James I, King of Scots (July 1394 – 21 February 1437), was the youngest of three sons of King Robert III and Annabella Drummond and was probably born in late July 1394 in Dunfermline. By the time he was eight years of age both of his elder brothers were dead—Robert had died in infancy, but David Stewart, Duke of Rothesay, died under suspicious circumstances in Falkland Castle while being detained by his uncle,Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany. Although parliament exonerated Albany, fears for James’s safety grew during the winter of 1405–6 and plans were made to send him to France. In February 1406, James, in the company of nobles loyal to King Robert III, clashed with those of the Earl of Douglas, forcing the prince to take temporary refuge on the Bass Rock in the Forth estuary. He remained there until mid-March, when he boarded a vessel bound for France, but English pirates captured the ship on 22 March and delivered James to Henry IV of England. A few days later, on 4 April Robert III died, and the 12 year-old uncrowned King of Scots began his 18-year detention.
James was given a good education at the English court, where he developed respect for English methods of governance and for Henry V to the extent that he served in the English army against the French during 1420–1. The Duke of Albany’s son, Murdoch, held a prisoner in England following his capture in 1402, was traded for Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, in 1416. By the time James was ransomed in 1424, Murdoch had succeeded his father to the dukedom and the governorship of Scotland. In April 1424 James, accompanied by his wife Joan Beaufort, daughter of the Earl of Somerset, returned to Scotland. It was not altogether a popular re-entry to Scottish affairs, since James had fought on behalf of Henry V and at times against Scottish forces in France. Additionally, his £40,000 ransom meant increased taxes to cover the repayments and the detention of Scottish nobles as collateral. Despite this, James also held qualities that were admired. The contemporary Scotichronicon by Walter Bowerdescribed James as excelling at sport and appreciative of literature and music. Unlike his father and grandfather he did not take mistresses, but had many children by his consort, Queen Joan. The king had a strong desire to impose law and order on his subjects, but applied it selectively at times.
To bolster his authority and secure the position of the crown, James launched pre-emptive attacks on some of his nobles beginning in 1425 with his close relatives the Albany Stewarts. This resulted in the execution of Duke Murdoch. In 1428 James detained Alexander, Lord of the Isles, while attending a parliament in Inverness.Archibald, Earl of Douglas, was arrested in 1431, followed by George, Earl of March, in 1434. The plight of the ransom hostages held in England was ignored and the repayment money was diverted into the construction of Linlithgow Palace and other grandiose schemes.
In August 1436, James failed humiliatingly in his siege of Roxburgh Castle and then faced an ineffective attempt by Sir Robert Graham to arrest him at a general council. James was murdered at Perth on the night of 20–1 February 1437 in a failed coup by his uncle and former ally Walter Stewart, Earl of Atholl. Queen Joan, although wounded, escaped to the safety of Edinburgh Castle, where she was reunited with her sonJames II.
James was born in Dunfermline probably in late July 1394, 27 years after the marriage of his parents Robert III and Annabella Drummond. It was at Dunfermline and also Scone that James would have spent most of his early childhood in his mother’s household. The prince was seven years old when his mother died in 1401 and a year later his elder brother David, Duke of Rothesay was probably murdered by their uncle Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany after being held at Albany’s Falkland Castle. Prince James, now heir to the throne, was the only impediment to the transfer of the royal line to the Albany Stewarts. In 1402 Albany and his close ally Archibald, Earl of Douglas were absolved of any involvement in Rothesay’s death and Albany was once again appointed king’s lieutenant. Albany rewarded Douglas for his support by allowing him to resume hostilities in England. The Albany and Douglas affinity received a serious reversal in September 1402 when their large army was defeated by the English atHomildon and numerous prominent nobles and their followers were captured. These included Douglas himself, Albany’s son Murdoch, and the earls of Moray, Angus and Orkney (Orkney was quickly ransomed). That same year, as well as the death of Rothesay, Alexander Leslie, Earl of Ross and Malcolm Drummond, lord of Mar had also died.  These events created a serious political void in both the north and south of the country. In the years between 1402 and 1406 Albany’s considerable interests in the north were endangered forcing the duke into a reluctant alliance with his brother Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan and Buchan’s son, also Alexander. Douglas’s absence from his power base in the Lothians and the Scottish marches encouraged Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and Sir David Fleming of Biggar, both firm supporters of Robert III, to take full advantage to become the principal political force in the area.
