselves on the frontier and had diplomatic relations with the English. In the winter of 1405-1406 Robert III tried to take his young son to France to protect him from the Duke of Albany but without a serious plan. In February 1406 Bishop Wardleve handed young James over to the Earls of Orcad and Fleming who with their powerful army attacked Douglas, young James” followers sought royal approval to intervene in Douglas” territories. A fierce Douglas counterattack ensued, in Long Hermiston Muir the Earl of Fleming was killed while the Earl of Orcadon and James escaped to the islet of Bass Rock in Firth of Firth. They remained for about a month and then on the ship “Danzig” they decided to sail for France. On 22 March 1406 the ship was caught by English pirates who captured young James and took him to King Henry IV who decided to hold him hostage. Robert III heard the unpleasant news of his son”s capture by the English at “the castle of Rothesey”, died soon after in sorrow on 4 April 1406 and was buried in the family “abbey of Paisley”.
King in captivity
James, the uncrowned king, remained a prisoner of the English for 18 years, at the same time the Duke of Albany was strengthened in the government of Scotland. The Duke of Albany took all the king”s lands under his control, deprived him of all titles and offices, James I was left with only the title “the son of the last king”. The king had only a small household which included Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orcadon, Alexander Seton nephew of Sir David Fleming and the brother of the Earl of Orcadon John Sinclair who returned with the Earl to Scotland. James”s household, which had been under the maintenance of the English, was gradually changed with less worthy men. Henry IV treated young James well and provided him with an adequate education, Henry IV”s way of governing became acceptable to James” household after he came of age. James received personal visits from great nobles and by individual letters tried to keep himself informed of the problems of the kingdom. Henry IV died (1413), his son and heir Henry V of England abolished the freedoms given to James by his father, initially keeping him in the Tower of London with the other Scottish prisoners. One of the prisoners was Murdoch Stuart the son of the Duke of Albany who had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Homington Hill (1402), initially he was away from James but from 1415 until Murdoch”s release (1415) they were together in the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.
From 1420 onwards, James I”s situation at the court of Henry V improved considerably; Henry V, following his father”s example, ceased to regard him as a hostage and treated him as a guest. James accompanied Henry on his campaign in France in the war against the Delphinists, after the siege of Melan a town southeast of Paris the Scottish garrison was accused of treason against their king. James attended the coronation ceremony of Catherine of Valois on 23 February 1421 and was given the great honour of sitting at the banquet at the right hand of the Queen. Henry V began tours in March to all the major cities of England and crowned James a knight on the feast day of St George. In July the two kings again campaigned in France, James embraced Henry”s methods of government and supported him in all his efforts to win the crown of France. Henry appointed James and the Duke of Bedford as leaders of his army on 18 July 1421 at the siege of Dro, on 20 August he accepted the submission of the garrison. Henry V died of dysentery on 31 August 1422, and in September James I was in the escort that followed the king”s garrison to London.
The royal council of the infant Henry VI decided to release James I as soon as possible. The early months of 1423 met with little response from the Scots because they were under the influence of the Duke of Albany and his followers. Arstibald, Earl of Douglas had great power in the south surpassing even Albany. Although Arstibald was also responsible for the death of King David”s older brother (1402) he found himself in an alliance with the king that would prove vital (1423). Douglas”s position on the border was in jeopardy, he had to retake Edinburgh Castle and face the Earls of Angus and Marsh. Murdoch”s relations with Douglas after the death of his father (1420) and Bishop William Lauder went into crisis as most of Douglas”s followers were Murdoch”s enemies.
Heavy pressure from supporters of Douglas and the king forced Murdoch at the royal council convened in August 1423 to agree to send a team to negotiate the release of James. James”s relations with the House of Lancaster changed in February 1424 when he married Joan Beaufort, cousin of Henry VI and niece of Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter and Henry Beaufort. At the royal council of Durham on 28 March 1424 it was resolved that 40,000 pounds should be given in instalments for James”s release, James I ratified this with his seal. The king and queen, accompanied by nobles, met on 5 April at Melrose Abbey with the Duke of Albany, who presented them with the royal seal.
