Let me take you then to a place called Hermiston Moor, in 1406. You will see a group of horsemen approaching the castle of Tantallon. Tantallon was occupied by the Black Douglas family, and they watched from the castle as the group approached. At the head of the group was a young 12 year old lad, mounted on the finest horse and wearing the richest clothes. This was James Stewart, heir to the throne of Scotland. At his side was his councillor David Fleming, a veteran of the battle of Homildon hill against the English, who had encouraged and supported Harry Hotspur’s rebellion against Henry IV. David Fleming had brought hope of royal revival not only to the young James but to his father the lame king Robert III.
Robert had enjoyed a brief period where his political power appeared to revive as his eldest son David Stewart had appeared to gain real political clout, and had been made Duke of Rothesay. Until David’s friendly uncle the Duke of Albany, Lieutenant Governor of the realm had managed to get this irritatingly competitive nephew incarcerated in Falklands Palace – nothing sinister you understand, pure and simply for the lad’s own protection, for his own safety. Regretfully, Albany was soon forced to inform the Council that David had died, really sorry. Seems he’d forgotten to feed him – why hadn’t someone told him he needed to feed him? An official government investigation looked hard, and strenuously at claims that Albany had forgotten to feed him on purpose, and obviously cleared Albany from all blame, it was clearly Rothesay’s own fault the big banana for not eating properly. Tut, really, the big booby. Meanwhile another political ally Malcolm Drummond had also been made to disappear by Albany, helpfully murdered by a passing band of Highland Caterans. So sorry for your loss. Move on. Robert III had once more become impotent, and busied himself carving out a powerful landed patrimony for the remaining apple of his eye, son James, so that when he came of age he would have the wherewithal for his future political battles.
So, David Fleming’s appearance as a political ally of the king was most welcome to Robert, and Fleming had also begun to bring James into politics, cut his teeth, give him a public profile – young though he was. However, you would not expect Albany or his allies the Douglasses to enjoy this any more than they’d enjoyed Rothesay’s brief sujorn in the land of politics, disturbing their happy monopoly of power, and their opposition was a constant problem. So Fleming decide to roll the dice, and assert the authority of the young king. The idea was to use royal authority to repossess the castle of Tantallon from the Douglasses, which was under dispute between the Douglasses and the Crown. That would show the world where true power lay.
And so the horsemen approached Tantallon. To their horror, all protocol was burned – James’s royal heir or no royal heir was not coming in here. A slanging match ensued. During said slanging match, violence reared its ugly head, with the threat of some more where that came from. Fleming looked around and realised he was a little exposed here. So, they turned their horses round and legged it. Behind them, the castle gates opened, and the Douglas issued forth and gave chase. So, the royal party split, with James being taken to safety while Fleming flew the royal flag to pretend the young royal was still with him. Sure enough, the chasing Douglas horsemen followed the flag, and Fleming was duly caught by the chasing Douglas horsemen and in the fight that followed another political ally for the king bit the dust, night closed upon Fleming’s eyes. James meanwhile had escaped was taken to Bass Rock in the firth of Forth. Bass Rock is a really tiny, and horribly exposed island. It is also literally in sight of Tantallon castle – so honestly not a permanent solution. So an emergency plan was hatched – get James to safety, take a ship to France. And eventually a ship was indeed found, a merchant man taking hides to France. Not perfect for a king, but you know, all fine. Of they go.
James’s father King Robert III meanwhile finally gave up the ghost on 4th April 1406. Just before he died, he received news it would really have been more merciful to have held from him; his son James had indeed taken his ship to France, but the package had never arrived. Instead, he’d been captured by English pirates and taken to London. Once more a king of Scotland was a prisoner of the hated English.
Over the next 14 years then, the Duke of Albany had what he’d always wanted – both control of the country as Lieutenant Governor – and the absence of a whiny king to mess things up. Now the assessment of the Duke of Albany’s governorship of the country has been the matter of some historical argument and revisionism.