In December 1404 the king granted the royal Stewart lands in the west, in Ayrshire and around the Firth of Clyde, to James inregality protecting them from outside interference and providing the prince with a territorial base should the need arise.Despite this, in 1405 James was under the protection and tutelage of Bishop Henry Wardlaw of St Andrews on the country’s east coast. Black Douglas resentment was developing because of the activities of Orkney and Fleming, the prince’s advisers, who were expanding their involvement in border politics and foreign relations with England.A decision to send the young prince to France and out of Albany’s reach was taken in the winter of 1405–6 yet James’s departure from Scotland was unplanned. In February 1406 Bishop Wardlaw released James to Orkney and Fleming who, with their large mounted force, proceeded from St Andrews through Fife and ultimately into hostile Douglas east Lothian. James’s custodians may have been giving a demonstration of royal approval to further their influence in Douglas country. This provoked a fierce response from James Douglas ofBalvenie who overtook and killed Fleming while Orkney and James escaped to the comparative safety of the Bass Rock in theFirth of Forth. They remained on the rock for more than a month before boarding the France bound Maryenknyght, a ship fromDanzig.  On 22 March 1406 the ship was taken by English pirates off Flamborough Head and James became the hostage of King Henry IV of England. Robert III was at Rothesay Castle when he learned of his son’s capture and died soon after on 4 April 1406 and was buried in the Stewart foundation abbey of Paisley
King in captivity
James, now the uncrowned King of Scots, began his 18 year-long period of hostage while at the same time Albany moved uninterruptedly from his position as lieutenant to that of governor. Albany took James’s lands under his own control depriving the king of income and any of the regalia of his position and was referred to in records as ‘the son of the late king’. The king did have a small household of Scots paid for by the English—these included Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, Sir David Fleming’s nephew, Alexander Seton and Orkney’s brother John Sinclair following the earl’s return to Scotland. James maintained some contact with his subjects during his captivity including his cousin Murdoch Stewart, Albany’s son, who was captured in 1402—initially they were held apart but from 1413 until Murdoch’s release in 1415 they were together in the Tower of London and at Windsor Castle.
From 1419 Henry V’s treatment of James changed from regarding the Scottish king as a hostage to one more of a guest at his court.  James’s value to Henry became apparent in 1420 when he accompanied the English king to France where his presence was used against the Scots fighting on the Dauphinist side. Following the English success at the siege of Melun, a town southeast of Paris, the contingent of Scots were hanged for treason against their king. After his return to England, James attended Queen Catherine’s coronation on 23 February 1421 receiving an honoured position of sitting immediately on the queen’s left at the coronation banquet. In March, Henry began a circuit of the important towns in England as a show of strength during which James was knighted on St Georges day. By July, the two kings were back campaigning in France where James, clearly approving of Henry’s methods of kingship, seemed content to endorse the English king’s desire for the French crown. Henry appointed the Duke of Bedford and James as the joint commanders of the siege of Dreux on 18 July 1421 and on 20 August they received the surrender of the garrison.Henry died of dysentery on 31 August 1422 and James escorted the funeral retinue back to England in September.
The infant Henry VI’s ruling council was inclined to have James released as soon as possible. In the spring and summer of 1423 their attempts to resolve the issue met with little response from the Scots, clearly influenced by the Albany Stewarts and adherents. From 1421, Archibald, Earl of Douglas had been in regular contact with James and they formed an alliance that was to prove pivotal in 1423. Douglas was the most powerful of the Scottish magnates but his position in the borders and Lothians was threatened—not only did he have to forcibly retake Edinburgh Castle from his own appointed deputy but was probably under pressure from the earls of Angus and March. In return for James’s endorsement of Douglas’s position in the kingdom, the earl was able to deliver his affinity in the cause of the king’s home-coming. Also the relationship between Murdoch—now Duke of Albany following his father’s death in 1420—and his own appointee Bishop William Lauder seemed to be under strain perhaps indicating an influential grouping at odds with Murdoch’s stance.Pressure from these advocates for the king almost certainly compelled Murdoch to agree to a general council in August 1423 when it was agreed that an embassy should be sent to England to negotiate James’s release. James’s relationship with the House of Lancaster changed in February 1423 when he married Joan Beaufort, a cousin of Henry VI and the niece of Thomas, Duke of Exeter and Henry, Bishop of Winchester. A ransom treaty of 60,000 marks (less a dowery remittance of 10,000 marks) was agreed at Durham on 28 March 1424 to which James attached his own seal. The king and queen escorted by English and Scottish nobles reached Melrose Abbey on 5 April and were met by Albany who surrendered his governor’s seal of office.