In the 15th century Scottish kings had great problems with revenue and James I was no exception, Albany”s reign brought a great loss of revenue. The aristocracy had lost royal paternity due to the huge period of the king”s captivity, the Duke of Albany used many irregular methods, the Earl of Douglas and his brother James made large seizures of customs revenue. The coronation of James I took place on 21 May 1424 in Skåne, the ceremony was attended by 18 great nobles including Murdoch”s son Alexander in order to restore to the king the guardianship of the nobility. The first objective was to collect the huge amount of ransom owed to the English so James I demanded personal control of the revenues and as a result great earls such as Douglas and Mar were deprived of their privileges. The support he needed from the aristocracy in the early days led him to a more compromising policy.
The only exception was the son of the Duke of Albany, Walter Stewart, the heir to the county of Lennox, who rebelled against his father (1423) for not giving his younger brother Alexander the title. Walter Stuart was also strongly resentful of his father for agreeing to ransom the English for the release of James I. James I ordered the arrest of Walter Stewart, who was imprisoned at Bass Rock Castle on 13 May 1424, an act to which Murdoch”s father agreed. The king at that time could not move openly against Murdoch Stuart because his main allies his half-brother John Stuart, 2nd Earl of Bacan and Aristibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas were fighting in France against the English along with the Delphinist allies of Scotland. The Earl of Buchan a general of international fame had 6000 Scottish soldiers under his command and was one of the greatest generals of the French forces. However, John Stuart and Archibald Douglas fell in August 1424 at the Battle of Verneille in which the Scottish army was crushed and Murdoch and his family were left exposed. King James saw an opportunity to take action against them.
Execution of the Albany family
The death of the Count of Douglas at the Battle of Verneille significantly weakened the position of his son Arstibald, 5th Count of Douglas. The king and Arstibald Douglas met on 12 October 1424 at Melrose Abbey on the pretext of the case of an unnamed cleric of John Fogg. The real aim was for the king to pressure Arstibald into accepting the principal royal favourite Melan Douglas as sovereign baron. All of Douglas”s allies had been killed in France, he lost the support of the Edinburgh Castle garrison, and the few old allies he had left turned to James. With the strong alliance of Black Douglas, the king decided to turn against the Earl of Albany and his entire family. The first accusations were the death of King David”s older brother for which Murdoch”s father Robert Stuart, Duke of Albany, was always responsible and that Murdoch made no effort to free the king for the purpose of usurpation. The lands of the Earl of Bacan were confiscated by the crown, Murdoch”s father-in-law Donsadh, Earl of Lennox was imprisoned and his main ally Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar resolved his differences with the king. Parliament decided in March 1425 to arrest Murdoch, his wife Isabella, Countess of Lennox and their son Alexander, their youngest son James Mor Stuart escaped to Lennox.
James the Fat roused the people of Lennox and Argyll to revolt against the king, this earned Albany”s family a charge of high treason. Murdoch Stuart, his two sons Walter and Alexander and his father-in-law Donsadh, Earl of Lennox by a council of 7 great nobles and 14 lesser ones at Sterling Castle were sentenced to death on the charge of high treason as instigators of the rebellion. Walter Stewart was beheaded on 24 May 1425 and the other three the next day “before the castle gates”. James I showed a harsh attitude, he made a confiscation of all their property with the counties of Fife, Mendeth and Lennox. A legal issue was raised with their property held since the time of Robert Bruce, a series of transactions between the counties of Mar, Marsh and Strathern with the counties of Selkirk and Wigtown of Black Douglas were deemed illegal, Strathern was seized in 1427 and Marsh in 1435. The county of Mar was confiscated on the death of the last count (1435) and the dominions of Garoch and Badenoch returned to the crown. James I, in order to collect the ransom owed to the English, raised the tax considerably by reinstating the provisions of 1424; he collected a total of 26,000 pounds of which only 12,000 were sent to the English. From 1429 James stopped paying the ransom and used the huge sum he had raised to buy luxury goods and merchandise from Flanders. After the destruction of the palaces of Lillithgow by fire (1425) he rebuilt them magnificently using a tenth of the royal income.