Again, the traditional view of the 14/15th century was that of the over mighty subject, a weak monarchy usurped by baronial power and resulting in mayhem. Whereas, as we talked about in episode 29 and the Wolf of Badenoch, modern historians take a different approach, stressing the resilience and essential collaborative nature of the political nation.
And Albany maintained that traditional laissez faire attitude to governorship of the realm; that traditional, reliable tried and tested formula of ruling through the regional magnates. He was helped by the effectiveness of the earl of Mar. Mar was Alexander Stewart’s son you remember, our Wolf of Badenoch; but unlike his dear old Pa, he established control in the central highlands that appeared to be much more in line with the traditional understanding of good governance. That’s not to say there was no violence. In 1411 of course we have Reid Harlow, as we spoke of in the Lordship of the Isles. In 1413 the Earl of Strathearn was murdered; Albany made sure the perpetrators were executed, which was fine, and then made sure his widow and heiress was looked after; but saw no reason why he shouldn’t also get some reward for his good behaviour, he married the rich heiress her to one of his grandsons. Silly not to. But of course that laid him open to accusations of personal nest feathering.
Albany faced the same problems that had beset Robert – namely a dramatic and continuous fall in royal income, which seriously hampered the Crown’s ability to exercise its powers of patronage and reward the magnates that maintained its authority. By way of compensation, Albany did two things; he turned a blind eye when his nobility raided the customs dues, which were of course due to the king. And he effectively subsidized the royal income – so much so that by the time of his death he was owed several thousand £.
Albany faced a significant disadvantage we have seen before in the constant stream of regencies; he was not a king, he could not grant out or alienate lands and exercise patronage that way. There is no implication that Albany tried to exploit this situation to make himself king; the Council insisted, and Albany agreed, that everything should be done in the name of the king. There was no move to disinherit the rightful king because of his situation.
Albany maintained the French alliance – his period in power of course overlaps with Henry V and the wars in France, and Charles VII of France was able to rely on a strong contingent of Scots fighting on Charles side, including Albany’s great supporter, Archibald Douglas.
The negotiations for the release of James I took time. As it happens, the English also held Albany’s son Murdoch; and spookily Murdoch was released quite speedily but James, well, no progress essentially. The obvious conclusion is that Albany had no interest in negotiating he king’s return – why would you? Others noted that the English were making high demands for the person of the king – and why would they not, it’s a delightful negotiating position to be in. So you know they had a go at the old ‘you pay homage to us’ thing. So while it’s hard not to be a cynic and imagine Albany didn’t bust a gut to get the king back, until the English decided to be reasonable it is also true to say that there was little Albany could do.
Finally, contemporary chronicles are pretty positive about Albany’s career. Here’s Walter Bower:
If … outrages were committed by powerful men in the kingdom, he patiently hid his feelings for the time being. He knew how to put things of this kind right wisely enough when the time came and to secure reparation as he wished.
I think you pays your money and takes your choice. The more recent commentators like Boardman and Lynch argue that the Duke’s approach was very much in line with the following Stewart kings, and pretty competently done. The fact that he made things work for his family while keeping the ship of state on an even keel was entirely medieval and folks would have been amazed if he had not. The more traditional view is a good deal more straightforward. Look, there are major disruptions with the highlands, he takes personal advantage for his family and royal revenues are stolen by the nobility.
James I meanwhile grew up at the English court of Henry IV and Henry V. And was treated according to his rank, and grew to like it – as you would of course. I mean you know, this is England, what’s not to love. James was a talented musician, a poet, skilled archer, strong jouster. Walter Bower would describe him as the Scots’ lawmaking king. On the other hand Aeneas Sylvius who would later be Pope Pius II, described him later as a very fat, vindictive man. In England he acquired a wife in Joan Beaufort, and in his book of poetry, the King’s Book he wrote a poem, in Scots, that supposedly described her – though he doesn’t actually name her so you know, could have been anyone really.