James returned to a Scotland whose economy was in deep recession and where nobles such as James Douglas of Balvenie, owed emoluments for their national appointments, were allowed to receive income from customs revenue—by 1422 Albany’s fees for his governorship had also been in arrears. It was against this backdrop that James’s coronation took place at Scone on 21 May 1424. The Three Estates who had gathered to witness the coronation convened as a parliament and saw the king knight 18 prominent nobles including Alexander Stewart, Albany’s son. This was probably intended to foster loyalty to the crown within the political community.
Called primarily to discuss issues surrounding the finance of the ransom payments, the parliament heard James underline his position and authority as monarch. He ensured the passing of legislation designed to substantially improve crown income by revoking the patronage of royal predecessors and guardians. The earls of Douglas and Mar were immediately affected by this when their ability to remove large sums from the customs was blocked. Despite this, James was still dependent on the nobility, especially Douglas, for their support and initially adopted a less confrontational stance. The early exception to this was Walter Stewart, Albany’s son. Walter was the heir to the earldom of Lennox and had been in open revolt against his father during 1423 for not giving way to his younger brother Alexander for this title. He also disagreed with his father’s acquiescence to the return of James to Scotland. With Duke Murdoch’s seeming approval, James had Walter arrested on 13 May 1424 and imprisoned on the Bass Rock. At this stage, it is probable that the king felt unable to move against the rest of the Albany Stewarts while Murdoch’s brother, John Stewart, Earl of Buchan and the Earl of Douglas were fighting the English on the Dauphinist cause in France. Buchan, a leader with an international reputation, commanded the large Scottish army but both he and Douglas fell at the Battle of Verneuil in August 1424 and the Scottish host routed. The loss of these Albany allies with their fighting force left Murdoch politically exposed.
A ruthless and acquisitive king
Douglas’s death at Verneuill was to weaken the position of his son Archibald, the 5th earl. On 12 October 1424, the king and Archibald met at Melrose Abbey ostensibly to agree the appointment of John Fogo, a monk of Melrose, to the abbacy. The meeting may also have been intended as an official acceptance of Douglas but it signalled a change in the Black Douglaspredominance vis-a-vis the crown and other nobles. Important Douglas allies died in France and some of their heirs realigned with rival nobles through blood ties while at the same time Douglas experienced a loosening of allegiances in the Lothians and, with the loss of his command over Edinburgh Castle, this all served to improve James’s position. Despite this, James continued to retain Black Douglas support allowing him to begin a campaign of political alienation of Albany and his family. The king’s rancor directed at Duke Murdoch had its roots in the past—Duke Robert was responsible for his brother David’s death and neither Robert nor Murdoch exerted themselves in negotiating James’s release and must have left the king with the suspicion that they held aspirations for the throne itself.Buchan’s lands did not fall to the Albany Stewarts but were forfeited by the crown, Albany’s father-in-law, Duncan, Earl of Lennox was imprisoned and in December the duke’s main ally Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar settled his differences with the king. An acrimonious sitting of parliament in March 1425 precipitated the arrest of Murdoch, Isabella, his wife, and his son Alexander—of Albany’s other sons Walter was already in prison and James, his youngest, also known as James the Fat, escaped into the Lennox
James the Fat led the men of Lennox and Argyll in open rebellion against the crown and this may have been what the king needed to bring a charge of treason against the Albany Stewarts. Murdoch, his sons Walter and Alexander and Duncan, Earl of Lennox were in Stirling Castle for their trial on 18 May at a specially convened parliament. An assize of seven earls and fourteen lesser nobles were appointed to hear the evidence that linked the prisoners to the rebellion in the Lennox. The four men were condemned, Walter on 24 May and the others on 25 May and immediately beheaded in ‘front of the castle’.James demonstrated a ruthless and avaricious side to his nature in the destruction of his close family, the Albany Stewarts, that yielded the three forfeited earldoms of Fife, Menteith and Lennox.An enquiry set up by James in 1424 into the dispersal of crown estates since the reign of Robert I exposed legal defects in a number of transactions where the earldoms of Mar, March and Strathearn together with the Black Douglas lordships of Selkirk and Wigtown were found to be problematic. Strathearn and March were forfeited in 1427 and 1435 respectively. Mar was forfeited in 1435 on the earl’s death without heir which also meant that the lordships of Garioch and Badenoch reverted to the crown. James sought to boost his income further through taxation and succeeded in getting parliament to pass legislation in 1424 for a tax to go towards paying off the ransom—£26,000 was raised but James sent only £12,000 to England. By 1429, James stopped the ransom payments completely and used the remainder of the taxation on buying canons and luxury goods fromFlanders. Following a fire in the castle of Linlithgow in 1425, funds were also diverted to the building of Linlithgow Palacewhich continued until James’s death in 1437. This absorbed an estimated one tenth of royal income.