Relations with the church
James I tried to impose his power not only on the aristocracy but also on the church, considering all the privileges granted to it since the time of David I of Scotland to be quite costly. James”s religious reforms were oriented towards the establishment of strict monastic orders, he convened an assembly of bishops, founded a Cartesian order in Perth and other religious orders. The control he sought to exert over the church was extended globally; he appointed bishops of his own choosing at Dunkeld, Glasgow and Moray. In March 1425 James requested in the Assembly of Parliament that the priests pray for the health of members of the royal family; later his demand was extended to all religious assemblies. The same parliament legislated “that the royal laws be enforced throughout the kingdom”; he travelled to Rome (1426) to obtain permission for more religious powers. The reconvening of Parliament in July 1427 once again confirmed the king”s authority over the church.
On 25 July 1431 a church council was scheduled to convene in Basel but it never took place until 14 December because the council and Pope Eugene IV were in constant disagreement. The council requested that the pope send representatives of the Church of Scotland, Bishop Thomas Livingston of Dundrinan and priest John D. Winchester of Moray were present in November and December 1432. In 1433 at the pope”s request he appointed two bishops, two abbots and four officers to the council. Between 1434 and 1437 28 Scottish bishops were invited to attend the councils but only John Cameron of Glasgow, John Cranagh of Brechin and Abbot Patrick Wutherspoon of Holyrood did so in person. Pope Eugene sent his envoy Bishop Antonio Altan of Urbino to negotiate with James the repeal of the anti-ecclesiastical laws of 1426. The Bishop of Urbino arrived in Scotland in December 1436, a reconciliation agreement followed between James I and the Pope in February 1437 which was not completed because on 21 February 1437 the King was assassinated.
Campaign in Highland
In July 1428 the king called a council in Perth asking for financial support through taxation for a new campaign in Highland against the semi-autonomous Lord of Ayla, the council initially refused but eventually agreed. Its aim was not a general campaign against the Celtic north but to strengthen royal authority, specifically stated :
“I will go, I will fulfill the required services and I will return, I want to check if I have the whole country under my control”
The chiefs of the Gallic kingdoms of the north were summoned by James I to an assembly at Inverness. James I arrested 50 nobles on 24 August, among them Alexander, third lord of Ayla and his mother Mariota, Countess of Ross, many of whom were executed, others like Alexander himself were freed. During Alexander”s time as a prisoner James approached his uncle John More and asked him to take the leadership of the House of Domnall-Alexander himself, John More refused while his nephew was imprisoned so he was arrested and executed. The King”s great need for allies to the west and north forced him to seek reconciliation with the Lord of Ayla in the hope of becoming his loyal follower so he gave him his freedom. But Alexander, under pressure from the noble Donald Baloch son of John More and Alasdair Carras of Lochaber, launched a rebellion by attacking Inverness Castle in the spring of 1429. The crisis became worse when the English stopped trusting James I and decided to elevate James the Fat, who was in exile in Ireland, to the throne of Scotland. James the Fat decided to come back forcefully and overthrow James with a strong army and with the support of the English but his sudden and untimely death interrupted the plans.
Relations with the French
The liberation of James I from the English (1424) did not improve relations between the kingdoms, James behaved like an independent European monarch with no desire to be a vassal of the English, the outstanding problems were the payment of the ransom and the renewal of the peace that had expired in 1430. In 1428 Charles VII of France sent his envoy Renaud of Chartres archbishop of Rennes to Scotland with a proposal to marry his son Louis the Delphinist to James I”s daughter Margaret Stuart, and with a gift to James of Stydong. The Scottish king confirmed the treaty in October 1428, James with lands in France became a major political player throughout Europe. The alliance with France was temporarily halted after the French defeat at the Battle of Versailles (1428); James I was forced to reconcile with the English and to initiate new diplomatic contacts with Aragon, Austria, the Kingdom of Castile, Denmark, Milan, Naples and the Vatican. The peace with England was extended until 1436, and promises to the French to marry James” daughter to the dolphin did not go ahead. The King of Scotland had to be more cautious with the English because their main ally Philip III of Burgundy had the Low Countries under his rule, which were instrumental in Scotland”s trade.