There is one incident that the historian Neil Oliver quite rightly makes a big thing of. James went to war in France with Henry V, still in captivity of course. Not in iron chains – moving freely, in chains of honour. While there, he of course came into direct conflict with his own countrymen, fighting for the French, as I mentioned. Henry commanded him to order his men to lay down their arms to the English – and they refused. When Henry captured the town all the Scots were put to death in front of their king. How did that affect James? Was he humiliated? Or had he been humiliated more by the refusal of his own subjects to obey him, and was he duly satisfied at their subsequent destruction? Who knows. But if you get a chance to see Rona Munro’s 3 plays about the first three Jameses, do so, they are really good.
What do we say about the reign of James I then? Firstly of course he’s got to get home, and he was helped by Henry V’s death, when the English regents finally cut a deal with the new Governor of Scotland. I say new Governor, because Albany had also died, to be replaced by a new Albany – his son Murdoch Stewart. Murdoch doesn’t seem to have been a patch on his dad, lacking the political skill and finesse. His reputation suffered from the unruly antics of his sons, and Murdoch was criticised for being given the run around by them and being unable to stop them take advantage of their situation. But he did finalise the deal for James – a whopping ransom of £40,000. ‘We’ll take the republic route thank you’ might have been a cheaper answer, but on 5th April 1424 James I finally returned home.
It would become clear that in his pants were carefully concealed ants. But James was strong enough to resist the call of said ants until the time was right. I appreciate that might be slightly obscure. What I mean is that James wanted to demonstrate that he was in control, but waited for his moment. He faced two obvious obstacles. One was Murdoch Albany, a symbol of James’s enforced captivity for 18 long years, a family who had ruled as he, James, should have been ruling, an Albany Stewart family that had got used to being in control. The other was the family that had lived and breathed and grown with the elder Albany – the Douglases.
Oddly, James was to be helped by the English regent, the Duke of Bedford. Because out there in France carrying the battle to the Auld enemy were Albany’s son the Earl of Buchan, and Archibald Douglas. And in 1424 Bedford emerged victorious from one of the great battles of the 100 years war…pretty much the last one to go the right way as it happens, the Battle of Verneuil. For James the battle of Verneuil was something of a political boon, because amongst the casualty list were the brave supporters of the King of France, both Buchan and Douglas. At a stroke, two political opponents were removed.
James felt more comfortable with the ne Earl Douglas, the 5th Earl of Douglas and his first step was to put his arm round his shoulders, slap him on the back, have a chuckle – make friends essentially. So that when he cut the Albany Stewarts off at the knees and ate lunch off their dead corpses there’d be no Douglas knife stuck in his back in reply.
He started by arresting Walter Stewart. Clever, as it happens, because that was as much in Murdoch’s interest as it was James’s, given the amount of trouble Walter had been giving him. But next it was Murdoch and his family’s turn; potentially this was problematic – it wasn’t clear that Parliament would support the king in this. But helpfully Murdoch’s other sons including James the Fat raised rebellion, burning Dumbarton and rebellion against the crown put them outside the pale, and effective won James the support he needed of his magnates and parliament. Murdoch and two of his sons were executed to the north of Stirling castle. Job done.
There are three reasons why James behaved with such brutal aggression. The first was personal. Murdoch’s father had starved his own brother Rothesay to death. Traditionally that’s seen as a negative.
Secondly, James was a stranger in his own land, without the network and the affinities. He had to try extra hard to impose himself on his reign. What would become clear was that this wasn’t a one off – James was conscious that the strength of his office had suffered with the rather jelly like reigns of Roberts II and III. It needed some steel.
Thirdly though, the problem of falling royal income was not going away – plus James now had a £40,000 bill to pay to the English. Parliament had agreed a special tax for some of it – but there was way more to collect. By destroying the Albany Stewarts, James gained himself £1,000 of income from their confiscated lands. Cool.