Relations with the church
James’s assertion of his authority throughout the realm also extended to the Church and observed that David I’s dispersal of lands to the church proved to be costly to royal income and that David was ‘a sair sanct to the crown’.The king regarded the monastic institutions in particular as in need of correction that required a return to disciplined communities. Part of James’s solution was to create an assembly of abbots and followed this up by establishing a Carthusian priory at Perth to provide an example of internal disicipline to other religious houses. He also sought to influence church attitudes to his policies by having his own clerics appointed to the bishoprics of Dunblane, Dunkeld, Glasgow and Moray.In 1425, parliament directed that all bishops must instruct their clergy to say specific prayers for the monarch and his family and in March 1426, parliament toughened up this decree insisting that the prayers be given at every mass under pain of a fine and a warning. This same parliament legislated that every person in Scotland should ‘be governed under the king’s laws and statutes of this realm only’. From this, laws were enacted to restrict the actions of prelates whether it was to regulate their need to travel to the Roman Court or their ability to purchase Scottish benefices while there.
On 25 July 1431, the general council of the church convened in Basel with its first full meeting on 14 December. The council requested that James send representatives of the Scottish church and it is known that two delegates—Abbot Thomas Livingston of Dundrenanan and John Winchester, canon of Moray and a servant of the king—were in attendance in November and December 1432.In 1433 James in response to a summons by Pope Eugenius IV appointed two bishops, two abbots and four digantories to attend the council. Twenty–eight Scottish ecclesiasts attended at intervals from 1434 to 1437 but the majority of the higher ranking churchmen sent proxy attendees although Bishops John Cameron of Glasgow and John de Crannoch of Brechin attended in person as did Abbot Patrick Wotherspoon of Holyrood.Pope Eugenius instructed his legate, Bishop Antony Altani of Urbino, to raise the issue of James’s controversial restrictive laws of 1426. Eugenius regarded the prevention of clerics to travel freely to Rome and to purchase benefices as an intrusion into the relationship between the Roman Court and the Scottish Church. The Bishop of Urbino arrived in Scotland in December 1436 and apparently a reconciliation between James and the papal legate had taken place by the middle of February 1437 but the events of 21 February when James was assassinated prevented the legate from completing his commission.
On 25 July 1431, the general council of the church convened in Basel with its first full meeting on 14 December. The council requested that James send representatives of the Scottish church and it is known that two delegates—Abbot Thomas Livingston of Dundrenanan and John Winchester, canon of Moray and a servant of the king—were in attendance in November and December 1432.In 1433 James in response to a summons by Pope Eugenius IV appointed two bishops, two abbots and four digantories to attend the council. Twenty–eight Scottish ecclesiasts attended at intervals from 1434 to 1437 but the majority of the higher ranking churchmen sent proxy attendees although Bishops John Cameron of Glasgow and John de Crannoch of Brechin attended in person as did Abbot Patrick Wotherspoon of Holyrood. Pope Eugenius instructed his legate, Bishop Antony Altani of Urbino, to raise the issue of James’s controversial restrictive laws of 1426. Eugenius regarded the prevention of clerics to travel freely to Rome and to purchase benefices as an intrusion into the relationship between the Roman Court and the Scottish Church.The Bishop of Urbino arrived in Scotland in December 1436 and apparently a reconciliation between James and the papal legate had taken place by the middle of February 1437 but the events of 21 February when James was assassinated prevented the legate from completing his commission.