The peace with England ended in May 1436, the talks between the English and the French came to a deadlock and the French came back with new proposals to James I for the reinstatement of the treaty of 1428. In the spring of 1436 Princess Margaret sailed for France and in August of that year the Scots with a large army began a siege of the English at Roxburgh Castle. The campaign ended in a great fiasco for the Scots and as Michel Brown reports James I put his young and inexperienced cousin Robert Stuart of Athol against the experienced earls of Douglas and Angus. Brown explains that the war caused much resentment and hostility, when the priests of York, Durham and the Earl of Northumbria sent troops into the area the Scots retreated. The manner of the defeat and the destruction of his expensive artillery stood as a countdown for James both in his foreign policy and within Scotland.
Alliance with the uncle of the Count of Athol
Walter Stuart, 1st Earl of Athol was the youngest son of Robert II of Scotland by his second wife Euphemia of Ross and the only son of Robert II to have received a county in his father”s lifetime. His elder brother David Stuart, Earl of Strathern had died before 5 March 1389 on the date that his daughter Euthymia Stuart, Countess of Strathern is first recorded as Countess of Strathern. Walter ruled Strathern for the next 15 years as guardian and helped his elder half-brother Robert, Viceroy of Scotland to enforce the law on his brother Alexander, Earl of Bacan, finally helping him in the civil war with their nephew David, Duke of Rothesay (1402). The duke of Albany settled Euphemia”s marriage with Patrick Graham; the marriage deprived Walter of Strathern but he received as compensation the counties of Athol and Methven. Patrick Graham was murdered in a quarrel with John Drummond the chief servant of his county (1413).
Drummond”s kinship with Athol and the Earl”s involvement in Strathern despite the strong protests of Robert of Albany suggests a strong possibility that the Earl of Athol was also involved in the murder. Bloodshed ensued between the Earls of Albany and Athol, James when he returned to Scotland allied himself with his uncle Walter of Athol. The Earl of Athol was part of the council of 21 nobles who on 24 May 1425 condemned Murdoch Stuart and his two sons to death on charges of high treason. James I granted Walter of Athol the county of Strathern, Walter”s eldest son David was sent as a hostage to England under the terms of James” release and died there (1434), while his younger son Alan fell at the battle of Inverlochi (1431). Walter”s successor in the county of Athol became his grandson Robert the son of David, and both were the next heirs to the throne of Scotland after James. James I continued to show great favour to Athol, appointing his grandson Robert as personal chancellor (1437) but after a series of failures by James, grandfather and grandson alike viewed with suspicion the king who wanted to deprive the county of its wealth. Walter and his grandson Robert began to fear that after the elder Walter”s death James would seize the county on behalf of the crown and that Robert”s possession would be limited to lands from 1406 to 1416.
Murder at the initiative of his uncle
James”s retreat at Roxburgh brought great distrust among the Scots of their king”s political and military abilities. In October 1436, two months after the Roxburgh fiasco, James reconvened parliament asking for higher taxation to continue the war with the English. The earls under the leadership of Sir Robert Graham, former adviser to the Duke of Albany and then adviser to Athol, resisted the king”s demands fiercely. Robert Graham tried to arrest the king unsuccessfully, then was imprisoned and exiled but James I did not see his case as a threat. In January 1437 the Earl of Athol received another threat from the king when he overthrew the legitimate bishop of Dunkeld Cathedral and replaced him with his nephew and follower James Kennedy.
The harsh reaction against James I in the royal council was the occasion for the Earl of Athol to realize that the king was not only totally despised but that the time had come to proceed with his assassination. Athol took examples from his two elder half-brothers who at different times had shown a very harsh attitude and had always come out on top, and he did not hesitate to repeat the same. The execution of Albany”s family (1425) played an important part in the rebellion against James I. Albany”s old servants, strongly dissatisfied because their property had been confiscated, approached this time the Earl of Athol. The most important of these nobles were Sir Robert Graham, who had three months before made an attempt to arrest the king, and the brothers Robert and Christopher Chamberlain. Robert Chamber, although he had become a member of the royal household, still had strong ties to the Albany family.