James would try again to impose his authority on his subjects by force – most notably in the highlands as we heard last time, between 1428 and 1431 where his attempts essentially met with failure. But he tried another approach – he tried to wow everyone, to dazzle them, to create the cult of monarchy that he would have seen down south. He started the tradition of a renaissance court, bring patronage of the arts to support and build a mystique of monarchy. The best surviving example of this is Linlithgow Palace, completely rebuilt by James in the grandest of styles. He was helped also by a glorious marriage – the marriage of his daughter Margaret to the heir to the throne of France, the Dauphin in 1436. This was a major diplomatic coup.
Of course this sort of thing – arts, display, clothing, events and celebrations are all pricey, and James was short of a bob or two. Only £12,000 had gone down to England. In fact the that would be England’s lot – James solved the problem by just ignoring it, which I have always thought an excellent approach to problem solving. But it didn’t solve all his money problems. So he turned also to the church; James worked hard to establish royal control over the church and his right of appointments, and outlaw the authority of papal legislation. That resulted in some income for him from the church through taxation. Even then, more was needed and James reckoned that the answer might lie in the Scottish parliament, and their right to grant taxation. Essentially, James was trying to transform the monarchy’s revenue, adjusting the balance between ordinary revenue and extraordinary revenue. Ordinary revenue is the money the monarch could rely on from his own inalienable rights – from the royal estates and from customs dues. Extraordinary revenue lay in the gift of others – mainly as taxation subsidies voted by parliament. What James was trying to do was what the renaissance monarchs in Europe were doing – establish a greater right to direct taxation, to build central power.
But the key to this lay in the hands of the parliament, so he needed parliament’s support, which gives me an excuse to talk a bit about the Scottish parliament. The first Scottish parliament has been traced back to 1235, when an assembly described as a ‘colloquium’ was held at a place called Kirkliston in Lothian. But it’s not until 1296 and John Balliol’s attempt to muster the strength of the realm against Edward that the parliament really gets going. In 1357 we get the first mention of the estates of Scotland, and that henceforth is the structure of the Scottish parliament – three estates, very similar in concept to the French Parlement of Paris. These three estates are:
- the first estate of prelates – so that’s your bishops and Abbots
- the second estate – that’s your nobility. Obviously dukes, Marquis, earls, viscounts, and all that. But also all lay tenants-in-chief – so anyone who held land directly from the crown.
- the third estate – any guesses? Of course you knew – the burghs. Or in fact, Burgh Commissioners, so elected to be members of parliament.
Over the 14th century, parliament’s importance in the political and constitutional life of the country had become firmly established. In 1399 a statute
Ordained that each year the king shall hold a parliament so that his subjects are served by the law
So it’s worth making the point that although we see parliaments as political institutions, there origin was very much as a part of the judicial system, it was the highest court in the land; this is the same as the Parlement of Paris for example, and in France the parlement essentially remained a legal rather than political institution. In 1426 James I organised a council under parliamentary authority to deal with legal cases, as demand for access to centrally administered law just began to overwhelm parliament. Over time this became something of a trend – the pressure of business meant that more and more legal work became devolved to the King’s Council instead of the parliament. So by 1490 Scotland’s King’s Council formally acquired judicial functions and the central Scottish court system began to develop around it.
Legislation meanwhile came rather from the king in the parliamentary Council rather than the king alone. Meanwhile the growth in central justices was rather reflected by language, as statutes from 1424 began to be recorded in Scots rather than Latin. From 1450 it was specifically a parliamentary committee, the Lords of the Articles that initiated legislation; and then in 1445 the then king, James II formally agreed that the king would not change legislation without permission of parliament – so there’s effectively the acceptance that in legislation, statute is supreme. You might notice that the 1399 statute talked about every year, and in the first 13 years of James I’s reign he held a parliament 10 times. It certainly met therefore very frequently if not quite annually.
This frequency helped give the parliament a confidence in its authority; and the 15th century would show that parliament saw part of its role to restrict the power of the king, and it was very very capable of putting its palm firmly in the king’s face. It is through parliament that Robert II and Robert III were sidelined for capacity reasons; and it established the important principle of loyalty to the office of the king rather than necessarily the specific person of the king; the estates empowered themselves to act in the best interests of the kingdom rather than the king, if necessary.