Men of the Isles
In July 1428, the king convened a general council at Perth aimed at obtaining finance for an expedition to the Highlands against the semi-autonomous Lord of the Isles. The council initially resisted granting the funds but with the powerful Earls of Mar and Atholl supporting James it eventually acquiesced to the king’s wishes. Although it seemed that the king did not intend an all-out attack on the northern Gaels, he did intend to use some force to bring them under royal authority. He told the assembly:
The leaders of the Gaelic kindreds in the north and west were summoned by James ostensibly to a sitting of parliament inInverness. Of those assembled the king arrested around 50 of them including Alexander, the third Lord of the Isles and his mother, Mary, Countess of Ross around 24 August. A few were executed but the remainder, with the exception of Alexander and his mother, quickly released. During Alexander’s captivity James attempted to split Clann Dòmhnall—Alexander’s uncle John Mór was approached by an agent of the king to take the clan leadership but his refusal to have any dealings with the king while his nephew was held prisoner led to John Mór’s attempted arrest and death.
The king’s need for allies in the west and north led him to pursue a policy of rapprochement with Alexander and, hoping that he would now become a loyal servant of the crown, James released him. Alexander, probably under pressure from his close kinsmen Donald Balloch, John Mór’s son, and Alasdair Carrach of Lochaber, led a rebellion attacking the castle and burgh of Inverness in spring 1429.The crisis deepened when a fleet from the Lordship was dispatched to bring James the Fat back from Ulster ‘to convey him home that he might be king’. With James’s intention to form an alliance with the Ulster O’Donnells of Tyreconnell against the MacDonalds, the English became distrustful of the Scottish king’s motives and they themselves tried to bring James the Fat to England.Before he could become an active player, James the Fat died suddenly releasing James to prepare for decisive action against the Lordship.The armies met on 21 June in Lochaber and Alexander, suffering the defection of Clan Chattan (the MacKintoshes) and Clan Cameron, was heavily defeated. Alexander escaped probably to Islay but James continued his assault on the Lordship by taking the strongholds of Dingwall and Urquhart castles in July. The king pushed home his advantage when an army reinforced with artillery was dispatched to the isles. Alexander probably realised that his position was hopeless and tried to negotiate terms of surrender but James demanded and received his total submission. From August 1429 the king delegated royal authority to Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar for the keeping of the peace in the north and west. The Islesmen rose again in September 1431 and inflicted two important defeats on the king’s men—Mar’s army was beaten atInverlochy and Angus Moray’s in a fierce battle near Tongue in Caithness. This was a serious setback for James and his credibility was seriously damaged.In 1431, before the September uprising, the king had arrested two of his nephews, John Kennedy of Carrick and Archibald, Earl of Douglas possibly as a result of a conflict between John and his uncle, Thomas Kennedy in which Douglas may have become involved. Tensions in the country had been raised further following Douglas’s arrest and it was against this background that James called for parliament to sit at Perth on 15 October to seek funding for further conflict with the Lordship. Before that, on 29 September, James acted to reduce the unrest by freeing Douglas and likely made his release conditional on his support at the resumption of the Perth parliament. Parliament was in no mood to allow James unconditional backing—he was allowed a tax for his Highland campaign but parliament retained full control over the levy. The rules parliament attached to the taxation indicated a robust stand against further conflict in the north and probably led to the turnaround that took place on 22 October when the king ‘forgave the offence of each earl, namely Douglas and Ross [i.e. Alexander]‘. For Douglas this was a formal acknowledgement of his having been freed three weeks earlier but for Alexander this was a total reversal of crown policy towards the Lordship. Four summer campaigns against the Lordship were now officially at an end and James’s wishes had effectively been blocked by parliament.