In a brief council on 4 February 1437 in Perth, the county capital of Athol, the conspirators decided to assassinate the king who was staying with his wife at Blackfriars Abbey. On the afternoon of 20 February 1437 the king and queen were in their rooms away from their servants. His grandson Walter Robert who was the King”s Chancellor allowed the 30 conspirators led by Robert Graham and the Chamber brothers to enter the buildings where James was staying. James I was alerted and hid in a sewer inside the buildings but in his attempt to protect a tennis ball the conspirators found him and murdered him.
Execution of the killers
The conspirators failed to assassinate and the queen escaped wounded, the six-year-old heir James II escaped Athol”s control by removing John Spence from his escort. Spence is not in the historical record but the redistribution of land reveals his role in the assassination. Nowhere in the sequel is it mentioned that there was a feeling of horror among the Scots for the assassins, what is certain is that if the conspirators had also murdered the Queen Athol would have had a much better chance as guardian of the young heir to be successful. The Queen had a small group of followers led by the Earl of Angus and William Crichton who guaranteed the guardianship of the little James, the Earl of Athol on the other hand did not have his own group of close followers. In the first week of March there was no winner between the two sides, and the Bishop of Urbino, the Pope”s envoy, called upon the royal council to make peace. In the middle of March the Earl of Angus and William Crichton decided to move vigorously against the Earl of Athol, the Earl gathered his forces to resist and the Queen called upon the people on 7 March to resist the traitors.
Walter Stewart”s position became tragic after the arrest of his grandson Robert Stewart who confessed to his role in the King”s assassination. Walter Stewart was arrested by the Earl of Angus, detained in Edinburgh Castle, tried, convicted and beheaded on 26 March 1437 the day after the young James II was sworn in. Sir Robert Graham the leader of the assassins was arrested by former followers of Athol, sentenced to a council at Stirling Castle and executed shortly after 9 April. Queen Joan pressed for him to take over the regency but the royal council in June 1437 decided that Arstibald, 5th Earl of Douglas, should become viceroy and guardian of the young James II. James I”s embalmed heart was taken on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, followed by his burial at Perth Abbey, George Powell Mshnill reports the payment of £90 as the cost of transporting the Knights Hospitaller from Rhodes to Charterhouse.
In the first book in the 20th century on James I Balfour-Melville state (1936) that the king was a guardian of law and order, the execution of Albany”s family shows that “the guilty were always severely punished no matter how high up they were, the king had large revenues from the counties of Fife, Mendez and Lennox”. Balfour-Melville see James I as a reforming king with the aim of strengthening the power of the king and parliament. Historian Michael Lynch (b. 1946) says that James I”s popularity began shortly after his death when the Bishop of Urbano kissed him and declared him a martyr. The great anxiety of medieval Scottish historians to find a ”mighty king” in no way diminishes his attempts to belittle parliament or his conflicts with it.
Historian Steve Boardman says that David I broke all the restrictions on royal power that had been established since the time of his grandfather Robert II. Christine Msgladeri describes opposing views as the result of “propaganda that erupted after his assassination.” For all those who were lucky enough to see the king dead, James I was a tyrant who tried to subjugate the aristocracy, confiscated their property and “failed to deliver justice.” He also describes the opposing view that James tried to “create strong central power against the cruel tycoons” and “his assassination brought great chaos to the country with many internal conflicts and civil wars”. Finally, Christine Mgladerie stresses that James I Stuart put Scotland in the “European sphere of influence”. Michel Brown describes James as a “cruel and aggressive monarch” who was favoured by events to create a hard-line monarchy because the conflicts of his father”s time were not present. Brown writes that James I came to power after 50 years in which “kings behaved like tycoons and tycoons like kings”, James succeeded in abolishing the disadvantages of the monarchy, efforts successfully continued by his son and successor James II. Alexander Grant describes James as a “lawgiver”, pointing out that he codified the laws of all previous kings of Scotland, the view that he “changed the form of kingship” is considered exaggerated. At the time of his death only the Douglas family and the great magnates saw their power diminished, this can be described as James I”s greatest achievement.
With his wife Joanna Beaufort, daughter of John 1st Earl of Somerset, he had children:
James I appears in many works, novels and stories among which were :