In 1428, James tried to implement some changes, in line with the operation of the English parliament – replacing the attendance of every lay tenant with two elected shire representatives for example, to extend participation. Actually it didn’t work; ‘not a hope’ was broadly the response; this franchise would come about, but it would happen in 1587 when the three estates final became 4 estates. And as I have said the parliament remained in a single chamber, not following the English bicameral system of the house of commons and house of lords.
So we return to James’s attempt to remodel royal finance. The long and short is that parliament repeatedly bared its teeth at James, and stymied his plans to resolve his income problem. Throughout the 1420s after the initial grant in 1424 it refused to grant him taxation. It acquiesced in 1431 for the highland campaign because it could see what it thought to be a good reason for the money – but stipulated that the keys to the money were kept by 4 officials – so out of the king’s sweaty paws.
James’s repeated failed attempts to gain taxation coupled with his heavy spending earned the distrust of parliament and the nobility. In 1436 this came to a head when with great fuss and noise, James launched a campaign to recapture the towns of Roxborough, still held by the English. It was a farce. The campaign was ingloriously abandoned when the English approached.
James paid a heavy price for this and his other failures – in his excessive spending, failure to raise taxation, and humiliating failure to control the Lord of the Isles. In 1436 there was a movement within parliament to have the king arrested, accusing him of failing to uphold the law. This was a bit rich for the blood of most in parliament and it was defeated, but the fact that it could be raised at all is a testament to Parliament’s self-confidence. Maybe James breathed a sigh of relief – if so, it was too early.
The king and his household were lodged in a Dominican friary in February 1437. The king was a great lover of tennis – one of the earliest tennis courts in the world is at Falkland Palace you might be interested to know and I have once, many years ago, tried it out. As a little intimate touch, he happened to have blocked up a drain below his apartments because he kept dropping tennis balls down there and losing them. I can imagine it, chucking the ball against a wall, missing it, losing it, getting cross.
Anyway, on the night of the 21st February 1437 the Friary was approached by a group of men commissioned by the Earl of Athol and the earl of Strathearn. It was led by a man called Sir Robert Graham and by the Earl of Athol’s son, Robert Stewart – so there we go, another branch of the Stewart family, there are so many. The men stormed into the friary. Warned by the commotion that something was amiss, but separated from his servants, James hid, pulling up the floor boards and dropping into the sewers below. Into the room came the killers to find it empty – out they charged trying to find him, while the Queen also managed to tear herself free, and although wounded she was able to hide. Finding no one, the frustrated killers returned to the royal bedroom, and noticed the disturbed floorboards. Hearing them ripping up the floorboards James tried to crawl through the sewer to freedom – only to find it full of tennis balls and blocked up. Darn. It’s a high price to pay for sport. Down into the dark dropped a conspirator, only to be knifed by the king; until Robert Graham himself dropped down – and James Stewart, king of Scotland was knifed to death in his own sewers. Not the ending he had envisioned I would like to bet – all the glory of the monarchy – plus a little poo.
Crucially, Queen Joan and her son James II had escaped. Athol was a descendant of Robert II, he’d been knock back by James I, and no doubt hoped to gain the throne by his involvement in the king’s murder. He calculated very poorly indeed. The political community was not much keener on James I than Athol was, but they were not ready for kings to be murdered in their own sewers. There was an unusually brutal execution as a result. Instead of being gloriously anointed king of Scots, Robert Stewart was flogged for 3 days in front of the crowds of Edinburgh. He had red hot crown pressed down on his head until finally he was released from his agony by execution. Athol was beheaded.
James I essentially attempted to re-establish the power and authority of the monarchy after 50 years of weak kings and minority rule. His aggression and spending, and ultimately military failure weakened him, and he basically failed – but, he did lay the foundations of many aspects of the later renaissance monarchs in Scotland, he set a template and a plan to be followed for more capable successors.