In 1424 when Henry VI’s ruling council released James it expected the Scottish king to be compliant, to keep the peace between the kingdoms and to stop Scottish support for France but by 1430 he would emerge as a confident and independent minded European prince. The only real points of issue between the two countries were the ransom payments and the renewal of the truce due to expire in 1430. In 1428 after setbacks on the battlefield Charles VII of France sent a distinguished embassy led by Renault of Chartres, Archbishop of Rheims to Scotland to persuade James to renew the alliance—the terms were to include the marriage of the princess Margaret to Louis the Dauphin of France and a gift of the county of Saintonge to James. The ratification of the treaty by Charles took place in October 1428 and James, now with the intended marriage of his daughter into the French royal family and the possession of French lands, had his political importance in Europe boosted
The effectiveness of the Auld Alliance with France had virtually ceased after Verneuil and its renewal in 1428 did not alter that—James adopted a much more non-aligned position with England, France and Burgandy while at the same time opening up diplomatic contacts with Aragon, Austria, Castile, Denmark, Milan, Naples and the Vatican.Generally, Scotto–English relations were relatively amiable and an extension of the truce until 1436 helped the English cause in France and the promises made in 1428 of a Scottish army to help Charles VII and the marriage of James’s eldest daughter to the French king’s son Louis were unrealised. The truce with England expired in May 1436 but James’s perception of the Anglo-French conflict changed following a realignment of the combatants. The breakdown of the talks between England and France in 1435 precipitated an alliance between Burgundy and France and a request from France for Scottish involvement in the war and for the fulfillment of the promised marriage of Princess Margaret to the Dauphin. In the spring of 1436 Princess Margaret sailed to France and in August Scotland entered the war with James leading a large army to lay siege to the English enclave of Roxburgh Castle.  The campaign was to prove pivotal for James. The Book of Pluscarden describes ‘ a detestable split and most unworthy difference arising from jealosy ’ within the Scottish camp and the historian Michael Brown explains that a contemporary source has James appointing his young and inexperienced cousin Robert Stewart of Atholl as the constable of the host ahead of the experienced march wardens the earls of Douglas and Angus. Brown informs that both earls possessed considerable local interests and that the effects of such a large army living off the land may have created considerable resentment and hostility in the area. When the militant prelates of York and Durham together with the Earl of Northumberland took their forces into the marches to relieve the fortress, the Scots swiftly retreated—a chronicle written a year later said that the Scots ‘had fled wretchedly and ignominiously’—but the effects and the manner of the defeat and the loss of their expensive artillery was a major reversal for James both in terms of foreign policy and internal authority.
The retreat from Roxburgh exposed the king to questions regarding his control over his subjects, his military competence and his diplomatic abilities yet he remained determined to continue with the war against England. Just two months after the Roxburgh debacle, James called a general council in October 1436 to finance further hostilities through more taxation. The estates firmly resisted this and their opposition was articulated by their speaker Sir Robert Graham, a former Albany attendant and a servant of the king’s uncle, Walter Stewart, Earl of Atholl. The council then witnessed an unsuccessful attempt by Graham to arrest the king resulting in the knight’s imprisonment followed by banishment but James did not see Graham’s actions as part of an extended threat. In February 1437 James lodged at the Blackfriars monastery on the outskirts of Perth accompanied by the queen but separated from most of their servants. The king’s cousin Sir Robert Stewart, heir to his grandfather Walter, Earl of Atholl, was chamberlain of the royal household and used his privileged position to allow a small band of former Albany adherents led by Robert Graham to enter the building. James was alerted to the men’s presence after servants discovered their approach giving the king time to hide in a sewer tunnel but with its exit recently blocked off James was trapped and killed. Although wounded, the queen managed to escape and sent a directive ahead to Edinburgh for the now James II to be shielded from any widening of the conspiracy and had the boy king’s custodian, the pro-Atholl John Spens, removed from his post and replaced by the trusted John Balfour. The regicide of James I came so unexpectedly that a period of disorder took hold before James II was crowned at Holyrood Abbey on 25 March 1437 but it was not until early May that the main conspirators, Walter of Atholl, his grandson Robert Stewart and Robert Graham were gruesomely executed