Yet his assassins bequeathed yet another minority on Scotland. James II was 7 when he came to the throne, and the barney was of course who was going to drive the bus in the meanwhile. Sadly, when the big cupboard holding all the nobility was opened, Scotland noted to its alarm that the cupboard was rather bare. James had done away with the Albany Stewarts, the assassination had of course resulted in the loss of a few more Stewarts, the Earl of Angus had died without heir. Really the two remaining figures of importance were the Queen Dowager and biggest family, pretty much the sole survivor of the big families of the 14th century – the Earls of Douglas. An English queen as regent was not acceptable, though Joan retained control of the young king.
The minority of James II was serious chaos. The early Stewart monarchy is the history of a pretty mature political community managing with varying success with period of minorities and energetic promotion of royal power. In that story, the minority of James II was a bad day at the office for everyone. The paucity of magnates was one of the problems; it meant that the political community was stretched thin, or to breaking point. Furthermore, the other centre of political leadership, the church, was distracted by church events abroad. Factions emerged – on the one hand the Douglases, on the other the families of other noble families, specifically two families, the Livingstons and Crichtons, both of which were office holders in the royal household.
It is a bun fight and make no mistake. In 1439, the 5th Earl of Douglas died of plague, and that was a bad thing, because the 6th earl was a teenager, lacking the 5th earl’s gravitas and savoir faire. The Dowager Queen Joan did not help by marrying an ally of the Douglas family, James Stewart the Black Knight of Lorne. Her marriage upset the delicate balance of political power; it is a recurrent problem of a royal close to the throne marrying into a local family, it disturbs the balance of power. The result was panic from the opposing Livingston faction that they were about to be swept away.
In November 1440 then, William Douglas the 6th Earl and his younger brother David were invited to supper with the king. Tradition has it, probably wrongly, that at some stage in the proceedings the severed head of a black bull was set before the teenaged William Douglas. This would have meant a few nervous glances and an uncomfortable silence at very least you’d have thought. Or possible screaming terror. Whatever the details, the two Douglasses were arrested in front of the king, and accused by Livingston of trumped up treason charges. The boys begged on their knees for their lives. Hmmm…errr – no – don’t think so. While the young king wept in horror the pair were beheaded. It has become known as the Black Dinner.
Despite all of this, the Douglasses could not be ignored. The 7th Earl was the dead boy’s uncle and an energetic and competent man; and on his death in 1443 the 8th Earl while younger was similarly competent. By 1445, the Livingstons and Douglasses decided that Jaw Jaw was better than war war, and had teamed up in a marriage of convenience – and it was Queen Joan that was pushed out of the picture. She was forced by the Livingstons to relinquish control of the young king, and she when she died in 1445 she was actually under siege at the time.
As the buns flew across the halls of power, there were some achievements that maintained some sort of prestige for the monarchy. Notably, the marriage of James II in 1447 to Mary of Guelders, niece of the Duke of Burgundy. This was again another real catch, marriage to the leading house of Europe at the time, glittering symbols of the world of chivalry. And despite all the uncertainty and vicious politics, James II emerged as an impressive figure as he assumed his majority. He had a dramatic birth mark on one side of his face, and would be called James of the Fiery Face; and he had a temper to match, quick to take offence. He had a fascination for artillery, loved the joust and chivalry of court. His wife Mary became a prominent patron of religion and a significant force in politics and diplomacy.
The come-uppance for the Livingstons came in 1449. It feels inevitable doesn’t it? Now 19, James had the prestige and control he needed to visit revenge on the men who had killed his childhood friends in front of his eyes. James Livingston and three others were arrested on 23 September 1449, and Sir Alexander and Robert Livingston soon afterwards. Two were executed, and one imprisoned. One Livingston son managed to escape Holyrood Palace and made it out to the Lord of the Isles where he took refuge, and indeed played an active part in the MacDonald rebellion of 1451. Though it is worth me mentioning that by 1454 actually, he was fully back in favour with the king as it happens, given the way things fall out in the world of medieval politics.
Because by that stage, having dealt with the Livingstons, James’s thoughts had turned to the Douglasses, and their stranglehold on power. Between 1451 and 1455, James would launch an assault the power of the Douglasses as well – the king could admit of no equals, that’s a general thing to be honest. Again there’s more than one motivation for his assault; there was a personality clash between James II and the 8th earl of Douglas, two fiery tempered and young men. The monarchy’s money problem was as acute as ever, James II continued to suffer from income trouble, and the Douglas’s income of £2,000 a year would be most welcome. And then of course there was just – who’s the boss here? William Douglas probably thought himself unassailable; he had won through the political nightmare of the minority, he was enormously rich. In his southern heartlands he lived the leisured lifestyle of the renaissance as a patron of the arts, no longer restricted to the austere medieval castles, and he presided over a court of near royal proportions. William Douglas had wowed Rome itself in a pilgrimage in 1450 – he was a dashing man of consequence and power.
A symbol of his confidence, or even arrogance, in 1451 to consolidate his authority, he made an agreement to work together with the Lord of the Isles – a sort of gentleman’s agreement to work together, nothing more than that. But none the less, such agreements by his great men would not have made any monarch comfortable that his own authority was being recognised.
In 1452, then, Douglas was invited by James to a supper, which doesn’t seem unreasonable – most powerful man in the realm and all. But William smelled a rat. He asked for and was given a written safe conduct. So Ok, off he set.
William soon discovered that the supper was going to be a bit of a nightmare, and not just because someone decided to serve sprouts or the like, that most disgusting of vegetable. It turned out that James had learned about the Lord of the Isles thing. As the drink flowed, James got angrier and angrier and insisted Douglas repudiate the agreement. Douglas was not to be bullied – it’s just a bit of friendship boss, nothing to get upset about, here have a bit more wine. James leapt to his feet. You are a Traitor he roared, drew a dagger from his sleeve – how handy he happened to have one to hand – and stabbed Douglas furiously right up to the hilt. Eager to prove their loyalty, the king’s courtiers gathered round and stabbed and hacked at Douglas, and then took his blood soaked body and threw it out of the window. The place where it landed is called Douglas Garden as it happens.
Seriously. The Douglases rose in revolt. James Douglas gathered his men, and forced his way into Stirling. He walked a horse through the town, with the safe conduct that had been given to William tied to the horse’s tail. And then – he burned and sacked the place. But the Douglasses were to find that the days when individual noble families could stand against the power of the monarchy were gone. By 1455 the Douglasses had been totally destroyed, and their lands forfeit to the crown.
James’s reign also saw the completion of a remodelling of the Scottish nobility. We had become used to the Scottish system of earldoms linked to territories, but from the later 14th century the number of earls had fallen, either consolidated into the hands of the Stewarts or falling into abeyance. By 1424 there were 11 Earls and 1 Duke sharing 17 earldoms; by James’s minority there were just 5 earls with one earldom each. By the end of James II’s reign therefore three things might be noted. It is the baronage as much as the Earls that are at the centre of political power. Just to be clear, barons were the second tier of the nobility if you like, holding land from the king but not holding one of the Earldoms.
To make this work, a new rank was created – Lords of Parliament. Secondly new earldoms are created – but the link between territory and title was now largely disappeared. For example, a new Earl of Huntly was created in 1445 for the Gordon family. The title was largely honorific – it reflected that the Gordons were based in the North East, but no longer was there a designated territory for the earldom of Huntly. Finally James I and James II’s reign, violent and factious though they were, did indeed re-establish the monarchy at the centre of political life.
James II of course turned to foreign wars with which to enjoy his growing control. A new attack was launched at Roxborough castle – perfect timing this time with the English descending into the chaos of the wars of the Roses. James was outside the walls when he heard his wife was going to visit. So all excitement, he thought she’d like a display of fire power, and he ordered his gunners to fire a salute. He was standing by one of the cannons when the match was applied. He’d chosen the wrong one – it exploded, James II, just 29, was dead. And guess what that means gentle listeners? Yup, you guessed it – a minority. Yay! James son was called James, yes, again, and was 9 years old. Hold on to your hats for the story of James III.