Michael Brown provides an insight into what contemporaries thought of James I. Walter Bower abbot of Inchcolm lists James’s accomplishments as a musician—’not just as an enthusiastic amateur’ but a master, ‘another Orpheus.’ His mastery included the organ, drum, flute and lyre. James’s sporting abilities such as wrestling, hammer throwing, archery and jousting are also listed by Bower. He described James as possessing an ‘eagerness’ in ‘literary composition and writing’, the best known of which is his love poem, The Kingis Quair. Bower characterised the king as ‘a tower, a lion, a light, a jewel, a pillar and a leader’ and was ‘our law giver king’ who ended the ‘thieving, dishonest conduct and plundering’. Brown also writes of how Bower described the king as capable of stabbing a near relative through the hand for creating a disturbance at court. He describes how the abbot was generally supportive of James but that he and others’ regretted the demise of the Albany Stewarts and that he was confounded by James’s greed for territory and wealth. Although Bower didn’t dwell at length on the negative aspects of James’s character he alluded to the dismay of even those close to the king at his harsh regime. Brown also provides a contemporary contrasting view to Bower’s when he gives John Shirley’s translated account of the events leading up to James’s murder in the work The Dethe of the Kynge of Scotis. This chronicle provided an accurate narrative of politics in Scotland and which must have depended upon knowledgeable witnesses. The Dethe describes James as ‘tyrannous’ and whose actions were motivated by revenge and ‘covetise . . . than for anny laweful cawse’. Brown describes how Shirley agrees with Bower when discussing the Albany Stewarts when he wrote that the Albanys ‘whos dethe the people of the land sore grutched and mowrned’. Writing nearly a century later both the chroniclers John Mair and Hector Boece relied extensively on Bower for their own narratives. They described James as the embodiment of good monarchy with Mair’s eulogy that James ‘…indeed excelled by far in virtue his father, grandfather and his great-grandfather nor will I give precedence over the first James to any of the Stewarts’ while Boece in similar vein calls James the ‘maist vertuous Prince that evir was afoir his days’. According to Brown, late in the 16th century the early historiansGeorge Buchanan and Bishop John Lesley from opposite ends of the religious spectrum both looked favourably on James’s reign but were uneasily mindful of an enduring aggressive history regarding the king.
The first 20th century history of James I was written by E.W.M. Balfour-Melville in 1936 and continued the theme of James as the strong upholder of law and order and when describing Albany’s trial and execution he writes ‘the King had proved that high rank was no defence for lawlessness; the crown was enriched by the revenues of Fife, Menteith and Lennox’. Balfour-Melville views James as a lawmaker and a ‘reformer’ whose legislation was aimed at not only increasing the position of the king but of parliament. Michael Lynch describes how James’s positive reputation began immediately after his death when the Bishop of Urbino kissed James’s wounds and declared him to be a martyr. He suggests that the praise of the pro-James Scottish chroniclers and also of some modern historians to ‘find strong king’s to applaud’ should not diminish the extent of parliament’s ability to restrain the king nor minimise the confrontation that took place between James and a more self-assured parliament.Alexander Grant repudiates James’s reputation as the ‘law giver’ and explains that nearly all of the king’s legislation were reconstructs of laws laid down by previous monarchs and concludes that the notion of James’s return to Scotland in 1424 was a sea change in the development of Scots law is ‘an exaggeration’.Stephen Boardman takes the view that by the time of his death James had succeeded in breaking down the constraints on the exercise of royal authority which were rooted in the ‘settlement of the kingdom’ by Robert II. Christine McGladdery describes how opposing views were the result of ‘competing propaganda after the murder’. To those who were glad to see the king dead, James was a tyrant who without reason aggressively assailed the nobility imposing forfeiture on their estates and who ‘failed to deliver justice to his people’. The opposite viewpoint was that the king was seen as providing ‘strong leadership against magnate excesses’ and that his demise ‘was a disaster’ that left the people to put up with the years ‘of consequent faction fighting’. She writes that James was the example for the Stewart kings to follow by putting Scotland securely into a European setting. Michael Brown describes James as an ‘able, aggressive and opportunistic politician’ whose chief aim was to establish a monarchy that had stature and was free from the confrontations that had beset his father’s reign.He characterises James as ‘capable of highly effective short-term interventions’ yet had failed to have had enduring political domination and never achieved a position of unqualified authority. Brown writes that James had come to power after ‘fifty years when kings looked like magnates and magnates acted like kings’ and succeeded in completely changing both the aims and outlook of the monarchy but at the cost of his own life—his policy of reducing the power and influence of the magnates, continued by his son James II, led to a more subordinate nobility.